On My Back

As I write this, I have my leg through the strap of my backpack. I am in the computer commons at college and, surrounded by my peers of all ages, I am thinking – always just a little – of my bag. If I cannot see it, I must feel it. If it is not attached to me, it must be visually nearby, close enough to grab should an alarm go off or a thief pass by. I accept that I may lose what I have, but I do not accept that I must be passive about it.

This started when I was a teenager and homeless. In my bag was everything I valued. Everything I could not lose – my ID and my writing. I was those two things. Proof I was counted and proof I was not alone, even if words were my companion. Sometimes there was a paperback or some snacks. Sometimes extra clothes or a some change I’d scraped together. Always at least one scrap of paper with phone numbers of people I might call if things got worse (I did not contemplate how they could get worse.)

When I was homeless as a young adult, this time with my love, we both carried bags. We could share the burden. Still, I did not put it down. I clipped it to myself with a carabiner in case I should drowse off (which I almost never did.) Vigilance was my byword.

Still, almost 20 years on, I am attached to my bag. I hold it like a child, arms wrapped tight around it when I take the bus to school. It is both shield and storage. I hide treats in its deep pockets and reward myself for never letting go.

If you wonder how seriously I take it, I have left shops rather than surrender my bag. At friend’s parties, with strangers I don’t know, I tuck it safe, hidden away under a bed or in a closet. Even then, I wonder if it’s been disturbed, my black mesh holder of my identity and my ideas.

“For the test,” the teacher said, “you must all leave your bags at the front of the room.”

I had planned for it. I sat near the front. I sat where I could see it, should a moment of panic hit.

I put it down and waited, chewing painted nails. Then the test was passed out and I read the first question (something about library cataloguing that will likely not interest you.)

An hour later, the test was done. The test was done and not once had I looked to make sure my bag was still there. Panicked, I glanced to make sure it was where I had left it.

It was.

I scooped it up and left the classroom.

I wondered why this place, this event, could make me forget my fears. Was it because I was so immersed in the subject, I lost myself for just a moment? It was a dangerous and heady idea. I considered, though, that it might be something more. Maybe, as I learn this trade, my internal sense of value is shifting. Maybe I’m not just things in a bag that can be taken from me. I am ideas and thoughts and other abstractions that can not be housed in a bag on my back. I am a person who stores value in my home and the people I love and the ways I contribute.

I think of Rita Mae Brown who said in “Six of One”:

“Put your money in your head, that way no one can take it from you.”

There’s some truth in that. As I disperse my value out I find I am less attached to some things, less afraid of losing them.

I still sit with my leg through my bag, but I do it knowing that sometimes, in the right times, I may forget.

 

Advertisements

Time/Space

He is a scientist
What’s more
An engineer
And he can hear
The drum, the thrum,
The humming of the gears

And he can tell
(Like the top was popped)
What’s underneath
What’s buzzing in my ears

One time he told me
Time
The line
Is not a line
It slips and slides
Like gears that grind
Until their teeth
Are powder fine
Until their teeth are gone

I know that song
My active head
I lie abed
I’m lost in time
Not powder fine
Not faded by
These years
These gears
My teeth, they grind
Until they’re flat
They make
A line
And all the points are gone

And now I ride a bus to school
A bus that takes me
Back in time
Past places that are not in line
Past buildings where I took up space
The place
They ground me down
The face that I have found
I’m bound
Lost in a sideways eight

I think on what he said
My bed
My teeth
My gears
My years
My head

I hope time is not linear

So she hears what I say to her
The girl trapped in the infinite
The halted time of being hit
I whisper to her not to quit

“You’ll be okay
You’ll be okay
You’ll be okay
Okay”
I say

Until we pull away

by Heather Emme

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

Thanks For The Ride

I’m going to college. It’s a done deal. Come September, I will be matriculating in the grand halls of Seneca College. How do I feel?

I’m grateful.

I’m grateful to the people who have helped out on my GoFundMe to raise my bus fare to get to school. I will be able to buy almost a full year of transit passes, thanks to the generosity of my friends and family and even a few folks I’ve never met. I haven’t the words.

It was my husband who recently offered insight in to why, specifically, I was worried about making it to classes, about affording transit, above anything else. As soon as he pointed it out, I felt almost doltish. How had I not seen it?

