From #MeToo to #WhatNow? – After You Share Your Story

Hello fellow #MeToo human. It’s been a tough year, right? I mean, after years of dealing with something that seemed pretty hopeless, there’s this light. This organic light created by people like us who have been hurt and fought to be heard and finally said NO MORE SILENCE. It’s…

Well, that’s the thing, it’s SO many things. It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting. It’s emotionally wrenching. It’s impossible.

It’s a lot like surviving in the first place.

I’m not here to tell you what will work for you, because 1/6th (or more) of the planet has been here and I have no illusions that I know the different factors that make up your life. I’m going to tell you what worked for me. (And if you want to skip all that and just get to a list of resources, click here.)

Me: I’m a person who was abused, assaulted and harassed, both in childhood and as an adult. I told the first person what happened to me more than 20 years ago. I’ve been very open about it since the late 90s and, probably more often than most folks would care for, it’s the focus of this blog.

I did tell people. I did try to make a police report. It didn’t work. I have complex PTSD, which I deal with pretty well, except sometimes when I really don’t. I keep trying to “fix” myself, which I realize is both problematic AND what is expected. I lean more towards depression than anger. I am held together by planning and sticky-tape.

That’s me. That’s not you.

So with all that in mind, here’s what I’ve learned from my 20+ years of saying #MeToo.

It Will Normalize

I say this rather than it will get better, because better is a lie. The body longs for homeostasis. The brain wants you to make sense of things. It takes a lot of time and it’s hard on the system, but there has been, for me, a normalization of the experience. It’s not gone, but it lives deeper. I’ve piled stuff on top of it. I’ve given my brain other experiences to pick from. I’m sure the right meds helped, but honestly, it’s just time. Which is shitty, but worth holding on to. Time doesn’t fix it, but it dilutes it.

Get Help but BE CAREFUL

Get help. You probably hear that one a lot.

But also, be cautious. If you are hurting, it’s easy to jump at anything that promises relief. If you’re not careful, though, it can cost you a lot of money and sometimes make things worse. Anyone who claims they can cure you for a cost is probably lying. There’s no cure for this. It’s not something you can leach out or fix with something you buy in a health food store. We are a big demographic. There’s a lot of money to be made from our desperation to feel well again. Lot’s of folks promise to make it all go away. Before you spend your money – before you tear off a scab and expose your wounds to someone – consider this:

  • Does this approach match who I am as a person?
  • Does this approach cost so much that it puts my well-being in other areas in danger?
  • Is it regulated? Do some research. See what folks are saying.
  • What are the results? Don’t trust their stats. Places like MedLine are set up to offer vetted medical information, so consider searching on there for another POV on the treatment you’re considering.
  • Am I safe? This is a big one. Are you comfortable with the neighbourhood the treatment is in? Are you comfortable with the staff? Are you trusting your alarm bells or silencing them just to get through it? Let those bells ring.
  • Is the person just well-intended or are they well-qualified? This is a big one. Lots of folks want to help but their desire is not the same as qualifications. You are not someone’s project.

All of this is not to say don’t seek help. Over the last 20 years I’ve had some success and some stuff that set me way back, emotionally and financially. Filter from the get-go. I understand wanting to feel anything but what you’re feeling, but the system isn’t in place for a perfect path to help and healing. We have to navigate some really gross waters to get to the other side. Be safe. Be picky.

Be safe (it was worth saying twice.)

I’ve include a list at the bottom of this blog of places that are considered reputable. Some may work for you. Some may not. Feel free to explore them, but trust that part of you that’s telling you “this one isn’t for me.”

People Will Say Shitty Things

People will say you should have said something sooner. They will say you shouldn’t have said anything until there was a trial. They will say you are looking for attention. They will say you should get over it. They will say that you are ruining lives.

They will say it can’t have been that bad. They will say you asked for it. They will say you are lying. They will say it is not fair to make them choose between you and the person who hurt you.

They will ask what you were wearing. They will tell you what you could have done to avoid it. They will tell you what they would have done had it happened to them. They will tell you that your abuser seems like a nice person.

They will tell you it happened so long ago and wonder why it still bothers you. They will tell you that they find your pain inconvenient. They will tell you that you are too intense. They will tell you that you seem fine. They will tell you that you aren’t special. They will tell you that they don’t believe you. They will say “innocent until proven guilty.” They will say “due process.”

They won’t say anything at all. They’ll pretend they didn’t hear. They will give you the look. They will stop calling. They will unfriend you. They will forget to invite you to things.

People will say shitty things.

DON’T TAKE IT IN. I mean, you will. It will hurt. That can’t be helped. But know that we ALL hear these things. We hear them because people are new to not being shitty about this. Write them down and throw them out. Have a bonfire of shitty things people say.

