Once, on a slow workday, I had the spark of an idea for a short story (okay, fine, it was fanfiction). I let my brain run with the premise and the story played out in my head over the course of a few hours. Afterward, I had the shell of a full plot. It took me a few weeks to write it, and after it was finished, it topped out at over twenty thousand words.
Intense daydreaming has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would often stare into space, to the amusement of my family. My parents remarked on how good I was at entertaining myself—I could disappear into my room for hours and invent stories with my stuffed animals and dolls and be perfectly content. As I got older, the daydreams only became more elaborate, often playing out like movies in my head at almost any time of day.
Like anyone, I enjoy imagining ideal scenarios and “replaying” interesting conversations. But I’ve always known that daydreaming was a bigger part of my life—and my personality—than it is for many people. I have several ongoing “stories” that I revisit from time to time, with original characters I know as though they’re close friends. (They don’t know me, though—I’m not in the stories. I like to make that clear!) I’ve carried one pair of characters with me since late high school, another since college, another for several years, and these days, I’m getting to know a new pair that I’m excited about. Since I’ve written a few short stories that included them, some of my friends have “met” the characters, too, but none of them have any idea how long particular characters been in my head. It’s probably better that way.
Full disclosure, though: most of the time when I’m daydreaming, it’s a pretty safe bet that those daydreams are fanfiction-related. I know I’m far from alone in that, and I’ll go ahead and assume most POME readers are familiar with fandom and shipping—daydreaming about my current ship is cozy. It’s easy. It’s fun. And, yes, it’s even addictive. There are absolutely times when I really need to focus, but my daydreaming premise du jour is there in the back of my mind, tempting me to dive in and let the story play out. Giving in is way more fun than doing actual work, of course. But like anyone else, I do eventually have to buckle down and get shit done—and I enjoy getting in the zone and being productive. My daydreams will wait for me!
I wasn’t familiar with the term “maladaptive daydreaming” until somewhat recently, and I was immediately amazed. Just take a look at this list of symptoms on Medical Daily. All except two describe me perfectly. The only ones that don’t fit are repetitive movements and neglecting self-care. But the rest are spot-on: Daydreaming as an addictive habit, began in childhood, entertainment as a daydreaming trigger (oh my god, duh), elaborate stories comparable to novels or films, and making facial expressions that correspond to the daydreaming (!!!!). It’s me! I have a word for it!
Only . . . I wouldn’t call my daydreaming maladaptive. Excessive, yes, but it’s not a negative force in my life. Sure, sometimes it does throw a wrench in my productivity. Sometimes I’m irritated when someone “interrupts” a daydream by talking to me—it feels like my brain has to slam on the breaks!—so, I can honestly say it impacts my social life. But while it’s true that my tendency to daydream can make other parts of life a struggle, even on a day-to-day basis, I don’t consider it a burden. In fact, I wouldn’t give it up.
If it weren’t for my daydreams, I wouldn’t have many of my stories and characters and fanfics. I usually can’t even write something until I’ve daydreamed it “enough.” Without my wandering mind, I might be more productive, ambitious, and outgoing, but I’m not sure I’d even recognize that person. Daydreaming has shaped my personality and even my level of overall happiness. Thanks to what I call my “rainbow brain,” I tend to be a fairly happy person in general. How could I not be when I’m often spinning some wonderful new daydream as I go about my day? That doesn’t mean I only imagine happy stories, just that they make me happy.
I also have what I like to call my “laugh bank.” I make it a point to remember funny moments so that I can play them back later and have something to laugh about all over again. I’m fairly good at remembering conversations, and I owe that to my ability to daydream. It’s hard for me to understand how some people go through life forgetting, or never reflecting upon, so many fun moments.
On the flip side, I’ve gone through phases where I wasn’t daydreaming much at all (or worse, my mind was too preoccupied with worry/stress to allow me to daydream) and it was weird. At best, my mind felt oddly “empty.” I have to wonder if some people feel that way most of the time—are they the ones who can read 100 books in a single year, which seems like a superhuman feat to me? I certainly understand wanting to fill that “silence” with great stories. At worst, the lack of daydreaming was replaced by near-constant obsessing over something I was afraid of, and I had to claw my way out. When I did, my happy daydreams were still waiting for me. I’ve come to think of them as a form of self-care: If I find myself getting too anxious or stressed, I turn to a cozy scenario to help me relax. I don’t want to lose my daydreams again.
For that reason, I’m a little saddened to see so much of the dialogue about “maladaptive” daydreaming focusing on it being negative or treatable. Certainly there are people who view it as a problem and want to get better, but I also strongly suspect that there are many others like me who value and cherish their daydreams. Plenty of tumblr posts celebrate the habits of making up stories in your head as you’re falling asleep and having a rich inner life, so I know I’m not alone in seeing the good in my habit.
Before the holidays, I signed up for a fanfiction gift exchange online. When I received my recipient’s profile, my mind was blank, but after reading it a few times, I had a spark. And then all I had to do was daydream for a while, and I created a story that never would have existed otherwise.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Featured image photo credit: Roksolana Zasiadko