Letter #110

Content Warnings: Dissociative disorder, maladaptive daydreaming, anxiety

Dear reader,

Maybe it started with that book I read in elementary school, A Little Princess. I almost viewed it as a sacred text. The main character, Sara, a little orphan girl at a boarding school, was isolated from the world by her cruel headmistress. If she were anyone else, she would not have escaped unscathed—but she had her books and the elaborate fantasy in her mind. She pretended she was a little princess on an adventure. No matter how bad reality got, she could keep on living unfazed by reality, because the physical world felt less real than her imagination.

“What you have to do with your mind, when your body is miserable, is to make it think of something else.”

I always viewed my vivid imagination as a strength. I could stare at the wall for hours and not be bored. When I would get hurt or lonely or tired of reality, I would sit in bed and let myself sink into the world of my imagination. I danced with whales, ran through soft grassy fields, soaked in the sun on warm sand.

I created perfect universes. Stories with endings that meant something. A world saved, or even a world destroyed, would end in someone learning something or finding peace – unlike the real world, where ends could be abrupt, have absolutely no meaning, and almost comically not make sense.

However, I was never the main character in my stories. If I inserted myself, the real me I hated so much, into my perfect world, it would be tainted and the beauty of it all shattered.

I became a spectator in both my imagination and my real life. When I was lonely or disappointed by those around me, I would detach myself from my environment and summon my second world to numb myself from whatever uncomfortable feelings I felt. Instead of trying to address problems in my life, I ignored them and tried to minimize their importance. Family friction, anxieties, people, unhealthy habits. Whatever was going on around me would pass; as long as I always had this static, stable, beautiful world in my mind to escape to, it would be okay. 

Thus began my third-person life. 

At one time, I reached a point where I kept dreaming with my eyes open so much that I almost completely lost my sense of reality. I felt like an imposter in my own skin. It’s a feeling hard to describe, but it was like my body was a sack of clothes instead of flesh that could feel pain, or maybe an inflatable costume, something that didn’t belong to me. Moving my limbs felt like moving puppet strings.

After I left my second world, I always felt more numb than before. Exhausted. After I finished replaying the fantastical stories in my mind, my reality was still the same. I thought my imagination was harmless because it originally stemmed from an innocent love for books and stories, but it became something that I knew might get out of my control. In rejecting the real world, I also rejected all my opportunities for fixing the real world. It was an unsustainable coping mechanism that held back real self growth. I had to teach myself again how to experience and manage the emotions I always tried to numb, like anger to loneliness. Growth doesn’t always happen like they do in movies, where a character suddenly gains a revelation and immediately finds inner peace. In reality, it’s a long and painful process. 

We are not saintly princesses, and that’s okay.

I thought I found a shortcut. Dear reader, I want to tell you from my experiences there is no shortcut. There is no shortcut. Tranquilizers only numb pain, not remove it.

Yes, we could simply imagine the perfect world. It will bring temporary relief. But why shouldn’t we try to bring it to reality instead?

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