I just watched this video and, like all of Dr. Todd Grande’s videos, it got me thinking.
I can relate strongly to what Dr. Grande describes in the video. I do spend an above average amount of time in “highly structured” daydreams. The detail is incredible; to the point I feel I am actually living it. I have to admit, it does interfere with “being in the moment”, sometimes making conversation awkward. I often get questions like:
What are you thinking?
Where are you?
You with us?
As described in the video, I also have “repetitive movement” when daydreaming, some of it stimming. Sometimes, I pace back and forth or break into a run; I’ve prepared standard explanations, in case someone wonders what I’m doing. As mentioned by Dr. Grande, I often have deep, emotional responses to my daydreams; I can cry, laugh or get angry – almost at will. I agree with him that there is a dichotomy – these daydreams can be joyful, but also disruptive. I generally avoid daydreaming in public, for fear of attracting undue attention to myself. Dr. Grande mentions the connections between OCD, ADHD and maladaptive daydreaming; I do have OCD, but I don’t think ADHD really applies to my particular case, although the connections make logical sense.
I was really interested in Dr. Grande’s emphasis on fantasy and making fictional worlds – in my case, very visual and highly detailed, rather like a movie unfolding inside of my mind. This is the engine of my writing. In the video, Dr. Grande raises an interesting question: is daydreaming addictive? I know I cannot help it and it does bring me joy. I’d say not so much an addiction, which has obvious negative connotations, but an adaptation. Which leads me to my next point: lose the “mal”!
In my case, I don’t think maladaptive daydreaming is a separate “disorder” but an important aspect of my own private autism. In fact, for me, “maladaptive daydreaming” is not a disorder at all but a crucial survival mechanism – an adaptation that helps me cope in a neurotypical world. So I figure maladaptive daydreaming is my “euadaptive daydreaming” (Yes, of course I looked up the opposite prefix for “mal” and invented my own term. My fascination with words never ends. I’m a blast at parties).
In my case, daydreaming is highly beneficial; it allows me to prepare and organize my thoughts. Specifically, it puts me through various detailed scenarios – “test runs” – that prepare me to face real world tasks, many of them a breeze for neurotypicals – almost instinctive – but requiring great effort on my part. When I daydream, I frequently develop contingency plans that help me overcome obstacles; I feel better, more confident, going through these test scenarios in my mind, before actually setting out to do something.
Someone once told me that dreams help us prepare for real events, and I find that is definitely the case with me – including daydreams. In fact, my dreams and daydreams are frequently the driving force behind my writing. They led to the creation of Anthony Zen and the fantasy worlds I create to help me cope with and understand the world around me; sometimes logic can only get me so far. Thus, daydreaming, and the creativity it encourages, is a vital process that helps relieve my stress and anxiety, while providing me with a platform to reach out to others. Without it, this blog wouldn’t exist; neither would I.
“Dreaming” by h.koppdelaney is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
“bob’s cheezy dream” by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0
I am also autistic with “Maladaptive Daydreaming” I agree that there are many wonderful things about it, it feels amazing, I have so many worlds, universes and stories, and it has helped me cope and survive through a lot, as well as many of the ways you listed. I love it and am thankful for it. But that’s not what is Maladaptive for me and many others, for me it is basically on 24/7 at some level, its the inability to control it sometimes, and being so attached to it that not doing it can cause distress, the random nightmare like daydreams like the ones make me nearly collapse on the floor crying and in pain from losing someone that’s not actually dead. Not sleeping or getting up at a decent time, forgetting to eat, accidentally losing hours of the day, spending 3 hours in the shower that seemed like 15 minutes tops, the horrible foot pain, not being able focus on school, and everything else I need to do in reality, so not being able to write or do anything creative with them because of them and because they are trapped in my head. The maladaptive part is what we hate so much, without it’s just immersive daydreaming which is awesome. That’s why MD needs to be understood better and recognized as a condition, to helps those that are suffering from it learn to control it and work through anything that may be contributing to its severity, most can’t already do that because doctors and therapist don’t understand what we are talking about and brush it off like its nothing or go to the other extreme and think its schizophrenia. I hope this did not come out as rude or negative, I am writing this very calmly, I was just trying to explain the other side of it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this thoughtful response. Most people are very brief, so it is nice to read something with more substance. I have also had MDs and counselors not understand what I am saying; I’ve started telling them that since I am autistic, I just do not think the way they do. I also spend too much time in the shower! I joke that it is like a time machine; I go in for what seems like 5 min and I come out to face some alien world. I find my hobbies are the only thing to release the pressure of all those ideas in my head – provided I have time for hobbies. They are ways to manage maladaptive daydreaming, and divert their energies into something more “productive”, but I’ve found it takes a long time and a lot of patience. Anyway, thanks for the wonderful comment. Kind Regards, Cameron
I’ve been avoiding turning maladaptive daydreaming into something I fixate on. Unfortunately I’m failing at that. The main reason is that it’s been such a driving force in my life.
