I love romances as much as the next person (perhaps even a little more ... I’m a total sap), but I’m decidedly unenthused about the most popular romance in theaters right now. As a disabled person, I really can’t stand "Me Before You." In my opinion, and in the opinion of much of the disabled community, the film spreads some really harmful misconceptions about life with a disability. In an effort to undo some of the damage caused by this film, I’m here to bust some common myths about disability. (Spoiler warning for "Me Before You," by the way!)
Myth 1: Having a disability means you can’t have fulfilling, meaningful relationships.
I assure you that this is not the case. I’m lucky to be surrounded by wonderful friends and family who support me in all areas of my life – health related or not. My experiences with my loved ones are not marked by pity and discomfort, but by lots of love and dumb jokes. I have a friend who has woken up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to come to the hospital with me while I got IV fluids on multiple occasions. I take my mobility scooter to go out for ice cream with my friends, and no one bats an eye. My friends fill my life with joy and laughter, and I hope they can say the same about me. Having a disability doesn’t prevent me from loving people and being loved in return. (Yes, this rule applies to romantic relationships too. I took my mobility scooter to a first date and left with a phone number. Dating is still possible!)
Myth 2: Having a disability means you’re bound to be a poor friend/romantic partner
"Me Before You" seems to imply that Will’s choice to end his life is courageous and loving, that leaving Louisa is what’s best for her. Will is freeing her from the burden of being involved with a person in a wheelchair and allowing her to find someone who will be able to provide what he cannot. I feel like the issue with this argument is pretty obvious: disabled people aren’t a burden, and to suggest so is kind of awful. When we fall in love, romantically or platonically, we fall in love with the whole person. Sometimes disability is part of that package, and it doesn’t make that person an encumbrance. If someone feels that it does, it probably wasn’t love in the first place.
Myth 3: Having a disability means a life of misery and tragedy
My life is not a tragedy. I’m extremely blessed; I have a fantastic family, great friends, and the opportunity for an education. The vast majority of the time, I’m really happy. I’m not saying I’m never sad, but when I am, it’s usually not related to my disability — maybe I got in a fight with my mom or embarrassed myself in public or missed mac and cheese day at the dining hall. Sure, I sometimes do get down about being sick or feeling limited, but that’s doesn’t color my view of my entire life. Would I gladly accept a cure to my illness? Absolutely! I’d be thrilled! But do I spend my days actively yearning for one? Not at all.
Myth 4: You’re not the same person after you become disabled
Throughout the film, Will talks about wanting to be his “old self,” as if the person he is after his accident isn’t the person he was before. In some ways, this message isn’t entirely untrue. Since I’ve gotten sick, I’ve become much more invested in activism. I’ve paid more attention to less physically demanding hobbies, like writing. I’m better at managing my time and laughing when things go wrong. So yeah, having a disability has changed me in some (pretty positive) ways. But I’m still me. Just because I have significantly limited energy and can't walk long distances doesn’t mean I’m not the person I was before. I’m still quirky and goofy. I still love animals, superheroes, and theatre. I still haven’t mastered the art of keeping my mouth shut when I need to. I’m still me. People change and evolve throughout their lives, but I didn’t lose myself after I got sick.
Myth 5: Assisted suicide is definitely the answer to feeling unable to cope with a disability
While everything I’ve said above is true of my life, I can’t speak for every disabled person on the planet. I’m sure that some people do feel really depressed and hopeless about the prospect of life with a disability. However, we should approach that issue the way we always do: by treating the source of those feelings rather than acting on them. I’m going to try not to get up on my disability rights soapbox here, but maybe someone is miserable because they don’t have access to the necessary medication or assistive technology. Maybe they can’t get a job because of employment discrimination. Maybe they’re just frightened and sad and confused. Whether it’s a mobility aid or mental health counseling, there are plenty of ways to cope with a disability that don’t end in suicide.
Hollywood has been selling us this narrative about disability for decades, and they're selling us a lie. Contrary to what "Me Before You" would have you believe, life with a disability can still be fulfilling and joyful. The hashtag #LiveBoldly has been circulating in an effort to promote the film, but I don't think the film fully understands what that means. It's not bold to buy into the same old tired tropes of the miserable, embittered wheelchair user or to suggest that disabled lives aren't worth living. Challenging the common stereotypes and misconceptions about disability, however, is.
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You can also check out another disability related article here, written by the fantastic Jenna Reed!