When I was about 20 years old, I had fallen into a deep depression. I was a junior in college at the time. I ended up having to drop two of my classes, taking me down to the minimum 12 credits needed in order to stay in campus housing. I could hardly even handle the 12 credits. I missed several class meetings, but did manage to go when exams were held. I’d spend most of the days in my bed ruminating about death, and my lack of ability to cope with life. Hours flew by quickly; I’d sleep 12 or more hours, and wake up again to resume ruminating.
After maybe two months in the depression, I had the most amazing nighttime dream ever, a real rarity considering most of my nighttime dreams in my life were scary or disconcerting. In this dream, I died, a thought running through my mind a lot during the depression. But the positive thing was that I seemed to go to heaven. As I walked towards the light, my beloved grandfather, who had died when I was nine, was waiting with his arm stretched toward me. I remember feeling a certain peace that death wouldn’t be so bad if I could again see my grandfather. He represented relief, and at the time, confirmation that death could be more than just nothingness.
When I woke up from the dream above, I continued to feel peace. It’s amazing how such mind events are so powerful. The depression seemed to immediately fade as if it flowed out through my ears, and was blown away by a wind. I remember getting up out of bed that morning and starting my day with a smile on my face. It was because of that dream I managed to make something out of the remaining college session. I never had such a positive nighttime dream again. I also would never again have such an abrupt ending of a depression.
Ever since my death dream, I have remembered very few nighttime dreams. When I have, they have been in some way scary, bewildering, or otherwise disconcerting. But I have almost always been a frequent daydreamer, from early childhood on up until only a handful of years surrounding my major breakdowns from bipolar disorder. Before my breakdowns, I was manic frequently, with thoughts racing all around at high speeds, but after four years of frequent manias, my mood plummeted into the longest depression of my life, lasting well over a year.
It was hard for me to daydream during my worst and longest depression. There were times when even hopeless thinking stopped, and was replaced by nothingness, the exact opposite of racing thoughts. But after this long period, ECT treatments, and multiple medication trials, my mood began to lift, but not exactly in a good way.
When I was about 39 years old, or so, I started to experience the most intensive daydreaming of my life. I started daydreaming incredibly long stories in my head, and then once I’d reach the end, I’d go back and rework the entire dream in a slightly different way, but usually with the same exact characters. I never counted the number of versions, but some daydreams may have had dozens. It was as if I was a playwright creating multiple versions of plays. Each time the version got better and better. These daydreams were elating, and almost felt like reality, at times. Or even if there were tense moments, the tension was intoxicating. During this period, whole days would pass at home working and reworking the stories. Very often I couldn’t get to sleep until the wee hours of the morning, because the daydreams continued. They’d even continue when I was in my car, during a trip to the store, and perhaps to just a lesser degree during visits with people. People often noticed my absence despite physical presence. I succumbed to the temptation of living in this alternate world of my making for almost two years.
My obsessive daydreaming gradually rather than abruptly stopped. When it did stop, I guess I found myself feeling much more grounded than I had been for a very long time. Perhaps some of my creativity seemed to disappear, but my attention and memory for real facts and conversation improved. It’s funny, when I was in the thick of daydreaming, my memory for the dream’s previous details was exceptional. However, if I tried to read a book with words or stories that weren’t my own, each sentence that I read disappeared as I read it.
Part of me missed my daydream life when it eased, but not exceedingly. I started to sign up for classes to challenge my brain, and found that I could succeed well in learning new things, while in previous years it would have been impossible. From that point on, I read more and more, and started writing a lot, too. This practice became therapeutic for me and convinced me that my brain, injured from years of bipolar disorder episodes, was indeed finally healing. I could again daydream, but not obsessively.
What was the catalyst for this positive change? Was it a medication change and/or better therapy? Was it the fact that I exhausted myself with all of the obsessive daydreaming? Just time passing, with my brain finally healing? I don’t think I’ll ever really know, but I’m glad that I’m at this point where I am. I’m ready to take additional steps forward in the near future, and test the waters. I do know I should do so slowly and carefully. I am still vulnerable to mood lability, but thankfully it has recently been extinguished quickly with the help of my mental healthcare team, and the coping skills I have started to master.