Maladaptive Daydreaming: where wild minds come to rest
If your walls could talk what would they say? The walls of my childhood bedrooms would tell a story of a seemingly normal boy, regular life, loving family, but he partook in an odd ritual. He had no other mental problems, was happy, had friends but still - did this one weird thing. This is my story on Maladaptive Daydreaming (MD) and how I have been engaging in it for twenty years, to different degrees. I will post this in various forums dealing with the subject and I hope it brings new light to the phenomenon. I have only discussed this with one person in real life. I chose to open up to this individual because he described growing up with MD without knowing what it was. This was in the 70's. I'll get right into it so I don't loose your interest.
When I was 7, I was beginning to get into rock music, but I will not name any bands. I had a cassette of this band that I listened to it everyday and I really looked up to the band. Older kids at school had T-shirts of the band. When listening with headphones on, I couldn't help but imagine myself in the band, performing the song for my classmates in the music room. The album was our set, this was my daydream. I was fully aware it was not a realistic fantasy, a group of 7 year olds composing that kind of music. The fantasy was still fulfilling though. If I listened to it on a stereo without headphones, not so much. Also I did not incorporate any physical movements at this time. Time went on, favourite bands changed so I was in different bands in my head. Always playing along kids my age. There was no fantasy of fame or money outside of the attention we got during our school concerts. Somehow these kids had adult voices too, in my head I knew it was far fetched but I still indulged. I can also remember lying in bed imagining my own episodes of tv shows that were popular at the time. Around 7 years old, when I was visiting my grandmother I was very fond of a long wooden measuring stick. I would take the stick and walk around outside her house humming music in my head, half out loud. I needed the stick to be satisfied though. That progressed to when I was ten years old and I was becoming more fascinated with movies. My friends and I would rent movies and have sleepovers, pushing the limits on what our parents would allow us to watch. Action, horror, comedy. If there was a movie I hasn't seem yet - I would create it in my head. These were my versions of movies that already existed in real life, but in my head, my version was the real one. I personally was never in the fantasy movie, this daydreaming had nothing to do with me. A movie would take 30-45 min to make in my head, I would whisper dialogue, sound effects, etc. Instead of lying on my bed I felt the need to roll around on the bed or floor, throwing and catching an object. Objects were usually balled up socks, or other things like it. I kept it quiet and no one knew.
I did it in my spare time, never felt depressed after doing it or a strong compulsion to do it either. I just did it when I was bored. Again, no childhood trauma other than my parents separating which happened years after I started doing this. There was no fighting amongst my parents that I saw. Made about 10 movies within a year. Like I said, if my walls could talk they would describe a kid throwing a sock around on this back making faint sound effects. I knew it wasn't normal but for some reason I didn't feel guilty about it, as long as I didn't get caught - which I didn't. I started daydreaming about being in bands again, always performing for my peers. My theory now is I enjoyed these fantasies so much for the attention I got from female classmates. I always had a crush on some girl at one time or another and this was a way of showing off. Around ten or eleven I made albums by popular artists in my head, my versions of their albums and new ones that I created. I'd throw the sock around and catch it, laying on my back. For music I'd hum the melody and grind my teeth for the drums. Only did this maybe 30min-1 hour a couple times a week but it was consistent. There were periods of doing this daily though, an album could take 2 days. I never made up albums I've already heard, just ones I knew about. I would create songs in my head of music that I thought the band would sound like. Hard to explain, I wasn't writing masterpieces here or even entire songs. Usually these were bands I heard on the radio, some I didn't even like that much.. When listening to my favourite music alone I would often imagine being with a certain girl and us both hearing it. The movies continued until I was about 12 I believe. Then I mentally took the entire music catalogue of my favourite band, renamed the group and put myself on vocals. Other band mates were random people at my school or made up characters based loosely on people on tv. My daydreams were about this band, but I didn't listen to music while indulging - I would toss a ball around while pacing or lying on the couch. Usually both. I'd do a song at a time, when I was bored. Seems so bizarre typing this,but at the time I did it without thinking.
