Needed and Known

Toxic Positivity and the Importance of Sharing Your Story

June 16, 2021 Cassandra Roberts / Sarah Johnson Season 1 Episode 4
Needed and Known
Toxic Positivity and the Importance of Sharing Your Story
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Sarah has sparkling blue eyes, beautiful brown hair, and one arm ends at her elbow.

"Mommy, why does she only have one arm?"

In this episode, Sarah will share the story of what happened to her arm. She'll share about her successful youth softball pitching history and a shocking conversation with a coach that spurred her into toxic positivity. We will also get into how sharing her one arm tutorials  taught her the importance for all of us to share our stories. And then she'll give practical and personal advice to my son's question above.

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Cassandra:

Hey friend, it's Cassandra, and this is needed and known the podcast where we discover how to transform average moments into a great life by learning, growing, and becoming better humans together. I interview amazing people who could improve their communication, relationships and perspectives. In unique ways on this episode, I'm introducing you to my friend, Sarah. She has sparkling blue eyes and wavy brown shoulder length hair, a dazzling smile, and her right arm ends at her elbow. Hey Sarah. Welcome to need it and known. Hi, thank you so much for joining me. I think that your story is so neat and unique, so we would love to hear the story of how you came to have one arm.

Sarah:

Okay. The story of how I came to have one arm is not very exciting, unfortunately, or fortunately I did, I did my arm and a tray magic accident or anything like that. I was just born without it. They don't know what caused it. But my parents didn't find out until I was born because. Unfortunately back then, however long ago that was they, the ultrasounds weren't all that great. So they really had no idea until I was born. I think my favorite. One of my favorite things about my entire story is the fact that my grandfather also only has one arm. He is my dad's dad and he lost his, when he was, I think he was 18 or 19. And so my, my dad grew up around that and yes, it was a surprise when I was born, but it was something that he had seen his whole life. And so I really. We my whole family, we feel like God really prepared him to be able to raise a child that was missing a limb because of my grandpa's experience.

Cassandra:

That's awesome. I think that's such a cool and unique thing in your family. So it wasn't because of an accident. How is it different from a traumatic loss based on what you've observed from other people or what you've heard

Sarah:

or, yeah, I, I feel like what makes it so different is that it's all I've ever known. I just like what I always say, especially to little kids, or if people ask me about it. I think of having one hand, the way that you think of having two hands, you don't, you don't really think about it. It's it's just part of who you are. And so, as it, as a kid, that was a really interesting place to be in because to me it was completely normal. It didn't prevent me from doing anything, but the people around me looked at me differently, or I thought that they looked at me differently. They may not have been, but I had that in my head that, oh, they're noticing it. They don't think that I'm as capable as they are. So it was. It was just a very, like you said, unique experience because I'm technically considered a congenial amputee, but I, I didn't lose it. So people always assume that I, that I did lose it. So it just, it made for a very interesting childhood.

Cassandra:

Well, because you're not missing anything because you don't no, that that would be like, if we met other people who had, you know, we met, suddenly met a whole group of people we'd never met before, who that had three arms and they were like, oh, you were missing your third arm. And we're were like, no, I don't. I never had that. I don't think I, I mean, I could have used it, but

Sarah:

that that's exactly what I I have said for years is that it's, it's that same mentality of, if you were to come across somebody who had you know, more arms than to that person would, would they look at you and they'd say, oh, how do you, how do you live your life with two hands? And you would say, just like everybody else, it's not that hard because it's all you've ever known. So it definitely It's, it's just a, it's an interesting perspective that as a kid, I wasn't necessarily grateful for all the time, but as an adult, I know that, that absolutely like shaped me into who I am.

Cassandra:

Absolutely. I growing up, I had big lips. Which I don't feel like, I feel like they're kind of normal lips now, but, and, and always feeling like everybody's staring at me all the time. And even when I look at pictures, I'm like, they were just, they were just on your face. Like they're not, it's not that big a deal. So I think that's part of, that's just maturity, but it's good to hear that. I think it's good for any younger listeners to hear, like nobody, nobody actually sees it.

