[TRIGGER WARNING: mentions of child abuse, drugs, death of relatives]
Growing up with stuffed animals has always come with the chances of being out-casted or made fun of by those who claim that “you’re too old for stuffed animals,” and that you should “grow up”. However, a stigma such as this is incorrect and hurtful.
There are countless reasons why owning a stuffed animal, no matter the age, is perfectly okay. One of the main benefits is that they’re comforting and calming, especially to those with anxiety, mental disabilities, or mood disorders. However, the majority doesn’t understand those facts, and, unfortunately, will go out of their way to shoot people down for harmless actions.
I have always had a connection with stuffed animals, ever since I was just a little baby. After the death of my grandparents and brother, I was forced to live with my father, who was heavy on drugs at the time. My mother didn’t want me, and whenever my parents were together they would get into fights. This was very traumatic for me, and at the time, I didn’t have any friends I could talk to since they didn’t live close by. I wasn’t allowed to have sleepovers or go visit them, and they weren’t allowed to come see me. During this time, I turned to my stuffed animals to give me the attention and love I was deprived of. Their comfort was the most comfort I had, considering the fact that I was suffering through abuse, grief, and neglect at that age. They meant everything to me.
As this went on into later years of my life, where the rest of my peers had already given that aspect of their childhood up, I was, without a doubt, teased for putting that part of me out in the open. My stuffed animals would be taken from me by classmates and twisted up, tugged, thrown, or played with inappropriately, despite my wishes. I would get in trouble at school for bringing them, not because the stuffed animal had harmful effects on me, but because it would distract the other students, which was out of my control. I wasn’t allowed to have one for my benefit, because my peers couldn’t respect that. The teachers never attempted to tell the other students to just let me be. While they were not given punishments for their wrongdoings, I was being punished because I was the one they had been distracted by.
For a while after that, I learned to stop bringing my stuffed animals out in the open, for fear that they could get damaged, stolen, or taken by teachers. Recently at my high school, though, I gained the courage to begin carrying them around again. However, as expected, it has brought more negative attention towards me. I am teased for it often, but I refuse to let it get to me. Even though my stuffed animals are what is being made fun of, they bring me the comfort to refrain from escalating the situation. My stuffed animals help me stay under control and help me with the stress during school hours. Fortunately, it hasn’t gotten so bad to the point where my stuffed animals have been taken from me by children or teachers. People get their licks at me, and I don’t give them the satisfaction of getting angry. If needed, I will inform the teachers or ask politely for my seat to be moved.
I’ve realized that, though unfair, taking my stuffed animals out in the open to places that would judge me for having them isn't safe for me or my stuffed animals. Not everywhere is a safe place, but it is important to have those places where you can be yourself, and where you don’t have to worry about others making you feel unsafe. Even though it would be nice to have the privilege of being able to take your stuffed animal anywhere, that is unfortunately not the case. This also goes for other coping mechanisms that might be frowned upon by the majority, such as using a fidget cube, fidget spinner, or sucking a pacifier.
It is not healthy to put yourself in an unsafe position, especially when you’re already in a bad place mentally. If a change is what you want, it should be done in a safe, calm way such as an anonymous petition, a letter to an administrator, or other peaceful ideas. Don’t take it upon yourself to walk into a dangerous situation when a much more peaceful movement will have a higher chance of leading to an actual solution.
Healthy coping mechanisms are healthy coping mechanisms. However, using them in a place that isn’t safe will be harmful. It’s important that you have a place free of danger to practice your coping mechanisms. If the place isn’t safe, it’s your right to stand up for a change with necessary precautions and in a peaceful manner.