BBC BLOGS - The Ouch! Blog It's a disability thing
« Previous | Main | Next »

Sleeping Disabled

Post categories:

Wheelchair Dancer Wheelchair Dancer | 07:33 UK time, Monday, 20 August 2007

Are you disabled in your dreams?

I have not been able to sleep well recently -- for no real reason that I can tell. So, I have been doing the websurf at 3 AM thing. And I have stumbled on the question of disability and dreams. Does it/should it matter if you are/are not disabled in your dreams? At first, I thought that the question should have definite answers. I know, for example, that when I began to dream in German and write shopping lists, todo notes etc. -- I was on my year abroad -- I knew that I had finally made the transition to being fluent. No longer was I translating everything backwards and forwards, I simply existed in German. Even today, over 10 years later, I remember my experiences from those days in German. They were lived and later written in my memory in German. It feels weird to describe the wall coming down in English.

What I have been reading thus far suggests both that if you have an acquired disability and you don't dream disabled, you haven't accepted the transition (DENIAL!!) and, contradictorily, that people who made the transition decades ago and are comfortable in their new worlds can appear disabled and non-disabled in their dreams. I haven't read anything about the experiences of people who are disabled from birth; most of what I have read concerns traumatic injury -- what if your impairment experience isn't really like that?

For my part, I rarely dream -- or I rarely recall my dreams. And when I do, I remember primarily the experience or the narrative -- the fear, the excitement, the people I encountered, the situation, etc. I am mostly disembodied, if you see what I mean. I don't dream about inaccessibility, per se, or, indeed, about explicitly disabled issues. I do occasionally dream anxiety stuff before a big performance, but that doesn't exactly connect.

So, I suppose that I don't really have an answer for myself. But I really want to know.

• Visit an insufficiently sleepy Wheelchair Dancer


I think it's all to do with whether or not you were disabled in your childhood (when you were forming your ideas about the world) that affects whether or not you're disabled in your dreams.

As you've said, most people with an acquired impairment are not disabled in their dreams.

I on the other hand was more severely mobility impaired in my childhood than I am now. I now walk a bit or use a manual wheelchair out and about. However, when I was a child I was a full-time electric wheelchair user. And in my dreams I'm usually a full-time powerchair user.

From pretty early on, I dreamed about my son doing things he doesn't do in waking life--running, jumping, whatever. I felt guilty about that for a while, but then I realized that EVERYONE in my dreams can do things they're not ever likely to do in real life--including me. They can fly, or turn into monsters, or vanish. That doesn't mean I'm disappointed that I can't fly, it just means that dreams are imaginative. And if I ever do start flying, my dream-mind will be ready for it!

What an interesting post?! I definitely have bipolar dreams (obviously when I am experiencing an episode) but at other times too. They usually centre around guilt due to events that have happened due to BP or the alternative scenarios that could have happened.

  • 4.
  • At 07:04 PM on 20 Aug 2007, Jinenji wrote:

I am not disabled but phobic, specifically agoraphobic, but immediately after I was diagnosed in 2003 I began having dreams about being in places I had only seen in magazines - Greece, Canada, India, Mars. I remember there being lots of mountains and open places and no walls or people anywhere. But in the dreams I didn't find it frightening. But when I woke up in the morning and tried to go downstairs for breakfast I still couldn't, I still had panic, had to get my mum to do it for me. Dreams don't mean anything.

Disabled. Always. And I didn't acquire my first impairment until I was nearly 30.

Whether I'm disabled in my dreams because I've accepted that that's how my life is now, or whether it's because my pain levels are such that I'm subconsciously aware of them even when I'm asleep, I couldn't say.

