Maladaptive Daydreaming

Vico Whitmore
5 min readNov 30, 2022


My first imaginary friend was a mother who could love and protect me. You’d think, from a kid who grew up to be a writer, this would be some entirely new concoction, a woman of strength and poise who towered over my abusers. You’d think she’d be someone with magic powers, capable of subduing anyone, even someone armed. But no, I grabbed my imaginary friend from day time television at the ripe age of nine years old. My imaginary friend was Olivia Benson.

Yes, Law and Order: SVU is coppaganda. Yes, it’s intended to make people believe that the police operate in a way that they simply don’t and that they’re far more successful and interested in cases of rape, abuse, and incest than they actually are. That’s precisely why I loved her. At nine years old, I couldn’t have told you that what had been happening to me since I was five was child on child sexual abuse. I did know that something was deeply wrong. Seeing Olivia on TV every week telling survivors as young as I was that it wasn’t their fault and that everything would be okay was precisely what I needed. It was comforting in a way I couldn’t describe. Every day I’d come home and thumb through the channels, trying to find SVU re-runs on somewhere. During the summer, I was always back inside in time to grab a popsicle and catch the two hours that ran every night. Looking back, that should have been a red flag for really any adult in my life, but it wasn’t, and I kept watching uninterrupted for years.

It wasn’t long after Law and Order: SVU initially aired that Olivia was added to the lineup of maladaptive daydreaming I’d already begun the year before. I’d had a surgery to put tubes in my ears as a solution to the constant case of strep throat I’d been sporting. If that sounds weird, don’t worry, it worked, and my surgery was a success. That said, the emotional reality of that surgery had been hell. Before I could be prepped, I had to change into a hospital gown with no underwear or even socks, which had sent me into hysterics. I threw and incredibly unusual for me hissy fit and refused to be touched or changed. No one had thought much of this at the time, but in retrospect, it had been a clear red flag of sexual abuse. My mother was not kind to me in this moment. She didn’t acknowledge that I had every reason to be scared or ask if I was okay. Instead, once we were alone in the bathroom together, she smacked me and told me to stop crying and put on the gown. That was strike one.

The next was that the doctor had told me he wouldn’t touch anything but my ears and that I could trust him. I woke up with a sore arm. It turns out they’d given me several vaccinations while I was asleep.

My parents had ribbed me for making such a scene after the surgery was over, but I’d never wanted it to begin with. I’d wanted the other option available, a shot in the ear during which I could sit on my mother’s lap and be held. My parents had refused to let me go that route. I felt betrayed and lonesome after that surgery, longing for support and care, and so I invented it.

I cast Olivia as a loving, supporting mother, by my side the entire time, present and interested as the anesthesia was administered and there holding my hand when I woke up. Slowly, she started asking me what was wrong, and over time, I started telling her.

At nine and ten, my maladaptive daydreaming was nothing more than a bedtime ritual. It was how I settled my mind and let go of everything my parents did and said during the day so I could go to sleep. It worked perfectly for that. The daydreams broadened in scope, with Olivia playing the part of rescuer and adoptive parent, freeing me of everything that might have made it hard to go to sleep.

Slowly, though, the daydreams took over more and more of my waking life. I would take naps when I wasn’t sleepy, exclusively so that I could spend more time in the daydream. When things felt wrong and bad inside my own head, I would escape into the daydreams, sometimes finding a quiet place to sit and just stare at a wall, other times, holding a book in my hands while adults chattered around me. No one ever seemed to notice that I never turned a page.

By the time I graduated high school, I was spending hours daydreaming in class and sometimes while people talked to me. I spent so much time in the world of my own creation that I was barely in contact with reality, and when I was, it was because my parents’ behavior forced me to be.

College helped, primarily because so much of my life was novel and required my attention. My roommate still thought I spent too much time in bed, but by comparison, I was daydreaming relatively little. Once I joined the school paper, my daydreaming returned to the bedtime ritual it had been when I was a child.

It never left, though, and even now I have to question myself a little when it comes to taking naps. I have to be sure I’m tired and not just trying to escape a reality that I could more effectively leave by putting in work to make it so.

Still, my daydreaming was never a disorder to me, not in the same way CPTSD is. If anything, it gave me a way to avoid internalizing the voices of my parents and instead tune into a character designed to be a parental figure for the viewers of her show. Olivia gave me an internal guidepost that I could return to for comfort and guidance whenever I needed to. She gave me a way out of a family I could not change, and made my life under their roof survivable.

Even when the daydreams shifted to incorporate magic, villains, and heroes, it was providing what I thought I could never have in real life without that intervention. Sure, the daydreaming robbed me of the opportunity to make friends with my peers, especially in the last two years of high school. It sucked up time that could have been put to use finding meaningful solutions instead of simple escapism. None of that is good.

That also doesn’t erase what maladaptive daydreaming gave to me. It’s no longer the most useful tool in my toolbox, especially now that I’m an adult and have more control over my material and emotional situation. Still, as a child, maladaptive daydreaming is part of what saved me, and if anything, I think I’m lucky to have found it.



Vico Whitmore

Trans CSA survivor leaving a trail as I stumble my way toward healing. Support me on ko-fi!