How we view ourselves is often hard. What we think of ourselves, even how we picture ourselves in our own heads can be so vastly different from reality. For example, my dream self is often my 16 year old self. The self that could still do things, that wasn't sick, that still had a lifetime of possibilities in front of her. Dream me can do all of the things that I wish I still could.
I don't remember what the dream was about, except that I was trying desperately to wheel up an escalator in my wheelchair. In reality, I can't wheel myself even on flat surfaces because my fingers subluxate (a type of mild , but painful, dislocation). I'm fairly certain it involved a lot of places that I couldn't go due to the chair, or rather, due to spaces that weren't accessible. When I woke up, I was distinctly aware that my dream had included a mobility aid.
I've only used a wheelchair or scooter a handful of times, but it's becoming more frequent as I realize that, for so many years, I've made myself sick and miserable trying to do things the way an able bodied person would. This summer, for the first time, I went to a water park and actually enjoyed it because I rented a scooter. This significantly reduced pain, dizziness, nausea, confusion/fog brain... it was amazing to be able to do something for hours at at time and not have to take weeks to recover.
The more I use wheels, the greater my self consciousness about how I look using wheels, despite how obvious it is that they improve my life. I imagine how people view me, especially in a college town teeming with hipsters and athletes. It's difficult to let go of caring what other people think or say about you. On a backdrop of a bunch of people you don't even know, it's pretty normal to have an internal narrative of what they're thinking about a fat, 30-something, woman using a wheelchair, who occasionally stands. Stands! See? She can stand! She doesn't even need that wheelchair! She's just a lazy fatso!
This is not even a far leap considering that we've all seen plenty of posts which are photos taken of people, in public, and posted online with the sole purpose of mocking them. Think of the long reign of "People of Walmart" which was almost exclusively used to abuse fat people and trans people. People in public are looking at me, they are judging me. It is a fact of visibly being a member of any marginalized group.
The internalized fatphobia here is clear. I feel the need for people to be aware that there's a good reason why I'm using this chair. I don't want them to assume it's due to being fat because that means they're using negative stereotypes about fat people, about me. And we, so often, feel the need to dispel stereotypes and hate at all times because if they keep their biases, they also keep hurting us and those like us. Sometimes though, we have to let things go and know people are just going to be cruel no matter what and we can't fix everyone. I feel like marginalized people often feel the need to take on all of the work ourselves, on an individual level. I, as a fat, disabled, woman, have to educate all of the people! ALL of them! It's difficult to even think about it as a group effort when we rarely have local communities to feel a part of.
Honestly, after eight years in the fat liberation movement, I still have so much to unpack, so much to unlearn. Being visibly disabled by invisible illnesses has been really difficult. We have to examine, as always, the ways in which different forms of oppression intersect and, I truly believe, we desperately need local communities to help us feel less alone in the fight.
But, while I haven't changed the world single-handedly, dreaming of myself in a chair seems like a good step. As Jemma Simmons recently said, "The steps you make don't need to be big, they just need to take you in the right direction."