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  • Tasha Schuh

I Am Not Suicidal – The movie Me Before You

I have always been a fan of going to movies. It’s a great place to escape, relax, and see what Hollywood has been working hard on. Doug and I enjoy going to movies together and we even do double dates with other friends. A couple months ago I was told about a new movie that was going to be coming out called “Me Before You.” It was described to me as a love story between a quadriplegic and a caregiver and I was so excited because movies in the past have been so negative towards people with disabilities especially quadriplegia. For those who are not aware of this let me remind you of some of these movies:

Bone Collector (1999) – this movie with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie is a thriller. Denzel Washington is a C-1 quadriplegic (no movement except for one finger) who lies in bed throughout the entire movie except for the end. He wants to end his life because of the autonomic dysreflexia seizure that is bound to happen which will leave him in a vegetative state. Keep in mind neither I nor any of my doctors have ever seen this happen in someone with quadriplegia. In the end, he decides to live because he falls in love with Angelina Jolie and they live happily ever after (Somehow the threat of that autonomic dysreflexia seizure miraculously disappears after he meets her!).

Million Dollar Baby (2004) - this movie was directed by Clint Eastwood, who also stared in it; Hilary Swank played the lead role of a professional boxer. After an illegal punch by a competitor she is knocked to the ground landing on a stool which leaves her a C-1 quadriplegic (no movement and on a respirator). After some even more unfortunate events of losing her leg to a bedsore and her family coming to take her money, she decides that her life is not worth living and so she asks Clint Eastwood to help her in assisted suicide. He resists but then complies, and her life is ended only months after the accident.

Back when I watched these movies there were times that I could only laugh out loud in the way that things were exaggerated, made up, and portrayed in the “poor” lives of those who are quadriplegics. Clint Eastwood does such a good job in Million Dollar Baby that when people left the theaters they could have only agreed with the decision that Hilary Swank made. Keep in mind these were only two examples of movies that negatively portray quadriplegia. Now to be fair, there are a few good movies - such as “Murderball” and

“Rear Window” – that feature real quadriplegics playing the roles, and give an accurate view of living life as a quadriplegic.

So imagine my excitement when I heard that a new movie was coming out about a quadriplegic that falls in love! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good love story. In my opinion there have been enough movies about suicidal quadriplegics that are focused only on ending their lives because they cannot go back to the life they had before their accidents. I was especially excited because this movie, “Me Before You”, seemed to really parallel the true story of my good friends Chad and Andrea Hanson. Chad was in a car accident shortly after the one year anniversary of my accident. I went and visited him in the hospital and got to know him more over the years. While I was going to school at Winona State I met a girl by the name of Andrea who was active in Intervarsity – in which I was also involved. After Andrea graduated from Winona State University she moved back to Red Wing, MN to begin a teaching position but was looking for extra work. Someone told her about my friend Chad who needed an extra caregiver. Long story short, after Andrea started working for Chad they fell in love and got married. I love reading her posts on Facebook about their happy marriage and what Chad has brought to her life. Today Chad is an engineer who works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation; he and Andrea have a daughter who just finished kindergarten.

The movie was released on June 3. Doug and I made plans with friends to make it a double date. I was so excited about this movie that I actually took pictures of the banner hanging in the theater (see above) so that I could help advertise and spread the word about this great movie.

When watching other movies about quadriplegics I tend to be a little critical, but I was determined this time around to not be this way. Right off the bat I was irritated that they didn’t choose an actual quadriplegic to do the acting, instead picking an actor who is able-bodied. But I figured this is Hollywood, after all, so I decided to let that one go. I was thoroughly enjoying the movie until Bam … They announce that he wants to end his life. NO, NOT AGAIN! Supposedly it has been two years since the accident, but he promises his family that he will give it another six months, although if nothing changes he will fly to Switzerland to end his life. All the while a new caregiver who was hired to help cheer him up overhears all of this and determines to “change his mind”. In the process she ends up falling in love with him JUST THE WAY HE IS. Unfortunately, he still goes through with his decision despite the evidence that he is still loved and can still have a beautiful life. When the credits started rolling at the end of the movie I was angry, as was my husband Doug! Once again, Hollywood went out of their way to make his story and life look pitiful. Until the caregiver convinces him to start going outside the confines of his house, he sits in his room staring out a window all day long. He is hospitalized with pneumonia four times in two years, which is completely unrealistic. In 18 years of being a quadriplegic I have had pneumonia a total of two times – right after I had my accident and last year in April 2015. This is a rare occurrence! There is another scene where he supposedly overheats while lying in bed too long and it is made out to be life-threatening. I looked at Doug in this scene and chuckled whispering to him, "when has that ever happened to me?" If anything, I usually get too cold!

Many people these days tend to believe Hollywood’s version of life as true, so seeing their latest attempt at showcasing the life of a quadriplegic fuels a desire in me to expose this as false. My experience has been exactly the opposite! Yes, there were times immediately after my injury that I wanted to die, but this is mostly because I was depressed and felt alone. I was still grieving the loss of my old life and hadn’t yet learned how I could create a new normal for myself. As time passed, however, my life got better and today I am so thankful that I’m alive! I’m actually thankful my accident happened and I would not change anything that I’ve been through! I know that may be hard for some people to grasp, especially when movies depict my situation to be so horrible and tragic. People tend to believe the movies and think that after I speak I go home and cry about my situation… Not true! If my life had ended 18 years ago then I would have missed out on the best part of my life! I know that I am not the only one that feels this way. Recently Doug and I spent a weekend at the Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch that annually hosts The National Wheelchair Sports Camp. I saw dozens of happy people who have adjusted to living life in a wheelchair. These people are successful, joyful, and living life to the fullest. They are the true depiction of what life is like after a spinal cord injury. Hollywood needs to do some research, understand what reality is, and stop portraying the lives of quadriplegics as being miserable.

Here is another article on this same topic that I thought was very well written:

I welcome any feedback or comments that you may have!

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