Sarah:

Exactly. I think that's. Every single person has something about themselves that they're insecure about, or they think everybody is noticing. And mine was really out there for the world to see, like right away. And I had to, I had to overcome that and learn how to just deal with it, that I was different. And I was never, I wasn't ever going to just suddenly grow an arm. So. I had to figure out how to accept that and love myself despite being different.

Cassandra:

Right. We talked about we've talked about offline your prosthesis. Are you willing to share that story or prosthetic story? Cause I'm sure that's what people think. I feel like that's the first thing that people think. Well, why didn't she just get a prosthetic arm? How'd that go, Sarah?

Sarah:

Yeah, I actually did have a prosthesis for the first 12 to 13 years of my life. I was, my mom is really proud of this fact for some reason, but I was the youngest person to ever receive a prosthetic arm in the state of Indiana. They wanted me to have a, an arm to help me learn how to crawl and. They, my mom says that they brought out a prosthesis to show her, and it was the kind that I don't even know if they make these anymore, but there was a claw at the end of it. Those were a thing back at, back in the eighties. But my mom says that she saw it and started bawling and said, my baby's not going to have a club or I can't, but they were able to get me a prosthesis that was more resembled, more of an actual hand. And I actually have it stuffed away in a closet here somewhere, which I think is really funny, but there's like an arm there's arms in my closet. It's really. Tiny time I've had like at work in the past, they've done that kind of like team building activity show and tell no one will beat my creepy little. Does it

Cassandra:

look like that's fantastic. It looks like a dollar

Sarah:

digital. Yeah, that's crazy.

Cassandra:

Cause I think grown what? Well, like grown ones, like adult ones, or even older kids look like mannequin arms or something like that, but you're right. A small,

Sarah:

oh yeah. That's exactly what it looks like. That's so cute. Cute and creepy, you know, creepy.

Cassandra:

So we've talked a lot about the fun stuff. But not everything was always smooth sailing. Can you talk

Sarah:

about that? Yeah, I, I grew up in Indiana. I was around the same kids for, for those first 16 years. And I played softball, which was really, I'm so grateful that I had that outlet because it was. My way of showing the world and building confidence in myself and showing myself that I really was just as capable as everybody else. And it was most of the time it was a non-issue. And going back to the Prosthesis. That's ultimately the reason why I stopped wearing one because every day I'd have practice and I'd have to take my arm off and put it in my coach's office or in my locker, I realized that it was purely for like like aesthetics. It was not, for me, it was just for everybody else. It was uncomfortable. It was just pointless for me to wear it. So I did stop wearing one when I was 12, because of that. But. I, I would say the, lack of confidence that I really struggled with as a kid that was that was really tough. And there were a few instances, a few events in my life that really added to that. And I can think of one in particular. When I was in middle school, I was trying out for the school team for the first time. And I had been playing travel ball for a long time. I, every day I get home from school and for hours, I would pitch in my backyard. I had like this net that was set up, that would bounce back to me. I would pitch into that for hours. And I spent so much time just honing my craft and trying to be the best that I could. And. I went to the tryouts and I did really well in my mind, I did really well. And on the final day of tryouts, they had each each athlete meet with the coaches and they would tell them, you know, which team you made or if you didn't make the team at all. And I, I can remember the experience like so vividly. I was so young. I mean, That was a long time ago, but I remember like the color of the bleachers and where exactly we were in the building. I mean, it's just so vivid to me because I walk up to the coaches and they tell me that I did a great job, that I, they were impressed with my skills, but that I was too much of a liability for them to put me on the field.

Cassandra:

And how traumatic?

