Baby Elephant was a gift after my tonsils were removed — age five or six. Sawgy is a stuffed green crocodile my husband brought back from a golf tournament.
By Caitlin Kelly
The ability to moderate one’s emotions — especially sadness, fear, anxiety — is one of the skills we all learn to acquire. It’s essential to our mental health, especially in times of trouble, like right now!
It’s called self-soothing.
When we’re little, we might have a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. We might also (as I did for many years) suck our thumb or obsessively twirl a lock of our hair, as I once saw a Big Name writer do in the audience of a writing conference.
This recent post by a therapist is extremely detailed and helpful, with lots of great suggestions.
The reason this interests me is that what we choose is so individual — and this recent story for HuffPost by writer Aileen Weintraub about sleeping with a stuffed animal very quickly drew negative comments:
I can’t remember the magic age when I felt it became taboo to sleep with a soft toy. It may have been after college or perhaps when I landed a job on Wall Street and began wearing business suits. When I ask close friends if they sleep with a stuffy, they scoff, wondering if I’m serious. So I open up the conversation to find out how they self-soothe when they can’t sleep. One confesses to sneaking down to the fridge and eating ice cream out of the container, another obsessively reads medical mysteries, and another says she pets her real dog more than she feels is normal by other people’s standards, whatever those are.
Stuffed toys are “transitional objects,” meaning they provide stability and comfort for children when their caregivers aren’t there. But maybe we are always transitioning. Becoming a parent is a transition. Heading into middle age is a transition. Right now, we are collectively transitioning through a pandemic. Admitting this can be hard. We keep these secrets to ourselves, letting only a select few witness our vulnerabilities. It goes against every cultural norm we have learned to honestly discuss our need for softness and comfort because perhaps by acknowledging it, we are acknowledging our deepest insecurities.
In the light of day, I might consider myself a confident, successful woman, but at night I’m reminded that I run on anxiety and self-doubt, and George makes it better. Sometimes I sleep with him on top of my chest like a weighted blanket.
I’ve long had a collection of stuffed animals and have no shame or embarrassment about it as an adult.
I don’t use drugs — while others do.
I don’t drink a lot of alcohol — as others do.
Both are perfectly acceptable ways, publicly, to self-soothe as an adult.
Not a stuffy!
I want to wake up and go to sleep feeling calm and happy — and if the faces of a collection of small furry friends is helpful — who is there to criticize that choice?
This little guy traveled across six European countries with me in the summer of 2017, no doubt amusing many hotel chambermaids.