I can’t stop escaping into a fantasy land. I’m pretty happy and don’t think there’s anything I really need or want to escape from (though there has been stuff in the past and I think I started doing this as a child for pretty understandable reasons), but the temptation to enter into a world of fantasy is just too much for me to resist sometimes. So nice in here! << echo >> I’ve done this my whole life and it’s been great fodder for art, but I don’t think it’s healthy and I don’t really know how to stop. I need to get grounded and am looking for advice so I can reenter the real world.
Sweet, Sweet Fantasy Baby
Dear Sweet, Sweet Fantasy,
Let’s start at the top. This is a lifelong coping skill that has advanced your artistic practice and landed you in a spot in life where you feel confident saying “I’m pretty happy,” and that there’s nothing you “need or want to escape from.” That sounds fantastic, tbh. So, why do you want to let go? Is this fantasizing impacting your life in some way? Are you finding that it takes time from your family or your work or other things you’d rather prioritize? What leads you to the decision that it’s not healthy?
Look around yourself, first. The world has a way of getting inside our heads about what’s “healthy” and what’s not. Don’t let shame take away something from you that, by all appearances, is working fine. There is nothing inherently unhealthy about drifting off into fantasy, whether it’s daydreaming, role playing or full imaginative immersion. If spending time in a fantasy land doesn’t harm yourself or others, then maybe reevaluate your definition of “healthy.”
You point out that you’re not necessarily escaping “from” anything. That’s fine! Many of our coping mechanisms are there not just to triage but to help us maintain. It may well be that you don’t see anything in your life that you need to escape from precisely because you indulge your fantasies on a regular basis, and that keeps you steadied and better able to competently evaluate threats.
Of course, if you do that close self-eval and determine that actual harm is coming from this habit (neglecting responsibilities, dissociating while operating heavy machinery, losing track of what’s real), then you’re right to try to mitigate things. Meditation is one way: There’s a balanced feeling that comes from engaging and holding still simultaneously, from hearing the world around you and letting go, rather than blocking it out. But mindfulness is a practice. It is worthwhile for many reasons, but it will likely take up just as much of your time as the fantasizing you trade for it.
Gratitude lists are another way of keeping a check on yourself. Instead of focusing on what you may or may not want to escape from, center your thoughts each day on the reasons you have to stay. Reminding yourself of the things and people you value can help you choose to be fully present for them.
Every different means of controlling our minds, from runner’s high to beer goggles, is a form of escaping into fantasy. Some people become so engrossed in a book that they feel like they’re waking up when interrupted. Humans crave fantasy, or else storytelling would never have been invented. It’s one of the most basic parts of who we are. Don’t let it control you, but don’t devalue it completely.
This article was originally published in Little Village’s December 2022 issues.