The Mind: “A Wonderful Servant, A Terrible Master”

The+brain+is+a+fascinating+thing%2C+having+the+ability+to+create+the+most+fantastical+and+wondrous+of+things+but+also+be+the+conjuror+of+the+dark+and+cruel.

Emily Teismann

The brain is a fascinating thing, having the ability to create the most fantastical and wondrous of things but also be the conjuror of the dark and cruel.

Emily Teismann, Editor in Chief

The human brain is complicated. Anyone who has taken any psychology class(es) knows this. Despite how advanced we are, we still know as much about the human brain and all the things it is capable of as we do our own oceans. Which is very little. 

It should then come as no surprise that the brain can be problematic. As said by author Robin Sharma, “the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master”. This often manifests itself in the form of mental conditions. Two of which are maladaptive daydreaming and intrusive thoughts and even though these two involve the brain, they are not alike in any other way.

To start off, according to healthline.com, maladaptive daydreaming is a psychiatric condition that causes daydreaming that distracts a person from reality. This can be triggered by events like certain topics brought up in conversation, sensory stimuli (such as noises [an example being music] or smells), or physical experiences that an individual may be directly or indirectly involved in, however it is not out of the realm of possibility to be affected without being involved in any way. 

Maladaptive daydreaming can be a relief from life, twirling you away into a world of magic and wonder. But it can also a detriment, holding you hostage from experiencing the gifts of the present.

There are many different symptoms that an individual who has maladaptive daydreams can have, but it is important to note that they may not have all of them. These symptoms include: extremely vivid daydreams with their own characters, settings, plots, and other story-like elements, daydreams triggered by events in reality, difficulty completing daily tasks, difficulty sleeping at night, an overwhelming desire to continue daydreaming, performing repetitive movements in their daydreaming state, making facial expressions and/or talking during the sequence, and finally daydreaming for periods of time that can range from minutes to hours.

“It’s like writing a book in your head. Sometimes I’ll walk around my room and not even realize what I’m doing because I’m all in my head.” Sophie Meek said (‘21). 

While there is no universal method to diagnose maladaptive daydreaming, Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel developed the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS), a 14 point scale which can help determine if a person is experiencing MDs. Five key characteristics it examines are the content and quality of the dreams, the ability to control the dreams and compulsion to dream, the amount of distress caused by the dreams, any perceived beliefs of daydreaming, and to what degree the dreams interfere with a person’s ability to conduct their daily activities. 

“Maladaptive daydreaming, at least for me, is totally involuntary. I’ll be in class and suddenly start doing it, then snap out of it and realize I missed a key part of the lesson. It helps me cope but is also quite annoying in the sense that it captures me in moments I’d rather be focused on something real.” Logan Gee (‘22) said. 

While maladaptive daydreaming is often diagnosed as schizophrenia, the key difference between the two is that those with schizophrenia are unable to differentiate reality from fantasy whereas, according to Somer, people who maladaptively daydream recognize that their daydreams aren’t real. It is also not unusual for those who daydream to also experience ADHD, depression, and OCD. 

Despite it generally having a bad connotation, maladaptive daydreaming can help an individual who struggles with everyday life to cope, providing a much needed escape from the troubles of reality. But it is important to remember that like many things, while it can be good in small portions, too much can also be bad. If you are struggling with trying to keep your daydreams at bay, consider joining a support group with others who experience it too. 

On the other side of the spectrum, intrusive thoughts, as defined by healthline.com, are thoughts that seem to become stuck in your head and often cause distress due to their violent and often disturbing nature. These thoughts could be sexual and/or violent in nature or be about behaviors that the individual considers to be unacceptable and abhorrent. They could also be of a self deprecating disposition.

The struggle with intrusive thoughts is like trying to shove the door closed, knowing a monster lurks behind and is working hard against you.

More than 6 million people in the U.S may experience intrusive thoughts (ADAA) and more often than not many of those people do not voice their struggles. I am one of these people. There have been more times than I can count where a thought has flashed through my mind and a wave of hot shame and guilt follows in its wake, twisting my stomach into knots. More recently, I have been more expressive about my dealings with these, but never in detail because in truth, I am ashamed. I feel as if something is wrong with me, something I can not fix and will live with until I die. Not a comforting thought. 

But it is important to remember that these are just thoughts, and are not always a result of an underlying condition (like OCD, PTSD, and eating disorders, etc). I know they often appear out of nowhere and then your best friend, Anxiety, joins not long after. Let me tell you something. These thoughts have no meaning in your life and are not warning messages or red flags. What gives these thoughts power is the worry that you have over them. Many fixate on them and become ashamed, fully intent on keeping them secret from others. Like myself. 

However, I have learned, as long as you recognize that they are only thoughts and you have no desire to act on them, they are not harmful as their source of power has been eliminated and thus they will go away in time or at the very least be forced into the corners of your mind and eventually be forgotten. It is also important to remember that mental health is important and there is no shame in seeking help and treatment from a professional. 

Possible treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, and self care. 

Talk therapy like CBT is a way for you to discuss any distressing thoughts you have with a mental health professional. Engaging in this would allow you to learn ways of thinking and of reacting in ways that would help the thoughts be less tormenting. The professional may expose you to possible triggers for your intrusive thoughts, but that is only so they can see how you react and gauge how they should start helping you develop healthier responses.

Medication, as usual, is an option. Your health care professional may prescribe you with antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to help balance chemicals in your brain. 

Self care is important regardless, but is especially so when dealing with intrusive thoughts. Through this, you can learn to label them when they arrive and begin to recognize that they are not akin to intent or behavior. Learning to also manage stress levels can help to reduce the frequency of intrusive thoughts. It is also important to try not to engage with these thoughts, be that by attempting to push them from your mind or trying to figure out what they mean. These thoughts are automatic and you have no control over them, so it is recommended to pay them as little attention as possible. Try not to also check to see if your methods are working. That will only cause them to come flooding back. Give yourself time. Rushing will only yield fragile results.

Whether you deal with maladaptive daydreaming or intrusive thoughts, know that you are valid. Your mind often may tell you otherwise, when it should be your best friend but instead is often your greatest adversary. But don’t let it. Yes, that is easier said than done, I know, but you do not have to fight the war alone. It will be ok. It may take some time, but it will happen. You are so much more than what your mind will often persuade you to believe. You are a star and it is up to you to figure out how you will shine. 

Author’s note: While these are both personal topics to me, I wanted to not only share my own experience, despite my slight discomfort in it, but also educate and bring solace to others who deal with these things, especially intrusive thoughts. It’s hard and can feel very isolating. Believe it or not, during the early stages of this, I stumbled upon a TikTok about intrusive thoughts and it was very comforting to me to know there are many people out there that deal with it too. I want this article to be that. I have also seen many TikToks about maladaptive daydreaming and wanted to talk about that as well as it is not a frequently discussed topic. On another note, I am ok. It has gotten better. There are still better days than others, but that’s ok as it is part of the journey.

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