For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Emily Tisshaw and I was born with one hand. My left limb is missing just below the elbow although I don’t usually like to say it’s missing because that implies I’m not whole or that something is supposed to be there. It’s not. This is the way I was born and this is how I’m meant to be. I have little bumps on the end of my arm that I believe are tiny fingers. I also have a few creases next to that which I assume is my palm. My arm is a cute, little stump. My friends call it Guinea, which was named by my sister because she thought it looked like one of her guinea pigs. The name stuck and almost everyone that knows me knows Guinea too. Guinea even has a Facebook and Twitter account!
I wanted to share my 22 years worth of knowledge and experience of living with an upper limb deficiency and how I became involved with many other people who also live this way.
Since birth, I have been involved with the charity Reach.
Reach seeks to aid those born with an upper limb deficiency. They provide help, advice and support for the parents and lots of fun for the kids. I remember going on my first Reach Camp at 10 years old and being so excited to spend a week with people exactly the same as me! I remember watching the older kids and wanting to be like them. I remember wanting to be as confident and comfortable as them. I feel incredibly lucky to have been raised surrounded by a network of people I could empathise with. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t had the chance to connect and share stories with other Reach kids about our disabilities.
I started writing for Within Reach magazine in the spring of 2014. I wanted to write for Within Reach because I wanted to give something back to the charity that helped me so much growing up, hence me writing this too. I had always been heavily involved with Reach but since actually having a larger platform where I could potentially influence every member, I feel a responsibility. A purpose. I have immersed myself in a way that has been more rewarding to me than ever before.
Within the past 2 years of writing, I’ve had compliments from friends who say love my articles. I’ve had new kids from Reach coming to me for advice. I’ve even received some lovely messages from parents thanking me. I have written articles giving advice about school, prosthetic limbs, relationships, travelling, etc. but the hardest one to combat is dealing with the way society perceives us. I always focus on making my articles positive and light-hearted but that’s not always the way life is. So I want to make this honest.
How am I supposed to say people will stare, and prod and sometimes say impolite things? How am I supposed to tell them that in a P.E. lesson at school you will all be asked to hold hands and although your arm is out ready for someone to grab, no one will hold it? Do I tell them that after that they’ll spent the rest of high school with their arm hidden? Do I tell them that after high school they’ll be rejected from jobs because the manager believed they’d be a “safety hazard”?
Of course I don’t. That’s my story, not theirs.
I want to change these things from happening but I can’t change it by writing to them. I realised I have to be writing to you. So, I asked Reach families to tell me some of the weird, funny and ignorant things people had said. It didn’t surprise me that the same comments were cropping up time and time again. A lot of the thing they told me were things I were far too familiar with.
I used the submissions from them to write this poem for you:
From the hundreds of babies born each year with an upper limb deficiency.
From the tear streamed, sweat stained bewilderment of weary mothers in hospital beds. From guilt, and shame and regret.
From consuming too many ‘How-To’s’, leaflets filled with helplines and googling what, how and who.
From late to schools, crying in empty bathroom stalls and stress balls.
Fro – “You look as though you need help, here let me…” – unwelcomed advances.
From calling names, fighting games, early graves, endless days, you’ll find a way.
From accidentally dropping at least two plates at week.
From thousands of shifty glances you try so absentmindedly to ignore. Distracting yourself with eyes wide, fixated on the way her hands wrapped around him wishing yours would do the same.
From repulsion, mystery and blame.
From “At least you’re pretty though.” Does it hurt? Will it ever grow back?” and “So, which hand do you write with?”
From, no. From, stop. From, please get off.
From Mr lopsided, half complete, broken bodied one armed freak.
From “Where’s your arm gone?” I DON’T HAVE ONE.
From thank god I see the world open-mindedly.
From friends and family joy, laughter and hilarity.
From the best Halloween costume ever worn.
This is a letter to two-handed people,
from this is the way I was born.
One response to “Giving Something Back”
Such a striking poem! It's unbelievable how closed minded people can still be.
You are a very patient and tolerant person by the sounds of it – putting up with ignorant people day in day out. I wish you all the best x