By Natasha Santos, 19
Represent, New York
“Tasha, what did he do to you?”
This is the second night in a row that my aunt has roused me from my sleep. Her eyes are bloodshot and downcast; she’s tired and guilty.
“I don’t know,” I tell her. I know what she’s talking about, but my uncle has made me promise that I wouldn’t tell a soul what we’d been doing. “Promises are supposed to be kept,” he’d told me.
She eventually gives up and sends me to bed, but I can’t sleep because my head is too full of thoughts and feelings that I can’t express. There’s no one around to talk to and no one that I would trust to hold some of these feelings if there were. So I just lie there and let my imagination take over and take me out of myself. I imagine that I’m a beautiful princess and that I have to save myself from the evil witch who wants to kill me so that she can become royalty.
The world that I imagine is so intricate and busy and scary and happy and wonderful that I forget that I’m sleeping on the couch in the living room.
I first noticed my habit of transporting myself to other worlds in my mind that night at my aunt’s house. I felt special and smart that I could create these worlds in my head.
When I was younger, I couldn’t control my mother’s behavior or my father’s absence, but I could control my mind. My characters and fantasies existed as a safe haven. This was my escape from my mother’s neglect, my uncle’s hands, and my teacher’s looks of apathy or disgust. In my imagination, I was strong and wise and loved by all. No one could challenge me, and no one could make me less than I was with looks or disregard or slaps in the face. It was perfect.
Later, it became my escape from my foster mother, Diane. When you were being punished for some small infraction of her rules – this happened often. I was once put on punishment for a month because I forgot to brush my teeth – you would have to spend the day or days standing in the hallway. Standing there for hours on end really got me into the habit of using my mind to escape.
As I grew older, I became more and more conscious of my imagination. I was using it constantly as a source of entertainment and comfort. While the other kids were being mean to me and my family was being my family, I went inside myself to get out of it.
Soon, psychiatrists were asking me if I heard voices or saw people, and the kids in school found more ammo to shoot at me. My mind was betraying me big time, but I wasn’t ready to part with my imaginary worlds. So I didn’t stop, just toned it down. I made myself more aware of other people and tried not to mumble to myself in public.
I’ve been thinking about it all lately, probably because I’ve just turned 18 and am trying out this new phase in my life while still making sense of my childhood. I have all these thoughts and questions about what I need to be a successful adult, or at least one that doesn’t end up on welfare with 20 kids and a drug habit.
I’m worried that this habit of escaping reality could lead to bigger problems. What will I do when 10 years of adulthood have jaded my imagination and creativity and I begin looking for other ways of dealing? Will I turn to drugs? Will my imagination turn off and my mind turn to depression?
I brought this up one day with Rachel, my therapist, who was surprisingly supportive of my imagination getaways. I told her about how I developed my habit of mentally escaping and that I wanted to stop it. I didn’t tell her about the “thinking aloud,” though, or my fear of not being able to handle reality when I’m older.
“Well, from what you’re telling me, I think that this habit you have is positive and I don’t think that you need to be too concerned about giving it up, from what you’re telling me,” she said.
I’m still worried that if I don’t give up the pretend world in my head, then I will never become a productive adult, one who can take care of herself and live life on her own terms. And I think that my mind has also gotten tired of creating alternate realities for itself.
In the past, when I had a bad memory or an ugly thought, I wouldn’t allow myself to feel it or take the time to understand what had happened to me. I just looked through my mental Rolodex and found something else to think about. But that is not completely OK with me any more.
I hope there is a way for me to deal with some of my past memories without only using my mind haven. Somebody suggested writing out my experiences or talking about them. I’m not ready to speak about a lot of things. But when I am, I hope I can find someone receptive and open to hear me.
© Youth Communication/New York Center. http://www.youthcom.org.