I have always lived in my head. Since I can remember, I have always daydreamed and made up fantasies of myself in different worlds and lifetimes. Sometimes I was a royal princess fighting to become queen, other times I was a famous actress who just won an Oscar. And sometimes I am simply myself, but happier. I never thought anything of my constant daydreaming and escaping from reality until I caught myself unable to remove myself from these scenarios. I would put on a movie to watch and found myself unable to recall anything because I was sucked away into my dreams. I would be sitting in class trying to learn and the next thing I knew the bell was ringing to go to the next class. After I did my own research about why this was happening to me, I found that I was experiencing a common mental illness called maladaptive daydreaming. The word illness automatically terrified me. I had never suffered any physical illnesses and I certainly didn’t want to be experiencing a mental one. I didn’t understand at the time why I was so scared until I was able to take a step back and look at my family as a whole.
I come from an Indian immigrant family, and in the society my parents grew up in, being diagnosed with a mental disorder or illness automatically brands you as “crazy” and “unworthy” of living life as a regular human being. My parents, having grown up in this mentality, brought this stigmatized type of thinking with them when they moved to the states. Mental health is a completely new concept to my parents like it is to many people of older generations. And while I can’t blame them for the way they were raised to think about mental illnesses, as a child who has suffered from anxiety for as long as she can remember, and for a now-adult who continues to suffer from anxiety as well as depression, it is extremely painful that the people who should understand you best cannot understand and accept an illness you suffer from.
I remember trying to talk with my mom about the anxiety attacks I was experiencing and the depression I was suffering from. My mother simply said that anxiety is a part of everyone’s life and that I just need to get over it. When I told her about my depression — my constant breakdowns every night, my isolation from the rest of the world, and my thoughts of no longer wanting to live — she told me that it is just temporary. That everyone goes through this “phase” and that I, again, must get over it. I am fortunate in that I had this conversation with my mother right before I was entering my freshman year of college. And I am fortunate that my university has a wellness center where I can attend therapy sessions. It pains me that I have to hide this fact from my family, but I have to protect myself.
I am writing this so that people who are going through similar situations know that your life and the situation you are in right now can definitely get better. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to protect and take care of yourself. It’s hard learning to put yourself first. It takes a lot of time and practice, but it is definitely worth the struggle. Setting up boundaries with people, learning to say “no,” and simply doing things you like even though other people might not like them will simply benefit you for the future. You cannot do anything for others if you can’t do anything for yourself either!