Quickie update

It’s been a heck of a couple weeks, which is why it’s been quiet on this blog.  There will soon be a post on Fierce Freethinking Fatties about my first week using the scooter (affectionately known as my first week as a Scooter Fatty)…let’s just say that once I pushed past my anxiety, it’s been liberating!

Off white wall and medium brown desk in background, small metal scooter with basket in back & crutch balanced on it.
My TravelScoot sitting behind my desk at work on the first full day of using it.

My next immediate hurdle is figuring out how to do appropriate spoon management while teaching so I can get back to dancing more.  A standard classroom technology podium is built for someone that’s over 5’2″ (approximately) and trying to lecture while seated in a classroom with barely movable rows isn’t working, so I’ve been standing & leaning on a rolling chair or other creative stand/sitting hybrids to be able to operate classroom technology.  I could probably fight to get a presentation remote clicker to use, but since I’m considered an adjunct professor I doubt the university would spring for that.  The other thing I’ve figured out is that the scooter is basically unhelpful in a classroom with the way I want to teach.  I’m a kinesiologist and a dancer, so I like to be in pretty constant motion in some manner, and a scooter just doesn’t allow for that.  If I can figure out how to conquer some public speaking fear to be able to teach in front of twenty college freshmen, I can definitely figure this out!

In terms of scholarly stuff in general, I’m severely struggling.  I still have my incomplete courses, but I’ve not made significant headway on my independent study for the semester either.  In all honesty, I’m barely keeping up with the one in-person course I’m in (Autism, Disability Theory, & Philosophy).  A little bit of that is from not having a background in philosophy, and a little more is from some really weird dynamics in the class that have pegged me as the token disabled person.  The rest is just from dealing with my body and what I’m trying to force it to do.  I spend most of my weekends laying in bed trying to recover.  Unfortunately, my cognitive abilities get dumped into the recovery bin as well (chronic pain is tiring on its own, even without the assortment of other bodily oddities I deal with).  I’m honestly scared because of it….I’m trying to put together my committee for my plan of study & comprehensive exams (depending on dissertation, the committee might change), but I don’t want to come across as someone that will be stuck in ABD land (“All But Dissertation”).  One way or another it’ll work itself out.

As for dance, I’m really feeling awful that I haven’t been to a dance class or a troupe rehearsal in a couple months. The combination of my work/class schedule, increasing spine problems, and tight finances have left me with doing some mental rehearsal & occasionally doing FCBD drill videos from YouTube (on my tv with my Xbox 360!  I love technology!).  It’s better than nothing, but I fiercely miss my Helix dance siblings…not only is ATS a primarily group format, but I just don’t enjoy soloing that much (which is why I never became a pro dancer…semi-pro was the best I managed in my whole-spine days).  I’m nervous getting back into the swing of it all because my anxiety disordered brain keeps spinning me tales of angry troupemates and passive aggressive garbage (the latter has happened in a previous troupe…fears with connections to reality are the hardest to overcome).

The scooter arrived just in time…for me to get a flat in one of my manual wheelchair wheels.  Since I’m still going to use the manual chair for smaller things like shopping trips and longer trips like academic conferences (I cannot bring myself to use the scooter at the upcoming Sport Sociology conference…I’m too afraid of being treated poorly and giving a first impression that will keep me from getting a job post-PhD), I’ve decided to check into solid tires that don’t have inner tubes.  They’re a bit heavier and don’t have as good of traction, but will keep me from being stuck in a random city trying to find a bike shop to pump or fix my wheels (which has happened).

In a few days, I’ll post a few OotD posts from Gwynnie Bee.  While I probably shouldn’t be spending money on it, having a guaranteed nice thing to wear once a week that I don’t have to worry about washing/drying/maintaining is absolutely lovely.  It decreases my stress, lets me have a package come in the mail about once a week, and always feels like I’m playing a grownup version of dress-up.  If I could afford upping my subscription, I would!  I could have two outfits a week for teaching in that help me not waste spoons on clothing maintenance and to help me pretend that life isn’t really hard with chronic pain & nerve damage.  Less laundry = less wasted spoons = happier Casey = I win!

