“Maladaptive daydreaming has been the subject of a series of previous studies. Somer and colleagues found that maladaptive daydreaming is characterized by extensive daydreaming that occupies many hours per day, causes significant subjective distress and interferes with function, and is accompanied by extensive comorbidity. It can be differentiated from normal daydreaming with both self‐report measures and a structured interview that incorporates proposed diagnostic criteria for the disorder. The daydreaming [sic] involves a complex inner world with many characters and elaborate plots. The daydreaming has an addictive or compulsive aspect to it, but the person realizes that it is an internal fantasy world and does not confuse the fantasy with external reality.” [i]
When I was about ten years old, I stepped into a mud wasp nest and froze. Unfortunately, the wasps did not. They crawled all over me, stinging me with what felt like gleeful abandon, but I couldn’t move. All I could think about was my mom telling me to stand still on those occasions when a bee was buzzing about. Children aren’t the best at understanding when similar situations require a different response.
The experience left me allergic to wasp venom and likely to bolt in terror when something yellow and black flew by.
I no longer panic when I see creatures that sting, but PTSD still has a hold. [ii] Like most, when I feel vulnerable, defenceless, or under attack, my body prepares for fight or flight. But because I don’t resort to fisticuffs very often, my response mostly involves hitting the road.
(Though as I watch today’s crop of toadying and incompetent politicians, I consider making a philosophical and boxing-based revision to my domestic policy.) [iii]
When I’m triggered and PTSD rises, I leave. Not my body (astral projection would be neat), just my brain. You can’t always tell. I can look like I’m here when I’m not. I interact, but inside, I’ve drifted into a daydream I can control. I like that my inside world does what I want.
Fleeing from the things I feel I can’t deal with turns me into a world builder: bad news for those who’ve “done me wrong.” Things don’t go well for them on my version of Walton Mountain.
Some say revenge is a dish best served cold: I do better by it when it’s imaginary. I’m not bound by laws or the rules of physics in my mind. In the worlds I create, I eloquently (and possibly viciously) denounce those who deserve it. The ones who survive judgement obsequiously repent to no avail. I move on with my life and leave them behind. The life I build for myself in my brain is a good one.
You should see my clothes. [iv]
“In our view, the relationship between maladaptive daydreaming and other symptom clusters and disorders is complex and multi‐directional. For example, severe maladaptive daydreaming could provide an escape from anxiety and depression, but could also cause or exacerbate depression, which would then in turn increase the motivation to daydream more frequently. In our view, maladaptive daydreaming can be viewed as fundamentally a strategy for disconnecting or dissociating from distressing internal and external circumstances. Thus, one could view it as a dissociative coping strategy that can operate with or without a diagnosable dissociative disorder…it is clear to us clinically that there are cases of dissociative identity disorder with no elements of maladaptive daydreaming, [sic] and vice versa. Nevertheless, the two disorders co‐occur with each other and maladaptive daydreaming is strongly linked to dissociation in populations with high levels of trauma and dissociation…”
I don’t only disappear into maladaptive revenge daydreams. The dissociations span a wide range of topics with a cast that shifts according to my whim. All I need is the desire for an elsewhere to be. Sometimes, elsewhere is a good place to be.
It’s not that I can’t handle my current reality. It’s awful, stressful, and difficult, but I’ll probably get through it. Dissociation, however, is more than a response to fear. I also go there when I anticipate pain.
Better worlds appeal when the realities of life look ready to break the heart.
[i] Maladaptive Daydreaming, Dissociation, and the Dissociative Disorders. Colin A. Ross, M.D., Jane Ridgway, M.A., Nevita George, B.S. (Psych Res Clin Practice) 2020. https://prcp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/appi.prcp.20190050
[ii] Different sources.
[iii] I’ve been in a couple of fights. When I was eleven, I punched a girl who was bullying a group of six and seven-year-old students at school. I did try talking first. She got blood on my favourite t-shirt: it was very annoying. When I was seventeen, also at school, two girls shoved me into a glass display case, breaking it and my temper. I got in a shot to the jaw before the teachers made it over.
[iv] A joke. I mostly have no clothes. That is, I don’t focus on that level of design minutiae. Unless I do.
Header credit: Michelle Yeoh, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” (film, 2000).