Consequences of an Overactive Imagination

People passing me on the streets at night never know of the creatures stalking them. Wingless batlike creatures the size of large dogs, walking on their forelegs, hind legs slung up and over their shoulders and terminating in wicked-looking claws.

I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed at how strongly the mind can react to things — and which things it chooses to react to.

I’ve always had an extremely active imagination, a quality which has both good and bad points. Growing up, I often retreated into my own little fantasy worlds instead of dealing with the real world around me, and that’s something that has never entirely ceased. While I’ve long since ceased hiding within myself as an escape from things I didn’t want to deal with or as a defense mechanism, I can’t say — and really, I wouldn’t want to — that I’ve ever ceased letting my imagination run away with me from time to time.

Walking down a hallway, someone might notice a small twitch of my hands from time to time, though it’s most likely they wouldn’t. Just a small gesture, perhaps just stretching my wrists a bit, nothing really worth paying attention to. Of course, that’s only because they can’t see the blast of power I just released careening down the hall, rushing past them, sweeping papers and debris in its wake as it crashes into the locked gate at the end, bursting it open with a horrendous shriek of tearing metal as the hinges shatter and fall to pieces.

People passing me on the streets at night never know of the creatures stalking them. Wingless batlike creatures the size of large dogs, walking on their forelegs, hind legs slung up and over their shoulders and terminating in wicked-looking claws. Needle-sharp teeth beneath an eyeless face, the cries of their sonar echoing from building to building as the pack converges on another unlucky derelict passed out in an alleyway. Curious how few rats this section of the city has.

Okay, perhaps it’s a little juvenile. Silly daydreams built on many years of fantasy and science-fiction novels. That doesn’t make these worlds any less fun to play in from time to time, however.

When I was younger, my fertile imagination would often get the better of me. Certain television shows would keep me up for nights. The Incredible Hulk — or the “crumbly hawk”, as I deemed him — was an especially potent terror for a time. I didn’t see Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller‘ video until long after it was released when I was only nine years old, and even into my early teen years, horror movies were a rarity.

I once tried to watch the sci-fi horror movie Lifeforce during one of HBO’s promotional free weekends after our family got cable, because of the naked lady at the beginning — but all puberty-driven fantasies were driven violently out of my head when she sucked the very life out of some poor hapless man, turning him into a horrible desiccated corpse before my very eyes, and I don’t think I slept well for a month afterwards.

Even the trailer for Gremlins was enough to give me nightmares when I saw it, and I never saw the movie in the theaters. I read the novelization to try to get an idea of how the movie was, and oh what a mistake that was. At one point in the story, the gremlin Stripe escapes from being studied by a teacher in the school’s science lab. While in the movie Stripe simply jabs the teacher with a single hypodermic needle, the book described seven or eight needles, maybe more, being stuck into the teacher’s face. It was literally years before I got the nerve to watch the movie (and then was somewhat chagrined to see how tame it was compared to the images I’d had seared into my brain when I read the book).

As I grew and began to be better able to separate the fantastical worlds inside my head from the real world around me, I started to develop a fondness for some of the more disturbing images that I hadn’t been able to cope with as a child. I started watching all the horror movies I’d heard about for years, but never been able to watch. Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Clive Barker, and other similar authors started appearing on my bookshelves. The Alien movies introduced me to the artwork of H.R. Giger. Discovering David Cronenberg‘s films led me to Naked Lunch, and then to the literary work of William S. Burroughs. My musical tastes, while never having been particularly mainstream, started skewing more towards the gothic and industrial genres. Black soon became the dominant color in my wardrobe.

Finally being able to explore and embrace this darker imagery helped me a lot through my teen years, and still does today. While I wasn’t always the happiest teenager around — I had more than my fair share of whiny, angsty moments — I never ended up succumbing to the depression that so many other people seem to. I’ve never been suicidal (in fact, quite the opposite, as I’m somewhat frightened of death, and have never found myself in a situation where suicide seemed like an even remotely good idea), and while there were certainly some stumbling blocks over the years, I think I’ve ended up becoming a fairly well-rounded and well-grounded adult (oh, lord, did I just admit that I’m an adult?).

