Escapism, my own demon

As a kid and as a teen, I read a ton.

I was the kid that could get the librarians to sign things for me that were supposed to have a parent signature…. the one who could fill her backpack to the stuffed point on Friday, and have them all back by Monday… the one who went to restock books every morning before school.

I read a lot of fiction at the time.

I let myself get lost into the world of the character, to feel and see things in their world…. to let their world block out mine.

It was an escape from things that weren’t so happy in my world.

*

At times, the characters didn’t leave when the book ended. I’d become so used to them and their interactions and their world, that I could continue their story and interactions myself.

I’d never heard of fanfic at the time, but that’s basically what it was… just mentally instead of written.

At some point, I figured out that I didn’t need the author for anything but character generation… to show me who they were by the book, and then they could go on forever from there in my imagination. After that part was done, I didn’t need to have a book around anymore… didn’t need to be tied to paper… so generally the author’s written portion was just a small part of the life of their characters in my head, just their introduction.

Eventually, I figured out that I didn’t actually even need them for that. I could make my own characters, my own worlds.

And I liked mine better, because I could make them just how I wanted them to be.

I stopped reading fiction at that point. I still don’t have much of a tolerance for it unless it’s really good and/or a classic.

*

The point at which it got notably worse was when I switched to a different high school. Up to that point, most of my classmates had been people who had been in my classes off and on since kindergarten in a suburb district.

Now, I knew nobody, in a fairly rough school known for some gang fights at the time.

I had my friends from the bible studies and such, but it was rare that I had classes together with any of them in this large of a school. Most of the people I was in a class with, would only be in a single class with me, so small talk never really blossomed into friendship much.

So, I lived elsewhere… interacted with friends there… except they didn’t actually exist.

*

This is where a normal person would say they became a writer of some sort.

I didn’t.

I just lived in their worlds in my head, while living in my own physically, writing it off as being a daydreamer.

I actually tried to turn them into writing for a bit. And the stories that came from it were ones that people always thought were so amazing. It’s not hard to translate a character to paper and make it believable and exciting when you’ve lived in that world for a while.

But, the process was brutally painful.

Because in writing their story, I was nailing it down. I was forcing the sequence to become a firm committed storyline, no longer able to flex and flow with how I felt that day. This would mean that it no longer worked. I could no longer get the same effect by being them.

It was like a death.

Even telling someone about a character in anything but vague details frequently has the same effect.

And letting people read the resulting stories was just as brutal. I never had anyone react negatively, everyone was always amazingly gushingly positive… but it didn’t matter… it was the equivalent of opening the inmost places of my head and heart to anyone who wanted to, with no boundary of safety.

I couldn’t do it.

Even explaining to this degree is something I’m not too sure I can make a public post.

*

My characters have always been all over the place, something that I attribute to the wide variety of fiction I read, mostly due to the limited books in the library making me keep finding new things.

They are just as likely to be male as female. They usually range from teens to midlife, but children and elderly are occasionally used. There’s a strong tendency towards races other than white, but not exclusively.

Sort of like an internal multiple personality, but it’s one that I control with full awareness that I’m doing it.

But the first time I think I realized was an issue with this was as a senior in high school, when I was dealing with a character that I didn’t like.

At all. He was a teen boy… a jerk… and yet, I couldn’t lead him to be anything else.

But, I couldn’t not go into his storyline either.

It was the first time that I realized that it wasn’t entirely voluntary… because I deliberately tried to not go there… to stay focused in the real world, or to go to another story, and I couldn’t do it.

*

College actually eased up a bit at first, because I had lots of other things keeping me busy and focused.

But I remember one particular day, when a friend had walked past our room several times while doing things… and eventually peeked her head in to tease me that I’d been staring at the same wall for close to 2 hours now every single time she went past.

But then the anxiety attacks started.

And I started spending more and more time in my daydreams.

Because, that’s why I go there, is to escape the current reality, and the current reality causing irrational issues is a really good reason to avoid it.

Sometimes it was enough to keep the attacks at bay, but mostly, it just stalled them a bit. Eventually they would break through and rip me out of dreamworld.

*

I’d been in counseling for years… and had started therapy for the anxiety attacks… but never had I mentioned that I was doing this. It didn’t really seem worth mentioning I guess.

