I was. Only I didn't know that's what I was.
Most of my life as a child, a teenager, and as a college student, I spent daydreaming. Not just the occasional daydream, either. Elaborate detailed daydreams with characters and plots, many of which were spun off from movies or television shows I'd watched. Sometimes I would imagine myself in books, having adventures with my favorite characters.
It was a weird way to live. Both incredibly addictive - any difficult situation in life could be dealt with by simply retreating into my daydreams - and incredibly unnerving. I often felt disconnected from real life, as if I had traveled to a distant country where no one but me and my imaginary friends lived.
I wondered sometimes if I was schizophrenic but ultimately decided I wasn't. I knew the difference between reality and daydreams. I just preferred the daydreams. Most of the time.
But even if I wasn't psychotic, the daydreaming affected my schoolwork, my friendships, and my hobbies. I was constantly told that I underperformed in school. I was teased at school and had few friends.
Whatever it was, I could stop myself occasionally for a few hours. But the daydreaming was so alluring that I couldn't resist for long, even though I felt ashamed and guilty that I spent so much of my life in fantasy.
I thought that there was something terribly wrong with me, but I never talked about it. Not with my parents, my friends, my teachers, or the occasional therapist - in college when I struggled with depression.
If I'd known that there were other people out there who did the same thing - that there was a name for what I was experiencing - maybe I would have felt a little better about myself.
I'd never heard the term maladaptive daydreaming, but that's because it hadn't been invented. Eli Somer, a clinical psychology professor in Israel, came up with the term in 2006. I discovered it this year. The Cleveland Clinic has a page devoted to maladaptive daydreaming, and the description of maladaptive daydreaming matches almost exactly what my life was like in my younger years.
Note - my younger years. More about that in a bit.
According to the Cleveland Clinic site - maladaptive daydreaming hasn't been listed as an official condition, but it seems to coexist with other mental disorders such as anxiety (check) and ADHD (also check). Ironically, my ADHD was also only diagnosed in my mature adult years. But back in the dark ages, ADHD was rarely recognized in girls, especially since girls tend to not have the hyperactivity form. But the combination of maladaptive daydreaming and ADD did lead to repeated conversations with teachers, with counselors, even with my parents on why I underperformed so badly in math and science. You're so smart. You just have to apply yourself. (With ADD, I could hyperfocus on matters that interested me - English, history. When I was bored, math, physics, biology, I went into my daydreams.)
I've mentioned this as a problem in my younger years. I'm not sure exactly when I stopped maladaptive daydreaming. Maybe in my late twenties or early thirties. Maybe around the time I met Jim, my husband, or when I went to law school. At some point, things changed, and I was living in the real world. Maybe part of the reason I daydreamed years ago was that I was shy, anxious, and insecure, and while I never completely lost those feelings, I found other ways to manage them. Maybe at some point, my life became rich enough that I no longer needed to constantly withdraw into fantasy. I'm not sure. But looking backward, I see myself lost in my daydreams as a teen and a young adult - and then I no longer was.
Do I still have periods when I get lost in my thoughts or lose myself in stories and characters? Sure. But now, I would classify my daydreams as adaptive, not maladaptive. I write novels with elaborate plots and complicated characters. When I'm writing, I immerse myself in the world I'm creating, and I enter into the minds of the characters. Maybe my ability to lose myself so completely in daydreams as young person was a precursor to my ability to enter into fictional worlds as an adult author. But it's not the same. What I do now is an act of creation, not avoidance. I no longer feel as if I'm retreating from life. Writing, unlike the maladaptive daydreaming of my younger years, is not something that makes me feel guilty or embarrassed; to the contrary, it makes me feel empowered and proud.
Also importantly, while I love writing my books and love my characters, I'm happy in my life. I may visit with Kolya and Alex, the protagonists of my Kolya Petrov thriller series, but I leave them behind when I close the computer. I live in the real world with those I adore: my husband, my kids, my friends, and of course my cat.
At least most of the time.
How about you? Are you a daydream believer?