Do You Have the Daydream Disease?

Your imagination can take you to another world. But for some people, it's impossible to get back.
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daydreaming woman

Through the Looking Glass

However wide ranging their plots, the fantasies of maladaptive daydreamers are for the most part continuous threads that stretch for days, months or years. They typically involve a familiar cast of characters who act, interact, grow, change, procreate and die in an imaginary universe parallel to our own. When Cordellia is checked out of her fantasy and engaged in the real world, Baby keeps living. The next time Cordellia delves into dreamland, she’ll encounter developments put into motion while she was away.

In addition to being immersive, compulsive fantasies can also be amazingly detailed, as in this example from Schupak’s study:

“A majority of the time, I daydream about which career I should pursue for the rest of my life. One day I might be an airplane pilot, the next I’m a trauma surgeon working 84 h/week making, $320,000 after taxes, giving 20,000 to charity every year, 50,000 to my brother because he has a low paying job, 50,000 to my parents because they helped raise me, as well as keeping 200,000 for myself and combining that with my wife’s salary (who’s a psychiatrist by the way) to make 300,000 a year.”

The most common theme is the idealized self. Like Cordellia’s Baby, the fantasy version of the fantasizer is more successful, better looking, richer, happier and more popular. The need to fantasize is a source of pain, shame and isolation for M.D. sufferers, who can’t talk about their secret obsession for fear that no one will understand and they’ll seem silly or crazy (this is often the case). Meanwhile, their dream-realities provide shelter, support and elation. The alternate reality is, in a word, better.

When asked if she wishes there were a cure for M.D., Cordellia’s response reflects this complicated duality. “If you asked me a couple years ago I would have said definitely, because it really affected my life growing up. If I could have stopped as a child I could have had a normal life,” she begins. “Now I’ve come so far that it’s impossible for me to have a normal life. At this point I don’t care if I stop or not. I would like to have an outer life that becomes strong enough to take over.”

Read After the Affair

Condemned to Wander

Three years ago, Cordellia started a website called Wild Minds Network to seek out other maladaptive daydreamers. Today the site has more than 1,400 users sharing stories, poems and feelings, and engaging in discussion board topics like “How do you deal with embarrassment?” and “Have you ever fallen in love with one of your daydream characters?” The site is a forum for questioning, empathy and unabashedness, all of which seem—and may well be—unattainable in the every day.

“People are suffering and confused and they feel they have a terrible secret and they don’t know what it is,” Schupak explains. “When they do get up the nerve to ask a professional, no one has heard of it and everyone in the psychiatric and medical community dismisses it and looks for something else.”

That leaves many with nowhere else to turn but to sites like Wild Minds and the sanctity of their daydreams.

Bigelsen, at Fordham, and the University of Haifa’s Somer have teamed up to launch a new international study that will collect quantifiable data from excessive fantasizers and look for potential associations with A.D.D., obsessive-compulsive disorder and other related psychological diagnoses. The researchers developed a more robust numerical scaling system to substantiate whether there is a difference of experience between people who believe they have M.D. and those who consider themselves your run-of-the-mill daydreamers. They hope to recruit hundreds of participants to complete surveys, which should be available online before the end of the year.

“There’s a lot of us,” says Cordellia, who approves a few new Wild Minds members every week. “In my gut it feels like there are more. One day I would like to get M.D. in the DSM [the diagnostic manual of psychiatric disorders] so when people go to the doctor they will actually know what this is before it’s too late.”

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2 thoughts on “Do You Have the Daydream Disease?

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