Maladaptive Daydreaming

Everybody daydreams to some extent, and daydreaming, incidentally, is a mild form of dissociation. Some otherwise normal people take their dissociating a little further, though, and daydream, on occasion, at inappropriate times.

Then you have people like me.

We daydream constantly, addictively. We enjoy living in the world we dissociate into, and want to stay in that state, on and off, for hours on end. We may pace back and forth in our bedrooms, or in the halls, or anywhere alone, where we’ll have peace and quiet, away from human distractions.

I don’t do it anywhere near as much as I did when I was a child; but then again, I don’t have that pathetic excuse for a family around (<<<read the links to know why I judge them so harshly) to make me want to escape from them into a world of fantasy. That goes double for those who bullied me at school.

Many different kinds of people engage in maladaptive daydreaming: people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, autism (!), and others. What they seem to have in common, however, is a wish to escape the horrors, or boredom, of regular, everyday life.

Maladaptive daydreamers also have considerable creative gifts, which come naturally as a result of regularly exercising their imaginations. Certainly Dr. Eli Somer, the Israeli psychologist who discovered this peculiar form of dissociation in several trauma victims he was treating, thought of them as gifted.

Still, this daydreaming is maladaptive because those who engage in it do so to the extent that it interferes with their ability to study, hold down a job, or pursue relationships with other people.

Mine wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t work or study, but when I was young, I found the fantasy conversations I had with people in my head better company than the real people who surrounded me. Childhood emotional abuse in the forms of family bullying and gaslighting, as well as school bullying, tends to make a person rather antisocial by the time he reaches adolescence.

The other extreme of this form of dissociation, as opposed to the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post, is dissociative identity disorder, DID, formerly known as split personality or multiple personality.

Dr. Somer discovered and wrote about maladaptive (or excessive) daydreaming in about 2002; his ideas were ignored by his fellow psychologists at first, but his research gradually made an impact and even went viral. Something that I find ironic is how, at roughly the same time as that of Somer’s first published research on maladaptive daydreaming, my mother was first telling me about Asperger Syndrome (AS), insisting that I have it. If her intentions (“to help” me, she said) were anywhere near as noble as she’d claimed, and information on maladaptive daydreaming was already available, why didn’t she even try to find out about it, instead of perpetuating her autism lies by trying to force me to accept the AS label? Looking into Somer’s research is what would have truly helped me!

Her gaslighting me into believing I have an autism spectrum disorder, perpetuating it with her BS about ‘my AS’, was not only cruel, it was stupid. What on earth made her think that saying I have AS would go over well? What did she expect me to do? Thank her? Her sad death without any comfort from me, in that hospital in May of 2016, with my brother R. at her bedside, means that insofar as I ever meant anything to her at all, pushing AS on me was the worst mistake she’d ever made in her entire life.

Learning about maladaptive daydreaming could have helped the family not only understand me better, but also find better ways than shaming me to help me stop the bad habit. They’d have also understood my imaginative gifts better, and been motivated to redirect my creativity into more productive outlets (writing, music, art, etc., instead of my wasting day after day in fantasy).

I gave the family many opportunities to be exposed to my creative side, but their acknowledgement of it was minimal, at best. I composed music (under my original name), wrote poetry and prose, and got little, if any encouragement. There was no dearth of ‘constructive’ criticism, though.

Mom claimed that this piece I wrote for the late husband of my sister, J., was “plodding”. Instead of turning a deaf ear to the, admittedly, mechanical nature of the computer MIDI sounds, Mom focused on it, as she did to all the other pieces I’d composed with the Finale software.

The string sounds in my Piano Quintet (a piece she superficially complimented as being “very impressive!”) were “tinny”, and she insisted she was being “constructive” in her criticisms; but how could I improve on the sounds without real musicians available to record the music for me?

I slaved for a year composing my Symphony In One Movement. When I said to her, during  a visit to Canada (I live in east Asia), that I wanted to listen to the 35-minute composition with her, Mom scowled and said, “No, I don’t (i.e., ‘want to have to listen to it again’)!” She’d criticized, by email after hearing a CD I’d burned of it as a gift I mailed to her and my father, that the symphony was structurally all over the place, with no sense of unity among the many featured orchestral instruments.

