You Before Me NOT Me Before You

No one better than me, knows the feeling of being a burden to the ones I love most as depicted in the movie, Me Before You. Based on a novel by Jojo Moyes, the film is about a 24-year-old man named William, a very wealthy banker who acquired a SCI after being hit by a motorcyclist. Two years post-SCI, he is so overwhelmed with the guilt of being a burden to his loved ones, he decides he wants to end his life. He makes an agreement with his parents to extend his life for another six months in which time he meets Louisa, a caregiver hired by his mother.

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Spoiler Alert: The two fall in love and live a couple of very fulfilling months, but Will chose to continue with his plan and ends his life in a Swiss assisted suicide clinic.

Many articles have been written about me and the onset of my injury which occurred on June 22, 2006. I was a 32-year-old single mother of three and seven months pregnant when a man broke into my home, shot me in the neck, left me paralyzed from my breast line down and took the life of my unborn child. This article is about my struggle with feeling like a burden to those I love and how suicide is not a solution to those feelings.

Working to Overcome the ‘Burden’ Feeling

Despite my strength to persevere, since my injury, my biggest struggle has been the overwhelming feeling of being a burden to my family. My mother was 68-years-old when I got injured. We were both used to me being her biggest support system. She became my caregiver and had to: bath me, change my diapers, feed me, brush my hair and take care of my three children, all while she was still mourning the loss of her eldest nephew and the strong independent me she once knew. It put a tremendous amount of strain on our relationship.

It felt like I needed her, loved her and hated her all at once. These sentiments were fueled my guilt of feeling like a burden. My mother watched over me night and day for the first year and half after my injury until our mutual frustration reached a boiling point and I kicked her out of my home. Her love for me was so nurturing it was restrictive. As awful as that sounds, it was the best thing I could have ever done.

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Shortly after she left I was able to learn how to feed myself, use a computer again, get out in public alone and eventually become employed again. After a few months of not talking she began coming over, but I had rules in place. She was there to visit. Sit and enjoy time with me. Not clean my house or be my caregiver. It was extremely hard for her, but it worked! I got my mother back, I got my independence back, and she is proud of the woman I have become.

Once my mother stepped out the role as caregiver my children quickly stepped in. I did not give myself time to heal before taking on the role of mom again. I remember rolling into the ER fighting for life as nurse straddled over me pumped air in a trachea, hearing a nurse asked, “Are we going to save her life or the baby?” At that moment, the most taunting memory of all occurred—I felt my baby’s spirit leave my body.

In ICU, I was surrounded by the sounds of machines beeping and connected to tubes from every part of my body. I was told I would be dependent on a breathing machine; I would never speak again or have movement from my neckline down. All I could think about were my children. Once medical staff left the room I immediately began praying:

“Lord I know I am responsible for what had happened to me and I take full responsibility for my choices which led to these consequences, but I beg you, leave me with something to still be a mother with for my children and I promise to serve you for the rest of my life.”

I never imagined that my fight for survival and remaining the primary parent to my children would bring so much pain. With them as my caregiver, again I found myself overwhelmed with guilt. When I signed up to be a mom, I was excited about changing diapers, playing dress up and braiding my daughter’s hair. I never envisioned that, at the age of 32, those roles would in any way be reversed. The fine line between mom/patient and daughter/caregiver brought as much dysfunction as it did build character to all of us.

In my attempt to keep us as a unit, by making them my caregivers, even though they were/are way too young, and homeschooling them so that we did not have to worry about anything other than ourselves, I robbed them of their youth. The guilt of my selfishness and feeling like a burden to my children depressed me. Just two years after my SCI, my 10-year-old son was forced to call 911 after finding me unconscious surrounded by empty pill bottles.

Choose Life

Many argue that we should have a legal right to choose suicide over life as Will does in the movie, Me Before You. The Bible views suicide as equal to murder, which is what it is—self-murder. Choice was the first and most powerful gift God gave us. It is a gift given to us to use wisely. It started in the garden when God told Adam and Eve not eat from the forbidden tree of life and they choose to disobey. As a result, sin and death was unleashed upon the world. Politically speaking, freedom of choice is the number one cause of so many wars around the world and soldiers die every day, so that we can have freedom of choice in our lives. It is also choice that is the main contributor to SCI.

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Yes, life with a SCI is extremely difficult and, depending on the level of injury, the more difficult life can be. Had I not survived my SCI 10 years ago and not survived my suicide attempt 8 years ago, the people I fought to survive for, my children would not have a mom. I would not have lived to see key milestones in our lives: teaching them how to cook, clean, balance a checkbook and drive. I would have missed watching them attempt musical instruments, play basketball, serve in church, get married and give birth to my first and second granddaughters. I would have had the joy of seeing my oldest daughter graduate from college, my second daughter attend prom and graduate from high school and my son play water polo. I would have never won Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, lead ministry, host my podcast Wheel Talk Wheel Issues, receive many awards for my advocacy efforts, and many, many more crucial memories that could have been lost if my life was lost too.

Why is Suicide Will’s Only Option inMe Before You?

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Media has a profound impact on society’s image of disability. Me Before You shed a light on the realities of life as a SCI from the perspective of someone feeling like a “burden,” but not all people with a SCI or a disability feel this way. Despite the huge amount of strength it takes to humble myself to have to ask for help for my basic daily needs, there are still many more things I CAN do as a mother.

My presence alone has more impact in the lives of those I touch than me being able to walk ever will. This movie offers suicide as an option right when suicide is at an all-time high. It never suggests mental health or faith as a solution. I can tell you from personal experience, suicide is an out-of-control mind trying to take control of something they no longer have control of.  Why people lose control is embraced in the title of this movie, Me Before You.

God is the giver of life. He gives, and He takes away (Job 1:21). It is through him that I regained and maintain control of my life. Not focusing on the feeling of being a burden, but choosing happiness over death and remembering, it will always be, “You (Lord) before me.”

Get the Facts about SCI

The incidence of SCI (spinal cord injury) is highest among people of the ages 16-30 and while there are numerous causes, as of 2015 the leading three are: auto accidents, falls and violence (gunshots), in that order.  Among males, diving accidents ranked fourth, followed by motorcycle accidents. Among females, medical/surgical complications ranked fourth, followed by diving accidents. Males represent 82.1 percent of all SCI. Researchers have estimated that, as of 2015, 12,500 new SCIs occur each year, and between 240,000 and 337,000 people are currently living with SCI in the United States.

Margarita Elizondo is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, producer/host of Wheel Talk Wheel Issues, model, author and an ambassador for the Los Angeles Abilities Expo. She was paralyzed in 2006 after an intruder broke into her home. Now, a single mother of three and grandmother, she pursues a degree in Communication at Grossmont Community College, and works for Axia Management where she designed a wireless phone service for seniors and individuals with disabilities. As Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, she is a strong advocate in the disability community and volunteers for numerous nonprofits. You can follow her @Ms_Hotwheels on Twitter and Instagram, or reach her on Facebook or through www.margaritaelizondo.com.