Do I have an over active imagination or am I crazy?
December 13, 2010 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Do I have an over active imagination or am I crazy?

I'm a 19 year old female with social anxiety issues stemming from sexual abuse when I was 15. I've lost touch with my friends from high school and I really only talk to one of them very infrequently. I just stick to myself at college and I haven't made any new friends. I rarely talk to anyone outside of my family.

With that being said, is having frequent realistic daydreams and fantasies "normal"? I frequently daydream and make up stories in my head and it takes up a lot of my time. I'm starting to think it's weird and not normal.

For example, if the one friend I mentioned asks to hang out, I make up all these stories in my head to tell her about situations I've been in/people I've met etc. Please not that I never actually TELL her these stories - I hardly ever lie. But I still feel like I'm crazy for even thinking them up.

Another example: I found a guy who seems very similar to me on an online dating site (I don't date or even have an account there, I was just curious to see who was in my area). I've imagined how our first date would be, what our conversations would be like etc. This probably sounds crazy and stalkerish, but it's just fun to imagine what being in a relationship would be like.

I also have very real and vivid dreams. I started to have them when I was on Lexapro (I got off it about 3 years ago). They have recently come back and are extremely disturbing. If I've been worrying about a big test, in my dream I will go to school, take the test and go through my whole day. Then I wake up and realize it was a dream and have to go through the whole day again. Another dream I frequently have is being in a relationship with someone or being in love. Then I wake up and realize none of it was real and it just makes me feel so strange.

I'm really not the type to pathologize every little thing but I don't know if this is "normal". Is this my way of dealing with the fact that I have hardly any social contact? I've always been a creative/imaginative person and it's always been easy for me to make up a story or imagine a certain situation - but this just seems abnormal. I know I probably need therapy (for the abuse and anxiety) but I'm afraid of being taken too literally and being thought of as really crazy - I'm not... right?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
With that being said, is having frequent realistic daydreams and fantasies "normal"?

Uh, yes.
posted by delmoi at 7:41 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Think not on whether it is "normal", think on whether it is healthy. Do you feel your imagination is getting in the way of your real life? Is it keeping you from being happy? I'll admit that I can get this way sometimes and it usually means something is off-kilter in my life and I need to get back to center. You might visit your college counseling center, if your school has one, and talk to someone about it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:42 PM on December 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

If I've been worrying about a big test, in my dream I will go to school, take the test and go through my whole day.

Sometimes I go to sleep late and worry that I will oversleep and be late to work. I dream about getting up in the morning and going to work. Or I dream that I overslept and wake up (in my dream) in a panic and have to rush to work. I'm always so annoyed when I really wake up and have to do those mundane things ALL OVER AGAIN. You're thinking about the test/school, so that's what you dream about.

Regarding the other stuff...totally normal. At least for me.
posted by AlisonM at 7:44 PM on December 13, 2010

Having fantasies and daydreams is normal. Everyone does it. Don't sweat it.

If you enjoy daydreaming, then daydream away. If those daydreamas and fantasies help you work out what you want, so you can pursue it in real life, then mores the better.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:47 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you do spend more time imagining/daydreaming/dreaming than other people, but not incredibly so. It's likely just your mind's way of compensating for lack of social stimulation. We are inherently social creatures, and if you are relatively socially deprived, then it's natural that your mind would compensate for that by entertaining itself in whatever ways it can.
posted by zachawry at 7:47 PM on December 13, 2010

This is normal for creative people. Watch SCIENCE OF SLEEP, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, LABYRINTH for friendly movies, HEAVENLY CREATURES, DANCER IN THE DARK, PAN'S LABYRINTH if you can handle darker/more disturbing fare. This is the stuff that makes creative people creative.

Daydreams are pleasurable to engage in and are your brain's way of trying out a situation. People who are anxiety-prone or in unpleasurable situations are going to tend to go there more often. But this is where art, fiction, drama, etc. all come from.

