I Am A Woman Who Counts Change

I wrote this poem just last week. I usually let things percolate, then write them, then edit them, then leave them in a box for a few years, then hate them and never show them to anyone. This is…not that.

Jeton coin, Nuremberg, 1553

Jeton coin, Nuremberg, 1553

I Am A Woman Who Counts Change

I am a woman who counts change
Touching coins
A step between a hundred hands
I add it up
I make the numbers match
Forty, fifty
Forty, fifty
And twenty five
I roll unroll
And clink, clink, count
Value speed
And numbers clean
The way a younger, stronger me
Valued poetry

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.


It’s Not Me, It’s You

Having a mental illness is only barely like having any other illness. Most illnesses, one is “brave” for getting through. We are brave for admitting to it. (To be braver still, one must suffer in silence and not bother folks with the fragility of our neurological make-up.) When I write about my mental illness – depending on which doctor and diagnosis from which era, it could be depression, ADD, PTSD or any combination there-of – I do so knowing that I’ve just knee-capped my own credibility. This, I am well aware of.


Here you can see the portion of my brain reserved for crazy…

So when I think about writing about today – and other experiences in the mental health system – I acknowledge that I will be seen as an unreliable narrator. I am a Ken Kesey character. I am Salinger’s boy.

Today, I broke up with my therapist. Or she broke up with me. I’m not entirely sure where the impetus lies.

I have been doing EMDR for my PTSD. In case that’s too many letters for you, EMDR is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s supposedly a way to recall and reprocess traumatic events in a way that lessens the psychological impact. PTSD is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a psychiatric condition that sees past events continue to create symptoms in the present. I talk about it a bit in my trigger warning post.

I have been seeing someone to do the afformentioned EMDR. It should be noted that I am a sceptic. Perhaps even a cynic. The idea that moving my eyes or being “bi-laterally stimulated” could change the way I feel about my trauma was challenging for me. I had concerns.

Being me, the queen of not keeping my mouth shut, I brought up my concerns with my therapist. What if my memories, something I value even if they are painful, are not as fully realized as they are now? What if, while “reprocessing” them, they lose some of their accuracy or clarity?

As a writer, I use those experiences. If I don’t, how can I ever begin to convince myself that I can survive them? If I can’t milk my own pain, then I’m left with the truth that it brought me all of nothing. My descriptions, even when harsh, are true. Would dealing with them in the way my therapist was suggesting make them less true?

“Yes. Possibly.” she said, being, I suppose, honest.



So I had to make a decision. As a writer and as a person, which do I value more? My well-being or the sanctity of my truth?

There wasn’t ever a choice. I cannot fathom sacrificing the truth of my lived experience for peace of mind. And there it is. The proof. I really am ill.

What Were You Wearing

I wrote this a few years ago, in response to the Slutwalk movement and conversations around how the clothing women wear can ultimately be held more responsible for their assaults than the assailant.

(Yes, I know I was going to post poems on Thursdays, but I say better late than losing the habit.)

Also, trigger warning for sexual assault and general horribleness.

Wilhelm_Amberg_In_Gedanken_versunkenWhat Were You Wearing

What were you wearing that day?
What cloth, plus a body to lead him astray
What fabric (the spell –
How we knew Adam fell)
Tell me, what were you wearing that day

I was wearing my eyebrows pulled tight
And my eyelids hid eyes out of sight
And I wore out my teeth
With a grinding beneath
Wearing darkness as cover of night

My nightgown had penguins that danced
Made of flannel, and white underpants
That my mother had bought
At a bargain priced shop
By a sign marked, “Clearance, last chance.”

A uniform, that’s what he wore
I’ll tell no one else, that’s what I swore
Then I just wore his hands
And his whispered demands
And the sliver of light from the door

What were you wearing that day?
The men in the uniforms say
And my voice disappears
Too gone now for tears
It’s another thing he’s stripped away

I remember what I wore that day.

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

Trigger Warning: This Is A Post About Trigger Warnings In Education


Warning! Ideas ahead!

I am a high school drop out. I say this because I need to start by acknowledging the limits of my knowledge. I am also a high school returnee, currently attending secondary school online. By this time next year, I will likely have the diploma I was not able to obtain exactly 20 years ago. I am also a person with PTSD. I am not an expert. What follows are my ideas. They are just ideas. They are not medical or psychological advice or a substitute for working with a professional or a support team of friends and/or family. I also don’t speak for all people with PTSD, because, despite what you’ve heard, we do not share a neural link or have secret meetings that we don’t tell you about.

As a high school student, trauma survivor and, I hope, a future post-secondary student, I’ve kept abreast of the debate surrounding trigger warnings in the classroom. There are writers and educators who are decidedly pro or anti, and those whose responses are more metered. Admittedly, the overwhelming preponderance of articles are against trigger warnings in education, citing censorship, the swaddling of young learners and political correctness as reasons not to engage in content related warnings.