I do not remember wondering if I'm crazy back then, I was content doing it and never tried to stop. I could go weeks without doing it, and it's hard to remember if there were any triggers but it was so many years ago. Often on trips to the lake where I didn't have as much privacy I would take walks by myself and daydream as I picked leaves off trees. No other symptoms of OCD whatsoever. Decent grades, happy mood. When listening to music I would also pretend I was a DJ on the radio and my songs were being heard by others. Or, my school had it's own radio station and I was a DJ. This was just a fun little fantasy that accompanied the time I spent listening to my CDs. I vaguely remember playing a game in the shower that I now realize to be MD. I would pretend I was working inside a weird sort of underground car wash and I would open the sliding door to serve customers. This was age 10-11 so it's not easy to remember much, but there was vague dialogue to it. The creation of actual movies and albums being played out in my head stopped around age 14 at the latest. However, when listening to music - whatever band is my favorite- I start pacing, throwing a ball around and daydreaming. I'm in the band and we are playing my highschool. I remember the frustrating feeling of putting a song on and not being able to find an object to toss up and catch as I paced. I did this in the basement now, and I liked my privacy. Many times I'd see someone come down the stairs and I'd toss my ball off under a table just in time. One time my dad caught me catching a sock so I pretended to unravel it and take it to the washer. Another good ball was a rubber thing that goes in the dryer for lint. I kept loosing my balls and using socks. Things got knocked over a few times. There was also a big mirror in my basement and at around age 17 I began standing a ways away, looking at myself in the mirror and playing air guitar as music played. Daydreaming I was playing another show. In reality I played guitar and wanted to be in a band like nothing else but I did not see any opportunity and assumed it would come up when I got older and met new people. I was into obscure music at this point anyway, and never fantasied about fame. My daydream audience was my friends, girls and occasionally family members. Emphasis on girls, ego stroking. I was also writing music at the time in real life. Was this avoidance of reality? I could of found band mates, I was 17 already. Maybe this is unhealthy now, however I did not realize it at the time. I can't remember when it slowed down but sometime after I moved out of the house that had a mirror in the basement. At that point I was in a long term relationship but in the new house still felt the need to pace when I listen to music at certain times. I am currently trying to pin point why I start doing it. I am in my twenties now and I still catch myself pacing to music, playing air guitar. No mirrors though. I even still throw a sock around. It's kind of funny, I remember last year balling up a sock and thinking "haven't done this in a while". No shame, I'm unsure if I'll ever stop or if I want to. I've done this for almost 20 years now, and it seems like it's slowly going away or at least mellowing out. I only found out this was an actual condition today so I haven't given it much thought of what triggers it now or in the past. Honestly, I believe I do it when I'm in good moods only. I have many memories of coming home after a good night and using music as an escapism to fantasize about my peers and stroke my own ego with music. Either by mentally showing them the song in my fantasy, or by being in the actual band. For example I fantasize my friends and I are hanging out listening to my songs. This happens in real life too, I really love music. So my fantasies aren't all far fetched anymore. Maybe at this point, since I'm in my 20's and play music it truly is avoidance behaviour? I could very well be in a band but I choose to write music alone and daydream now and then. I honestly think if I lived my dream I would still be tossing a ball or sock around thinking of what's next to come.. And is that a bad thing? Remember, I started this at age 7. I remained happy and mentally stable until around 17. I experience panic attacks and take meds. My point is, I don't think this condition is caused by trauma all the time. There's more to it than an overactive imagination.