Actually, I structured the piece very carefully: a close listening will make it evident that my symphony is rondos within rondos, with sonata-allegro form (towards the beginning, after a brief intro), binary form (the following slow section), a scherzo and trio in the middle, a theme-and-variations section after that, then a kind of experimental ‘mirror’ section. The overall ‘rondo-within-rondo’ effect is like Russian dolls (i.e., the rondos get smaller and smaller, or shorter and shorter). The link is above, Dear Reader, so you can hear it and decide for yourself whether or not my symphony is well-structured or ‘all over the place’.

Now, none of this is about debating the worth of my musical abilities. The point is that a truly loving mother would have the tact and grace to emphasize the positive of anything her sons or daughters created, regardless of whether her children were actually talented or not; any comments critical of her children’s creative output would be given as carefully and gently as possible. For no matter what level of talent her kids have, she wants to give them a maximum of encouragement…because she loves them.

My mother made it obvious that she had no intentions of encouraging me whatsoever. She’d pay a bit of lip service to my accomplishments, but little more than that. In contrast, she showered my sister, J., with praise for writing an expository essay (when she was in university) on our maternal grandmother’s descent into the horrors of Alzheimer’s disease, what seems to me to have been one of J.’s attempts to win Mom’s favour (i.e., by adding the grandeur of the family, an extension of Mom’s ego). Only if Mom’s children’s creative efforts gave her narcissistic supply (directly or indirectly), would she praise us…and J. was always the golden child of the family.

I suspect that Mom, as another manifestation of the narcissism I suspect she had, envied my musical creativity. Again, I’m not trying to say I’m some kind of unsung genius (geniuses are tireless workaholics, of which I am none). The point is that she couldn’t even do the limited number of musical things I can do (I’m the worst keyboardist in the world, I have no formal musical training, and I composed all that music by clicking a mouse to put notes on the staff. To get a more accurate idea of what I can do musically by actually playing instruments and singing, check out these pop songs I wrote and recorded [poorly], if you’re interested.) What is the first thing that people who are envious of you do when faced with your abilities, be they great or small (<<as mine undoubtedly are)? They tear you down, either subtly or blatantly.

But going back to my childhood maladaptive daydreaming, for which the family constantly tore me down, one of the main ways that they shamed me for it was by adopting a stupid-sounding, pejorative expression my sister J. coined to describe it: she called it “tooka-tooka.” (And J. wonders why I don’t believe her when she says the family loves me.) There’s nothing like making up childish names for your habits to continue a campaign to make you feel worthless.

Those ignoramuses that I grew up with had an up-to-fifteen-year opportunity to learn the correct, and non-insulting, name of what I was doing; but they, mindlessly parroting our mother, would rather continue to link my odd habit with ‘my autism’, and use it as a basis for humiliating me. They had no motivation to learn of a term that’s gone viral worldwide, a concept they could have found with relative ease had they bothered to look, and a term that would have truly helped me!

And they scratch their heads, wondering why I no longer want anything to do with them. They blame me entirely for my estrangement from them, and never blame themselves for causing even a significant part of the problem.

While it is true that many on the autism spectrum engage in maladaptive daydreaming, many non-autistics do, too (people with OCD, ADHD, PTSD, C-PTSDvictims of bullying and abuse [!], etc.); if the family wants to prove that I have AS, they’ll have to look elsewhere than maladaptive daydreaming for proof.

The rationalization behind shaming me about my dissociating was, of course, to discourage me from continuing with the habit. It shouldn’t have been too hard a concept to understand, though, that shaming an already sensitive, emotionally vulnerable 7-year-old child who’d been devastated after moving from Toronto to Hamilton in 1977, and leaving his best friend forever (read this, Part 1–Childhood, for the whole story) would only make him feel more socially isolated, thus making him engage in maladaptive daydreaming all the more.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, my father growled at my brother R. (at my older brother F., too, to an extent) for getting poor grades at school. His shaming of my brothers didn’t improve their academic performance one jot. Why would R., F., and J. have thought shaming me would have resulted in any success in stopping my dissociations?

To be fair to my siblings, they were young, and therefore not mature enough to understand how dysfunctional their methods were in deterring me from my odd habit. But my father and mother (apart from her apparent narcissism) didn’t lack maturity: why didn’t they explain to R., F., and J. that they were going about the whole thing the wrong way? Oh, wait, I forgot: Dad still thought shaming was the right way, for he was a slave to his own conservatism; and Mom, well…just read these to get the whole story.

