A limitation is not something that must hold you back. Every limitation is an opportunity that invites inspiration in order to create better or different ways to get things done! What did I do with a perceived limitation in a world that was made for people not like myself? The short answer is that when it came to my disability I didn’t take no for an answer! I created my world to be exactly how I needed it to be and constantly strive to prove that I am more and can do more than my limitations would lead people to believe.
Looking back on my childhood there have been so many moments that I consider to be my own little triumphs. Each of them a reminder that despite barely having any fingers or toes that I could handle any obstacle no matter its size. From the moment I was born the world had already decided there were going to be limitations for me. I was only one day old and was already put in a box labeled, “disabled”. I was a little baby with the tiniest of hands and feet and my parents wondered if I was ever going to be able to walk. As it has been through my whole life I had to challenge the limits of my disability without even knowing that is what I was doing. By nine months I was walking and already proving people wrong, take that itty-bitty little feet, I got this.
According to my parents account my climbing skills started when I was very young. My claim to fame came when I was about two years old. When they found me up on a shelf having just opened the bottle of children's chewable vitamins! Who would have thought that I could hold on to so much with so little? Young me I guess! At that age, if it was sweet you bet I was looking for it and would remember where it was hidden. No wonder I was always a healthy baby, I had plenty of vitamins! I was already showing my parents that a tall self and tiny hands were no match for my determination.
In kindergarten, I was defying expectations by being the first one in my class to learn to tie my shoes. Woohoo! As with everything else in my life I had to figure out how to do it myself, even when other people would show me how to do things with five fingers. I just needed to take that information and translate it to my own way to getting it done. What the world saw as a limitation did not reflect what I believed about myself even as a child. It became the opportunity I needed for me to try to do more things. I learned quickly that my body was a great way to hold stuff and be that extra “hand” I needed to get things done. When there was something I wanted to do, I charged forward and did it. Not minding my disability was just who I was and how I did things every day. My disability helped me to become a great problem solver, finding those creative ways to help me do things.
When I was a kid I longed to learn how to knit. I had convinced myself that in order to knit you needed to have all of your fingers. I couldn’t see how you would do it without all ten digits and it just seemed to be a necessary part of knitting. For years I accepted the idea I could not do it and I let the idea of knitting go believing that my limitations put it out of my reach. Then, when I was in college I saw a knitting pattern for a shawl at the crafts store. With so many beautiful and soft yarns I had to make one for myself. How was I going to do get it done? I needed more fingers than I had. I should have known better. I was wrong!!
I went and got a book from the library, bought some knitting needles and yarn, and I set out on a mission to make it happen. I studied everything in that book, the pictures most of all. How were they holding the needles, and how were they positioning their fingers and the yarn. I was always a visual learner so the more pictures in a book the better.. Then I had to think about how I did other things like crafting, cooking whatever it was that I did every day. How would I manipulate the needles, keep the yarn in position and moving onto the needles without dropping everything! I was thinking about it way too much to come up with an answer. There are times that you wrack your brain for an answer and then when it seemed like all hope is lost you let go of control of the situation and a solution pops into your head. For me, the aha moment was that I could use my armpits! Exactly. What could be a better place? I stuck the needles under my arms and gave it a try. It was close to where the needles need to be and had the stability I was looking for. It was not the perfect solution because as I would find out later. Holding the needles close together is very important but that was not my concern at the moment. I had figured how I could do it. Hehehehe, success! I started making shawls, scarves, and bags. I would take a long a knitting bag with me to college to work on between my courses. It was nice to focus on something creative after a long, tedious class. I did for one day, open my own little business to sell my shawls and scarves at a local neighborhood festival but a hot, fall day was no good for selling warm, knit items. It definitely wasn’t the business for me.
At the same time that I was learning to knit I was also teaching myself to sew and make my own clothes and in true Bryony style, I didn’t start small. Because why not jump into a project with gusto and passion? If I am going to learn why not do it with something complicated because that's how I seem to learn the best. Trial by fire. Oh, I am a nutty one for sure. I bought a dress pattern for a renaissance dress before I even had a sewing machine. I didn’t know If I would be able to do everything that I needed to do to actually sew this beautiful dress but I put a machine on layaway and saved up for the expensive material. I was living on a college income after all, and I worked hard for that machine and for the material though I still had no idea how to sew, if it would even turn out to fit, or just be a huge waste of time and money. I went into the project with a vivid dream of my dress to be and a pass to forgive myself for any mistakes I would make along the way. I researched and experimented, and after spending many hours I figured it out. For me the dress was perfect and it fit me. Another success! Like many any other experiences in my life, making this dress had taught me that I could do anything fingers or no fingers. My limitation became my opportunity to find my own way to get it done, not an excuse to let it hold me back from enjoying my life.
The same thing has worked for me in the kitchen. I never had anyone with hands like mine to show me how it's done, I had to figure it out myself. No better way to do that than jumping right into things and going through lots of observation, trial, and error. I enjoyed food too much to be afraid to fail in the kitchen. Each time I messed up it gave me the chance to do it better next time. If anything, each failure it only fueled me to try again. I wasn’t going to let it take me down and I have always wanted to be able to inspire others with disabilities to do the same.
Despite all of the drive to not let the world stop me from doing what I wanted I still struggled with my self-confidence. It was hard to be different than everyone else when I was a kid and to be the only person I had ever met that looked like me. I couldn’t wear pretty shoes like my friends when I was younger and I still can’t wear pretty shoes to this day. They are simply not designed to fit my kind of feet. I didn’t feel beautiful like the other girls. I was getting made fun of in school, especially during my middle school years, with kids laughing at me saying I was a monster or a mutant. Passing notes around the class calling a freak. There were times that I would cry myself to sleep. I wished I could be like everyone else and not get bullied, I wanted to be normal and not have kids run away from me because they were scared of my hands, and I wanted to know why I had to be so different from the other kids.
Life with my disability life has not been a breeze. I have struggled to grow and accept myself as I am and be ok with how the world sees and reacts to my disability. This feeling would come and go during my adolescence. With a core group of close friends and a growing confidence, I was inspired to keep being true to myself. I will never be considered normal for most people. To my friends and family though I am who I am my hands are just part of me. Sometimes they even forget that I may need a little help now and again. I will still have to deal with people out there that will be hurtful towards me, so there is no use in hiding myself away or fighting against it. Rather, I embrace that this is me. My limitations are my strengths, what I can achieve makes me unique and my hands are exactly as they should be.
In order to be where I am today, I had a lot of help. A huge thanks and gratitude for two of the most important people in my life. They helped me learn to have the courage to see beyond my disability, follow what was inside my heart, be true to myself and live my life with a tenacious spirit. They showed me that I did not have to try and change myself to look like everyone else to be someone. Mom and Dad for almost fifteen years now I have lived my life without your presence. Cancer may have had the power to cruelly rip you both from this world but it never had the strength to take you from my heart. The lessons you taught me still carry a lot of weight in my life. Who I am today, and the woman I am still striving to become, is because of your love and guidance. The rest has been up to me. Mom and dad, I love you and I got this!
Remeber, If you think you're all thumbs in the kitchen, I'm here to prove you never needed them!
When you truly Live, Eat and Love well every day, wonderful things can happen. Wishing You Joy, from the Fingerless Kitchen ~ Bryony Grealish Syracuse, NY