My daydreaming has been an integral part of who I am for as long as I can remember, but until a year ago I had never mentioned it to anyone. I’ve noticed that this reluctance to talk openly about our daydreaming seems to be very common. It makes me wonder if immersive daydreaming is a lot more widespread than we realise. After all, if we don’t talk about it, how do we know that none of our friends do it? Perhaps, like us, someone we know is keeping this a secret?
Here are five reasons that probably contribute to our reluctance to be more open about our daydreaming:
1. We don’t have the words
The term “maladaptive daydreaming” didn’t exist until 2002, and most people have still haven’t heard of it. Even sufferers of MaDD don’t always realise that there is a name for this thing that they struggle with. I’m not a big fan of labels, but it’s very hard to Google something you don’t have a name for, and even harder to find and connect with other sufferers. Until the term “maladaptive daydreaming” brought us together, we had no choice but to suffer alone.
2. We’re afraid that other people won’t understand
Even though the name has been around since 2002, MaDD still isn’t an officially recognised mental health problem. It isn’t in the DSM-5, the catalogue of psychiatric diagnoses published by the American Psychiatric Association. Many counsellors and therapists have never heard of it. And, let’s face it, our style of daydreaming is hard to explain to normative daydreamers. We’re likely to be met with “but everybody daydreams”. Sure, everybody daydreams, but does everybody dream up fantasy scenarios that have no foundation in real life, or keep the same plot line going for months or years at a time, or become emotionally attached to people that only exist in their heads? That whole concept is really hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it.
3. We’re afraid of what other people will think.
There’s still stigma attached to having a mental-health condition. It’s understandable that we’re afraid of being judged negatively if we admit that we talk to ourselves, that we have imaginary friends or that we are addicted to our own thoughts. We probably all know some people whose opinion of us would change if they knew what goes on in our heads. But, there will also be those who are curious and want to know more. And there will be many people who will understand that daydreaming is just a part of who we are and who will form an opinion of us based on the whole person, not just on the place we sometimes escape to in our heads.
4. We’re ashamed.
Before I found out that other people suffer from MaDD, I thought it was something that I’d brought on myself because I was such a worthless person. I thought that if I told anyone, they’d realise that I was so unworthy of real-life friends that I’d had to make them up. I had a deep sense of being “bad” or “unworthy”, which meant that every time I was around other people I had to put on an act, pretend to be someone “nice”. I was terrified that if I told anyone about my daydream world, they’d realise that underneath the act, I really wasn’t a very nice person. It was only when I found out about MaDD that I was able to move past that shame. For me, finding out that other people have this too meant it wasn’t all about me, and it wasn’t a reflection or a definition of who I am as a person.
5. Our dreams feel private.
Even though I share my thoughts on immersive and maladaptive daydreaming through this blog, the details of what I daydream about – my characters, my plot lines – are something I don’t talk about. They belong in my head, nowhere else. I applaud those daydreamers who can turn their daydreams into novels, art or other creative endeavours. But I don’t have that level of creativity. My plot line has kept me entertained for years, but I know it’s not blockbuster-movie material. And I think that’s OK. We all have private thoughts that we don’t share with others. But for me, there’s a distinction between the daydreamer and the daydreams. I think it’s really important to raise awareness of immersive and maladaptive daydreaming, so that those of us who are still suffering in silence realise we’re not alone. It’s not important for you to know what I daydream about, but it is important that you know how I daydream.
What about you? Have you told anyone about your daydreaming? How did they react? Or if you haven’t told anyone, what’s holding you back? And to anyone reading this who thought they were the only one who daydreams in this way – you are not alone. This way of daydreaming is probably a lot more common than anyone realises, it affects all kinds of people, and it doesn’t make you weird, bad or a loser. It’s one aspect of who you are; it doesn’t define you.