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Psychological safety blankets.

About five years ago, I flew down from Philadelphia to Miami for my cousin’s wedding. He and his now-wife/then-girlfriend asked me to be a bridesmaid. I’d never been a bridesmaid before, but I was pumped to accept the role because I love those guys. I arrived in Miami the day of the rehearsal dinner, the night before the wedding. I don’t remember how or why, but I missed the rehearsal. Don’t worry, I was reassured by my cousin and his mom. Apparently, two of the groomsmen were still en route from Philadelphia. They, too, missed the rehearsal. When they finally arrived, we learned they didn’t have tuxes. This was all just the start of the folly leading up to the actual wedding, which was fun and gorgeous and unforgettable. Getting there was rough though. I remember cuddling on the couch with my cousin’s mom the day of the wedding, asking her how her poor son was managing. She told me that my presence along with his other girl cousins from Philadelphia meant a lot to him. “You guys,” she said, “are his psychological safety blanket.”

That phrase, “psychological safety blanket,” has stuck with me. To me, it means any person whose simple presence offers reassurance and comfort whenever you’re feeling awkward or anxious or about to lose it in a public or semi-public situation. I have a few of those at judo and jiu jitsu. If I’ve had a rough day and I’m feeling fragile, if one of my team psychological safety blankets are at practice, I can make it through. Even if they don’t know anything is wrong with me that day, their familiarity and easy nature will keep me steady.

Lately at work, I’ve felt awkward and anxious and like I’m about it lose it pretty frequently. Now that I’m in a management role, I feel alone a lot. I’m no longer on an interdisciplinary team. I no longer share an office with someone else in the social work department. It’s just me. When I was a team social worker, the other professionals on my team felt like a tiny family. We worked through tough situations together and celebrated together. We supported one another. It was nice. Now it’s gone. I’m team-less.

This week was difficult for me. My family is going through some stuff, which weighed heavy in the back of my mind and made everything going on at work seem either trivial or impossible. I was distracted all week. I wanted to cry in every meeting I sat through. One day, I had four meetings, so that was an especially strenuous exercise in containment. Yesterday, my dad reached out to me with more bad news. That was it. I was done. I paced around my office, door closed, alone. Was I going to cry? Yes. Do I want to cry? No. What do I do? What do I do? I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be alone. What do I do?

My gut told me a I needed a psychological safety blanket. Go to the safety blanket. But I’m at work. Who helps keep me steady at work? After mere seconds of deliberating, I dabbed my eyes with a tissue and sped down to the second floor, down the hall towards the Rehab department and into the office of my former teammate, our Occupational Therapist.

When were worked directly together, we were a dynamic duo. We got stuff done. Nothing was too hard; we’d handle anything. I loved it. I liked her from the start. Calm, empathetic, motivated, creative, efficient–the ideal teammate. More than that, we clicked on a personal level. We can talk about a ton of stuff outside the realm of geriatric community health. She’s a little older than I am, married with a family, so I like to hear her perspective on life and relationships.  Her influence on me is so good. She knows life is a mess with so many hard things, but she doesn’t take it out on other people. She is mindful and self-aware, patient and giving, prioritizing her loved ones and her own sanity. Plus, she is silly and fun.

So into the OT’s office I ran. Unwittingly, she wrapped me up in that little psychological safety blanket right away with her familiar smile. I told her a little about what was going on, let myself cry for a moment, and she gave me a big hug. Then we just chatted a little, about her family, about the weekend, about silly things on the internet. She told me to go home early. I said I would, and we separated as co-workers came to her office to address actual work stuff. I went back upstairs to my office. I started replying to emails. Maybe I’ll stay. I looked around my office. I was alone again, surrounded by bare white walls and beige filing cabinets. Nope. Time to go home.

When I got to my apartment and sunk into my couch, I felt relieved. I didn’t cry again, probably because I didn’t have to fight so hard to stay composed. At 5:00, my phone rang, and it was the OT. “Are you home?” she asked. Yes. “Good. I said to myself, ‘yeah, she’s going to back up to her office and she’ll probably stay.'” She knows me well. Not this time, I told her. We talked for a moment. She wanted to make sure I was going to do something fun tonight and not be home alone. I assured her I was going to practice and my friends would be there. She approved of that plan. We hung up.

I am team-less at work, but I’m not blanket-less.

 

 

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  1. May 21, 2016 at 11:02

    I reached out to my brother Paul yesterday, too. We are together. Knowing that KNOWING THAT KNOWING THAT is ALL of our psychological safety blanket. And it IS safety and not security. Safety. THIS IS TOUGH. But not as tough as us. We have each other. Let’s tough it through and love it through like every one who loves us wants us to do. Let’s have fun. Let’s be brave. Let’s let ourselves cry. Let’s let ourselves laugh. Let’s take a break. Let’s respect. Let’s lay back. Let’s be human. Lets be heroes.

    Signed,
    ~ Coiner of term: psychologicalfuckingsafetyblanket

  2. sarak5
    May 26, 2016 at 00:17

    Sending love to all of you.

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