Recently, compelled by the interests of one of the women I follow on twitter, I partook in quite a bit of reading about my Myers-Briggs Type, a psychometric typology test designed by psychologist Carl Jung, the result of which is for me is INFP. In digging through information about INFPs, I came across a page that mentioned we are inclined to something called maladaptive daydreaming, and I stopped breathing when I read it. From Wikipedia:
Maladaptive daydreaming (Compulsive Fantasy) is a term first proposed by Eli Sómer, Ph.D., to describe a condition in which an individual excessively daydreams or fantasizes, sometimes as a psychological response to prior trauma or abuse. This title has become popularly generalized to incorporate a recently-described syndrome of immersive or excessive daydreaming which is specifically characterized by attendant distress or functional impairment, whether or not it is contingent upon a history of trauma or abuse, as introduced in 2009 by Cynthia Schupak, Ph.D. and Jesse Rosenthal, M.D. of New York City. Dr. Schupak and her colleagues published the results of a follow-up study based on an email questionnaire in 2011.
The daydreamers experience very vivid and intricate fantasies and may become emotionally attached to the characters in their fantasies or express emotions they are feeling through vocal utterances or changing facial expressions, although most keep such behavior hidden from others.
A study of 90 individuals who self-identified as having excessive daydreams found that 79% had a kinesthetic repetitive movement accompany their daydreaming, such as pacing, rocking, tapping, or shaking an object. Listening to music while daydreaming is common and hearing music may trigger a fantasy. A repetitive movement may be articulated to music while daydreaming.
There is a term for me. For people like me. And in its severity it is considered a disorder.
When I came across the descriptions and the symptoms I truly felt my heart break after the shock passed. My daydreaming, and my imagination, is actually something I really value about myself (except when it’s most intense and impedes on my ability to function) and I’m just really frustrated that it’s claimed to be the result of “childhood trauma” instead of being an integral part of my personality like I know it is, because I feel like that is being taken away from me…
Everything is a disorder these days! I thought bitterly, partly to assure myself this isn’t something that needed to be… fixed.
In January of last year I’d written, “The assumption that I was not in control of my own thoughts, that I could not be held accountable for my own behavior, that I could never contribute anything significant to the world, and that my ideas and passions were driven by anything but my own will and should be immediately discredited was the most belittling sentiment anyone had ever expressed in my regard.”
Of course, MD(D) isn’t mainly or necessarily the result of childhood trauma. E. Somer writes in “Maladaptive Daydreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry” from the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy that “although MD seemed to have been preceded by a normal childhood propensity for creative imagination, aversive circumstances were seen to have contributed to the development of MD.” I was always like this naturally, since I was a very small child; I have often suspected however, that it has intensified as a device mechanism against abuse, to the point where I daydream compulsively, without realizing I have submerged into a daydream or even being cognizant of what that daydream is. Regularly I am daydreaming even while fully aware of my surroundings and the conversation in which I am engaged. Music often triggers long detailed and elaborate episodes and I will find specific songs and repeat them over if they end before I’ve finished the fantasy (changing the song will change the fantasy.) To a great extent, the daydreaming is fully under my control, even if it is excessive.
“It’s important to note at this point that people with this problem are not psychotic; we DO NOT confuse fantasy and reality,” writes one woman with MD, “We are quite aware (sometimes painfully aware) of the difference between the two. We know what is real and what is not.”
I never had imaginary friends. I knew when I made someone up and was too practical at least to interact with xir as my present self and only engaged with xir in indulgent daydreaming or from the perspective of a writer. When interrupted in the midst of thought, I would frequently become irritable (a sign of an addiction.) Occasionally I even feel a very real thrill in knowing I would have time to daydream, as though something tangible is going to transpire—and, when I was younger, I would cry because the characters I read about in books weren’t real and I had grown that attached to them. “People suffering from this know the difference between daydreaming and reality, and do not confuse the two,” she continues in the list of symptoms.
All the times I’ve had to convince others that I could not be discredited because of having been abused as a child, that I don’t even consider myself a survivor of anything, and that I am no one’s victim. That I shouldn’t be dismissed as hysterical. It is a grating task, to convince the world you aren’t insane. But it is less difficult of a task to take on than what you should be convincing the world: that even if you were, you should not be discredited. And MD for me is mild. Mild. This is absolutely nothing. As mentioned, this is only a disorder when it begins to interfere with my life, and it is not a visible one—I can’t even imagine…
But otherwise, though it doesn’t succeed in interfering with my life (I get everything done that I need, and more) it does consume me to some extent and constrains my personal relationships. Somer E. defines Maladaptive daydreaming (MD) as an “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.” Or—as one of my friends observed earlier—“Nahida, you keep yourself away from everyone and then you wonder why you’re so alone.” I will actually miss calls from friends just to continue daydreaming.
This is characteristic of the introvert. We typically expend energy when interacting with others, as opposed to the extrovert, who accrues it. And so we need to recollect after these encounters and have time to ourselves. (Although, I am very good at coming across as an extrovert and have been informed that I come across as incredibly confident.)
I daydream to procrastinate. Sometimes I put off meals, or wait until the last minute to apply my makeup because I am swaying to a song.
For years I read book after book after book to the point at which I was reading close to 90 books a month. There was something so unsatisfying with reality… I could not cope with it. In the midst of reading I’d stop to daydream, twirling around in my room. By the eighth grade, I forced myself control my reading habits. I would not, I promised, fall in love with imaginary things again. My reading has come to moderation.
The daydreaming has not stopped.
I spend most of my time in a state of reverie, wishing that I could learn a piece on the piano without falling in love or becoming comfortable with the sound and beginning to daydream halfway through the melody to end up losing my place and awaken sharply at the first misplaced note. Or read a book without pausing to dwell gently at the loveliness of the language or excitedly twirl at the suspense. Is it possible to be aware at a deep level while not even awake at the surface? I sink into watching the color of life instead–something like a glass of cranberry juice appears attractive–admiring the passionate red of it, the depth of its translucent consistency. It seemed like another world. I imagined being made of it, of hearing muffled smells and tasting color as sharp and beautiful as stargazer lilies. I imagined it was a metaphor for my soul, the thick color and the light that pushed through and made a breaking dawn, an entire universe. What are you thinking? someone asks. I’d actually forgotten that very second. And in the times I do remember, I’m far too tired to explain. My fingers stumbling across the keys for a pen in the middle of the night. In the morning the result will look foreign, overly passionate. I pace to fall asleep.
For the time being, I truly don’t believe this is a result of any trauma, but it makes me wonder if we all return to our nature, our natural disposition, or if even the loveliest of things is a result of rough forging of character; or maybe, the most poignant theory, that they are a defense mechanism, the way hope upsurges more strongly in the face of oppression, like antibodies to a virus.
Or if I will ever be okay.
What is left is to seize myself. All the material exists in the channels through which I employ myself, and what needs to be practiced is a focus—a set of thought that will force structure and routine to my unruliness, so that I may fully apply my work to one purpose necessary for functioning in this world rather than to what moves me to dream and struggle through my passions.
It used to work in my favor, falling in love with being alone. But now I’m drowning in myself again with a different result. Sometimes I feel genuinely that I am not reconcilable with this world, that a part of me will have to be taken away as I continue here—a power struggle with immediate, apparent reality–and I wonder if it is arrogance. But surely, there must be something more. Until then, we will recover.