Sarah:

Oh, absolutely. I thinking back to it, like. It makes me emotional for that little girl, because it was, it was that first instance where somebody vocalized what I had feared. Somebody said out loud that I was less than, and that's what I walked away feeling. And it was an adult. It was, you know, when you're, when you're that young, you, you trust and you believe in every adult that you meet. You think that they all have your best interests at heart and they all care about you, which is unfortunately isn't true. And they're they're people and they have their own self-interests and their own motives. And I, I didn't understand that. And I remember walking out of there and just sobbing and talking to my dad. And it was, I, it was the only time I've ever said this, but I said, Why me, why did God make me like this? And that, that, that particular experience completely shaped me into who I am, because I, I just learned so much from, I learned that you can you can be broken by things and you can allow yourself to feel. To feel hurt by people. There's nothing wrong with feeling all of those emotions But you have to find a way to pull yourself out of it. Allow yourself to feel everything and move past it. Give yourself the time and then find a way to not, not let it. Push you off track and make you doubt yourself, doubt what you're capable of. And I went back the next year and I, I tried out again and I made the team and that was the only time that I was ever cut from a team because of my arm. But that is definitely something that has just stuck with me all these years,

Cassandra:

for sure. That's that's so I think it's so relatable, honestly, because everybody not, maybe not, maybe not everybody, I don't know, but I feel like most people in my life have a moment like that, or many moments where thing that happened to them. And like, this is the thing that sort of shook you. And I love, I love that because I think I love your, your kind of. Way of getting out of it because you have to I th I do think there's a such thing as toxic positivity. So not to go too far, but like live in that, like, it's okay to feel that pain. It's okay to feel about her. And then, and you don't even have to fully let it go. Like, you can remember, you don't have to forget that it ever happened, but just to let it push you forward, instead of holding you back, I think is really what you're saying. Like

Sarah:

yep. Yeah, it's interesting that you mentioned toxic positivity because that is something that as an adult, I'm really realizing that I struggle with that because I, I, I want to move past things so quickly and just get to the part where I feel strong and I feel empowered and feel like I can do anything. And I, I sometimes move past the hurt too quickly. And I do think that it's it's because of those things that did happen as a kid that That caused me to have that mentality. And so I I'm learning that there's a healthy balance. Like it's absolutely okay to, to be a very positive person. But if you are feeling emotions like that deeply, like that's a, that's a trauma, like, like what it is like it's okay to, to allow yourself to be, to be broken for a little bit. Believe in when you started talking about like, I can remember the color of the bleachers. I mean, that is a traumatic memory. Like that is how traumatic memories I remember where things smelled like and what it felt like and what color everything was. And, and all the noises I could hear that is what traumatic memories are often made of... Right, yeah.

Cassandra:

So, it was, it was traumatic But it happens. So I really appreciate you sharing that story.

Sarah:

Yeah.

Cassandra:

I know it's not active much anymore. But I love your YouTube channel and I love that you talked about all the things that you can do because Sarah has one arm and she does her nails and she does her hair and she does her makeup and is just a normal. Woman in America doing all the things that need to be done. So we've talked a little bit about it, but how has that impacted you? Like sharing your stories?

Sarah:

Yeah. As a kid, I felt so alone in being one handed and what YouTube taught me. Is that there are so many people that are different. I mean, I, well, I mean, that's dumb,

Cassandra:

but we don't think that, we think everybody else is the same and we're different. Right. So that's, I think that's totally valid.

Sarah:

Yeah. And what I've realized with even today, I haven't posted a video in a couple of years, but I still get comments on a couple of my videos. I've got one in particular. That's about how to put your hair in a ponytail. One-handed and I. You get comments regularly from. Adults from kids and who are saying, oh, thank you. This is going to help me so much. I just broke my arm. I had a stroke 10 years ago and I don't have the full use of one of my, one of my arms, all these different stories. And none of them are, are my story. None of them are just somebody saying. Yeah, I was, I lost my arm 10 years ago and I, I've never been able to figure out how to do this. It's, it's tons of unique experiences and unique people that are coming in and they're able to, to use, you know, my silly little hair tutorials. Our experiences are what have shaped us and that is how God can use us by sharing what has happened in the past, what we've learned. And I think that we have to be able to learn from each other. That's the reason why all of our experiences in all of our lives are so different so that we are able to come together and to learn from one another. And I don't, I don't think that I would have learned that if it weren't for, for YouTube.