As long as you can clearly tell this is reality and this is daydream and it doesn't interfere with normal functioning, you're OK. Or at least you're as messed up as every other creative person I know.
posted by Gucky at 7:47 PM on December 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

it's either normal or I'm crazy too
posted by H. Roark at 7:49 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't say you're crazy, but I think you realize that the anxiety and your response to it is not doing you any favors. Are you maybe trying to draw yourself back out into the rest of life by coming up with stories of how good (or in the case of the test dream, how not that bad) it might be?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:49 PM on December 13, 2010

Normal, as long as it isn't interfering in your life. Sometimes I get so involved with the imaginary conversations I'm having in my head that I make involuntary emphatic hand gesture to emphasize my imaginary point. Since I often did this while walking from my office to the train when I worked in the city, I was that crazy lady periodically making random-ass hand gestures. Once I said to my husband, "I can't remember if we actually had this argument or if I had it with you in my head, but either way I think you should apologize."

"If I've been worrying about a big test, in my dream I will go to school, take the test and go through my whole day. Then I wake up and realize it was a dream and have to go through the whole day again. "

Also super-normal. Are there people who DON'T have these dreams? Or the ones that are so vivid where you're fighting with your spouse and then you wake up and you can't, at least for a few minutes, figure out if you actually had the fight or just dreamed the fight? Those are the worst.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:51 PM on December 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I do this constantly. I do not consider myself crazy, abnormal, or any other pejorative words one might attach to this.

That said, you seem really distressed. You start your question by telling us about past sexual abuse, social anxiety, isolation, and other problems you're experiencing. I hate to go all armchair-shrink on you, but I think your real issue here is that you're lonely. I daydream like this a lot more when I'm isolated from other people. I think it's because when I don't have anyone around to have actual conversations with, I start making up conversations in my head so that I don't feel alone. I can track periods of social isolation in my real life by how many AskMe answers a day I'm posting. I tell stories to total strangers. I post questions on the internet and read Twitter obsessively and generally do anything I can think of to feel like I'm interacting with other human beings and am not alone. But mostly, I daydream about conversations with other people.

Anyway, if you're anything like me, the real problem is your loneliness, and your frequent vivid fantasies (or at the very least, your anxiety about them) will recede substantially as you increase your real interactions with other people. If you need medical or therapeutic help to do that, I encourage you to get it. But in the meantime, try not to be too hard on yourself. You're going through some really rough stuff, and what's happening to you now is among the healthier ways of dealing with it. Good luck!
posted by decathecting at 7:53 PM on December 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

FWIW, when I used to spend lots and lots of time daydreaming and creating elaborate fantasies about what my life would be like if XYZ happened, it was something I did to avoid participating in my real life. It's normal to daydream but I find that when I'm very anxious or depressed about the circumstances I'm in my life, my time spent daydreaming increases dramatically and that can be a problem.

If your daydreaming is getting in the way of you participating in Life - making friends, having hobbies, getting out of the house,etc. - then I would say that's crossed into not-so-normal and you may want to talk to a professional about it.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:57 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've always been a creative/imaginative person and it's always been easy for me to make up a story or imagine a certain situation - but this just seems abnormal.

I do this and I'm a 40 year old guy with a wife, kid, mortgage and job. It's a gift, cherish it.
posted by nomadicink at 8:03 PM on December 13, 2010

You might be interested in reading through some of the answers from this fascinating AskMe thread.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:11 PM on December 13, 2010

"I haven't made any new friends."

This is a warning signal IMO. You're in college. You should be having the time of your life. You will never have this kind of freedom and access to so many different people/activities/opporunities to try new things and learn about yourself ever again.

Of secondary importance, you want to make friends for future connections down the road. It might not seem important now but it will be crucial no matter where you end up professionally.

And it's nice to have good friends, obviously.
posted by bardic at 8:13 PM on December 13, 2010

Fantasies can be fascinating and comforting, but if you're looking for a quick way to jump start your engagement with the outside world, you might consider giving yourself little challenges. Challenge yourself to go outside your comfort zone - to talk to a new person, enter a new building or explore a new area. It may lead to little unexpected adventures that your brain enjoys even more than the stories it creates.
posted by ladypants at 8:17 PM on December 13, 2010

Having an active imagination is totally normal. I certainly have one. When you talked about creating various hypothetical about how a real life situation might develop, ("what if I tell my friend X", and then proceed to analyze the various effects of this), it really resonated with me. I do this ALL the time.

