Amid the cluster of medical equipment, my childhood bedroom had an even more distinguishable feature: buckets and buckets of plastic action figures. I had everything from six-inch “Star Wars” figurines to characters from the beloved Nickelodeon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” I could tell my parents the exact location of each figure when I asked them to hand me one, and I continued playing with these things when I was past the age that it was socially acceptable to do so.
Spoiler alert: I still collect toys for myself. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a connoisseur of nostalgia.
Some found my pastime overly childish and bizarre. Even my lifelong friend and neighbor once chuckled when she saw that my desk was still filled with action figures. We were both teenagers. When my middle-school peers were talking about bands like Green Day, I was still watching “Power Rangers” on Saturday mornings and playing with my massive collection of figures from every season of the show.
I was the boy who didn’t want to grow up. I may not have had a fairy at my side or a supply of pixie dust with me. Still, I could conjure up scenarios in my mind that would rival Peter Pan’s adventures any day.
No matter how others perceived my plastic obsession, I ignored their standards for what hobbies I was permitted to have. My sessions of creating fantastical sequences with imaginary companions were moments of essential escapism. Anytime I held one of my figurines, I ventured to other worlds. In those precious moments, I’d forget about hospitals and medical procedures. I could go to space, voyage across the sea in a pirate ship, or have my figures make out. (Everyone knows that scene in the movie “Spaceballs.”)
Even for extroverts like me, solitude is a familiar companion to those of us with SMA. As a child, I spent long periods of time in isolation. Whenever I was stuck at home with an illness, I longed to reunite with my friends at school. Still, I compensated for this lost time by immersing myself in my imaginary worlds. Some might find this notion absurd, but my plastic “Batman: The Animated Series” figures were as real to me as my best friends.
Yet, my days playing with my plastic toys didn’t just provide me with solace from my real-world struggles. Every time I enacted scenes with my “Hogwarts,” “Wizard of Oz,” or “Teen Titans” playsets, I was practicing storytelling. Exercising my imagination in this manner prepared me for my ventures into acting, writing, journalism, comic books, and more. With every plastic and seemingly lifeless toy, I was planting seeds in my imagination.
Recently, I read the Robin Williams biography “Robin,” a stirring portrait of the late comedy icon written by journalist Dave Itzkoff. In its early chapters, the book explores Williams’ lifelong obsession with toy soldiers and collectibles. The budding entertainer would spend countless hours playing with his collection in his childhood home in Illinois. He could pair WWII figures with Civil War soldiers and concoct the most absurd and imaginative scenarios with them. Unbeknownst to Williams, these play sessions contributed to the basis of his future comedy and acting career.
My plastic obsession was a focal point of my childhood, and it remains a part of my adult life. A friend owns and manages a vintage toy shop, and I unabashedly buy items from him on a regular basis. So to the little children with SMA who treasure their plastic toys, too, hold on to them. You never know what wonders of the imagination they might unlock.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.
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