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  • Amy Osella


The pale yellow lights are bright and hot. The pointed light melts the audience into a black sea, indistinguishable shadows. The interviewer is suddenly speaking into the mic, introducing my name. “Now Amy,” he says, settling into his chair as the crowd’s applause starts to peter out, “how are you doing?” I turn to look over my shoulder at the massive screen behind us. An oblong version of myself is being projected for all to see. “Horrified after seeing my forehead that big,” I reply, whipping my head back towards the camera, a show ready grin on my face. The audience loves me, the interviewer is awestruck, and I’m slowly beginning to relax my back against the red velvet chair. The scene bursts into a million little pieces, a delicate skin broken by pin-pricking reality.

“Amy? The value of x?”

Though the scene with the interviewer may dissolve, leaving my physical body planted in the confines of a mathematics class, the story never did. Time and time again I have been able to wind my way back to the world, picking up on the storyline where I left off last time. For a while, I assumed all imaginations worked this way, creating landscapes that served as a way to immerse oneself in the fantastical or unfathomable. It wasn’t until I went off to college and spent time in between classes scrolling on TikTok that I found other people do the same thing. People detailed stories of their wonderlands, some mimicking Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings universes, while others had fantastical worlds all of their own creation. When I was younger, I used my imagination more as a way to immerse myself within a world I so craved. Lion King adjacent safaris, towering castles resembling Hogwarts, and pirate filled seas (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightey included) crowded my mind. 

Whether lion, witch, or pirate, I somehow managed to be at the forefront of each story, taking up prime real estate in the protagonist section. That’s where my true inner world bloomed, amalgamating myself with all of the charming characters of the past until one stood: a writer in New York City that somehow was breaking boundaries of the literary and music scene all from within my head. While escaping to where you’re the better version of yourself (so maybe I can afford actual name brands and my hair is shinier and I work out a lot more in this world) is tempting, it can also be a distraction from what reality is asking of you. 

Maladaptive daydreaming occurs when “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.” Dr. Somers, a clinical psychologist and maladaptive daydreaming researcher even says that there will be clear immersive visuals, sounds, and emotional elements, so these fantasies are more intense than run-of-the-mill daydreams and typically include elaborate storylines that continue over time. Research about maladaptive daydreaming is limited, but there are several theories about what might be behind it, says Colin Ross, MD, a dissociation and trauma-related disorder specialist who researches this behavior. It’s often linked with other mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dissociative disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Often, it provides an escape from intolerable feelings and conflicts, emptiness, stressful external conditions, and/or unresolved trauma.” 

For myself, daydreaming was most often prompted by either music or moments of denial of the big stressors in my life. The pandemic was particularly prompting, the perfect combination of stress about life day to day (and the future) meeting with the boredom of being stuck in one place. I can remember spending days in bed, headphones on, blaring Taylor Swift’s Folklore, wishing I'd been the one to write such beautiful music. I imagine myself upon a stage, braver than I’ve ever been, performing gut wrenching songs to an intimate crowd of masked people. As the first notes are played on the piano along to “the 1”, a single light appears on my back turned to the audience. The golden light spills through a sheer white shawl that glides as if it’s floating midair along my shoulders swaying side to side. The first line escapes my lips as my heart clenches. I can see the silhouette of a person I once loved, our first meeting of eyes since we’d let things between us die. As I breathe deep, preparing to exhale all feeling into the next sung words, the stage grows taller. The audience doubles, then triples, and I keep singing. The face melts into just another within the crowd, and a part of me I could never touch feels healed (especially the part of me that sang Mad Woman and Champagne Problems). 

The more that I encounter grief wrapped in all shapes and sizes, I can’t help but feel these immeasurable losses are entwined with maladaptive daydreaming. I picture my grandparents in the crowds at graduations, book releases, and opening nights of tour. I imagine myself using others’ words as weapons,swords drawn to my defense against the emotional abuse I was subjected to. I imagine myself speaking to other victims with an empathy and compassion I wasn’t met with, using my “reach” to build a community that’s stronger from the pain endured. I imagine myself able bodied, without the restriction of chronic illness. Visuals of being able to run and dance and even just stand up straight without the intense abdominal cramping and muscle tension flood my mind every day. I imagine myself surrounded by friends so close I feel as though they hold me like family, filling up my days with laughter and joy. 

Everything I am without on Earth materializes in my dreams. It’s not hard to understand why one would return again and again to something that appears so perfect. In fact, it may even be harder to understand why one would ever root themselves to be grounded in reality when their mind could take them to such heights. But one cannot live in a delusion forever. 



Art by Kiran Slomka


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