I’m 41. I’ve been daydreaming to the point of it being maladaptive (for multiple reasons) since I was at least 9. Back then, I didn’t know that they were daydreams. I didn’t have the words to say that’s what they were. Even into my teens, I didn’t know that’s what they were. I traumatized myself with them – the subject matter is extremely dark. I made countless suicide attempts from the age of around 9, unable to be ignored by the time I was 16. I was considered delusional at first, in part because I was unable to figure out it was “daydream.” I thought that I was “caught between two worlds,” a “cosmic accident” that lived two lives at one time. Delusions changed to a preliminary diagnosis of what was at the time, “Multiple Personality Disorder.” My inner characters were that real. Not long after, I was diagnosed as psychotic (as part of mood disorders – depression or bipolar) and then eventually they settled on Borderline Personality Disorder (my desperate attempts to end my self-traumatization – aka my life – appearing as cries for attention by mental health professionals). I was also diagnosed as schizophrenic after that.
Years later, the MPD (now called DID) diagnosis came up again. It answered a lot, and my imagination was happy to go so far as to create reasons for why I had such a dark inner world. I believed it, though something in the back of my mind nudged at me saying it couldn’t be true. It wasn’t. I was traumatizing myself yet again – as something of a side-quest.
From 9-12 was one story, 12-40 another. Rarely have there been other focuses, though occasionally I’ll drift into a story version of what I think they’re referring to about “goal driven” daydreaming. From my mid 20s until late 30s, there were bits of imagined “real” trauma, while recognizing that my inner world was, in fact, an inner world. Interestingly, a dopamine agonist called Parlodel that I was taking for an unrelated condition stopped my daydreams in their tracks. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what it was, from the timing. That would make sense with something I read recently about someone whose stimulant ADHD meds “switched off” their daydreams.
Anyway, at 40, a text roleplay/collaborative storytelling thing I did with close, trusted friends over the course of about a year changed my inner landscape. Gone was the world I’d lived in inside my head for nearly 30 years; in its place, a continuation of this roleplay when we ended it. No longer was it self-traumatizing. No longer was there any question where it had come from.
I learned from that, that just maybe the original purpose was never to traumatize myself. I’ve had trouble identifying emotions for as long as I can remember (alexithymia). My daydreams helped me process all manner of negative emotions; anger, shame, fear, anxiety, anticipation, pain. They also helped me process love. I know how to physically identify all of these things from how my body feels (emotions are labeled by how they feel to my body).
I still daydream a huge portion of my day (yes, even in public). I still incorporate daily tasks as part of my inner world of daydreams (two worlds at the same time). I still process my emotions through my inner stories. I also rehearse social situations to help me know how to react (I always did this). But the trauma is gone.
For 30 years, my daydreams were definitely maladaptive, even if they had euadaptive (I like that word) aspects. I believe that if someone had recognized that when I first started talking about them as a preteen, I may not have lived the life of self-traumatization that I did. But what’s done is done.
As for current diagnoses, I have been preliminarily diagnosed (through screening rather than full assessment) with ADHD. I’m awaiting a neuropsych eval (my first ever). There is question of autism (I meet a lot of the social criteria, repetitive and rigid behaviors, sensory processing differences, etc.) but that’s something that I just don’t know yet.
All this to say that I don’t think we can think of it, across a broad range of people who have/do it, as euadaptive. There are certainly negative and life changing (even life threatening for me) aspects. To ignore those does a disservice to anyone who doesn’t only benefit from them.
tl;dr: It can’t be either-or, it has to be both. (So sorry for the length)
Hello. No need to apologize for the length. This was an excellent read and I greatly appreciate your honesty and willingness to share. I agree that a mixture of maladaptive and euadaptive is more likely; as with many things throughout my life, there are both pros and cons. Your response made me reflect back on my own experiences (thanks for that!) and there are some similarities in our stories – a common foundation, but with different houses built through years of unique experiences and personal strategies to deal with our particular environments (inner and outer). In closing, I wish you well and by all means – keep on daydreaming!