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The vast majority of people will never come across the term 'maladaptive daydreaming'. Indeed, until recently, neither had I. By chance, I stumbled across an article online which looked vaguely interesting, so naturally I read on. In short, it changed my life.
Maladaptive daydreaming is a psychiatric condition first identified by Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel. Many are still sceptical of its existence, or just very confused by it. This is understandable, as there has been very little research conducted to find out more. A very basic description would state that the symptoms are intense daydreams that distract from, and in some cases take precedence over, daily life. This is not incorrect, but there is a lot more to it.
Through Vocal, I hope to spread awareness of maladaptive daydreaming from a very real first-person perspective. Perhaps somebody will read this and feel that they now understand themselves a bit better, as I did with the first article I read. Perhaps this will just be an interesting read for anybody interested in mental health, because I will also be delving into my fight against all mental demons. In general, I suppose, I hope this is a bit of motivation to self-analyse no matter your mental health, and a little bit of PMA (positive mental attitude).
I have always known that I was different, and it was never something that I was completely comfortable with. At times it was like living two lives. I have tried to place when my maladaptive daydreaming first started and I have found it impossible.
My first memories of the condition involve sitting on my bedroom floor, pretending to be a character from my favourite Disney film, or my favourite popstar. I would invent scenarios and interact with fellow characters/bandmates. Sounds just like childlike creativity? Well, I'm not sure it was. I never wanted anybody else to join in, because they wouldn't know the scenario like I would and because I was always the centre of universe in whatever situation I invented. Also, I didn't want to interact with real people; I preferred the people in my head. Maybe I knew even then, too, that this was something that I should be hiding, that this was not normal behaviour.
As time went on, these patterns continued. I would listen to music, pretending to be the singer, pacing up and down my room as I went through scenario after scenario, often repeating my favourite scenes. I would talk aloud, as if to the person I was imagining. This could literally go on for hours, and in many cases it was irrelevant whether I had other things I ought to be doing. My mum used to be confused when she asked me to tidy my room, but would find that hours later I was stood in the same mess but with my music blaring out. She had no idea that I had been pacing and pretending instead.
Throughout my teens and early 20s, it exacerbated. I acquired headphones so I could blast music without alerting those around me, and found myself naturally doing more things independently, which gave me ample time to daydream. It didn't matter that the stakes were higher and that my A-levels, degree, or friendships were on the line.
I am now 24 and have discovered a name to put to the condition that has plagued my life. The significance of this cannot be overstated; I now feel that I am not alone, as I always assumed I was, and that it is an obstacle that can be defeated. It must be reversible, like a habit.
The limited research on maladaptive daydreaming (MD) suggests that it comes from abuse in early years of life, and it is often accompanied by OCD and depression. I need to point out here that I have never felt abused by my parents. My older brother has Asperger's, and I recognised even as a very small child that this meant my parents had limited time/energy to devote to me. I thought it just gave me a real sense of independence, but now I fear it helped to create a safe space for my mind to release itself. As research suggests, it was a safe space in which I could lose myself and forget reality. In addition my parents never wanted me to discuss our home life with my friends because Asperger's is another poorly understood condition. In that sense, I was already living a double life.
My first bout of OCD came when I was about 6 with the number 4. I couldn't tell you why, but everything I did had to be in a multiple of 4, with my right hand/foot first, and then left, with equal parts right and left. So I would walk down the street with my right foot stepping over a line, then my left, and so on until I reached a multiple of 4. I would double step/leap if needed, it felt wrong to walk any other way. My first bout of depression came at 12. I have since had another, much worse, relapse at 21.
Knowing that I have overcome these conditions with positive mental habits, and that I am constantly motivated to increase self-awareness has given me the strength to commit to overcoming this habit of a lifetime. So far I am five days into the fight and I am discovering that I have wasted a lot of time. Not only that, but that I am unsure how to just be. I am so used to constantly thinking of scenarios that my mind struggles with concentrating on one thing.
But by far the scariest thing is that I no longer have a safe space to release my thoughts when alone. It is so important that we all feel able to discuss our mental health freely, and can cope with the difficulties of managing it. To that end, my Vocal profile will allow me to document my navigation of MD, OCD and anxiety/depression and put happiness, passion and wellbeing back on top. I hope that it can help, motivate, or encourage someone else to do the same.