But also, write down all the supportive things people say and carry them with you. Pull them out of your wallet every time someone says something shitty.

I know that these things are like repetitive strain, like water torture. One hurts, a hundred makes you want to die. But seriously, fight this. Repeat truths until you drown them out. Sometimes, because I am a geek, I just say “I am one with the force and the force is with me.” I mean, it’s not perfect, but it works for me. Find what works for you.

And friends of people going through this – call out folks who say shitty things to your friends so they don’t have to. It helps.

Don’t Hurt Yourself

This can mean a lot of things, but first of all, survive. Seriously. It can get that bad. It might get that bad. It did for me. I wish I could say there was a safe place to go, but there isn’t always. Call friends. Call helplines. Make someone help you survive.

Don’t be around people who aren’t determined to help you survive.

For a long time, I carried this comic by a friend around in my wallet and I pulled it out whenever my brain forgot survival was better. Find your talismans. Find your songs. Find your humans. Find a chocolate bar that is worth surviving for and go buy it. Find a movie. Find a smell. Find something. And if you can’t find anything, talk to a doctor. It will probably suck and won’t feel like surviving and the system is a mess, but YOU NEED TOO SURVIVE. That is literally all that matters.

As to the rest of it, remember what I said about normalizing stuff? Well, sometimes our brains try to normalize pain by keeping it going. This can mean self-injury, dangerous decisions, punching things that are harder than our skin.

We all have scars and sometimes it feels good to make them external.

Our brains can take that experience of someone hurting us and decide to pick up where they left off. If they said shitty things to us, we keep up the narrative. If they hurt us, we hurt us. If they made us feel unsafe around sex, we jump into unsafe sex. We can use all kinds of substances to obliterate feeling anything at all.

It’s hard to stop that pain train once it’s in motion. It’s exhausting. It’s not a simple thing to just say “don’t do those things.” For me, it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of the time, standing in my own way and saying, “nope, not cutting today.” 20 years and it’s still a fight. But I’m still fighting.

Fight that shit.

Again, if it’s too much, I’m posting a bunch of resources at the bottom of this. If they help, use them to survive. If they don’t, find other ways to survive. Please survive.

Find an Outlet

This one is super personal. It’s about finding a way to exorcise the overwhelming nervous system/emotional response that can feel like Schrödinger’s bomb in your body. I like to write. Sometimes I smash things in a semi-controlled way. Then I make art out of the smashy bits. I have a friend who boxes and another who weight-lifts. Neil Gaiman recommends making good art.

If you’re low on cash, it can be hard to find an outlet. After all, axe-throwing costs money. I think that’s why writing was my thing. Paper was cheap. And after you let it out, pamper yourself. Go to a park. Swing on some swings. Get your hands in some dirt. Take a bath. Whatever works for you. Soothe your system.

Let it out safely and treat yourself kindly afterward.

It doesn’t make it go away, but it can go a long way to helping with the last bit – the not hurting yourself bit. It can calm the bomb.

That’s it. That’s what I’ve got. I wish I had more. I wish I could make this anything but a shitstain of an experience. I can’t. You can’t. It’s the fucking worst. I’m sorry you’re hurt and I’m proud of you for dealing. I’m proud of you for surviving. I’m glad I lived to see the #MeToo moment and sad that we need it.

For a bit of help with #WhatNow? here are some resources. Remember, be picky. None of these make it go away, but one of them may help you deal. Be as well as you can.

#MeToo,
Heather

American Psychological Association
Getting help, what you can do, news, etc.

Assaulted Women’s Helpline (Canada)
“The Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY crisis line to all woman who have experienced abuse.”

Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
We are a Pan Canadian group of sexual assault centres who have come together to implement the legal, social and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent, and ultimately eradicate, rape and sexual assault.”

Edmonton Police (Canada)
“What you can expect when reporting a sexual assault”

FORGE
“FORGE has published four guides specifically to address the needs of transgender and non-binary individuals who have experienced sexual abuse or assault; loved ones of trans survivors; and facilitators of trans support groups.”

Kid’s Help Phone (Canada)
“Remember: sexual assault is not your fault and no one has the right to touch you sexually without your permission. You can call Kids Help Phone 24/7 if you need to talk at 1-800-668-6868.”

MedlinePlus (USA)
A site of vetted medical information with links to other resources.

Men & Healing
“We are one of Canada’s leading agencies in a male-centred approach to psychology and therapy.”

Multicultural Women Against Rape (Toronto, Canada)
“TRCC/MWAR run a variety of peer support groups throughout the year. Groups are available to those who have experienced sexual assault.”

Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC)
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Métis women within First Nation, Métis and Canadian societies.”

Ontario Human Rights Commission
“Sexual harassment is against the law. The Ontario Human Rights Code Code prohibits sexual harassment in employment (and in services, housing, and other “social areas”).”

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (USA)
“RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.”

Toronto Police (Canada)
“A guide for sexual assault survivors.”

Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (Toronto, Canada)
“The Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (SA/DVCC) available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a comprehensive service that assists women, men, and trans people who are victims / survivors of sexual assault and domestic / intimate partner violence.”

There are more resources out there. This is a starting place. If you know of any good resources I missed, or any that are useful internationally, please let me know. I’ll add them.

And remember:

SURVIVE.

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I Like To Cut My Skin

I like to cut my skin
It’s the only thrill I’ve got
It’s better
I know
To feel something
Than not

I like the tug and catch
And the perfect lines I draw
It’s better
I know
To exorcise
The flaw

I like to cut my skin
I cannot tell you why
It’s better
I know
To say nothing
Than lie

by Heather Emme

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

Trigger Warning

“There are no warnings in real life.”
He said
Sipping from a cup marked CAUTION:HOT

“You just have to deal with what comes.”
He signaled right

“There are no warnings in real life.”

Beware of dog
Slippery when wet
Hidden corner
Alarm will sound

“There are no warnings in real life.”

Watch for falling rocks
Flashing lights may cause seizure
Edges are sharp
Handle with care

“You just have to deal with what comes.”

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here. To read my post on trigger warnings, 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.

Writing To You from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Fingerprints stamp urgency
Where postmarks can’t be found
A letter this important
Should not be here on the ground

by Heather Emme

Just a mini-verse as I recover from my surgery. To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

The Gift of Gravitas

I frequent geeky circles. I appreciate comics and films set in space and stories in which young heroes defy the odds. Because of this, I follow geeky news. I am also a human with a mental illness. Or two. Or three. Because of this, I follow news of madness.

These worlds stumbled over each other when a young actor, Jake Lloyd, was diagnosed with the ever shifting condition of schizophrenia. Predictably, some of the commentary around this has been low-brow, ableist and cruel. This is the internet, the wild west of communications. However the overwhelming commentary has been sympathetic – even empathetic. I’ve seen people voice regret for the way he was treated. I’ve seen well wishes. I’ve seen writing that blames his parents, his early work experiences and, yes, the geeky public. Overall, the discourse has tended toward a respectful gravitas, appropriate to finding out a fellow human is suffering.

I’ve found a similar response to recent reports of Ronald Savage‘s abuse at the hands of one of HipHop’s more respected creators, Afrika Bambaataa. Here we see some cruder content, usually homophobic in nature. Still, very few sources reporting on it, or even users commenting on it, call into question the veracity of Savage’s statements. No comments are made on his looks, few on his honesty and still fewer defending his alleged abuser.

While I am grateful that  both of these men are being believed, I wish we could extend the same courtesy to women in the public eye who experience mental illness or abuse.

I think of Britney Spears, whose symptoms are still the punchline of jokes decades after her mental illness emerged. I think of Anne Heche and Mariah Carey, whose stories were told by smirking entertainment reporters complete with hilarious “cuckoo” sound effects. What strikes me most is that neither the women nor their illnesses are granted the same gravitas and respect as Lloyd is receiving in the public discourse.

The same is true of the women who spoke out about their victimization by comedian Bill Cosby. Artists like Damon Wayans took to the air to call them “un-rape-able“. In the recent Ghomeshi case, women who couldn’t recall emails they’d sent ten years prior were called liars, rather than what they are – human beings who, just like me, cannot recall every word penned in the last decade. Heck, I’ve forgotten swaths of what I’ve written on this blog. That said, I remember with clarity the smell of the detergent of the man who assaulted me. Memory is funny that way.

Gendered words make up much of the commentary in both cases, reminding us that lying, being crazy or being a gold-digger are innately tied to being a woman, being seen as a woman or identifying as a woman.

When we say we want equality, what some of us are saying is we want that same weight of gravitas applied to our more serious experiences – illness and assault among them – that we see offered to our male-identified cohorts. We want the language used to describe our experiences to match the experiences themselves, especially while wading through all of the complications that come with surviving them. We, of course, expect this same courtesy to be offered to male survivors, along with a curbing of the gendered narrative that tells men to buck up and be strong through these experiences.

All of this requires a dismantling of the idea that our gender should determine how our victimization is perceived, how our assailants are treated and how and if we are able to move on in our lives afterward. We should all be offered respect, care and gentility when the world rolls over us. We should all be offered the gift of gravitas.