What’s more, the shaming I got from R., F., and J. continued well into their young adulthood, so the immaturity excuse won’t carry them very far. And as I explained here (in Part 3–The Dawn of Realization), if they really believed I’m autistic, then making grumpy, impatient demands that I stop with my idiosyncrasies and ‘just act like normal people’, would make them a special kind of stupid.

My siblings aren’t stupid, though; nor were my parents. If there’s one positive I’ll acknowledge about all of them, it’s that they were and are, at least reasonably, intelligent. So neither stupidity nor enduring immaturity is enough to explain why they thought shaming me was the way to deter my excessive daydreaming.

Cruelty for its own sake, buried under a pile of dubious and hypocritical rationalizations about ‘wanting to help’ me, is a far better explanation for all their shaming. Emotional abusers’ whole agenda is about having power and control over their victims, as well as having a convenient human punching bag they can take all their frustrations out on.

This is why the family doesn’t deserve my forgiveness.

I mentioned in previous posts how I find it the safest of assumptions that my mother was bad-mouthing me to R., F., and J., my whole life, this being a far better explanation, as to why they bullied me, than that I was ‘so frustrating’ to live with. My wife gets irritated with my quirks and idiosyncrasies all the time, yet she feels no tremendous urge to yell and scream at me, or to use abusive, four-letter language on me.

Mom’s bad-mouthing of me wasn’t limited to her squirting poison in the ears of R., F., and J.: she was smearing me to anyone who’d listen, including the staff at our restaurant back in the 80s, when I was a teen. I know of this because she did the bad-mouthing in front of me, on at least a few occasions!

Once she used J.’s “tooka-tooka” word to make me and my maladaptive daydreaming seem foolish in front of a new cook, who laughed and said, “What’s that?

She said, “Oh, it’s his game,” with a dismissive air of contempt. She went on describing my bad habits like that, right in front of me and not caring at all how she was embarrassing me; for amusing the new cook, by making me–a kid, her son–look like an idiot, gave her a much-coveted ego trip. And ego trips were more typically important to her than her son’s feelings, I assure you, Dear Reader (her lack of empathy for me, or for anyone else, was most consistent).

On another occasion, not far from the time she’d embarrassed me in front of the new cook, she asked about my excessive daydreaming; if I remember correctly, this was also in front of the restaurant staff (asking me in our house, where Dad and my siblings knew as much as they needed to know…for their purposes…seems less likely). Mom, in an uppity, irritable tone, clearly shaming me and showing me no empathy, sneered and snapped, “What do you do (i.e, ‘when you do that’)? What are you doing (i.e., ‘when you tooka-tooka’)?”

Naturally, I had no answer to give her from such a shaming. Again, if she’d asked me nicely, encouraging me to open up and give a full explanation, she could have gotten some real insights about my creative imagination, and the family could have been motivated to get me to channel my creativity into productive outlets, examples of which I shared above.

Such encouragement, however, was never the family’s plan. As the identified patient, the family scapegoat, I was only to be shamed all the more for my maladaptive daydreaming. I was never meant to be ‘helped’, to get better. I was meant only to be controlled by Mom and the rest of the family.

Again, I must ask: my mother ‘loved’ me?

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‘Bloodsuckers’, a Surreal Horror Short Story

My name is Samir. I am ten years old, and I don’t know how many days it’s been since the last time I ate.

I do remember the bombs, though.

When they hit our house, I was with my parents and sister, trying to celebrate her sixth birthday.

I haven’t seen any of them since.

I haven’t eaten since then, either.

I don’t know how many days I’ve been in this hospital. I just lie on a bed, and the nurses have no food to give me. I have dirty bandages on my half-naked body. The blood from my wounds has stopped flowing, but other spots of blood, little red spots, drip blood from new wounds.

They are from the bites of the purple, flying insects.

They’re like mosquitoes: I’ve never seen such bugs before. They bite me, and suck out a little of my blood each time.

Do they put something in my body, too? I think they do.

I lie on my back, my head swinging left to right—not so much left, anymore, since I don’t like what I see in the mirror to my left.

My upper head has blown up into the shape of a giant, green-yellow ball. Much of my hair is gone. My skin is green-yellow, too. I look like an alien, or a monster. I’m like a skeleton with skin.

