Many were shocked when Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s Olympic gymnastics team final competition. What happened? Was she injured? Reporters and onlookers knew something serious must have happened for Biles to withdraw from such an important moment in the competition.
Something serious certainly was going on. It was reported that Simone Biles withdrew for mental health concerns, to protect “her body and mind.”
I have to admit when I first heard the news I was disappointed. It was hard to comprehend that someone as impressive and experienced as Simone Biles couldn’t push through the rest of the night.
But then I remembered how frustrating and confusing living with mental illness can be. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to do even the simplest things when I am in a depressive state or am overwhelmed by anxiety. I remembered all of the negative statements I’ve heard over the years during my mental health struggles as a mother and how it’s so easy for people from the outside looking in to judge your choices without ever truly knowing what you are going through.
The same statements and questions that are coming at Simone Biles are often said to mothers, too. The implications of these statements are that a person should not express their struggles or reassess their priorities just because they wanted something and worked hard towards that goal…whether it be a gold medal or having babies.
Let’s take a look at some of these statements and why everyone, including all of us moms, should reject them.
“You knew what you were getting into.”
Did we, though? How can one ever truly know how they will react in each and every situation? One can prepare, educate themselves, practice their skills, and do everything that they “should” do, but still struggle. Things come up. Curveballs are thrown. And our body and mind can react differently than we expected.
Not to mention the fact that we all have been changed and impacted by this pandemic. Nothing has been the same since. Even if we once “knew” what a situation would be like, Covid has changed so many things.
Giving birth is different. How we react to our child having the sniffles is different. How we move about the world is different. And I imagine, competing at the Olympics would be pretty different, too.
“You worked hard for this. Why aren’t you happy?”
Working hard doesn’t equal happiness. Working hard doesn’t eliminate stress, pressure, anxiety, or any number of other struggles.
As a mom, you may feel guilty that pregnancy/birth/newborn stage is more difficult than you expected. Even if you wanted to become a mom. Even if you struggled with infertility and sacrificed a lot so you could have a child. Struggling in the reality of daily life doesn’t mean you love or appreciate your child any less.
Similarly, I doubt Simone Biles wanted to win those Olympic medals any less.
But she knew that putting her mental health first was of the utmost importance to herself and her team.
“Why couldn’t you just push through?”
Sometimes pushing through is the worst thing a person could do. With depression and anxiety, leaving your needs unaddressed and your symptoms unattended could lead to suicidal thoughts or acting out in other ways that could be harmful.
Our society has demonized the need to take a break when taking a break is a basic human need. We are not robots who can work 24/7. Moms are constantly told we should be able to do it all, with the ghost of mothers past shouting: “We did it like this and survived, and so should you.”
But shouldn’t we learn and grow from the past? Aren’t we always looking at those who suffered through addiction, abuse, depression, and even suicide, and wondering why they didn’t seek help?
But here we are, seeking help, and still getting criticized.
We all have a breaking point
Ideally, a person should get help before they hit that breaking point which can completely disrupt and destroy people’s lives.
Simone knew that. She knew if she continued on in the state that she was in that something catastrophic could happen. Her mental health affects her performance, and it seems wise and sensible that one should be in the best possible mental state when they are performing extremely difficult tricks in a dangerous sport; tricks that the International Gymnastics Federation says are a threat to the health of other athletes and subsequently undervalued their point value, effectively discouraging Simone or anyone else from performing them.
Anyone prioritizing their mental health should be praised
The lesson Simone Biles shared with us is that we are all humans who are deserving of love, health, and peace. We all ought to treat ourselves accordingly. We should take breaks when needed and reevaluate our path forward when it appears that something will impact us in an unhealthy way. We should treat our mental health with the respect it deserves as a part of our overall physical health.
We should have confidence in ourselves and ask for what we need unapologetically.
We should trust ourselves
We should remember how valuable each of us is and that no one can replace us.
Because we cannot give our best if we don’t take care of ourselves.
We can’t give our children our best. We can’t give our husbands our best. We can’t give our job our best. We cannot give our performance our best. We can’t give ourselves our best if we don’t put ourselves first sometimes.
Thank you, Simone, for showing us that. Thank you for teaching us to value ourselves like the champions we all are.