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Teaching while gimpy

I’m working out a lot of thoughts I’m having about my teaching gig this semester (I’m not a TA, I’m the actual instructor!).  It’s been a heck of a journey, especially considering it’s what I would call a “non-traditional” course.  It’s through my institution’s Learning Communities department and I have about twenty bright-eyed first year social science students trying to navigate their transition from high school to university life.  I have a lot of freedom in the course, which is both awesome and terrifying.  I’m also learning a lot about myself, including about my body in traditional classroom space.

Photo shot from the entryway of the building, showing the "automatic door" warning sign but no button to push for access.
Photo shot from the entryway of the building, showing the “automatic door” warning sign but no button to push for access.

Let’s start with the classroom I’m teaching in.  Wait, let’s back up to the building that the classroom is housed in.  I don’t know the history of the building, but it is mostly a residence hall that has a couple classrooms attached to it (I think they were a later addition to the building based on placement and door access).  Because it is primarily a residence hall, most of the doors are locked 24/7 for safety.  The classrooms are placed so there are specific doors that are open for ten minutes before the class time to allow the instructor and students that don’t live there in.  While there are no stairs (and there is a sign that designates this as an accessible entrance), there is no button for the automatic door.  I’m guessing if I had an electronic key for the black sensor on the outside wall it might open automatically, but that doesn’t help me as a keyless instructor.

The classroom itself has one of those sterile “modern yet traditional” vibes, which would be cool if I wanted to run my class in a lecture format all the time.  It has a podium in the front corner that is too tall for me to comfortably use properly (right side for my student with the door on the left side).  Actually, it looks a lot like the setup in this post I made about TAing, although my classroom has carpet.  All of the tables are in five tight rows, with each table fitting two students each, and the rows are jammed flush with the right wall of the classroom leaving one aisle to get in and out of.  There is no way to rearrange the tables for better group work, and if I had a student that had a mobility impairment, it would be difficult to find a place for them to sit comfortably (that’s ignoring personal seating preference, because that’s generally not even in the conversation about making a space accessible for students).  The other problem with this is that this mobility impaired instructor can’t really “work the room” whether walking or rolling (wheeled desk chair or wheelchair).

Combined, they make a huge problem for me.  I can’t see all of my students when I’m standing as I’m short.  I really can’t see them when I’m sitting (and listening to my body).  I can’t rearrange the tables into a circle so everyone can see everyone else.  These problems made for a really rough first week of classes because I felt like I was being forced to ignore the people that I couldn’t see (which is really rough since it takes me a while to connect faces to names).  It also became apparent that, while the university kinda sorta thinks about students with disabilities, there’s no thought to faculty or staff with disabilities.

None.

Thankfully, I got this teaching gig from being scholarly colleagues with our director of learning communities, but where does this put me for any other academic job?  Will departments that don’t know me personally hire me as a faculty member with my “special needs” in the classroom or office space?  Will I just be another pain-in-the-ass gimp with a graduate degree barely scraping by with serial adjuncting as long as I don’t rock the boat too much with my activism or my needs/wants in a classroom?

I know that the change in direction in my work from mostly body size/fat studies to mostly disability studies (all with the physical activity focus) will mark me in a specific way…I think a lot of disabled scholars studying disability deal with this, whether implicitly or explicitly.  It will likely be assumed when I enter kinesiology-focused spaces that I study disability because of how I move through the world (which could be a whole different post honestly, especially because a Deaf friend and I have had discussions about it).

For the moment, I’m trying to not focus on that and just trying to focus on what matters in my life right now….work/school/life/health balance, dance, getting over public speaking anxiety so I can focus on being a better instructor, finances, putting together my dissertation committee… 🙂

Anxiety & Ableism

My partner standing regally behind the assembled TravelScoot
My partner standing regally behind the assembled TravelScoot

The TravelScoot arrived!  Huzzah!  I’m waiting for the seat back and a basket, but it’s really here!  You all helped! The picture on the left shows it put together in my living room with my partner standing behind it with lots of bookshelves (that will be sad looking bookshelves if I ever get a full time professor gig as the at least half of those books will be transplanted).

