Turning Maladaptive Daydreaming into an Art Form

I’ve always loved books.  I learnt to read at the age of four, but my mother still has in her possession books that I devoured (some kind of literally, as evidenced by yellowed Scotch tape) at an even younger age.  When I was a senior in high school and met my kindergarten teacher again–who had had thousands of students by then (my school district was rather large…my graduating class was over 860)–she remembered me, mostly because even in kindergarten I spent every spare second reading everything I could get my hands on.  I have many more examples but TL;DR: the written word is my lifeblood.

However, there was something more malicious lurking in me.  From an equally young age, I was prey to anxieties that affected not only my actions on a daily basis, but how I learnt to perceive the world.  The world was scary and required perfection in everything I did or else it would destroy me.

It didn’t take long for this two major factors to meld, and soon a love of reading became an escapist need.  But of course, that’s never enough.  I didn’t realise at the time that it couldn’t satisfy because it was like dreaming of eating and expecting to have your hunger sated when you awoke.  You cannot fill a need without the thing you are actually needing.  Still, I kept trying.  And it didn’t take long for me to believe that I needed to create my own worlds–worlds that satisfied the stories and happy endings I felt I needed in the way I wanted–to sate that hunger.  It was around 8th grade I started trying to write.

It was immensely unsatisfying.  My skill level was still low enough, of course, that I not only could not create worlds convincing enough to escape to, but I didn’t even understand what questions to ask or how to improve.  I kept trying, and I kept getting frustrated, all through public schools.

Then came college, and a life that, for the first time, wiped away that obsession to escape.  But I couldn’t stay in college forever.

The subsequent years became tougher and tougher, returning me to the intense internal worlds where I felt safe and happy.

Around 2003, I started to try writing again.  This time I was trying to focus on the part that just wanted to be published.  I had to gain back that dream.  I had to meet this goal.  The anxieties had been in control for too long and I had to do something important with my life before I died.

It was a frustrating process.  I worked on that particular book for ten years before finally setting it aside.  While working on it, I received a second bachelor’s, this time in English and in writing.  I started to gain confidence.  I started to catch a glimmer of understanding what I needed to fix and how to fix it.  In 2015, two major things happened: first, I decided I needed to stop treating writing as a hobby (especially since I didn’t have a paying job or kids) and give it the respect of a career.  Second, I became enough obsessed with Sherlock (part of the escapism, there) that I decided I wanted to write a story about it.

And I did.

It was the first novel-length story I had ever finished writing.  And along the way, something clicked: suddenly, I could see where I could improve.  Suddenly, I began to understand why stories are structured the way that they are, and what makes things important.  I’m still not amazing.  But for the first time, I felt like I was starting to understand what I was doing.

I still escape from things in my head.  In stories I read or watch or write.  But now it’s more fun, because the stories are better and I know what they need to help them satisfy.

And it’s my job.

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