I recently created a poll about dream and mobility and 60% of the 138 people with SCI who responded said that they are sometimes in and sometimes out of their wheelchairs when they dream. In contrast, most of the remaining 40% of respondents never use wheelchairs in their dreams. A big surprise for me was that only a few said they always use their wheelchairs in their dreams.
Many respondents commented that despite enjoying otherwise full mobility while dreaming, they also run into illogical SCI-related stressors. Apparently, the dream world is full of seemingly-able sleep-walkers: dreamers with functioning limbs who still require help with basic tasks, can’t pee in inaccessible bathrooms, give themselves never-ending bowel programs, and — surprisingly often — must push or drag their wheelchair along as they walk.
Wes Holloway, a C5-6 quad, has a unique relationship with his vivid dreams. A fellow nighttime explorer with awkward mobility, Dream Wes never uses a wheelchair. Still, he frequently needs assistance or can’t pass a physical barrier despite ambulating on his own. “Sometimes, I’m walking up a hill without my wheelchair, but someone will lead me with a hand or come up from behind to push me,” he says. “Other times, I’ll be driving without my chair, but simultaneously being concerned I should have it and that what I’m doing isn’t safe.”
Despite a similar level of injury, Elizabeth Treston has no problems with mobility in her dreams. Her gait is normal and she goes and does as she chooses, nimbly and without hesitation. She has dabbled in dream analysis during her 40 years as a wheelchair user, but at this point, she doesn’t take dreams too seriously. Instead, she says, “In dreams, I’m just me. Except, I get to walk around, run, swim, and have great sex.” She coyly reveals, “When I’m dreaming, Steven Tyler and I are the perfect couple, which is odd, because I don’t really have a thing for Steven Tyler. But believe me, we are a great match.”
For Andrea Dalzell, a paraplegic, dreams might as well be called walks, because that is what she does in all of hers. Without fail she is actively walking away from someone or something. She says, “Some nights, I’m being chased and other times someone is trying to tell me something. What’s funny, is I often don’t want to hear what they have to say and I’m doing what I can to stay far enough ahead of them that I can’t hear.”
Unlike these three dreamers, Jacob Wacker is one of the handfuls of respondents to dream as he lives, a C5-6 incomplete quad and power chair user. Despite his dreams often taking place in unique locations and featuring novel encounters, his arm movement is limited and he cannot stand or move his legs. If he is alone and something drops, he simply lets it go. If someone else is present, he asks them for help. “It’s just what feels natural,” he says, adding he was stunned to find out most people with SCI aren’t paralyzed in their dreams. “It blew my mind really.”
Image credit: Photo by Mark Webber