The Me in the Mirror" is an autobiographical work written by Constance Panzarino, a writer, activist and artist who talked about her life as a disable cause by the rare disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II. Connie Panzarino was born on November 26, 1947 in Brooklyn, New York, and her book chronicles her life as a child growing and living with the said muscular disease. The book is divided into different sections that focus on various topics, and her narration is not a chronicle of her life from childhood to adulthood, but rather, Panzarino touched various aspects of her life as a disabled person. In addition to her struggle for physical mobility, her book speaks of her struggles also as a woman who is disabled, as an individual doing passionate work for her fellow disabled individuals, and most importantly, her fight against the concept of "Ableism," a term that she coined to describe the belief that people have more power and more right to things when they're stronger and more able. In effect, Panzarino's fight against ableism is her way of destroying what she terms as "disability oppression." This paper will focus on Panzarino's struggle and experiences as a disabled person when she was a child until she reached adulthood. In addition to the discussion of her life as child to an adult (which is included in her book, "The Me in the Mirror"), Panzarinos' life as an activist (feminist and advocate for equality among "able- bodied" and disabled people) will also be discussed, since her revolutionary thoughts and ideas about 'disability oppression' presents a valuable position for people who are also physically disabled like Panzarino and can relate to people easily, aside from the fact that Panzarino presents to her readers a descriptive view of what it is like to live with disability -- the hurt, pain, struggles, and also the happiness, fulfillment, and compassion one feels for and to a disabled person.
Constance Panzarino, often called Connie by her friends, had experienced the extraordinary life of a child afflicted with a rare muscular disease, and her suffering and pain is chronicled in her autobiographical book. In the second section of her book, entitled "Green Walls," Connie tells us of her disdain towards the 'green things' she had encountered as a child, who was always admitted to hospitals and subjected to probing of different doctors and medical assistants to know the nature of her sickness. She described her sickness in simple terms (since her point-of-view then was that of a child's) that she "couldn't pull myself into a sitting position and could not maintain my head and neck balance the way other children did" (15). She also dreaded her visits to hospitals and doctors, and her dread for the color green emerged because of her associations of the said color with her feelings of fear and discomfort as she was committed, probed, and examined by doctors in hospitals that somehow bore the color of green on its walls. This part of Connie's narration of her childhood reminds me of the psychological impact that her disease and her hospital visits caused her, which, as we readers know, will only become worse when she's finally grown as an adult and is exposed to the harsh prejudice of the society and people around her. However, despite the physical disability that she had at such a young age ("I was asked to do all the kinds of things I couldn't do -- lift my head, move my arm, move my foot... I feel bad that I couldn't do what was being asked of me."), Connie also felt that there is something good that must come out of her unfortunate affliction to the rare muscular disease. True enough, the rare muscular disease is scientifically proven to occur along with higher degree of intelligence. Indeed, at the age of ten months, she was able to talk. She recalls this extraordinary fact of her childhood as a painful one, since "nobody seemed to care that at ten months," Connie was able to talk. This higher degree of intelligence that Connie had at ten months was also associated with painful memories of the "tortuous" experiences she had, and she reasoned that these experiences are painful for her because of the clear memories that she have, a result of her early acquisition of speech.
Connie also tells her of her continuous struggle not only with her disease, but with also her mother, and the physical exercises that her mother subjects her to. Recalling the memories of her experiences as a child who cannot crawl, sit, and even keep her head and neck balanced with her body, Connie feels that she has failed her mother, the most important person that she associates with her painful days as a child. Connie described her feeling of being a failure and a big disappointment to her mother vividly in her book: "I could feel tears welling up in me. I couldn't tell whether they were my tears, or my mother's. When she told the women that I couldn't walk, it was like she had expelled a dark cloud over the room." Connie's mixed feelings of love and resentment to her mother is understandable: Connie felt love for her mother because of her sincere care, love, and devotion for her child, but Connie's mother can sometimes feel anger and impatience in taking care of the somewhat hard-headed Connie. Perhaps Connie acted this way because of the pain that she feels with each therapy session, with each physical exercise that she must accomplish so that contractions will not be a frequent occurrence in her muscles, which will hinder the proper development of her muscles. All these events and memories of her childhood tells us how she finally developed into an individual who was about to embark in a new life as an adult, wherein she will start feeling the openness and candid observations of the people in her society. These adult experiences will eventually be her guidance that will help her cope with her sickness, and even help other disabled people to cope with their sickness.
As a young adult, Connie was exposed to a society who doesn't seem to have any policies and regulations that will make her and her fellow disabled people physically mobile and can get them into public establishments. Despite the wheelchair that Connie uses for physical mobility, which enables her to go to and from the school, she feels helpless (and angry and frustrated) when she encounters establishments and buildings that does not seem to take into account that there are people who are unable to access these establishments because they have difficulty in physically mobilizing themselves up the stairs or going up too many floors of a building. Connie narrates to her readers one instance wherein this specific event had happened, and how she acted with her friends to solve the problem that they face. When Connie was on her first year of high school in Massapequa High, a new library was built which is easily accessible since it's just a stone's throw away from Connie's home. However, one challenge that the young Connie encountered was the difficulty of going inside the building itself, since there were no inclined platforms that will make entrance easier for disabled people. In this particular event, Connie illustrates to us a picture of what her society is like during these times -- there seem to be any regulation or policy that will help disabled individuals from benefiting along with able- bodied individuals with the services that the government provides for its citizens, most especially the utilization of public establishments such as libraries, hospitals, and other buildings.
Instead of feeling self-pity with this unfortunate incident that reminded Connie once more of the disadvantages of being a disabled person, Connie opted to solve the problem in a somewhat revolutionary way -- she decided to solicit the help of her friends in talking with the board of members of the public library administration, and sought a good solution to the problem of accessing the public library without any difficulty. A meeting with the public library administrators resulted to a unanimous decision of the board to make the library physically accessible to disabled individuals, thereby making use of the said public establishment by disabled and able-bodied individuals alike.
This incident in Connie's life is the reader's introduction to the development of Connie's personality as an activist dedicated for the cause and equal treatment of the society between able- bodied and disabled individuals. Her well- thought of action to call for change in the library's policies gives us a glimpse of her effectiveness as a leader and mover for the benefit of people who are somewhat marginalized and are sometimes looked upon in prejudice by the society -- the sector of women, disabled people, even those who stereotype gay people. More importantly, Connie's story gives the message that despite the lack…