I also want to point out that one of the central tenets of insanity is that you have absolutely no inkling that you are bat-shit insane. If you were truly crazy, you probably wouldn't worry about it. In fact, people would probably try to tell you as much, and you would resist. People who are actually, medically, insane, have very little insight into their insanity. To them, they are totally normal.

I think that both these issues: hypothesizing, and worrying about your own sanity, are hallmark indicators of anxiety. People tend to engage in over-thinking when highly anxious, and over-thinking leads to both. Considering that you seem to have good reasons for your anxiety, and considering that your worry seems to impact your daily life, you should consider counseling. A professional therapist can help you deal with the underlying root causes of these issues and make your life a hell of a lot better.

When I needed therapy during my college experience, I had the exact same fear as you: what if this medical professional thinks that I am totally insane? It turns out the bar is set pretty high: assuming you don't insist that you are from Mars, or that Angry Penguins tell you to hurt things, or see someone in the room who isn't there, a professional psychologist is going to quickly rule out "insanity" as a possible diagnosis.

So Tl;Dr: I don't think you're insane, I think you're probably normal, but you seem distressed so please see a mental health professional who can accurately diagnose you and work with you to make things better!
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:17 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're crazy, then I am too.

(Oh wait, I actually am crazy... not sure if that is very reassuring, then. :D)
posted by Jacqueline at 8:40 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you could use some sort of technique in combination to seeing a therapist to help you unpack these day dreams - drawing, writing, collaging, etc. I've been through something similar in terms of abuse (though I was a lot younger) and I have had a similar "what if" daydreaming experience. Writing helped me, and it felt productive, which in turn made me feel like I had captured something fleeting and perhaps something worth coming back to in years to come.

One thing I do note is that my imagination and "what if"ing had a dark side - it could make me imagine all the ways a situation I was in could go wrong, which could be scary and unnecessarily negative. So perhaps best to let that stuff out into the world through talking to someone and putting pen to paper than trying to contain it.
posted by gerls at 8:55 PM on December 13, 2010

I try not to live with a lot of regrets, but I wish I had sought the opportunities for therapy that were available to me in college instead of waiting until nearly my thirties, with a lot of negative, self-destructive behavior in between that I would be perfectly happy without existing in my personal history, and without having come within a hairsbreadth of irrevocably wrecking the most important relationship in my life. You're not crazy but it seems clear that your anxiety is not under control and it's not a stretch to guess that your overactive imagination is part of how you deal with it the best you can. But the best you can is likely not the best it could be. I didn't believe at one time that simply learning alternative ways to think about things and strategies to deal with certain kinds of thinking could make a big difference in my quality of life but I was quite wrong about that. A therapist will not think you are "really" crazy. Give it a chance, life is better with other people.
posted by nanojath at 10:01 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Daydreaming is totally normal, just don't let it replace your real life. I'm horrible about getting totally stuck into a book or writing project and neglecting everyone around me. Y'know, people that actually exist!

I also have absolutely whackadoodle dreams. Some are just plain crazy but a lot are realistic and relevant to the point that I sometimes have to sit and think if I really did something or just dreamed about it. The other night I dreamed I had a heated garage then I woke up and it was 3 degrees and my car doors were frozen shut and I wanted to go back to bed where dream me had clearly made some better house purchasing choices.
posted by fshgrl at 10:03 PM on December 13, 2010

"I haven't made any new friends."

This is a warning signal IMO. You're in college. You should be having the time of your life. You will never have this kind of freedom and access to so many different people/activities/opporunities to try new things and learn about yourself ever again.

Aye yi yi. I call bullshit on that one.

OP, don't get me wrong: I do encourage you to identify individuals who you think are promising, invite them to lunch, and try to get to know them. If you do that often enough, eventually it will be richly rewarding and MUCH less frightening than you may currently imagine.