I have my ups and downs, same as anyone else, of course, but on the whole, I’m a fairly chipper and easygoing guy (chipper…who talks like this?). That “dark side” is still there, of course, manifesting itself primarily through my tastes in music, movies, and an often bitterly bleak sense of humor, but rather than dominating my personality, it’s just another aspect — and, importantly, one not incompatible with a love of childlike (and sometimes childish) silliness (a double feature of Hellraiser and The Muppet Movie isn’t something I’d find particularly unusual, for instance).

For all that, though, there are times when my imagination can still play games with me. What it latches onto now, though, aren’t the fantastical elements of horror movies. I can watch Freddy suck Johnny Depp down into his bed in a geyser of blood, watch Pinhead flay the flesh off of Frank’s recently resurrected body, or watch Jason skewer horny teenager after horny teenager without batting an eye — heck, I enjoy ever last little blood-soaked minute of it, and sleep soundly as soon as the movie is finished.

What gets me now are the real possibilities — and, more specifically, the really realistic situations, as redundant as that might sound. Kill Bill, for all the hype it got over its extreme amounts of blood and gore, didn’t bug me simply because it was so ridiculously over the top (in a good way) that I didn’t feel real. It may have been live action with real flesh and blood actors, but it felt like a comic book, and so my brain quite happily filed it away with all the rest of the blood and gore from all those silly horror movies.

It’s when it’s something that could conceivably really happen that I get the willies.

Pulp Fiction is a great film, and The Rock, while certainly not great, is a lot of fun. Those two films have one very important element in common, though: an adrenaline shot straight to the heart. I can’t watch either movie without cringing and turning away as the needle plunges into the character’s chest and into their heart — heck, I can’t even write this paragraph out without rubbing my own chest due to the sympathy pain I feel.

Last week Prairie and I watched Deliverance, which I’d never seen before. Just after the disastrous run through the rapids as the boats break apart and the men go tumbling over rocks and down the river, Burt Reynolds pulls himself up and out of the water onto a rock, revealing the compound fracture sending his legbone tearing through skin and muscle and jutting out the side. “Oh, God,” I said — if it was even formed into actual words — and immediately curled into a ball on my side, rubbing my calf as my oh-so-eager-to-oblige imagination sent spasms from my own suddenly shattered body up my leg.

Tonight — because I’m apparently a glutton for punishment — Misery was the movie of choice. Okay, I knew the hobbling was coming. Even without having read the book or seen the movie before (that I can remember, at least), that scene is so much a part of pop culture that it would be nearly impossible to really be taken by surprise when it comes up. That certainly didn’t make it any easier to watch, however. The sickening crunch of splintering bone as the sledgehammer pulverizes his ankle, and at thirty-one years of age, I’m curled in a ball on my bed.

Honestly, in some ways it’s as funny as it is exasperating. I can laugh at the absurdity of having such a strong reaction to these things even as I’m still trying to drive the residual twinges out of my ankles. I wouldn’t trade my imagination away for anything…but I’ll freely admit that there are times when I wish I could just turn it down a few notches.

Author: djwudi

Enthusiastic ambivert. Geeky, liberal, friendly, curious, feminist ally; trying to be a good person. (he/him)

0 thoughts on “Consequences of an Overactive Imagination”

  1. you probably would have never slept if you’d seen the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as I did as a kid (I was 12 at the time and kept looking under my bed for a week). Also, after seeing the remake of ‘The Thing” I couldn’t see that movie at home without turning on lights on all the floors – I was in my 40’s then. But, I still love the horror genre above all others. different topic – didn’t you used to have comments for the links section?

