Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hoist the Colours!

I know that I've probably mentioned this umpteen-zillion times by now, but in case you missed it, I'm a nurse.  I'm not the kind that looks after surgical patients or really sick children.  I don't hold people's hands as they leave this plane of existence and I'm not there to receive them when they arrive.  I do meet people on the worst day of their life, but I'm not the one resuscitating your loved one or assisting with life saving surgery.

I'm a Mental Health Nurse.  I work in a psychiatric Emergency department.

As we joke amongst ourselves, I specialize in drama, not trauma.

We're a rare breed, us Mental Health folk. Our brand of humour is dark, our tasks often darker.  We're ostracized.  People tend to shy away from us, even our own colleagues.  It's true: one of the fastest ways to kill a conversation is to mention you work in psychiatry.  We work where no one wants to go, with people that don't want to be there, in a world that wants to pretend that mental illness does not exist. 

I don't talk about the real details of my job here... or with my family, or my friends or anywhere outside work.  I do this for many reasons;  patient and staff confidentiality and protecting my family being the most obvious ones.  There's also a matter of respect for you the reader, who may or may not have had prior experience in my area of the hospital.  There's also a matter of respect for the ghosts that I carry.

And those ghosts are legion.

I navigate through this life by trying to keep work and home separate, but there is some inevitable leakage from time to time.  While there, I battle stereotypes and educate patients and families.  It wasn't that big of a surprise when I found myself in that role here.  There is a long list of "nursey things" that I habitually do in my home life, things that family and friends often find amusing, like obsessing over the integrity of the skin on my hands.  I've added reflective practice to that, especially when it comes to my advocacy. 

It's a tricky thing, keeping this life afloat.

There are days where the work sticks about my person like so many little post it notes.  The details of so many lives, so much anguish is a lot to absorb and meticulously record.  System stressors, politics, outside agencies, stigma... more post-its, more memories that I wish I didn't have.  There are times when I feel almost smothered.  There are times when I can almost feel the tiny pieces of paper flap in the wind as I walk around.  There are times where I manage to pick a bunch of them off and then one tiny detail will cover me all over again.

I have seen both the best and the worst that humanity has had to offer.  I wish I could say that the former outweighs the latter.  But, it doesn't.  At least not where I am.

This year in particular, both professionally and personally, has been full of challenges.  We've taken on water at several points.  I had to do something, as the stress was starting to cause me physical symptoms  (and aggravate a few more issues that I already had).  It was time to purge the bilges as it were, to celebrate life, to breathe a little fresh air into this house.

As is the way with these things, the oppourtunity came in the form of an unexpected gift.  In October I won a cake.  Not just any cake, but a custom cake of my choosing from Chrissy's Custom Cakes.  Since I had a birthday coming up in less than a month, I wanted to cash it in then.  This year is my 42nd, so one of geek extraction might assume that a Hitchhiker's Guide theme would be the obvious choice, but it didn't feel right.  I was talking it over with one of my colleagues, henceforth known as The Admiral, and she suggested we dress as pirates.


Time to assume one's own life metaphor.

I did just that, Friday night.  As so many were coming from work and daycare, not everyone wore pirate regalia;  those that did however, were spectacular.  We also had a couple Batmen, a naturalist and Darth Vader.  Quinn was our cabin boy and ran coats up to our bedroom while still having time to play with his friends.  The little ones played in our daycare of a living room and some of the adults had fun just hanging out with them.  It was free and organic and fun. 

The plan originally was to do a whole bunch of hors d'oeuvres and picky things, but on the morning of my actual birthday, I woke up and decided that it was too much work and in a fit of performance anxiety we ordered a 6 foot sub.  Best. Idea. Ever.

Folks brought additional nibbles, the wine flowed and Sean busied himself making grog for all that wanted.  Traditionally it is much stronger, but trust me, this recipe will still knock you on your six.

Captain Jen's Grog

2 oz Navy Rum
1 oz Lime Juice
4-5 oz hot water
1 TBLSP brown sugar
1 orange slice
1 stick of cinnamon

With the orange and the cinnamon, it's somewhat seasonal.  After the first sip it will warm you through to your soul. 

The cake arrived early and I was delighted with the results. 

I'm on a cake!  (Sorry for the terrible photo... I did mention the grog, right?)

Most were tired and headed out early, but The Admiral and I killed a few more bottles, reveled with some good music, reminisced, and got rid of a lot of work residue.  She departed for her own ship in the (not so) wee sma's.  The next day was pretty much a write off until the late afternoon when I found the energy to get ready for my other birthday treat:  front row tix to a benefit Gala concert featuring Jann Arden and Burton Cummings.  Both were fantastic.

Sometimes you have to just have to be a little silly, a little irreverent.  Whether it's building a fort or being a pirate for an evening, you have to cut a little loose now and again.  Life is for living, in all it's salty, swirly, bloody weirdness.  It's for eating and drinking and laughing and music and spending time with those you care about and those that care about you.  Sometimes you just have to hoist the colours and declare war on what oppresses you. 

...And always give no quarter.


  1. I wish you an answer BUT in lieu of it (because in lieus are far better and who are we kidding here? 42 is a pretty meh answer in the long run), the best search ever. You deserve it. Mucho love and elephant dung if crap is due. You can build ANYTHING with that shit. Once overnighted in a luxury hut, with a jacuzzi, made of it. Truth. xo

    1. Mucho love back. Elephant dung sounds like a very useful thing.

  2. I worked in mental health too. For seven years I worked in psychiatric rehabilitation--the place people go after the hospital or stay in between hospital visits. I relate so well to what you describe. I eventually took home so many sticky notes that I retired from the system. I am proud of the time I spent and the wisdom I gained, but I felt so defeated for quitting. Yet, I feel inspired reading your words and hearing your celebration and seeing your sweet cake and recipe. How nice to freshen your life, to move forward without sinking down, to embrace life. Good for you and the fine people that surround you in your life.

  3. Good work Matey!
    Is that the right spelling?
    Well, you get it.

    It's funny because when I read you're blog I often feel so OLD - likely because you're kids are young and mine is an adult. And also you never. stop. going.
    But actually, I'm 43. So I guess I better get a move on!

    1. Age is an illusion. As parents we all too easily fall into that "my kids are older/younger" thing.
      Yep, I'm 42. I keep going because, well, I don't know any other way. It hurts. A lot... especially physically. But, go go go...


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