But please don't let anyone convince you that you should feel you're wasting some forever-unrecoverable opportunity, just because building relationships is taking slightly longer than you'd prefer.

Sure, college can be a great phase in your life, but it is ultimately nothing other than a phase in your life. Like any other, it will include relatively lonely periods and relatively sociable periods.

Okay, so right now you're in a relatively lonely period: that probably puts you at about the 45th percentile among your peers, sociability-wise. I guarantee you there's some kid within 7 seats of you in one of your classes, who has been so terrified of interaction, so far, that he has yet to lift his eyes for fear that he'll catch someone's gaze. You simply hear less about such people than you hear about the social butterflies, because -- guess what -- they're quieter. And as for the social butterflies themselves? who to all appearances are dating and partying and cliquing and doing all the things you want to get out of your college social life? About half of them are faking it, hiding exactly the same kind of social nervousness that you're experiencing -- except that they're using different strategies to cope with it.

The social life you desire will happen, in time -- especially if you make it a low-pressure, occasional goal to invite interesting classmates to study with you. The project in front of you right now is not FORGE AN ENTIRE COLLEGE SOCIAL LIFE AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE TO MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME. The project in front of you is GIVE MYSELF PERMISSION TO BREAK A STREAK OF UNSOCIABILITY, THEN GET TO KNOW ONE NEW PERSON.

I know I probably need therapy (for the abuse and anxiety) but I'm afraid of being taken too literally and being thought of as really crazy - I'm not... right?

You don't sound crazy at all, and your therapist will know better than to go off on some wild flight of extrapolation and imagine that "I spend a lot of time dwelling on social hypotheticals" means "I'm insane".

I've imagined how our first date would be, what our conversations would be like etc. This probably sounds crazy and stalkerish, but it's just fun to imagine what being in a relationship would be like.

Thinking through hypothetical social scenarios is a sign of strong social skills -- even if you currently think those skills are dormant. The trick you now need to master is to avoid rethinking them again and again to the point where CONTEMPLATING AND PRACTICING INTERACTION gives way to MAKING YOURSELF MORE NERVOUS ABOUT INTERACTION. Therapy will help with that trick.

You're not in a bad place. Take a breath, be a little less hard on yourself, and go find the number for the school's counseling services. You're going to be fine, and you're going to look back on college happily.
posted by foursentences at 10:17 PM on December 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Nthing the "it's normal." I do exactly the same thing and I stressed out about it for a while when I was a kid, realized I couldn't do anything about it and it didn't actually do any harm, and now I work in video games and it's an asset, if anything.

For me, the dreams in particular tend to ramp up when I'm under stress, and get less pleasant the more stressed I am, but they're a symptom, not the disease.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:39 PM on December 13, 2010

Daydreaming is natural and having no friends in college is normal too (if unpleasant and lonely.) I can count on both hands how many actual *conversations* I had with people until I graduated. But then I moved abroad, forced myself to go to wild parties and cram in that year the kind of experiences I'd so long gone without (the language barrier helped as my anxiety wasn't so obvious.) I made a point to really study social cues and learn to listen. (That's the key here, when you make friends you're going to be dying to tell them stuff and have those conversations you've had in your head. But really the way to meeting people is honestly being curious in them, not how they are to you. Actually, therapy is a good idea if only to get that basic human need to talk about yourself out of the way.) It took three years of being that very weird girl and it wasn't easy. I certainly burned many bridges, said regretable things, and had trouble at first understanding other people's boundaries and expectations. But... now at 30, I make friends very easily and have the kind of people in my life better than I ever dreamed.
posted by pinafore at 11:51 PM on December 13, 2010

"Normal" is a vague word, but I guess you're interested in knowing 1. whether it's prevalent and 2. whether it's healthy.

For the first question, my guess is probably. I can only tell you I do exactly what you've described, all the time. So actually, it's kind of interesting to hear someone else describe it.

