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Maladaptive daydreaming

A letter from our December edition.

07 November 2016

Fourteen years ago realising that you are in love with a figment of your imagination would have resulted in a course of antipsychotic drugs typical of those used to treat schizophrenic hallucinations. Even though maladaptive daydreamers know that the world they have created inside their minds is not real, when the issue is brought up in a counsellor’s office it is often either treated as if it is psychosis, or underestimated and simply labelled as an overactive imagination. Very little has changed in the clinical environment when one opens up about their emotional attachment to the fantasy world that they have created.

Outside the doctor’s office however, the situation is very different; it has been 14 years since Eli Somer’s first study of dissociating behaviour in the form of an addiction to daydreaming, and the discovery of this phenomenon has inspired blogs, support groups, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, and ‘Wild Minds Network’ – a support website dedicated to maladaptive daydreaming. But even so, without knowing the phrase ‘maladaptive daydreaming’ it is virtually impossible to find any of these places, as the symptoms will prominently point towards psychosis or ADHD.The first scrap of an answer a maladaptive daydreamer gets is from accidently stumbling on a post on their newsfeed related to the concept, not from a clinical diagnosis.

Maladaptive daydreaming usually occurs as a coping mechanism in response to trauma, abuse or loneliness. Sufferers create a complex inner world which they escape to in times of distress by daydreaming for hours. It is a vicious cycle of addiction; maladaptive daydreaming inevitably creates an emotional attachment to the characters and the life created, which often replaces the painful real-life interactions between family and friends. It also interferes with studying, working and looking after one’s hygiene and wellbeing, which then further hinders daily functioning. At this point, daydreaming about a fulfilling life is a more appealing than dealing with the depressing reality. The defining difference between maladaptive daydreaming and psychosis is the fact that the individual knows that their daydreams are not real.

With no medical recognition, the disorder is treated as a neural biochemical imbalance instead of an addictive symptom stemming from a void in the individual’s life. The underlying problem is not addressed. Maladaptive daydreamers are not taken seriously: stuck waiting for suitable treatment, for acknowledgement that their minds are not simply ‘creative’ – but instead that this ‘creativity’ has a hand wrapped tightly around their throats – and finally, for answers.

The question still remains: ‘Why me?’ The exact mechanism by which maladaptive daydreaming comes to inhibit the ability of one’s emotions to stay anchored to reality remains to be discussed. Less nebulously though, is the fact that this discussion cannot be extended without further research and new minds linking ideas together into an amalgam that will eventually answer this question. Answers are required not only for treatment, but also to bring peace of mind to those who believe maladaptive daydreaming is a life sentence of isolation. I urge those of you reading to spread awareness of maladaptive daydreaming; share this letter, talk about maladaptive daydreaming, conduct research into it. Someone right now is living in isolation believing that they are ‘the only person with this thing’.

Maria Tapu