The most curious part is the repetition that is such a compulsion for people who daydream like this. I assumed there was a condition for those who get lost in daydreams, but I never get lost in mine, I never thought anyone else threw an object and caught it when they listened to music but I read a report tonight on one guy who does it as well. I feel different about it now, it was always my secret in the back of my mind. That I did it so much growing up and that I still do it to a degree now. It is not all self indulgent behaviour. A lot of it was creativity. The movies I constructed had nothing to do with my ego or me impressing anyone. Cont'd I've lived in the same neighbourhood for almost two decades, three different houses. The majority of my MD occurred in the first two. Ages 8-12 my MD was done in my bedroom, on the floor or on the bed. Ages 12-22 were spent in the next house and involved the same bedroom activity but around age 17 I began pacing in the basement to music, as well as the "air guitar" mentioned previously. Today I am walking my dog past the first house I mentioned. I've walked past this house numerous times the last few years with my dog, but this time will be different. In the past, I look at how the house has changed since I've lived there - different paint job etc. This time I plan to look at my bedroom window - where all the magic happened. The most creative period of my MD was done right in that bedroom. That's where numerous action movies were mentally played out. Rock albums were constructed there, from beginning to end, hit songs and B - sides. All while on the floor, throwing a sock and catching it. I want to know who lives in that bedroom now. Little do they know a long time ago a boy lived in there that did things unexplainable (at the time at least). What really...blows my mind is how undocumented this activity is and how a child can engage in such weird behaviour yet lead an otherwise completely normal life. If walls could talk as humans do, they would suggest the child has Tourette's and is releasing tics so they won't erupt in public. Or maybe a strange case of OCD. Telling anyone about what I did never crossed my mind and I believe that was a smart choice. I would of been too embarrassed to describe something so bizarre. It was the 90's, I am not even sure if MD was documented at this point yet! I think I read it first came to light in 2002. If I had confided in my parents about this, chances are I would of been brought to a specialist who would of been baffled. By the way, I have always kept my problems to myself, only recently have I began to tell my parents certain things about how I feel.
Was MD an addiction for me? I do not remember feeling compelled to do it as a child. I did however feel compelled to use movement with an object while doing it, or it wouldn't work. When tossing an object and catching it, I think my mind was on autopilot in terms of reflexes for catching. My mind was deep into whatever I was creating in my head. I never did it for more than an hour and a bit a day, usually broken up in 2 sessions. These activities happened when home alone, or when I was bored. Later, the compulsion set in and maybe the term addiction can come into play. In teenage years I'd do it whenever I listened to my favourite band, which was often. I only did it to certain bands though, that I could imagine being in. For example, 17 year old me - no ipod just CDs, listening to different songs off different albums. When my favourite band plays, I pick up a ball or sock and start pacing. When I get sick of it, don't think I ever got through a full album due to constant pacing, I would stop or put on other music I liked. Sometimes I would pace to that, imaging my friends and I are all hearing that song. So is it an addiction now? Yes, but I never tried to stop. Was it comforting? Yes but I never got a sense of release from it. I was not too deep into my own thoughts, I could stop if my mom called me and leave the song alone. Usually I'd feel a little mad that I couldn't finish my favourite song but that's normal. There were rare times in my late teens I would try to get myself not to do it. "This is stupid, just listen to the song and sit down or do something else - why do you need to pace and toss a ball around?" But I never beat myself up about it, who's it harming? Other times I believe I have a special connection with music that others don't. Or maybe this is my way of dancing, I never dance - kind of a phobia. Did I waste much time doing this, or withdrawl from life because of it? Making movies and such as a child did not take any time out of my life, anymore than another kid playing with his toys in his room. Teenage years a lot of time was spent listening to music, no denying that. If I wasn't a MDreamer, I believe the same amount of time would of been spent on music anyway. Music has always been my life. However, I mentioned my MD has decreased starting in my early 20's up until now at 26. Maybe I didn't think that through and since we're on the topic of addiction I must admit I have been addicted to marijuana since 18.