Cassandra:

Yeah. It's this is the thing is you think about relationships or friendships, like potential friendships that don't really go anywhere and like, Either often they didn't learn about you or you didn't really learn about them. And it is really sharing our story is that connects us. Right? Because I am a two limbed person and you are a one limbed person. I mean, we've got four anyway, you know what I mean? And I'm handed, I'm a two handed person and so. I can't relate to having to do my hair with one hand, but I can relate to, like, we talked about like being, being traumatized by growing up as a child with their hurtful words. And so I think it's those things that build relationships that bring us together and that make relationships strong. So I love that you are always willing to talk about your story and to share your story. And I think that. That is what makes you such a likable person, first of all. But along those lines, so we have a lot of emotional maturity and things like that, but sometimes my four year old likes to point out things in public about other people. And so I would love your take on that. So let's say we're in the store together. And my four year old makes one of those inevitable comments, like about your limb, what is correct etiquette for me? What do I do?

Sarah:

In my opinion and I know that every, since everybody does have different stories, I know this may not be, you know, somebody just lost their arm. They may not feel comfortable with somebody coming up to them and asking them questions. But for me personally, what always hurt my feelings the most is when I would see a little kid pointing and their parents pull them away. And just being incredibly embarrassed, which is. A completely understandable reaction. As, as a parent, you don't want your kid to hurt somebody else. And so you're like, oh, I need to pull them away before the person hears, well, guess what, the person heard. They already heard the damage is not even damaged, but it's done. It already happened. And if it came out of the, the words came out of the kid's mouth or they're pointing, or they're saying, I think the best thing is for. The child to ask the question it's completely okay for for a kid to come up to me and ask me what happened to my, to my arm. And I've had, I've had that happen a few times in stores where. I'll see a parent with their child and the kid will say what happened? And the parent will say, well, why don't you ask her? And it leads to such a great conversation where I'm able to say, I think of it, like you have, think of having two hands and it's just like, Somebody having blonde hair versus brown hair. And then that makes the connection in the kid's mind, no matter how young they are, they're like, oh yeah, like I have red hair and Tommy has blonde and then they move on and they're over it really quickly. And I think that that child will then, you know, if they come across a kid in their class that is in a wheelchair or has another physical difference that they're going to be able to be kinder. And hopefully not hurt. You know, somebody who is still trying to grow up and, and get comfortable with themselves. So personally for me, I think having the child asks the question is, is the best, best way to go.

Cassandra:

That's good I like that a lot. I think it's normalizing a human as what you're doing really. Like, it's just a thing it's just a different. Different attributes about a person. So I love that. Sarah, Sarah, thank you so much for chatting today. I think that that is a great place to wrap up. Just we're all just people. We just look a little different in different ways, shapes and forms. So I am thankful for you and thankful for our time together, and I hope that you have a great day.

Sarah:

You too. Thanks for talking to me. This was really fun.

Cassandra:

When we meet someone who looks different from us, let's choose to treat them as a fellow human, rather than feeling sorry for them or filling in their story. Thank you for helping Sarah and her limbs feel needed. Unknown. When I talk more between episodes or tell me all about your one limbs life, follow me on Instagram at needed and known for access. To more information on this episode, go to neededandknown.com/podcast until you need me next time. Bye.

How She Came to Have One Arm
Prosthesis
When a Coach Discourages
YouTube Lessons
Advice for Talking to Someone Who "Looks Different"