  2. Michael, I LOVE the way you write. That imagination of yours is everywhere.

    Of course, that’s only because they can’t see the blast of power I just released careening down the hall, rushing past them, sweeping papers and debris in its wake as it crashes into the locked gate at the end, bursting it open with a horrendous shriek of tearing metal as the hinges shatter and fall to pieces.

    That was just excelent, besides, I do that too from time to time. Great story. ;)

  3. Semi-random thoughts –

    I haven’t made much of a habit of reading or viewing horror (or even non-horror science fiction), but I still remember seeing “The Exorcist” when I was about 15 years old, leaving the movie theater, and walking out – nearly into the street, since I was in a state of shock at the time.

    The imagination also works with you in non-horror situations. It can be a perfectly sunny day here in Southern California, and I can start watching a football game played in a snowy city and actually get cold – just from the image on the TV.

    Regarding hand twitches – I guess mine are a fantasy, in a way. My hands sometimes type words or numbers on an imaginary typewriter, and sometimes play keys on an imaginary piano. My daughter and I are involved in a community theater production; as we were learning a new song, I was subconsciously playing the notes of the song on my imaginary piano. A friend of my daughter’s noticed this and asked my daughter, “Does your dad play piano?” (I do, but not that well.)

  4. I am afraid this is another thing you have inherited from me. With my Dad’s alcoholism, I oftened retreated into my own world, and I sometimes still do. As you know, both of our senses of humor stem from letting our imaginations run wild. When I read novels, if the novel is good, I can feel what the characters are feeling, in the same manner you do with film. I also have a “dark side,” which both attracts and repels. Though there were a lot of angst, you were never actually that whiney. Everyone is sometimes. As far as “chipper,” I talk like that. I still describe things as “swell,” though sometimes it is an affectation. It is also the more “real possibilities” which get to me. “Rosemary’s Baby” is much more frightening than “Alien.” I was also deeply affected by “Deliverance.” I probably will never watch it again.

    Your mom and I also speak often of how well you write. When you back to school, you may want to major or minor in creative writing.

    Love

    Dad

  5. Im 14, and I also have this problem. I sleep with the lights off oh… 10-20 times a year, not including when I go camping(and then my imagination has a feild day).when I was younger I got a good kck out of monster movies and id encase myself in the culture of gothic fairytales and movie anything I could get my hands on.

    It wasnt that bad when I was younger, at that time is was much more like an imaginary Freind, where I was the ruler of a massive army of monsters that had a portal into the real world through my bedroom. and I was afriad fo the dark (and I was getting over it) but after we moved to stanwood and I didnt have anyfriends, my mom tried homeschooling me and I was home alone all day all year, thats when m imagination turned on me. I cant sleep on my back because of freddy pulling depp through his bed. Im afriad of the rec room in my house. I fear weird overblown versions of monsters from back when I had the army, even though I dotn believe in ther existance. I find it helps to say “Its a nice story but nothing more” when ever it starts acting up, though the 3 months that I heavily followed intense occult activities was eventfull, its ruining my life.

  6. I think i have the same thing >=( im only 16 and i still sleep with the light on coz my mind goes nuts when its dark and i start scaring myself ._. and i cant watch horror movies i stay awake for hours and can never go to sleep… i remember watching I am Legend at the pictures and on the night i woke up screaming o.o

  7. I have the same problem with my mind at night. Its usually just before i fall asleep. I have a fear of Zombies even though they dont exist. I had this problem since i was a kid and i thought turning 20 years old it would all change with age. But The part in the first Resident Evil where the guys sister rises as a zombie in the office and silently goes after him and Milla. thats what stays in my mind. Ive tried and tried to focus my mind on something else but it never seems to work.

  8. Yeah im 15 and ive had this problem since forever, I used to see blood on the walls after watching resident evil. I thought i was crazy cuz i cried about it but i was only 11. I also used to think that chuckie would come kill me and any other doll would creep through the night and stab me. Once you havve something else to think about though, you stop being scared.