For the second, I'd say it depends. But I wouldn't sweat it. If you do talk to a therapist, I might mention it, especially since the content of your daydreams and fantasies can sometimes be telling. Or if you don't see a therapist, it's something to think about. But I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by Busoni at 3:28 AM on December 14, 2010

I'm going to take a different perspective than most of the other repliers. The most important thing I hear from reading what you've written is that sound unhappy. Like very unhappy. Lonely, anxious, worried. No, you don't sound crazy. But the paranoia and worry you're describing are real, and important. I think that people can start to go wild when they feel trapped inside themselves - like if someone can't let out the stuff inside their heads, the pressure builds up and up until they explode one way or another.

So, I don't think you're crazy, but I think it sounds like your life is not working well. Like you want it to be different, and you don't know how. It takes a lot of guts to realise that your life isn't working, and start doing something about it. You mentioned therapy. Therapy can be a really, really good thing. The problem with therapy is that therapists are just people. There are good ones and there are less good ones. I was extremely lucky to find a therapist who was genuinely caring, and she's helped me a lot. I'd point you towards therapy because my own experience with it has been so good, and you sound like it might work for you too. But of course it's not an easy step and there are dangers.

Maybe if you want to try therapy you could use some friendly advice? I'd be happy to listen to more about you, or tell you more about my own experiences. Feel free to Memail me.

I guess your post reminds me of me two years ago. This stuff is fresh on my mind. Reading through all of the other commenters posts, they're all saying stuff which is totally besides the point. I know their answers would have fallen flat when I felt similar things.
posted by schmichael at 3:44 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

My intention is not to alarm you, but my father started experiencing something similar (increasingly real dreams, coming up with creative story lines and playing them out in his head, concocting interesting fictional plots of stories and visualizing them, etc.). He confided this to me, and at first it just sounded like an interesting, benign, creative development for him. But he was still a bit worried about it. A few months later, he had a complete psychotic break, and completely lost the ability to distinguish between the imagined story lines and his own. This with no previous hint of a mental problem. Medication sorted that all out, and he is not and was never "crazy." He had some kind of medical event which caused serious problems (the brain scan showed evidence of some tiny lesions).

I share this only because you will get lots of people saying your experiences sound totally normal and even creative. But most people don't experience these things vividly enough to make them actually fearful of a larger problem. The fact that you sound concerned about it impels me to suggest that what sounds innocuous could possibly be symptomatic of something else. And on the very off chance that it is, you can probably get it sorted out if it becomes more of a problem. I'd just keep an eye on things, and take your own concerns seriously enough to seek help if it becomes more intense--and without pinning the word "crazy" to your potential situation. There's no need for that, and it really isn't a very helpful word. Good luck.
posted by asimplemouse at 6:01 AM on December 14, 2010

Normal. People do this all the time (e.g.: imagine how a phone conversation will go before dialing, daydream about meeting some movie heartthrob and so forth). It seems to be causing you some anxiety though, so I'd recommend making an appointment with your school's counseling center. Speaking with a medical professional will probably put you at ease. And you're paying for all the services your college provides for you, whether you take advantage of them or not; you may as well go.

Don't worry about being a loner in college. I'm probably projecting a bit, but I really wish someone had told me that college isn't all about making connections and finding people who "really get" you. My social life has only gotten better since I graduated.

Write an email to someone else you were friends with in high school. Make plans to hang out over winter break.

I was a misfit in high school and a loner in college. Most of my best friends are people I originally met in high school. It's okay to not have a BFF at school. Really.
posted by giraffe at 7:38 AM on December 14, 2010

I've imagined how our first date would be, what our conversations would be like etc.

Everyone does this, but sometimes it can cause problems if you actually meet the person (because they really won't be like what you imagined). Not a problem if you're fantasizing about someone who lives far away or, say, Johnny Depp, but if you're doing this a lot with people who you may someday talk to, you might want to go talk to them now instead.
posted by anaelith at 7:47 AM on December 14, 2010

Please email one of the mods and have them share a throwaway email address for those of us who would rather contact you privately.
posted by lhall at 10:52 AM on December 14, 2010

Please be assured that if this behaviour makes you abnormal, then I and most of the human race are also abnormal.
posted by Decani at 10:38 AM on December 15, 2010

« Older spare the pal, spoil the trip   |   Office furniture for people who sit all day and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.