“I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering.” – Steven Wright
As a writer, I spend a great deal of time enwrapped in imagination. Nearly everything is a writing prompt and my creative Muse speaks to me at all hours. Daydreaming is one act that allows the flow to continue. Often, I sit in reverie, conjuring up ideas for my next article or blog post. I can be still for short periods of time while I move from one thought to the next. Sometimes my waking dream time is seed planting for the next steps in my life.
I teach my clients and students how to use their imagination to manifest all sorts of experiences. I tell them that if they can dream it, they are more likely to be it. I share tool and techniques to assist with turning energy into form. All good.
And yet, for some, daydreaming becomes a nightmare, when it turns into an obsession that pulls them away from responsibility, focus and function.
According to Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel, maladaptive daydreaming relates to spending so much time in fantasy-land that it precludes productive functioning in day to day life. It carries no formal DSM-V diagnosis, but it is recognized by clinicians as a mental health concern. His study both posed and answered questions about this fascinating condition.
“Daydreaming usually starts as a small fantasy that makes people feel good, but over time the process becomes addictive until it takes over their lives. At this stage the disorder is accompanied by feelings of shame and a sense of lack of fulfillment, but because till now the disorder has been unknown, when they come to receive treatment, therapists usually dismissed their complaints.”
Recently, I encountered someone who recognized this pattern in their own life. As they explained, it was easy to get caught up in the activity that it became debilitating. Also a writer, this person needed to treat the condition as they would any addiction, which was to avoid the practice of daydreaming completely. Sadly, by taking preventative measures, it left them lacking in the imagination and motivation department.”
It is characterized by (literally) inventing characters that interact with each other and sometimes the daydreamer themselves are part of the scenarios. The storylines are generally repetitive and progressive, as if writing a script. Imagine the Holodeck on the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. You step through the doors and it is as if you are in an alternate reality. The difference is on the show, participants were able to say, “Exit holodeck,” and the doors would slide open. In a state of maladaptive daydreaming, escape from the experience is not as easily self-generated.
There is no specific psychotropic treatment for maladaptive daydreaming. In one study, researchers found fluvoxamine (Luvox) was effective in helping a client control her daydreams. This medication is a commonly used for OCD, since the condition has an obsessive quality to it.
When exploring this condition, it became clear that it resonated with the therapeutic adage that “everything is a coping skill,” or at least, starts out that way. For many with maladaptive daydreaming tendencies, it may resemble the dissociation that follows trauma or abuse. For others, it may begin as a relief from stress or boredom, but then become so appealing that it, like a substance, devolve into something so enticing that it outweighs any potential hazard in their minds.
Those who engage in this practice may notice that they are more likely to “fall down the rabbit hole,” if certain triggers are present or they are in the midst of particular circumstances, or in the company of certain people, such as a daunting meeting or droning on supervisor. If that is the case, finding ways to self-soothe can be of benefit. Taking time to be in nature, listening to music, exercising, writing about feelings, practicing meditation or yoga, dancing, being around people and animals you love, can be antidotes in the moment. Beckoning oneself back to present moment reality may help, with the reminder, “I am here and now, not there and then.”
Some relate that repetitive movement, pacing and fidgeting are hallmarks. There is a diagnostic difference between it and schizophrenia. Those who engage in the practice are able to discern the difference between fantasy and reality; they just prefer the former over the latter.
A woman explains her descent into maladaptive daydreaming and the ways in which it impedes her life. She has found that it has impacted on her relationships, her ability to work, and her sense of self. She recognizes that the origin, is in part, a reaction to family dysfunction and trauma in her childhood.
An on-line forum called, Wild Minds Network is a place for those who are immersed in this condition to find support among peers.