  9. I have this problem where I can just retreat into my own little world full of fantasy. It’s mostly anime that’ll influence my imagination.

    I also “dream” whilst in the car listening to music.
    Glad to see I’ not the only one with an overactive imagination.

  10. I have this “problem” if you would call it that. I am 16 years of age! I find my self often abandoning the real world and becoming a character I often switch up (from a movie or game). Participating in a epic battle, taking on clone troopers, are becoming a master of forbidden karate. even as I walk home from school (no car yet!) I see mini-battles taking place in a man’s yard are blowing up passing vehicles with alien technology. Yes, I as well have a “dark side”. Witch has honestly helped my life I seem to be able to break down and understand a lot of grief those feel around me. I was able to watch horror films like cartoon characters as a kid, but when I was 10-15 I found it hard to watch them. It is becoming better. This will also help me write little short story’s that just flow from time to time. I wish i could harness it and make it into a movie are control it better at times, but I consider myself blessed to be able to see somethings that other people can’t see or comprehend. My life is never bland.

  11. Hi, Alex! That is very similar to what I was talking about!
    Seeing as I love to draw, it is nice to use what my imagination comes up with and put it on paper. And, yes, with an overactive imagination, life is never bland :)

  12. i’m 17 and i’m having the same problem too. i thought i was going crazy until i read this post and i’m glad knowing i’m not alone. i got scared after i watched the ring….near the end where that man’s in his chair with a deformed face, it’s like EWWWW and it’s like it’s been imprinted on my brain.

    i often have daydreams about things i want to happen in real life, but then it never does, or when it actually does, something awful happens afterwards, kinda bit like “be carfeul what you wish for”

    what’s weird though is that i’m a musician but i CANNOT think of anything fo write a song about! i just cant seem to write songs or lyrics to save my life :/

  13. Im 17 and Im also having the same ‘problem’.But its fun.I want to be an artist.I think this ‘Problem’ might come in handy.
    Your article just summed up my life,my life so far anyways.

  14. i’m 18 years old with this same issue and to this day i sleep with the light on (or at least a night light). i actually find it hard to control my own thoughts like imagination wise especially when something frightens me. I don’t really have nightmares but i cant close my eyes and it scare me to go to sleep.

    Like a week ago i read the imdb storyline plot thing for the human centipede and i havent really slept at night since. Its the stupidest horror movie ever seeing as its three people connected by their gastric systems but it totally freaks me out and its four in the morning right now and im researching why i cant sleep and i found this.

    its nice not to feel alone in this though. whenever i bring it up to my friends or parents they look at my funny and tell me to stop reading weird books and watching movies.

    i daydream about stuff all the time too. its not really to escape life its more just to fill up time like on long car trips or when my classes are boring. idk im just happy i found this. makes me feel less crazy

  15. I am so grateful that I’m not the only one out there that thinks about this wierd stuff. I find it very distracting sometimes. I will even catch myself and relize what am I doing? And why? I relize now I have an overactive imagination and I’m not half crazy, but I still feel like I could turn it down a notch like you said, and just shut it down so I can focus!

  16. i am sixteen, and i have the same thing. only its not horror, its adventure and mystery. i can watch all the gore in the world and not even bat an eye but all that doesn’t matter compared to the other things in my mind. at the moment i would trade my imagination but only because i feel so left out in my highschool. :(

  17. Now this is interesting–how come almost all of the people who posted here claim to be teenagers? Is it perhaps because most of the older people with this problem don’t accept this?

    Anyways, back on topic–at my age of 18, I also experience this to a great extent; but it’s mostly visualizing myself as a fictional character, occasionally I’d imagine others as such. In other instances I rather feel detached from reality, and think I’m imagining or witnessing what I’m seeing, rather than partaking on it.

