The inherent risk in tackling this topic is that you think I’m crazy, but I hope you think I’m brave. Anything less than bravery could not have brought me here, and I’m here for all of you who are still stuck in your daydreams.
I’ll be the first to admit my brain chemistry has always been a bit touchy. I’m definitely prone to depression, but the past year has been one of the most emotionally challenging of my life, and I had to endure it during a global pandemic fraught with social unrest and what can most kindly be described as political insanity.
How have I coped, you ask? To be honest, I didn’t, not for a while anyway. Here’s what I did instead:
A few months ago, in a handful of words from a fleeting conversation with a friend, I spied a dim flicker of something I’ve desperately longed for and clung to it for dear life!
I embedded that fledgling scrap of an ideal deep into my sad brain and began nurturing it like my next breath depended on it, lovingly tending to it, sometimes to the exclusion of everything outside myself. I luxuriated there in a way that is the exclusive privilege of the chronically lonely, the childless and the unneeded.
Crafting this inner world became a sort of passion project. It was never completely out of my thoughts, even when reality intruded and demanded my attention. Before I knew it, I was feeding it for hours of my day. If the real world called me away, getting back there gave me something to look forward to. If these beautiful daydreams were robbing me, then I was a willing victim.
The Big Pop
Even when I knew the walls of my bubble were growing thin, I continued crafting characters that would play well together and scenarios I felt I’d missed out on. It was like reading a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book cover to cover and tweaking all possible contingencies to work out in my favor.
It was soothing, until it wasn’t. Last week, reality suddenly punched me in the gut. Real Me came across some irrefutable truth that stuck a pin in my beloved bubble. It was like the emotional equivalent of waking up from a drug-induced coma in the burn unit and feeling all the pain at once.
I can’t lie to you, Friends. For a moment I thought I might die, not because I’m suicidal, but because I couldn’t reconcile that a human being could feel this way and survive. But like all of you, I’ve already overcome things I thought would do me in.
Daydreams allow us to escape, to try out new ideas, to plan and strategize, all in the relative safety and privacy of our own minds. That is practically a superpower! There’s nothing wrong with mentally retreating when you can’t take anymore. Sometimes it’s the healthiest option. The trick is to learn. We’re all going to suffer, and if you’re not sucking every bit of wisdom from that pain, you’re suffering in vain.
Daydreams Clarify Your Values
Like nighttime dreams, it’s smart to at least start viewing the content of your daydreams through a lens of symbolism. It’s imperative to realize that the cast of characters your brain comes up with may be more about what those people symbolize to you than who they actually appear to be (assuming they are actual people you know).
For example, someone you have a strong platonic friendship with in the real world suddenly shows up as a love interest in your day dreams. Is it more likely that you spontaneously sprouted a crush on that friend, or that they make you feel safe and seen?
Pay attention to how interacting the setting and the people there make you feel. Do you feel peaceful, productive? Is a particular accomplishment the central theme? Is your faith or spirituality front and center? Are you surrounded by your family? Are you doing meaningful, fulfilling work? Those are your true core values, and they are lacking in your real life. Otherwise you’d be living there instead of being stuck in your head. You can’t be happy and complete without them.
Everyone Responds the Way You Need Them To
Don’t forget, it’s your daydream so you’re the one calling the shots. The conversations that play out in this world are 100% about you (and maybe another 10% about the speaker). If you listen closely, you’ll probably hear them saying things you long to hear in real life. Use this information to guide you to the relationships that need work.
If the mental retreat you conjure is limited by nothing but your wildest imagination, and it still contains people that overlap with your real life, those folks are important to you! What do you need from them? What is it that you’re not giving them? Fix that.
Take Stock of the Clutter in Your Head.
Not only are all your deepest needs and values displayed, but any toxicity is also made glaring by its absence. Uncomfortable relationships fall away. Your soul-choking job doesn’t exist. Dream You doesn’t have Real You’s bad habits. She doesn’t hang onto hard feelings. She doesn’t self-sabotage with her thoughts or actions. There’s nothing in her world that doesn’t serve her well.
Real World Application
“Daydream” sounds warm and benign. Mental disassociation is a natural, protective instinct we’ve all employed at some point, but some might say the degree to which I engaged it was obtrusive and unhealthy. I must admit, Friends, they aren’t exactly wrong.
There’s no clearer reflection of the truest version of you than what your own mind will show you if you let it, and that is definitely for the greater good. Remember that you could have created any kind of happy place imaginable, and that is what your brain settled on. Don’t overlook what it’s telling you. Incorporate those lessons into your real life, and you won’t need to escape. You can start living.