What It’s Like When Your Daydreams Are Just As Real As Life
By Alexa Tsoulis-Reay
In 2002, an Israeli professor named Eli Somer published a paper describing a condition he called “maladaptive daydreaming,” a disorder where people spend about 60 percent of their waking life in a self-designed imaginary world. The qualitative study had its limitations, but the behavior it described was fascinating. Those who suffer from it know this world is fantasy, and still manage to retain contact with the “real world,” but in extreme cases “extensive fantasy activity replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal or vocational functioning.”
Here, a 36-year-old from Portland, Oregon, describes just how overwhelming it can be.
How fully would you say your life has been turned over to your daydreaming?
My earliest memories are daydreams. I recall being a toddler lying around fantasizing about climbing a rainbow into a land of princesses. Now I’m 36, and I’ve retreated to the same daydream world I constructed when I was 9.
What do you mean by “daydream world”?
At first, this world was a fictional city in California with no name, but when I turned 20, I moved to France for a few years, so all my characters did too. These days, my world is set in a country that I rule as queen. I was what some researchers call a maladaptive daydreamer.
What is that, exactly?
An addiction to fantasy. It can come in many forms. Some people daydream about celebrities, whereas others, like me, will base their fantasies almost exclusively on characters they create. They may be more visual, auditory, emotional, sensual, intellectual. They can create extensive fantasy worlds or individual daydreams. Some people have many worlds. Some have varying story lines. I think there’s a spectrum of seriousness among those with the addiction. The one thing that seems to unify us all is the skill it takes to try and live in two worlds at the same time.
Two worlds? That sounds like a burden.
We don’t necessarily want to live that way. It can be as crippling as any addiction because we cannot get away from it. But also like any other drug, when controlled, it can be absolutely wonderful. It can enrich and enhance our lives in ways others don’t understand. For example, I can stimulate myself without a partner, and I don’t just mean sexually. I can have a marvelous intellectual debate without having anyone else around to talk to.