I was never a fan of Linus van Pelt, the constantly baited, thumb-sucking character in Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoons. He and his comfort blanket were first introduced on June 1,1954, and though other characters such as Lucy and Snoopy try to steal, cajole or embarrass Linus to give up his blanket (used variously in the cartoon strip as a scarf, cape, insect swatter and bow-tie) he resolutely refuses.
I have thought of Linus often over the last few weeks as I’ve found myself wearing or repurposing a number of throws, pashminas and stoles. Formerly styled over sofas and chairs, or barely used accessories languishing in tissue paper, they have been constant companions while working, resting, or binge-watching television. I’m particularly fond of a mohair Avoca throw into which I snuggle in the evening (the Harriet, €95,) while by day I’m practically inseparable from a large pink pashmina from Magee1866 – it drapes over my shoulders at my desk or while reading in a shady nook in the garden. It’s neither too scratchy or too warm, and more importantly stays on the right side of stylish, rather than staid. It’s just right.
It’s not that I feel cold, rather they have provided much-needed comfort when all about me seemed so unfamiliar. Like many of us denied hugs or physical contact at this time, these are my personal shock absorbers in so-called “unprecedented times”. The upset to routine, the challenge to do something worthwhile (make sourdough/write a memoir), and the ongoing litany of statistics beaming in on various screens undoubtedly take their toll immediately and subliminally. Or as psychotherapist Mike Candon explains, “All the things outside myself that I can’t control in my environment I am cocooned against.”
In child psychology, it has been noted children adopt comfort blankets or toys during a transitional phase in their development. The influential paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott introduced the concepts of “transitional objects” and “transitional experience” explaining that dolls, teddy bears and blankets all help a child through a frustrating and anxious time towards independence from his or her mother. There’s nothing abnormal about them, and in fact, other eminent surveys (by Richard H Passman of the University of Wisconsin) have shown that security blankets help children adapt to new situations and can aid their learning.
Candon provides further amplification citing early attachment theory: “The way we attach is formed within the first 36 months of life and that attachment style will stay with us throughout life. We attach to people, places and things with that particular style. More and more, society seeks objects that give pleasure over connections and relationships to another human. We can form deep intimate relationships with many objects but none better than a cosy warm, security blanket. It’s in the name. Security.”
It’s no coincidence, therefore, that paramedics and some police patrol cars carry blankets and stuffed toys to comfort victims in accidents or traumatic shock situations. Did you know post 9/11, the state of Oklahoma sent 60,000 stuffed animals to New York which were distributed to children in schools affected by the crisis?
It’s not only children who sleep with toys, apparently around 35% of adults confess to this too. I’m not one of them, though there was a period during The Troubles when “Big Ted” acted as a shield should any stray bullets come through my bedroom window. I have several friends who pack childhood toys on business trips (as silent talismans), while others have recently discovered the benefits of weighted or gravity blankets.
A friend confesses she has bought two since Christmas – one slightly heavier (9kg) than the other (6kg), and confirms they have helped her sleep more soundly. First introduced in 1999 by an occupational therapist called Tina Champagne, weighted blankets are filled with heavy pellets, and were designed to relieve the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety (especially for autistic patients) and sometimes restless leg syndrome. Often, as an alternative to medication, they promote a deep touch stimulation, akin to a hug or being held, which increases serotonin production. To give it the correct term, weighted blankets push a body downwards, a process known as “earthing” or “grounding” helping to reduce nighttime levels of cortisol – the stress hormone.
Psychologist Catherine Wells works with children with autism spectrum disorder, dyspraxia and global development delay and states some use weighted products daily. However, she is quick to point out “weighted products should not be used instead of effective interventions and supports, for many people weighted blankets complement support and offer a simple tactic when dealing with issues in the home. Many clinicians are concerned that weighted products may be used as a ‘one size fits all’ solution, instead of a more effective intervention.” While Wells says that research into weighted products has been inconsistent in proving the benefits for children or adults, one convert is Mary Corby, who set up Deep Sleep in the Gaeltacht of An Rinn in Co Waterford (www.deepsleep.ie) to make and sell her cotton weighted blankets and lap pads after discovering the benefits for her own daughter.
“Our houses are warmer and our duvets are lighter. Many are missing the weight at night and don’t even know it. We are finding it harder and harder to get and stay asleep. Our minds are constantly racing and we don’t know how to shut them off. A weighted blanket can help with this by calming down the body and mind.” She compares the feeling to a post-massage glow. “It’s the equivalent of the weight of two, three or more blankets on you but the heat of one.” As a rule of thumb Corby advises the more sensory a person is, the heavier the weight. “It’s not about bed size either – ten per cent of your body weight for adults and between five and ten per cent for children should be the right level of heaviness without becoming claustrophobic or uncomfortable,” she says. I have just ordered a blanket on Corby’s recommendation; coincidentally I had been sleeping with an extra blanket on top of my light duvet over the last few weeks, and had wondered about getting a heavier tog.
While Linus eventually weaned himself off dependence on his blanket he returned to it later in life, something that resonates. If many of us have unearthed old comforters or snuggly sweaters it’s for a reason. They represent security, stability and durability in a time of flux. As Linus pointed out to Charlie Brown, “that old blanket soaks up all my fears and frustrations,” and why I’m not giving up my pink pashmina just yet.
Large pink herringbone lambswool and cashmere pashmina, €179, Magee1866; www.magee1866.com
New Zealand lambswool, Cawston throw in natural and saffron, €220; Delph throw in natural, €295; Melford throw in grey, €250. Skye Cable Throw in old chalk, €205. Stamford Throw in mist, €115, all at www.neptune.com.
The Wild Atlantic mohair and wool throw designed by Helen McAlinden, €99.20 for Foxford Woollen mill; www.foxfordwoollenmills.com.
July Bug Cashmere throw, €159.95 at Avoca; www.avoca.com
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