This article was originally posted on Claiming Crip
It seems like I can't be on Facebook or any other form of social media for more than five minutes lately without seeing an advertisement for the upcoming film, "Me Before You". It is marketed as a heartwarming love story between a disabled man and his non-disabled caregiver. The previews play on the idea that "true love conquers all," but the truth is the real story is much more sinister.
In the last advertisement I saw for it, one of the lines really struck me and upset me deep in my soul. The second I heard it my heart sunk, and I had to hold back the tears welling in my throat, not because I thought it was some touching romantic moment, but because the words stabbed me through the heart, and stopped me in my tracks.
"I don't want you to miss all the things that someone else can give you," said by a disabled character to a non-disabled character who he is in a relationship with.
It hit me because so many times in my life I have been afraid that the people who love me are missing out. I can't count the times that I have wondered if my parents and my friends would be better off without me. I can't count the times that I have thought everyone else's lives would be easier if I just disappeared. I can't count the number of times that I have felt that my existence was nothing more than a burden on everyone around me.
There were so many times growing up when I hated my existence, not because it made me miserable in any real way, but rather because I felt like I was keeping the people around me from having a "real life". These feelings were reinforced by people who would praise my non-disabled friends and family members telling them that they were saints for "dealing with me." These messages were reinforced every time inaccessibility kept not only me, but my friends and family from doing something we wanted to do, and I immediately felt like it was my fault. I felt like everybody else was "missing out" and it was all because of me.
Hearing that line uttered so casually on my television screen by a non-disabled actor pretending to be disabled caught me off guard, and made me more than a little bit uncomfortable. Hearing those words caused a nauseous feeling to bubble up in the pit of my stomach, because for me, for so much of my life, and in so many of my relationships, those words were not just a line in the script. For me, those words were real, and incredibly painful.
I spent much of my childhood and young adult life worrying that the people who chose to be in my life were somehow losing out on something so much better. I struggled to understand why anyone would willingly choose to be a part of my sometimes complicated and frustrating life as a disabled person. "Go on without me," I would say to my non-disabled friends and family trying to fake a smile, "it's okay. I don't want anyone else to miss out because of me.
My friendships and relationships were so long defined by a culture that painted my existence as draining, problematic, and limiting for everybody else around me. I was led to believe that my life was somehow less valuable and less beautiful than my non-disabled counterparts. That my role was to make them realize life could always be worse, they could be like me so they should live every minute to the fullest. In the back of my mind I always wondered if the greatest gift I could give to the people I loved was just to disappear.
Even when I started dating someone who was also disabled, I weirdly worried that by dating me he was missing out on some mythical "better life." I remember talking to him about it one night and he admitted to me that he worried the same thing. In that moment we both and realized how ridiculous we were being. Non-disabled life wasn't better, it was just different. We weren't missing out on anything! We were having different experiences, seeing and exploring the world in a different way, and that was just as beautiful and valuable, if not more so,than the mythical concept of normal.
When I think about my life as a disabled woman, I know I've taken a different path than my non-disabled brother and sister, but I don't regret it. Some of my greatest experiences and fulfilling relationships have come into my life as a result of my disability. I have explored the world, gone on adventures, and fought against the inequities around me, all because I experience the world from my chair. Living life as a disabled woman isn't always easy, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Now, as a young woman in my mid 20s, who has experienced unbelievable beauty, love, and friendship, but also devastating heartbreak and tragedy, I look at my life not as less, but as different. I know I'm not keeping my friends and family from anything, rather being disabled provides a whole new beautiful perspective on the world. My life does not exist to remind people of how bad things can get, it exists to be mine, and to be lived as beautifully and boldly as possible. I'm proud of who I am, and I'm grateful every day that I get the chance to live this life.
Me Before You has its disabled protagonist choose death while encouraging audiences to "live boldly", and I am so over that. I am so over the idea that a disabled person choosing to die is being " brave" or " bold." I live boldly by fighting against prejudice, discrimination, and ableism. I live boldly by working to make this world a better place. I live boldly by experiencing the world and loving it not in spite of my disability, but because of it.
I live boldly by blocking all advertisements for "Me Before You" and rejecting the idea that a disabled life is a fate worse than death, and instead choosing to live and embrace every moment of this complicated, messy, and beautiful life.