Melancholy After Maladaptive DaydreamingLast Updated:
There are many oddities about maladaptive daydreaming – not least of which is the nature of maladaptive daydreams themselves. However, one thing that many experience as they overcome their maladaptive daydreams is a sense of melancholy that seems to wash over them – sometimes to such an extent that it sucks them back into maladaptive daydreaming.
It's difficult to describe or articulate the exact nature of this melancholy – it’s not sadness, and it’s not depression. Rather, it’s a sense that something that was part of you has suddenly been removed from you, and a kind of listless wondering as to if that’s really a good thing or not.
It’s somewhat rational that this kind of feeling would overcome some that have rid themselves of their maladaptive daydreams. After all, maladaptive daydreams are a big part of every maladaptive daydreamer’s life, and moving on from them is moving on, by definition, from something that one has invested a significant amount of time into (even if one didn’t want to have invested time into their maladaptive daydreams to begin with!).
Overcoming Melancholy Post-MDD
As I wrote in my little book, it’s essential that you come up with a gameplan for what comes next after maladaptive daydreaming before you begin down the road of getting rid of them. Because, due to how much of your day these daydreams take up, there will suddenly be a maladaptive-daydreaming-sized-hole in your day that needs to be filled with something – and if there’s nothing to fill it with, then it’ll be natural to fall back into maladaptive daydreams (or even try to justify to yourself that they weren’t that bad to have engaged in because it’s not like you had anything better to do).
This is why I made the observation in my book that it’s important to fill your newly found free time with something that keeps your mind engaged – even if, on the surface, it’s no more productive than maladaptive daydreams (i.e., video games). Because the reality is that for most maladaptive daydreamers slowly getting rid of a new habit (i.e., video games) that have replaced an old habit (i.e., maladaptive daydreaming) is much easier.
The important thing is to replace your maladaptive daydreams with something to give yourself a sense of finality and to move on. Then you can focus on trying to rejigger your new habits to better align with your aspirations (i.e., begin to force yourself to read more, do more schoolwork, focus on work projects, etc.).
This is a similar philosophy to what is most commonly recommended for overcoming smoking: it’s not ideal to ditch cigarettes in favor of nicotine gum. Ideally, you’d just quit smoking cold turkey. However, if the nicotine gum works better in quitting smoking – and makes you commit to not smoking again – then it’s worthwhile doing because riding yourself of the nicotine gum habit is probably much easier. Plus, even if you can’t stop the new nicotine gum habit easily at least it’s causing less harm to you then smoking was.
Those Most Prone to Post-MDD Melancholy
Not everyone who overcomes maladaptive daydreaming will be confronted with a sense of melancholy thereafter. And, for almost all maladaptive daydreamers, the sense of melancholy is transient – eventually it dissipates as well.
However, I think those that are likely most prone to melancholy after quitting maladaptive daydreaming are those who began maladaptive daydreaming as an escape or a retreat from their real life circumstances.
For example, someone that hates their job could start maladaptive daydreaming because it provides them the ability, for a brief period of time, to be detached from their real life circumstances.
But when this person overcomes their maladaptive daydreams and is then faced with more spare time throughout the day, it’s natural for them to shudder at having to think about their real life circumstances more often (the entire rationale behind them engaging in their maladaptive daydreams was to avoid thinking about them!).
In this case it’s imperative that this person tries to find some alternative to maladaptive daydreaming to augment the amount of time they spend in their own head and thinking about themselves – this could range from doing something productive like reading a book to something that isn’t productive, but is merely a diversion, such as playing video games.
Either way, the alternative to maladaptive daydreaming that one chooses to engage in will be less likely to so fully consume them as their maladaptive daydreams have – and that’s the real benefit. Maladaptive daydreams are not only empty calories, but they have a way of so clogging up your mind that there’s little space to think about anything other than them – and this leads to the sense of overwhelm that many maladaptive daydreamers report because so much of the small pockets of their day, when they’re between tasks or doing chores around the house, are spent consumed in a completely different world.
However, an alternative to maladaptive daydreaming that’s used – whether it be reading a book or playing a video game – doesn’t fill in these pockets of spare time throughout the day in the same way. And this is why so many report their sense of overwhelm or anxiety lifting from them when their maladaptive daydreams end: suddenly there are periods of the day when, even for a few minutes, they aren’t thinking about anything (as opposed to always thinking about something).
This is a shorter post than normal, but it struck me as an important post to add because this period of melancholy does hit many that have successfully squashed their maladaptive daydreams. And I think this kind of uneasy feeling takes many by surprise and makes some more apt to start reengaging with their maladaptive daydreams.
In the end, time heals all wounds and the sense of melancholy does go away (it did for me in a few weeks). There’s no doubt that it can be a bit unsettling to feel a tinge of sadness, or something like sadness, after overcoming your maladaptive daydreams. However, it seems to me as being a somewhat rational response: something that you’ve engaged countless hours in is suddenly not being engaged in at all, so it’s natural that something feels amiss in those first few weeks as your life is a bit less “full” than before.
But the beauty of overcoming your maladaptive daydreams is that it’s an opportunity to begin filling in all this newfound time with more useful, or at least not destructive, things – ones that, looking back a few years from now, you won’t regret having spent time on.