Thursday, August 5, 2021

My Hero - Simone Biles

It's something that very few would do... walk away from something they've prepared their entire life for, something that could easily disappoint an entire nation, something that many wouldn't or couldn't understand.

But Simone Biles did it at this year's Olympic Games. 

According to an article on ESPN.com, Biles said, "Once I came out here [to compete], I was like, 'No, mental is not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself."

I applaud her courage. I have a hard time letting my mental health issues get in the way of tasks that could disappoint just one person, much less potentially an entire world of fans. 

Biles hasn't always had it easy or been a star. When she was young, she had a horrible home life until she was adopted by her maternal grandfather and his wife. She was bullied in high school due to her muscular build and was given grief by the public when it was discovered that she has ADHD. She admitted being one of the 100+ girls abused by Larry Nassar.

"Most of you know me as a happy, giggly and energetic girl. But lately... I've felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams, Biles wrote on her social media (according to the New York Post article).

Those of us who deal with mental health issues can fully understand. Many of us have wanted to withdraw from something because it was hard on us due to our mental health issues, but we were afraid of the repercussions of doing so. We are taught to please others no matter the toll it takes on us. But while many applauded Biles' taking care of herself above the expectations of others, there is another important aspect of this news.

"USA Gymnastics released a statement July 27 declaring the Biles' withdrawal following her vault rotation was due to an unspecified 'medical issue' and she would 'be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,'" said the New York Post.

This kind of statement just amplifies the stigma that a medical issue is a valid reason to withdraw, but not that a mental health one is. Most of the time when an athlete has to leave a competition due to a medical issue, that issue is labeled. For example, a basketball player that can't play due to a broken ankle would be listed as such, not as an "unspecified medical issue."

It's possible that Biles or her coach didn't want to specify the reason at the time the statement was released. It's also possible the USA Gymnastics didn't know the actual reason.

But it's much more likely that USA Gymnastics was trying to cover up that it was "only" a mental health issue that caused one of the greatest gymnasts of all time to quit right before a major competition.

And that's wrong.

A symptom like "brain fog" (yes, that's a real thing) can affect performance as much or more than a broken wrist for an office worker. However, it's perfectly acceptable for someone to take sick leave for a broken wrist and not be allowed to do so for the auto-immune flare-up that caused brain fog.

An anxiety attack can interfere with a job interview as much as the flu, but if you try to reschedule a job interview due to having an anxiety attack, it's very likely you won't get the job.

Mental health symptoms can be just as debilitating as physical... but so many times we can't admit it when mental health is the real issue.

We have got to continue efforts to normalize that it's okay to withdraw from something because of mental health impairments. We need to recognize that untreated mental health issues can be as deadly as physical health issues, sometimes more so.

We must continue to spotlight the stigmas that affect our daily lives and bring them to light.

Referenced articles:
- https://www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/31902290/simone-biles-withdraws-individual-all-competition-tokyo-olympics-focus-mental-health
- https://nypost.com/article/history-of-simone-biles-mental-health-issues/

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