The movement of objects have almost diminished while I do my MD'ing now. Instead I've come to recognize I'm substituting it with marijuana. When I listen to "my music" (you know what I mean by now) I am breaking up the marijuana buds and loading up my pipe. Is this my new object of motion? As the song plays and I daydream that it's me, doing a concert, I am smoking out of various pipes or bongs. Do drugs trigger this behaviour for me? Like I said, my whole life I don't think I ever did this activity while upset about something. It was usually done after seeing friends, having a good night and I liked to put on music and image different scenarios. Such as, the people I had just hung out with are now at my concert watching me play. So it occurred when I was happy. Drug use began when I was 17, and though I did most of my partying outside of the home, I do recall some triggers. I remember doing cocaine alone in my basement, listening to music, pacing with my ball, daydreaming that I was telling my friends facts on the song of the band. My whole group of friends loved music and I actually did discuss music with them often. Alcohol was different, I would need to lay down with headphones and pretend I'm doing a concert that way. No movement. Any other drugs I experimented with had no effect on MD. Marijuana is the only drug I consume now and it's been that was for six years. I'll bet you want to know more about the music and movies I made through elementary school. Comedies were hard be caused thinking of jokes weren't easy. Horror and action were my specialties. Minimal dialogue, I'm sure I didn't whisper every word out loud but the jist of it was there in my head. Most movies were mental pictures in my head, special effects that blew away technology at the time, blood gore, swearing. Everything I loved in movies! I rated the movies, imagined reviews. I distinctly remember walking home in 7th grade daydreaming about my latest action flick. A reviewer stated "pure action from beginning to end, minimal plot" - that movie made 2 sequels. So that's how you make a movie and hype it up in your head. These titles did not stay in my memory long, I don't remember much. Music was almost the same formula, I'll begin with a random band that I hear on the radio but do not own their cd. I think of the songs I know from the radio and make up titles for the remainder of the track list. I imagine what the cd insert looks like. I grab a sock and begin humming and grinding my teeth for the beat. As opposed to making sound effects for movies, I am now making a song up in my head with the title I gave it. Now I wonder, how good were these songs? I've read of a child genius who sees music in his head but I need to clarify that this is different - not an act of a genius unfortunately. After I'd make the song, I'd long forget it. The lyrics weren't full lyrics either. By the way, drumbeats were made by my teeth grinding. I'm willing to bet my jaw disorder is because of my childhood teeth grinding. I have yet to read a report of others grinding their teeth during MD but if you do - stop before it's too late! I honestly believe I am the only MD'er who used his teeth as a drum set. I've read others stories on MD recently, apparently only myself and one other man uses the "throw and catch" movement. How bizarre. Pacing is very common among MD but I simply cannot pace without playing catch with myself at the same time. Anything will do - pencils, glue sticks, lighters, but my favourite has always been a balled up sock. At any given time my bedroom will have balled up socks under the bed and dresser.
These days I find caffeine triggers it to an extent, and I am more likely to do it home alone when the music can be loud. I have to admit I am a major procrastinator. Always have been. Since the majority of my daydreaming revolved around me being in a band, I cannot lie and say these dreams were out of reach. Was the fantasy an escape? If I didn't engage in MD would I have been involved more in music in real life? Perhaps.
Without MD, would I even want to be in a band? There are many music lovers out there who do not feel the need to make their own music. Being a musician does not make you any less of a music lover. Without MD would I of just enjoyed the music for what it was? I believe avoidance is part of my MD to some extent. However, as stated before - if I was in a band right now (which I have been reaching out for) would my MD stop? No. I just can't see it. Let's pretend I was in my dream band, just played a show, all my friends were there, great night....the next day, or next time I'm alone and I put music on, how much do you wanna bet I start tossing a sock around daydreaming of new scenarios. I enjoy it. Is it a tick? I don't know. What I know about ticks is that one feels compelled to let them out and if the situation is not appropriate, the ticks come out when the individual is alone. Okay, that said - as a child I would find myself MD at some inappropriate times. Like at Grandma's house, walking around making music in my head, kicking around a wooden yard stick. It seems I felt the need to leave my family 20min approximately and do that. I think it was out of boredom. When bored at the cabin, I'd take walks and daydream while picking leaves or tossing a twig. Was it a compulsion or just to put boredom at ease? Seems more like a compulsion in those days.
