Coping through Imaginary Friends
I cried while watching the new Pixar film, Inside Out. It’s a tearjerker, full of childhood nostalgia and coming-of-age emotions. But there’s one part that I didn’t cry at and I’ve discovered from reading others’ reactions is that I must have a cold, hard heart.
I didn’t cry about Bing Bong. Bing Bong’s demise didn’t tug at my heartstrings. I mean, I know what it’s like to have imaginary friends. But the thing is, they haven’t disappeared into a “Memory Dump.” I still interact with them, probably every 1-2 days.
Now, they aren’t what you’d think of as a stereotypical “imaginary friend.” In fact, I didn’t really think of them as “imaginary friends” until after I was trying to figure out why I didn’t like Bing Bong in the movie. He’s not representative of the sample of the characters I talk to in my head. He’s a caricature of what adults thinks children’s imaginary friends look like, not what they really are.
So how does an adult end up with “imaginary friends?” Mine started in books I read in my early teen years. As a form of escapism, I would try to imagine myself in the books I read, interacting with the characters, having conversations. The ones I enjoyed most turned got turned into various story lines and I’d “act” them out or speak the conversations in my head while walking home from school or driving to work. My favorites suck with me and now I have a few regular characters in a story that I play in my head when I want to: while commuting to/from work, while doing dishes, while falling asleep at night.
I kind of imagine this is how people write fanfic, though these little story lines in my head aren’t anything that would be publishable. Mostly they are self-indulgent and escapist. As a teen, whenever something big happened that I couldn’t handle such as 9-11 or major family emergencies, the story lines and characters would change. They change less often now, but if there is something coming up in my life that I anticipate be stressful, I’ll imagine the characters showing up dramatically in the middle of that future event and asking me to run off with them and saving the world. There are other stories, but that’s the main one.
So it’s absolutely a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s not healthy, but I figure it’s more healthy than other coping mechanisms. And I know they aren’t “real” and they are just characters in my mind. But I like having them around. I can’t imagine not having them around.
It was only recently that I told my husband about my “imaginary friends.” It’s not something you really talk about! When I was in my late teens, I tried asking my mom if she ever “imagined things” and she said no. I felt like an anomaly because even at that age, I couldn’t imagine “growing out” of imagining these characters. And so far, I haven’t.
In an effort to make myself feel more normal, I found this Ted Talk titled “Adults Need More Imaginary Friends.”
And in an effort to make the rest of you adult-imaginary-friend-havers feel more comfortable, I wrote this post.
Do you have “imaginary friends?” Do you use escapism to cope with the unmanageable parts of life?