Lately I’ve been thinking about Escapism. By definition – “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.”
I’ve always had what a teacher once called, “an over active imagination.” I could make a story out of anything and give a complete history to even the most mundane object. This I why I really struggled to get rid of any of my teddy bears when I left for London… How could I? I know all of their back stories! Tatty Ted, Miss Lola, Rover Red Dog.. I grew up with them! (Totally didn’t get rid of them, they’re still in my room back in Bolton).
My active imagination is something that I never questioned, because it made me happy. Instead of concentrating in lessons that I didn’t like, I’d daydream. Sometimes it would be simple, I’d jumped from table to table, like they were stones on hot lava. Whereas other times I’d leave the room completely. I’d find a hidden door and travel to a secret world, (not Narnia, my world shits all over Narnia). Now and again something sinister would sneak in. I remember Elizabeth Meadows being very cruel to me in maths, so I imagined freezing time. I chopped off her long blonde curls and coloured her face with permanent marker. These kind of daydreams were rarely pleasurable, if anything they only increased my anger and pain.
Unlike many things in life my fantasies never failed me. Unpleasant car/train journeys? No worries. Boring assemblies or church sermons? Sorted. I could always escape into my own world where everything was under my control.
As I grew my imagination grew with me, I suppose you could say it matured. It also became heavily linked to music. Certain songs would trigger head trips and I’d disappear into them. Hours would pass by as I played in my alternate reality. It’s hard for me to admit this (because it is so cringe worthy), so you’re only getting the basics. But I created an alter ego and when I listen to music, I become HER. She’s better than me in every way. Cooler, smarter, more beautiful and has an incredible back story. Her life is so wild and interesting…she’s a complete tortured soul (that is soooooo my taste). As I type I can feel myself shudder because it is so embarrassing. The best thing is, I can indulge in this life and explore the extremes of self destructive behaviour through her, but still come back to my happy and safe home. I suppose it’s like having cake and eating it too.
However, in the last few weeks I’ve started to consider the negative aspects of escapism. Despite the pleasure and distraction they bring, there’s also disruption. I noticed this properly when I came back from my honeymoon. I was sleeping a lot, not because I was particularly tired, but so that I could retreat into my fantasy world rather than deal with reality. Sleep is the ideal environment for escapism because interruptions are limited. I’d nap for hours and feel wretched afterwards, filled with guilt of having wasted a whole afternoon. But even the guilt didn’t stop me. Fantasy is highly addictive, more so than any drug (in my opinion). It’s seductive charms are strong but also hard to spot, and before you know it you find yourself back in Wonderland.
I’ve been talking to a girl via twitter (let’s call her Sophie,) about her issues with escapism and with her blessing I’m going to share her story, because I find it fascinating. She openly admits that she’s become obsessed with the actor Kit Harrington, (which I can totally relate to as I also have a major crush. Dan knows, it’s cool. Also, Mr Harrington signed my arm when I went to see his play… so I feel like I have closure)!
“It’s ridiculous, but I find myself googling him constantly. Watching videos, looking at photos and reading any news. I go to bed early and imagine different scenarios in which we meet and he falls in love with me. Everything is perfect and I’m so happy. I know this isn’t healthy, but I can’t stop myself. At one point I even started googling the local pubs that he visits. I’d rather go to bed early and fantasise about him, rather than go out and meet people. Earlier this year I went to the Olivier Awards in Covent Garden and stood outside with the other fans, desperate to catch a glimpse. When I saw him walk the red carpet with his girlfriend I was devastated. I knew that he had a girlfriend, but in that moment it all became real and I realised what a freak I was. I stayed in bed all the following day crying. It was like my happiness had been snatched away and I was left with nothing.”
While lots of people may sneer at Sophie’s confession, I found it to be incredibly honest and insightful. In many ways I can emphasise with her plight. The way modern romance is portrayed in films, TV shows and books is enough to f**k anyone up. We’re all looking for perfection and the only way to achieve this is via fantasy. It’s not just limited to women either. The amount of Indie boys who openly admit that they want to meet a girl like Zoey Deschanel in the film ‘500 Days of Summer’ is uncanny. She doesn’t even exist!!!
But I digress as usual.
I think as with most things, the key with escapism is that incredibly boring word MODERATION. It’s fine to daydream, but if you find yourself living in a dream world more than reality then maybe it’s time to address a few things.
- Ask yourself why you’re doing it? Are you bored or unhappy with a certain aspect of life? If so, what positive changes can you make. Make the effort to really think about this, even if it means confronting unpleasant truths.
- Use CBT exercises to unearth and tackle any thoughts that are causing you to retreat into your fantasy realm.
- Make a mental note of situations in which you’re allowed to daydream and ones when you’re not. E.g. Public transport – YES – At work – NO. Maybe even schedule in some ‘escapism time’ – this way you can enjoy it without feeling guilty.
- Make a conscious effort to recognise when you’re indulging a daydream and fight it. I’ve started (discreetly) smacking my hand at work when I catch myself falling into one. The sensation shocks my brain back into reality.
- If you know you’re over doing it, then cut down. It won’t be easy, but after a while the brain will accept the new routine. For example, I’m going to forgo my Sunday afternoon nap from now on because I don’t use it for the right reasons. Instead, I’ll do something productive. This will give me a sense of achievement.
For more information about changing negative routines read this.
Imagination is an incredible gift that all humans possess. It allows us to explore life without limitations or fear. It’s certainly helped to ease my anxiety over the years.
But alas, as the old saying suggests; “one can have too much of good thing.”