  18. Dear Micheal,
    I was told at a young age that I was to grow up and be a success, but these views that I see prevent me from believing so. My mother tells me that it is only my over active imagination. However, many people have given me different excuses. I too have my own world to escape to, but is this healthy for our beings? Help is off limits for me as when I get older I hope to be a writer as well, and fear if I lose my creativity, I’ll fail at my writing. I am 14 almost 15 and need to know what else I could do. Can you help?

  19. Dear Micheal,
    I believe I too have an over active imagination. I excel in writing and my favorite passtime is reading for I find I can “lose myself” in a book. I cant watch horrer movies because they seem to realistic and my friends think Im weird. Can you help me try to explain what it’s like to be this way? I fear Ill lose my imagination as I grow older because I am studying to be a lawyer. I dont know what to do and what I should be. I“m 13 turning 14 and I need some help!

  20. Imagination is fun!! xD Lulz…Although I’m already 14,I just can’t stop imaging things!Plus,I DON’T WANT TO STOP IMAGING THINGS! xP Imagination helps me to make some compositions. x) Kekeke…And it’s awesome! =3= Lulz

  21. I was starting to think I was the only one. I actually register my “worlds” I create in my mind with instrumental music. Places I have never been, but it is like walking through a detailed memory, right down to the smells.

    As a child I had many stuffed animals, over 300 of them, and each had a voice, a background story, a name and a gender. I remember being six and coming up with romantic stories between two small dogs who were stolen away on a government plane and was rescued by a mutant squirrel who took them to a hidden society where they learned to ride dragons and help the free empire rise to power.

    In grade school I remember specifically my mind wondering off to far away lands, and not paying attention to my teachers. One in particular would get so mad at me for it, and so would my parents. But I felt like I couldn’t help it, like all I could do was think of those places and go to them, close my eyes as if I were asleep.

    As I grew older, I began to think more wildly, and in Jr High I perfected my writing skills from simple one liners to full on paragraphs showing you all the senses of the scene I was depicting. My writing skills grew so quickly and fast, it was astonishing looking back on it. I could easily come up with characters, and their back stories as if I were the characters myself. It was so easy.

    I remember failing 8th grade Algebra just because my mind was elsewhere when I went into the class. It wasn’t my fault, my mind… has a mind of it’s own, and when it wants to create a new wold, it just does.

    When I am in the car, I listen to music and stare out the window. the fast moving objects stimulate my ability to think of my worlds/characters/stories/thoughts in general. I will be somewhere completely different when I am in the car, as if I am in a trance.

    I create places to go in my mind for fun. Just to walk around, a forest or a beach I have never actually been to, for example. And then we jump into the more complicated things, such as complete worlds with people and different animals never thought of before. It gets so intricate, in just twenty minutes I seemed to have lived 20 hours in my world, it blossoms, and takes me hours to write everything down. When I tell other people of my worlds they can no believe I though of them on my own. and actually do not believe I thought of them in a measly twenty minutes.

    I would be happy to share some of my writings for you to get a taste of my imagination. I am actually only 15, if that matters at all. It is just so great to know I am not alone.

    Thanks,
    Ren

  22. And I just thought I had some kind of weird anti-reality thing going on! Hey if I do at least I have imagimates!! Oh! with all your scary movies, have you thought to pick up a controller? Fatal frame is great (at least for me, firm believer of ghosts here). I’m 18 for everyone writing there age

  23. I like to imagine me doing killing practices at school i zone out imagine me gettig up and kill someone but my mind also tellsme it wont work in real life pretty usful

    1. Hi Phyco,

      This comment concerns me a bit. I hope that this is nothing more than idle teen angst, but if you do find yourself thinking along these lines regularly, I’d strongly suggest seeing if there is some sort of local teen help hotline that you can call to speak with someone about these ideas.

      Additionally, I’d like to stress that though the school years can be quite difficult (I certainly had my fair share of issues during my teens), life does improve as you and your peers get older. It is my sincere hope that any difficulties you are having pass.

      Best wishes to you.

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