Some of the comments I’ve read are dismissive of people who experience PTSD (about 8% of North Americans,) suggesting that, perhaps, they just aren’t in a place where they are ready for a classroom setting. The implication is that, with some help, survivors will make themselves well enough that the warnings will not be needed. It is a classic argument used against people living with neurological or emotional differences: Fix yourself before others have to interact with you. Be well first, THEN you can be a part of society. This attitude begins with the problematic assumption that all people with mental health challenges have access to care, that they are not already actively involved in treatment and that treatment can accomplish wellness in the short term.



As a sufferer of PTSD and depression who is approaching my 40s, who has been in some form of treatment or another for half my life, I have no desire to wait for wellness before pursuing an education. Still, I understand the reticence of educators to try to view every lesson plan from the perspective of every student and their potential triggers. It would, eventually, detract from the quality of their work, their ability to spontaneously follow a lesson’s organic flow and their freedom to select material that is both potentially triggering and well-suited to their lesson.

A stumbling block for educators is the broad spectrum of topics and ideas that can be triggering, and the concept that introducing potentially triggering topics is always detrimental – which, of course, it isn’t. On topics like homelessness, abuse, the mental health system or a slew of others, having a voice like mine in the conversation is valuable. I took a sociology course as part of my high school studies, and was the only person who could answer from a first person perspective the question, “Would you steal food/is it right to steal food if you were/are starving?” Almost everyone else said no. I was able to present a pretty convincing argument for yes, because I know what starving feels like. To remove the voices of the traumatized from education is to remove a trove of experiential wisdom.

In an attempt to balance the value of ideas and the safety of individuals, I suggest an approach that empowers the person with trauma, as well as the educator. On the first day of class, the educator can openly acknowledge that their class will probably cover topics and materials that may be hard for trauma survivors or those experiencing PTSD. If someone feels that they are likely to be triggered (while accepting that many PTSD sufferers want no such accommodation) they can either meet with the teacher to discuss in person what challenges they could face or they can submit the same in writing. Anyone requesting pre-class warnings when certain topics will be knowingly covered in a class or in the material, will be asked to develop a trigger plan. A trigger plan is a series of steps one can take to either work through a symptom or to exit a class safely if symptoms should arise. My trigger plan includes accessing a great app I use to work through my symptoms, sitting near doors or windows, keeping comfort foods or beverages on hand, having my medication ready and writing down my physical sensations. These work for me (sometimes) but may not work for all people experiencing PTSD symptoms. The goal is to personalize the plan to maximize classroom time for the student and minimize conflicts for the instructor.

It's a...hot topic.

It’s a…hot topic.

Trigger warnings, like all other accommodations, don’t work as a one size fits all proposal. That’s when they start to resemble censorship. The answer, though, isn’t to eliminate trigger warnings completely. Ideally, conversations around trauma allow students an opportunity to be frank and set their own safe parameters. Teachers admit that they can better help their students by treating them like individuals and students take responsibility for preparing for the inevitable times when a trauma-reaction can not be predicted.

This solution assumes that the teacher or professor is open to creating this dialogue. I understand that many educators either do not know how to start the conversation or, as is sometimes the case, have no desire to. If trauma survivors have a desire to try to create this dynamic, I’ve made a form that can be filled out to help get the ball rolling. It’s a PDF, which means it should be readable by almost any device. Feel free to print it out, share it and use it. The sooner we start a real conversation that includes people with PTSD and trauma survivors (who are often drowned out by the more widely accessible opinions of educators and columnists) the sooner we can get back to the business of learning.

I Was Once A Dancer

Once again, I will try to post one of my poems on Thursdays (versedays!) Let’s see how long I can maintain it for. I’m betting…three weeks.

This poem was performed at Ryerson University’s Arts With Attitude/Disability Studies program. Though it is old, I still like it. That is rare.

495px-Nuclear_dancerI Was Once A Dancer

I was once a dancer
Perhaps the very best
That the world had ever seen
A cross between a spinning top
And a Mexican jumping bean
And if I sometimes fell
It was a part of the dance
As well

I was once a dancer
Until someone told me “Dance,”
“Is not just movements
Picked by chance.
But a very specific
Leap or stance.
It must be
Choreographed, rehearsed.
Frontward, backward
Left and reversed!”

And suddenly
I was not the best
Nor even highly rated
So now I do not dance
In fact
I hate it

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

It was not a debate, I wanted to say…

…it was a lamentation.

When I talked about the fact that women needed to be corpses (sometimes [too many times]) to be believed, I know it bordered on hyperbole. I know it was far too big a statement to make in a place as built around going around and around as the Internet. I am well aware of the shortcomings of my statement. Still, it was not a salient point made well, it was a moment of mourning.

I apologize if you saw it as something else.