Because ‘Me Before You’ is a Symptom

Every so often I see something that makes me want to punch something and hug someone at the same time. This awesome (and rage-inducing) story caused one of those times.

ABC News reports on a viral facebook post from mom Courtney Baker, who posted the letter she wrote to her doctor. Go and read it. Seriously, the whole thing is amazing.

She starts off with your best smile for the day:

A friend recently told me of when her prenatal specialist would see her child during her sonograms, he would comment, “He’s perfect.” Once her son was born with Down syndrome, she visited that same doctor. He looked at her little boy and said, ‘I told you. He’s perfect.’

Awesome, right?

Then the not so awesome:

I came to you during the most difficult time in my life. I was terrified, anxious and in complete despair. I didn’t know the truth yet about my baby, and that’s what I desperately needed from you. But instead of support and encouragement, you suggested we terminate our child. I told you her name, and you asked us again if we understood how low our quality of life would be with a child with Down syndrome. You suggested we reconsider our decision to continue the pregnancy.

From that first visit, we dreaded our appointments. The most difficult time in my life was made nearly unbearable because you never told me the truth. My child was perfect.

See? Rage-inducing.

Even more rage-inducing? This isn’t uncommon. Noah’s Dad blog has a wonderful guide for how to deliver a diagnosis of DS, and it goes without saying that the unnamed doctor in this circumstance would benefit from a hard look at it.

Can you imagine? Can you imagine going to someone who should have resources for you and hearing instead that the best thing you can do would be to kill your baby? You should be able to, because this basic attitude has so permeated our culture that many hearing a diagnosis would be agreeing, with varying degrees of volume, with the ill-informed doctor.

Say it with me: Disability doesn’t mean anything other than what it means. It doesn’t mean a death sentence. It doesn’t mean miserable. It is nothing more than a descriptor (and a poor one at that.) Some people are tall. Some people are short. Some people use wheelchairs. Some people are good at math. Some people are dyslexic. Some people are autistic. Some people have Down syndrome. Some people don’t have Down syndrome. Some people are deaf. Some people are not deaf.

This is not a contest. You are allowed to have your own personal ideal of what “perfection” may be(though I promise you it doesn’t exist), but  you must be always be extraordinarily careful to never confuse this for anything other than the subjective opinion that it is.

Really, the only people you need to feel sorry for are those who have the misfortune to not be a redhead, but I guess we can’t all be majestic unicorns. are unable to see the beauty and possibility in life, and only see their narrow perception of perfection as having worth.

I am not going to sit here and pretend that life with disability is easy, but neither will I pretend that life is easy. No matter what descriptors you may have in your biography, we will never escape that there is beauty and sadness and joy and madness in this world we live in. We have control in how we receive the challenges ahead, and control in very little else.

But that’s hard. It so hard. It’s perhaps the hardest challenge asked of any of us in this journey: choose joy, refuse to be chained by your descriptors or by the perceptions or ideals of others.

And sometimes, when things ahead of us look daunting we choose what is an either path- nothing. We choose to wallow instead of rising.

I have no intention of diminishing the effect of mental illness by suggesting that depression and anxiety are not often at play here, but honestly that underscores my point: Our response to our fellow man should be a hand up, and a heart full of hope for them.

Fear is a healthy instinct, but we must not be ruled by it. A society that tells an expectant mother she must kill her daughter lest she be saddled with disability is a society ruled by fear.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a movie like Me Before You is touted as a romantic movie. There are spoilers ahead, but the truth is that nothing I could say would spoil this movie, because it’s already long spoiled. It’s a smelly, rotting mess of a film that is obsessed with fear.

Ableism at its very worst, it defines the main character by his disability, with this romantic film ending in his suicide. All of the reasons he can give for suicide come down to depression, with the message of this film clear: A life with disability or a life with depression is simply not worth living.

As someone who loves people with disabilities and depression it is quite a struggle to not throw something through my computer screen right now.

Why are we so obsessed with offering death up as an alternative to living with disability? Death will come for all of us soon enough- it doesn’t need our help. And this is exactly why a story such as Me Before You is so dangerous- for someone struggling with these thoughts, and someone who experiences depression, all this does is validate that that nasty voices in their head are right. That maybe death is the answer. My friend, oh my friend, it is not!

If you are someone struggling with thoughts of suicide, no matter the reason, let me tell you: please, please don’t. I promise you there is something so beautiful for you in this life. And it might be hard to see it right now, but you are needed, and you are worthwhile. You are loved, and there is help for you. Killing yourself will not end the suffering, because the grief of your light from this world only recycles the suffering onto others. You have an impact, you matter.

You are loved.

And if anyone ever told you otherwise, if anyone, even if that anyone is you, ever tried to tell you that some descriptor in your biography means you shouldn’t live, they are wrong. They are so, so wrong. 

I hesitate to write at all about Me Before You  because disability advocates have done a far better job already than I ever could. So please take the time to check out some of the articles and videos below to hear someone other than a clumsy able-bodied person try angrily explain why it is so poisonous.

An 11-year old wheelchair athlete’s take. I love this kid. 

Brilliant commentary in the Chicago Trib from Ben Mattlin

Overview from The Guardian on critiques from the disability-rights community

TL;DR Don’t kill yourself. Don’t encourage other people to kill. Your life is worth living. A life worth living is not defined by descriptors or diagnoses. Be kind to each other.

(feature image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
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