Did the bombs do this to my skin and head? When they hit our house, I remember something burning in my nose, eyes, and mouth. I was coughing, desperate to suck some pure air into my lungs—then everything went black; then I woke up here. Did I inhale a chemical from the bombs?

Or are the purple flies doing this to me, squirting some kind of poison into my body while they suck out my blood? I think that’s what it is.

I’m not sure if I’m awake or dreaming, but I see a TV, I think, on the ceiling. What a TV is doing up there, of all places, I don’t know; maybe I’m seeing and hearing things, because I think I’m awake.

Anyway, a white man in a dark blue suit is talking to me on the TV. He is in his fifties or sixties, I think, because he has lines of silver in his combed-back hair. He smiles and speaks with a gentle, kind voice, but his words don’t comfort me. They confuse me.

My stomach is grumbling. It hurts so much. Could someone please give me some food? Was I a bad boy? Am I being punished for eating too much at my sister’s birthday party? I’ll be good next time, I promise!

“You are being a very good boy,” the man says to me in Arabic (Wow! I didn’t know white people could speak my language!) “My name is Brian Oates, Samir, and I want to tell you that your sacrifice is bringing happiness to a number of worthy people in my country. You should be proud of your selflessness!”

“Am I…giving them something?” I ask Brian, who seems to be able to hear me. (Is this TV that thing they call ‘Skype’?) “I have…nothing to give. I’m just a…poor Yemeni boy. I only feel…as if someone is…taking everything…from me.” I begin to sob. “Where is my family? I want my mother! I’m so hungry.” My tears are the only wet my face has felt in so long.

“Well, some people would say you’ve had everything taken from you, but it’s only a point of view,” he says, grinning like a friend. “There are other ways of understanding what is happening to you. Alternative interpretations, other facts that are equally valid, if not better, explanations of what you’re doing.”

“There are?” I ask, hoping his alternative facts will ease my pain. I stop crying. I almost smile as I listen.

“Yes, of course there are. It is possible for many different realities to coexist, in the same place and at the same time. One reality says you’re starving and dying on a hospital bed, being bitten by insects. Another says you’re giving qapita, your life-force, so others may live better.”

Qapita? My ‘life-force’?” (Is that an Arabic word? I’ve never heard it before. His Arabic must be really good.)

“Yes, qapita, your life-force. Yemen isn’t the only country in the world that’s dying, Samir. Even we in the richer countries are running out of food and other needed things. Some people say that Big Business destroyed the environment, but that’s just their facts. Our facts say that too much government caused the problem. Too many rules took away people’s freedoms.

“Anyway, the fewer and fewer resources in the world are why we invented the purple bloodsuckers, which are taking out little bits of your life-force at a time, then we’re having them all flown back to Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, where we have the technology to turn your life-force, as well as that of millions of other poor people in countries like yours, into food and other necessities for us.”

“You can…turn blood into…food?” I look around the hospital room. The other patients on the beds all have purple flies biting them, too. I don’t see anyone from my family among them, though.

“Yes, we can transform qapita into food, with the help of machines we have over here! It’s amazing what modern technology can do in the 2030s. We need you to stay alive as long as you can, though. As the bugs suck out your blood, they also inject a greenish-yellow blood substitute, to keep you from dying, so we can get as much life-force out of you as we can, before you finally die. By keeping you alive as long as we can, we are showing you how much we love you and care about you. You’re very important to us, Samir!”

“I am?” My stomach just keeps on growling. I feel as if my belly is eating me up from the inside.

“Yes, of course you are!” His smile reminds me of my mother’s: oh, how much more comforting she would be to me now! She would have her legs cut off to feed me! “Some say we’re using you and your people; but that’s only one reality. There are so many others to consider. We would say that you, Samir, are a hero, generously giving of yourself to people here that you don’t even know, as if they were your own family.”

A memory is flashing by my eyes at this moment: my mother, father, and me giving toys to my sister, and the wide-eyed joy on her face when she saw them. Two seconds later, we heard bombs falling.

“Why believe in sad truths when you can accept alternative ones, happy ones?” the white man goes on. The video on the ceiling TV shows happy white people laughing, dancing, drinking, and…eating! They are handsome young men, beautiful young women, enjoying a large banquet of food, delicious dishes covering a long table from one end to the other: chicken, vegetables, fruit, breads, noodles, rice, wine, juice, eggs, and so many others! A small drop of spit falls out of my mouth, the only wet it’s felt in a while. I reach up at the screen, hoping at least to touch it. My failing strength, and the pain in my arms from trying to move, means my arms keep falling back down on the bed with each two-second try.

