“To create more positive results in your life, replace ‘if only’ with ‘next time.” ~Celestine Chua
I’m twenty-nine-and-a-half and I’ve finally committed to pursuing my dreams of becoming a singer/musician/songwriter, actress, and screenwriter.
But most importantly, I finally feel allowed to live the life I want to live.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression on and off since I was fifteen. My coping mechanism always looked the same: isolating myself in my room, listening to music, and making up stories or music videos to go along with songs. I loved to refine these little scenes, repeating the songs over and over again for hours.
Sometimes, the highlight of my day was when I got to go back to my room and listen to that song again—when I got to go back into my dream world.
I didn’t realize then how much I preferred this dream world to my own reality. I’d become disengaged from my friends and family. All I wanted was to go home to my imagination.
Recently, I learned of the term “maladaptive daydreaming,” a mental condition in which a person is in a state of intense daydreaming that distracts them from their actual life. Some say this condition has roots in OCD and ADHD/ADD.
I’m still unable to confirm if I had this or not. But I do know that daydreaming was a coping mechanism I was heavily dependent on to keep my mood up. Because otherwise, my reality always depressed me.
I had dreams of singing on stage, writing insightful scenes, and creating beautiful films. But it all seemed too selfish. Like I shouldn’t feel allowed to “indulge” in my fantasies. Also, it felt self-centered. How dare I want to be the center of attention?
When I finally woke up and got tired of my daydream state, I instantly regretted how much time I had “wasted.”
I would try, obsessively, to make up for this time by scheduling productive activities in my planner. They were reasonable, too: Exercise for just thirty minutes. Read just ten pages of that book you’ve had on your shelf for three months. But no matter what activity I tried to start, I always ended up back in my comfort zone: my dream world.
At first, it was just hours at a time that I lost when I had originally wanted to do my homework. Then it was weekends when I had planned to start a new hobby. And then weeks, months, and years passed. I mostly existed in my daydreams. Reality was just that other thing I had to do during the day.
Somehow, I still managed to maintain a somewhat normal-looking life on the outside. I actually worked great jobs in marketing and nonprofit, exercised a lot, and generally stayed healthy. I took quite good care of myself. Most of my reality wasn’t too hard. But I still didn’t love it.
I only did what made me appear “together” and “secure.” I didn’t live passionately.
When I was around twenty-six, I finally took a first step toward what I really wanted to do by signing up for singing and acting lessons and starting to learn screenwriting. However, I was still holding back. Why? I still didn’t feel like I deserved it. It still seemed selfish.
Also, people made me anxious. I grew up in an Asian household where gaslighting was the cultural norm, so I was extremely sensitive. I hated being teased and felt fake whenever I hung out with my friends. I didn’t like engaging socially or presently for too long because I felt like I was losing myself.
Only later did I realize that many other people were like this. But back then, trying to find solace in anything outside of my dream world just didn’t feel safe. I preferred to daydream a life where people were easier to digest.
At about twenty-eight, I started to get weird digestive issues. It started with gastritis, a condition in which the stomach is inflamed. It didn’t seem too bad and I thought it’d go away after taking medication. Then came the kicker, the persistent fireball that demanded I pay attention to it: acid reflux.
If you’ve experienced chronic acid reflux, you know the struggle. Doctors can’t seem to find a consensus as to the best cure.
I cut down on spicy foods, acidic foods, the usual suspects. This barely seemed to help. Everything seemed to trigger it. I was freaking out every other night before I went to sleep. What if this never stops? How much damage has this done to my throat? Will I eventually get throat cancer?
And the hardest question I had to face: Will this damage my vocal cords? Will this deter my singing?
I had been taking voice lessons, as I was told I had a lovely singing voice, and I was doing well, but I shied away from performances.
Now that there was a risk of not singing to my full capacity, I finally wanted to pursue my true potential. I couldn’t just dream it anymore. I had to take action, while I had the chance
For about a year, I pushed my doctor, nutritionist, GI doctor—anyone who could find a cure—to help me. They kept treating me like I was stupid. I was simply anxious. That’s all, right? They kept telling me it was just stress, but the condition worsened.
I then developed a bacterial issue in my small intestine as a result of the medication that was supposed to help stop my acid reflux. Then I found out that my gallbladder wasn’t working properly.
I was furious. I cried to my parents every night. I was terrified to eat anything. In addition to avoiding acidic foods, I cut out gluten, dairy, and foods that would give me bloating (which was, well, quite a bit). I basically had a panic attack every time I ate.
Was this punishment? Was this really all a result of the anxiety that had festered and grown after years of running away from life to my dream world? Had I neglected myself?
Then came my twenty-ninth birthday. I hated my birthdays. They were just another marker of another year I had wasted not living fully. But I decided then that this year would be different.
So, I made my plans again. And of course I had false starts and re-starts, but I’ve kept at it. I went to therapy. I took acting classes and humiliated myself (in a good way). I signed up for a singing showcase. My singing voice, despite the bit of damage done so far, has sounded better than it ever has before. And I’m starting to make friends I feel comfortable with.
It was alarmingly apparent that my doctors weren’t treating me right, so I began telling them off, realizing in the process that I was fighting for my best reality. I was demanding to feel deserving.
I now know I don’t just deserve to live healthy; I deserve a life where I thrive. It is not selfish. It is vital to one’s well being.
I’m now working with an integrative health doctor who has recommended natural remedies and all but entirely cured my health problems. I also credit myself for a large portion of that. I do daydream still, but now I utilize it as a motivator for my creativity instead of retreating into my mind as a way to avoid life.
I’m grateful for all forms of my existence—from my imagination that has the beautiful capacity for daydreams, to my physical body that does everything it can to heal itself.
I often wonder, though, why did it have to take a threat to my vocal cords for me to finally start singing? And why did I have to become sick before I could appreciate my body’s capabilities and start taking care of it?
Maybe I had to be shaken awake from my daydreams before I could start living fully and making my dreams a reality. I had to learn it the hard way, but I now know this to be true: We all not only deserve to thrive, we need to thrive in order to be our best, healthiest selves—but only we can make it happen. And it starts with believing we’re worthy and pushing ourselves to take a chance.