In a previous blog, I talked about my experiences with high school. What I didn’t talk about was why I didn’t graduate after my move to the group home.

I couldn’t afford transit.

It’s so obvious in retrospect. It was the mid nineties. I was in my last year of high school. I had taken my courses. I had done the work. We were coming up on exam time. Then a spot in my group home opened up and after a year, I was on top of the waiting list. I was moved half way across the city. I managed to continue in school for a while, then I ran out of money.

It was a transitional group home, which meant no live-in matron, no on-call care and no financial assistance. We were expected to work and pay rent. If I had been more resourceful, perhaps I would have figured out a way to do it all. But I had been running on leftover steam for quite a few years and, surrounded by my boxes of possessions, feeling absolutely alone, I gave up. Missing my exams because I couldn’t afford the fare? That was like a death knell. I’d gone to five high schools, survived abuse, homelessness, my neurodivergent brain, but it was a few dollars for the subway that did me in. I sat on my boxes and sobbed. I had no fight left. I upped my hours to full time and got to the business of being an adult.

20+ years later, when the opportunity came to go to college, all those old doubts resurfaced. Every exhausting fear came creeping back. Every negative inner whisper. Every worst case scenario

So I asked for help.

And you helped.

All of you helped me save up my bus fare so, no matter what, I’ll never be trapped with no way to get to my classes.

And in exciting news, Times Change Women’s Employment Centre helped me get a bursary to assist with my tuition. I can’t thank them enough. I went in looking for back to work tips, and instead they helped me find my way to go back to school.

I told my husband, the day my bursary came through, “I planned for every contingency, EXCEPT this all working out.”

Dudes – it’s all working out. I’m going to school. I’m really doing it. And everyone who has been there for me through rough times and great times, everyone who kicked a few bucks to my transit fund, everyone who send me a cheesy Facebook boost when I was blue, everyone who let me volunteer in their spaces to learn skills, everyone who read my work and told me my ideas were valuable – you all deserve a bigger THANK YOU than I can convey.

I wish I could go back to the girl crying on the boxes and say, “It’s not over. It’s just delayed. You’re going to school. You’ll get there. And you’ll do it with the help of your friends.”

I say thank you. That girl says thank you. Thank you with all my heart.

Stop Diagnosing Donald

Dear Discourse-loving intellectuals,

Please stop trying to diagnose Donald Trump. Now.

I understand the desire to put a name to the way he behaves, I truly do. I understand your frustration as he heaps disrespect on disrespect while maintaining his Teflon veneer. But in your efforts to dismantle his run for the presidency, please do not use a-neurotypicality as your proof that he does not deserve to run.

We saw this phenomenon with Barack Obama. When people ran out of ways to challenge his policies, they went for an easy out – they called him a Muslim. They did this because they knew, on some level, that there was a underlying and pernicious prejudice against Muslims. And while an open and fair examination of the rhetoric would show that there’s nothing at all wrong with being a Muslim, by associating him with an unpopular group, his detractors were able to tap into an existing prejudice and use it. Folks were quick to declare he wasn’t a Muslim. Fewer pointed out that it’s not okay to use Muslim as an insult or as an implication that his character is questionable.

Now we’re seeing the same song coming from the other side of the political spectrum in regards to Donald Trump. This time, without a diagnosis or his own self-inclusion in the community, people are calling Donald Trump mentally ill. Crazy. Mad. He’s been diagnosed by pretend doctors so many times, it’s like watching all of the seasons of House at once. And whether there is any fact to it (something that people are jumping in to debate) the real question is, what is wrong with being mentally ill? Why are we cool with the underlying and pernicious prejudice this shows against a-neurotypical folks?

In the end, much as the people who implied Obama was Muslim, the folks implying Trump is mentally ill are relying on the current climate of disrespect for mentally ill folks to help bolster their argument that he should not be president. And as a mentally ill human, I’m not happy being your insult. I’m hurt by the rush to use the way I am to discredit anyone, even someone whose behaviors I disdain. Call him cruel, call him privileged, call him un-presidential, but don’t call him mentally ill as though that were the end of a conversation and not the very beginning.

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

Warning!

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.

Federal_Signal_Thunderbolt_1003_head

Eeeee-ooooo-eeeee-ooooo

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.