“Can I…have some?” I say in a rough whisper. “I’m so…hungry.”

“Now, Samir, if you had some, there would be less for all the people in that party, wouldn’t there?”

“I guess so.”

Remember, you’re a selfless hero. You don’t want your own desires to spoil their happiness, do you?”

“No, I shouldn’t…be selfish.”

“That’s right. As I said before, happy realities are better to think about than sad ones. That’s why we in the West show only happy things on TV and in movies, to help people forget the troubles of the world. We never show our people the reality of places like Yemen—it would make them unhappy. Similarly, you should forget your sorrows and think of the happiness you’re giving people on the other side of the world, so I’ll leave you with this video of the banquet, and all the happy Americans here enjoying food converted from the life-force of the blood of heroes like you. Alternative truths, Samir! They will give you comfort. Watch, and enjoy!”

I’ve been getting light-headed. The purple flies are buzzing around my face. I’m too weak to swat at them, and the pain from moving my body is greater than the pain of their bites, so I mostly just let them bite me.

Their purple is glowing: is my vision getting blurry? Am I dreaming? I see purple balls of light floating in the air above me, then rising up to the ceiling TV screen. The purple balls seem to be changing into new food on the banquet table, when they touch the TV screen.

I feel bites, then I see the purple, glowing balls rise up to feed the white people. I see my shining life-force being taken up to the TV.

My stomach is growling louder now. It’s making my body shake. I look down at my chest: red spots of blood are everywhere. The purple bugs keep biting and flying up to the ceiling-TV. I can’t see my legs.

I look to my left and see myself in the mirror again: I’m all green now. I look like a rotting corpse! Also…where are my legs?

My bald, swollen head looks like a giant melon. Before the bombs, Mother, Father, my sister, my friends, and my neighbours all used to say how cute I was. What an adorable little boy, they’d say! What would they say if they saw me now?

I look down at my growling belly. I no longer have legs or a pelvic region. Am I dreaming? What I see can’t be real! There is a huge mouth where my belly should be. The mouth is like a huge navel. With the teeth of a tiger, or some wild beast, it is eating at my flesh above. Am I eating myself?

Below is too painful to watch, so instead I look above, a much happier place to be. The glowing purple balls are floating up to the banquet on the ceiling. They flash when they touch the TV screen, then turn into meat, bread, fish, and other delicious dishes.

The white people sitting at the table are smiling, laughing, and talking to each other as they bite into the food that was once my blood. The love they reflect to each other on their grinning faces, it’s like a big, happy family. Is my family up there, eating with them in Allah’s paradise? I hope they are, but I don’t see them anywhere: I see only white people, dozens of white people.

They’re young, handsome, and beautiful. They’re wearing nice clothes, unlike the filthy rags that covered the private parts I once had, or the bandages I have on my arms, or those I had on the legs I used to have.

Well, if I cannot have food, let the white people have it for me.

If I cannot have a family, let them be the family I’ve lost forever.

If I must be naked, let them wear clothes for me.

If I cannot have a body, let them have bodies instead.

If I cannot live, let me die so they can live.

I don’t want to be selfish. Let them be selfish instead. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.

I feel numb, even where I still have a body. I look down at myself, to see what is left of me. I have only a head and neck now, a longer neck, almost like that of a giraffe; that mouth is still eating, chewing at the base of my neck with loud chomps. The mouth’s bloody, beast-like teeth seem to be grinning at me as they bite their way up my neck. There is very little blood, apart from the tiny dots of red that splash in all directions with each bite; the mouth must be drinking the rest of it up.

I don’t care. Let me die. Numbness means no more pain. I don’t feel hungry or thirsty anymore. My mouth is dry; everywhere I feel dry, if I feel anything.

I don’t want anything anymore. Let the white people do the wanting. The fight in me is over now. I accept my lot, my place in the world. It is the will of Allah.

There are truths other than mine here in Yemen. Happy truths in the West. Believe the happy truths. Forget the bad ones.

Two tears are running down my nose. It’s all right, though, everything is alright.

I love my white brothers.

I’m happy for them. Losing my family and my life doesn’t ma…