The stories grew more and more elaborate… the lives of the characters more and more complicated.

*

Now, I should mention that when I’m doing this, it’s not always staring at the wall.

Part of the time, it is.. especially when there’s a lot of drama and frustration in my life, and I’d rather be somewhere else.

But a good part of the time it’s when I’m doing something else at the same time. Shopping, or working on something alone, or driving.

Especially when I’m with strangers, or larger groups of people… places where the anxiety is increased.

It’s a common thing when shopping in a crowded store… because when I go there, everyone else sort of fades into being background scenery… thus not triggering the defenses.

I can accomplish the tasks, but yet, I’m really not there.

The best example of this I can give was an instance when my mom was in the hospital. Public place, lots of people, lots of anxiety. I was walking down the main hallway to go get something and return, and walked right past my brother and brother-in-law… and apparently looked right at them when I did so.

I say apparently, because I didn’t notice them. At all. They were scenery. I got back up to mom’s room, and was surprised that they were there… as they are sitting there going "Uh, hello? You walked right past us and ignored us.."

*

So.. it’s not at all uncommon for me to be somewhere else while I’m shopping.

But, while the anxiety attacks were still frequent and strong… and so, the daydreams deeper to avoid it… there became a weird trend.

I would find myself looking at baby clothes.

I had no children and no plans to have any within the next couple of years at that point.

But one of my main characters at that time was pregnant.

The point at which things became too weird came when I was unloading things from a shopping trip, and realized that I’d purchased a package of two baby bottles from a clearance table.

That was the point at which it seemed like it needed mentioned… having crossed the line from daydreaming into, well, I wasn’t sure what.

*

I’ve had a lot of weird conversations with therapists over the years… but that’s the one time that I think that I ever completely caught one offguard.

And that was the point at which it was officially given a label… self-desertion escapism.

And with it, a diagnosis label change from generalized social anxiety into avoidant personality disorder.

There really isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two definitions… but one sounds a lot scarier. lol

*

As it’s been explained to me, "going to a happy place" to avoid anger or fear or whatever is normal coping mechanism… even encouraged.

But, most people, when they go to their happy place, they are still themselves.

It becomes problematic and worrisome when to be in the happy place, the person has to completely abandon who they are, their sense of self, and adopt being someone else to be happy there.

It becomes dysfunctional daydreaming when the emotions and connections and relationships in the fantasy world are being used to meet needs, by an imaginary person in an imaginary interaction with a false self… which can replace getting them met organically by real people reinforcing the value and worth of the true self.

It becomes a serious issue when those lines between the false selves and the true self start getting a bit blurry… as to whose emotion is which… and goes into personality disorder territory when the lines start getting blurry in general as to where the boundary is between false self and real self.

*

That’s been a long long time ago. More than 15 years.

The lines have long since stopped being blurry.

Using the official DSM criteria, I generally fall right on the borderline of still qualifying. Out of 7 points, it requires 4… I have 3 regularly, and 1 that sometimes applies, but often doesn’t.

I do better now with other coping techniques.

The anxiety is generally not nearly as heavy of a problem anymore with reduces a need to run from it let alone do so in such a strong way.

Online options for interaction give me a lot more ability to connect with people that I do also have connections with in real life without the anxiety becoming an issue that provokes defenses… as well as with people who are real people interacting with my real self rather than a person I’m controlling their interactions interacting with someone who isn’t who I really am.

And I do a lot better with facing issues in reality to correct them rather than running from them to fantasy places.

In general, most of what does remain is passable for being a normal introvert.

Mostly.

It’s not something that generally has an impact on everyday life anymore, but it’s sometimes there.

It’s still a coping mechanism that’s one of the ones that I use automatically without even thinking about it.

Especially when the anxiety is higher, and/or when the situations are not easily resolvable in the real world… when I get overwhelmed and can’t make it not be so.

When I feel powerless… and unable to do much to influence the real world to be more tolerable… is when I most tend to run.

I can’t fix dramatic people and issues in real life, but in my fantasy I (mostly) can bring complicated messes to calm resolutions.

Or just be in a better place altogether.

Except….

Except when it doesn’t.

Except when it completely and totally fails me.

And that, is another post.

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