I have never withdrawn from a social function to engage in MD after the age of 10 or so. What is the correlation with movement and MD? Why must I throw and catch? Without an object it doesn't work. I do not have any compulsion to toss a ball around unless I am daydreaming with music. As far as ticks go I have never has any others up until the age of 24 or so. I notice when reading, or when I am nervous I pick at my facial hair. This has nothing to do with MD. When I shave the compulsion is gone, only present when I have facial hair. I call it a compulsion because I do it often, tell myself to stop and find myself doing it a few seconds later. There is a gratifying feeling to it. I can control it in public. Only happens when I lay down and read or am using my smartphone. It's not a major worry but I felt I had to disclose it here. I know I stated I am a fairly normal MD'er, without any major signs of OCD but I had to mention the hair picking thing. MD is such a fascinating phenomenon.
To the reader, if you also engage in this - I really don't know what to tell you. It seems some see it as a gift and others are frantically making forum posts asking how to stop. I've read stories of people who withdrew from life to spend their days indoors daydreaming and want to stop. I've heard people say they get stuck in the fake world they've fabricated in their mind. This doesn't sound healthy. Personally I did waste a few summer days at home MDing I can still remember them and the music I made in my head that day. These are fond memories, weird ones. I, myself have no regrets of how I grew up MDing. Last year, I wrote and recorded 10 songs of my own (in real life). The songs were not constructed using MD - however when listening to my recordings afterwards - guess what I did. Yup, the sock came out. Even though this was last year, I didn't know the term MD and never gave much thought to my actions. Now that I know, it's an odd feeling - I was MDing to my own music now! My song played on my CD player as I daydream about what my friends would think when they hear it. In reality, I handed out my CD to a bunch of friends so this daydream was very realistic and fun. I still want to know why throwing and catching feels so right? At this point, I feel like embracing my MD again. During childhood it was a conscious decision to go to my room and "make a movie". Later on in life, it wasn't a decision it just happened when I put music on. Should I embrace my talent - for lack of a better word? Could I pick up a ball, play catch and still make up music in my head? My MDing the last 15 years has always involved someone else's song. What if I created a rudimentary melody in my head while MDing, then play it by ear on the guitar? But is that not the essence of composing music? Perhaps musicians can maladaptive compose music but lack in the daydream aspect? Maybe MD'ers are ALL artists and they don't know it, or only some. In conclusion, I wrote this to whoever is interested - either a psychologist or a MD'er themselves can gain more insight on this.!There's no way I would disclose any of this without being anonymous. It's just too bizarre. Even now that I know there's a name for the condition, it will always be my little secret. I had just finished saying I plan to experiment with my MD in conjunction with my music. That does not mean you should embrace your MD as well. There are many degrees of this phenomenon, many describe it being counterproductive to their real lives. If this is you, embracing it is not a good idea. I'm no psychologist but if your MDing consists of laying in bed fantasizing about "what could be" in your life then you may have a problem. You can decide that. How feasible are your daydreams? If they are impossible to achieve then I personally don't think it's healthy to do in excess. If you MD about music, movies, art etc then ask yourself. - do I have it in me to bring these ideas to life? I suggest trying it. Write a book, a song - whatever and see how it makes you feel. Get your art out there - give your book, cd, art to your friends or upload it online. Doesn't matter how many people see it, bring your MD to reality. Jeez, MD was only coined in 2002! I started it in 1995, I know a guy who was doing this in the 70's. This seems like a secret activity that no one has had the courage to confess until they googled their symptoms.Maybe because an individual can do this without showing any other symptoms of mental illness, it goes undocumented. My friend who MD'ed back in the 70's described doing it as a child and long into adulthood. He even did it while being monitored by professionals in the psych ward. The staff saw him bounce around the room. This may seem like a crazy man acting out due to being confined to a psych ward. If a patient is caught engaging in MD, staff has no way of knowing what is going on in the patients head unless the patient discloses to them "I'm acting out scenarios in my head". Who wants to sound crazier? This is probably how MD slipped through the cracks of medical research for so long. Well, that's my story on Maladaptive Daydreaming! A new term I learned yesterday for something I've been doing twenty years. Before today I would of never wrote this out - never. The thought of googling it never crossed my mind, "throw ball around to music"? It was actually "pacing to music" that lead me to MD. Thank you for reading! Never stop dreaming but stay healthy!