7/28/21: Simone Bile’s Bravery

What bravery. What strength. What misinformation & vitriol spewed. All in one day.

I’m warning ya’ll. This is gonna be a long one, bc there’s a LOT to untangle & discuss, & so much nuance I don’t see being covered.

Little necessary bkgrnd: When my own life started spiraling out of control in 2015 from MH, it happened what felt like, overnight. One day/night I was a CRO of a pro sports team, overseeing a growing staff, setting strategic directions, presenting to prospects in suites at our game.

The next day – I couldn’t leave my apt, was agoraphobic, didn’t have the mental acuity to pick up the phone to dial out & order food off a menu, couldn’t remember the middle names of my nieces, needed to be hand-held to the car & on to the airport by my mother (she was visiting, witnessing this all first-hand). It. Happened. That. Quickly. At age 35.

Now, looking back, there were signs leading up to that crash. But as an athlete…as a competitive SOB…it didn’t matter. I was always able to push thru any obstacle. Till I wasn’t.

And to this day, bc of how my neurobiology has been impacted over long bouts of trauma – I get symptoms like: my right hand feeling weaker/slower to react than my left – typing, gesturing whilst talking, etc. My memories can feel inaccessible. A room-spinning dizziness can overcome me.

When the CNS begins to overload, symptoms can feel like something out of the twilight zone. I share just SOME of my experience here, bc it’s super relevant to the misinformation being shared about Simone.

Headlines starting popping up yesterday: “Simon Biles quit on her team, in the middle of the finals.” When it leaked that MH could have been the reason for pulling out, the new narrative in the media headlines & keyboard warriors became – “she’s using MH as an excuse bc she hasn’t performed well.” But what do we actually know abt the bkgrnd here?

Simone went into this Olympics carrying tremendous trauma. In order to chase gold medals, she had to represent an organization (USA Gymnastics) that had failed her & fellow survivors from experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of their coach, Larry Nasser.

When Simone first felt comfortable sharing the news w her mother about the assault, she ended up spending days depressed & locked in her room, unable to get up, bc of the overwhelming depression – the unmasking of the trauma she’d been holding in.

Following that incident, and the openness with her mom, Simone shared: “Therapy and medicine,” are what helped her to “keep the demons at bay.”

Fast forward to these Olympic Games. Over the weekend, Simone stumbled during the qualifying rounds, bouncing not just out of bounds but off the friggin’ mat after her second-to-last floor pass & losing her footings on landings on the vault & the beam. When have we ever seen this from arguably the best female gymnast of all time??

Critics looking back, yesterday, after she decided to pull out, claimed – “She’s bailing on her team because she didn’t like her scores. Didn’t like how she’d performed.”

This is why I shared 1) how quickly MH declines can come over us (& did to me), & 2) how those declines mess up things like our coordination & spatial orientation (once again, like they did to me). I share the first-hand experience bc it breaks my heart to think how registering it must have felt for this top gymnast, who trained for so long, to have the crush of her trauma & MH fail her at her biggest moment. But we don’t get to choose when these things come over us.

The weekend wasn’t “her failing.” The weekend was the earliest display of her MH failing her at the time. The mounting stress & trauma of the sexual abuse, the pressure of being the face of U.S.A. Gymnastics (which had not properly supported her & her teammates in crisis), & any any all personal life matters (that we seem to never take into consideration with these high-level performers). Tiger Woods, as his career went on, ring a bell to anyone?

On Monday, before the team final, Simone wrote on IG that she felt “The weight of the world” bearing down on her: “I know I brush it off & make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha! The olympics is no joke!”

Do we not see that this girl was struggling coming out of that weekend event? She was putting it out there for the world to see!

Should it have been so surprising then, to see that on the first rotation of Tuesday’s final, Simone bailed mid-air on her standard vault, which she usually completes with ease. While in the air, she appeared to lose track of her own motion, finishing just one and a half twists (PS she was going for more). Does spatial orientation…motor coordination sound like it was at play??

After she & her coaches made the decision for her to sit they remained of Tuesday’s competition, Simone stated: “Today has been really stressful. I was shaking. I couldn’t nap. I have never felt like this going into a competition, & I tried to go out and have fun. But once I came out, I was like, ‘No. My mental is not there.”

“I was like, ‘I am not in the right headspace. I am not going to lose a medal for this country and these girls because they’ve worked way too hard to have me go out there and lose a medal.”

She was being selfLESS, not selfish. She thought about the team. And she did prioritize what SHE was ABLE/UNABLE to do – just like any other “physical” injury. So when I see people like Clay Travis say that we are supporting quitters. And that this is like Scottie Pippen – who chose at the end of a game, to sit out bc his coach didn’t call his play – that false equivalency makes my blood BOIL. Or when I see Piers Morgan say: “it’s an excuse for poor performance”…I want to jump into the screen.

Mental Health is not something we choose to go South. It happens TO us. It doesn’t mean we don’t have exercises and ways to work on releasing and rewiring and creating space. But we, as a community of folks who understand this topic, must continue to share that this is NOT a choice. That MH challenges can act up at ANY time…and that prioritizing our MH is an act of courage, not a choice to quit. We can do this. Simone is doing this!

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