So what’s with this anxiety thing in the title of this post?

Anxiety about ableism.

Anxiety about weight stigma mixed with ableism.

Internalized crap about my body size.

Internalized crap about my body’s ability.

This seems to be a process I go through with every incarnation of adaptive aid I’ve ever used in this broken spine journey.  I did it with the cane, the crutch, the manual wheelchair.  Part of it is a process of accepting that my body is unfixable with today’s medical technology.  This is hard, especially post-surgery with the fantastic diagnosis of “failed back surgery syndrome” (no shit, that’s what it’s called….it has a more jargon-filled name as well, “post-laminectomy syndrome” but anyone with knowledge of medical terminology knows that that isn’t a particularly useful term).  It’s hard looking at the compromised care I received because of my size and assumptions about what I do or don’t do with my body.  The compromised care I received because of corporate health care telling my surgeon to just get things done as quickly as possible, without thoroughly talking to the patient (because I’m pretty sure that if my surgeon did this, he would have known that I have bilateral nerve damage from the broken & slipped vertebra, not just on the left side).  Rehabilitation narratives are harmful when a person can’t be rehabilitated.

Another part is the constant fight with people that don’t understand that ability is a moving target for many people, not a fixed point in space.  Sometimes that moving target is over a long period of time, whether it’s a downward slide like folks with degenerative disorders like muscular dystrophy or episodic like some forms of multiple sclerosis (MS).  Sometimes that moving target is in the span of a single day.  For me, it’s both (although I really try to only worry about the short term at this point so I can keep my long term worries focused on my PhD).  If I’m careful about how I move my body and take appropriate breaks, I am sometimes rewarded with things like being able to bellydance (which, because of a rotten combination of schedules, money, & body crap, I haven’t been to a class or rehearsal since July).  

That reward is not visible to anyone except for me and my husband and sometimes a few other folks if I chose to communicate that, whether verbal or not.  Sometimes I’m not rewarded at all, and that sucks.  Sometimes I’m able to push through even though I’m not rewarded, although I generally pay the price for days afterward if I make that choice.  Either way, I know that spoon management (time/energy) is the most likely route to being able to do what I love to do with my body. 

Even though I know this and can articulate this, I still fight myself.  I’m afraid to use the scooter to go to campus.  I’m afraid of the looks and the comments.  There is so much violence, both verbal and physical, to people with invisible or variable disabilities that I’m afraid.  While the scooter affords me the assumption that I can walk at least a little bit (versus the manual wheelchair that people see as a symbol of paralysis), it also carries the stigma that goes along with the anti-fat rhetoric rolling through society right now.  

While the scooter means I will be able to be more active (both on an exercise/dance/fitness level and a “hey, now I can get around campus and can scoot to school/work” level), I’m confronted with my years and years of trying to be the Good Fatty and the Stereotype Defying Fat Person (mixed with some supercrip because of my congenital disabilities, just for garnish).  I want to yell to the world that hey, now I can actually be able to do meaningful physical activity that will make me a healthier person!!….but there’s an underlying healthism to that as well by saying that I’m somehow better than the scooter fatty that doesn’t want to exercise.*  News flash to my subconscious: there is no moral obligation to be healthy or to attempt to be healthier.

Right now I’m trying to keep up the mantra that using the scooter, especially on days where I work in my office and teach in a building a couple blocks away (which my spine absolutely loathes, on top of trying to stand while teaching), will lead to dancing and working out joyfully.  I just need to ignore the haters and own my existence.

*As a kinesiologist, I totally want people to be more active, but I want that activity to be on their own terms.  Coerced exercise, whether for health, weight loss, etc is counterproductive and harmful to a person’s mental health.