I've always been a dreamer of very vivid dreams. I remember conversations I've had with people in dreams so clearly that it can take the other person quite some time to convince me that we didn't actually have that conversation in real life. Like you, I knew I'd reached fluency in a foreign language - Greek, in my case - when I started to dream in it. I dream in colour, which is alleged to be quite unusual. I get even more dreams now than I did when I was younger. I guess that's because I get more than my fair share of REM sleep because my nights are so broken by

a) getting up to the loo (diabetes);

b) having to get out of bed every time I want/need to turn over (delightful memento of last year's frozen shoulder); and

c) being woken up by the pain (and that's the change from NSAIDs to opioid pain meds).

Disturbing though my dreams can fairly often be - not infrequently to the point of being downright terrifying - I'd hate to lose the capacity to remember them. A friend of mine says he doesn't dream at all, and I just can't imagine what that's like. My immediate response is, "But you're missing out on so much....)

Ahem. It's late, and I am rambling. I shall cease and desist forthwith.

I do have dreams in the chair, I also have dreams where I think "Where did my chair go?", and one dream in particular where I went "Oh boy, I keep this I am going to the hospital for sure" but then noticed I wasn't wearing anything up top and spent the rest of the dream running around cover my breasts.

And yeah, dreams of walking, and running away from purple people eaters.

The disability I've had since birth has always been in my dreams. I simply can't imagine hearing normally.

I've only started being mobility disabled in my dreams these past two years, despite being mobility disabled since I was 15 or so.

I only very occasionally remember my dreams so this is a hard question for me to answer. In most of the dreams I do remember, my deafness isn't really relevant (at least not directly) to whatever is happening in the dream.

I do sometimes dream that certain people in my life are signing, even though those people are not able to sign in real life. This usually seems to happen primarily in one of two cases: the real-life person is unusually easy to lipread and otherwise communicate with despite their inability to sign, or else I have had the experience of communicating with them via a very good quality interpreter. In other words, real-life non-signers who sign in my dreams tend to be people with whom I have found communication to be smooth and easy, which my dreaming mind seems to automatically translate into "people who can sign."

What you want to make of all that, I leave to all of you :-)

I started using a wheelchair at 16 (arthritis, not a traumatic injury). For years, I almost exclusively "bodyhopped" in my dreams - it was like my subconscious knew I couldn't walk, but it was determined to have a specific kind of dream that required walking, so instead of having some sort of conniption fit/implosion, it just put me in a body that could. I've been a woman, a man, an alien, a vampire, even a dog.

These days, I am more often me in dreams. When that's the case and the action requires walking, I somehow manage to get where I need to go, but the hip down portion of me is sort of fuzzed out. Still, every now and again, I jump into another body. I see it as cool, an interesting adaptation by my brain.

I've only been using a wheelchair for a few months. I remember most of my dreams, and currently I'm using a wheelchair in about a third of them. Even when not, I'm often addressing my impairment in different ways - like last night, when I dreamt a tidal wave was going to hit the campsite where I was staying, and I was worried it would make me colder than it would make most people. (I'm also a bit odd in my dreams.) It may be partly a transition thing - getting used to being seated in more situations - that will pass, or it might be a permanent response to my new situation. I'll be interested to see what happens.

Hmm interesting topic. I have dreams where I'm in the wheelchair and where I'm not. (Have heard them called walking dreams.) And one day my aide came in the door and told me she had a dream where she was in a wheelchair. And I told her she was having rolling dreams.

  • 12.
  • At 04:36 AM on 23 Aug 2007, wheelchairdancer wrote:

thanks you guys...
I love your quirky dreaming minds


I have an acquired disability. I dream that I am both AB and disabled. I rarely dream that I have the canes, though.

  • 14.
  • At 08:13 PM on 01 Sep 2007, Alianora La Canta wrote:

I've had Asperger's Syndrome all my life and I always have it in my dreams. Sometimes it's not particularly obvious and other times not, but I cannot imagine myself thinking like a neurotypical. Even on the occasions when I dream I'm in a different form that is not known to have Asperger's Syndrome (the most regular being a blue-furred rabbit), I still think the same way I do awake.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.