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Simone Biles Is a Champ in 'Mental Gymnastics' Too

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When news broke of Simone Biles’ withdrawal from her program during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, I couldn’t help but think that’s how it should be. When you’re struggling mentally, having one of those tough days, you should be able step back to catch your bearings. I know I do. The problem is, the stigma is still there and that’s why we not only are hearing words of support for Simone, but also words of criticism. I’ve read where some are calling her “weak,” a “coward” and just not “tough” enough.

Inwardly, I scoff at these words. I can almost laugh at loud at the ridiculousness of such statements. Why? Because advocating for yourself, let alone your mental health, takes intestinal fortitude… you know… guts. It took guts for Simone to do what she did.

I can only imagine how someone with Simone’s fame, the pressure of greatness that comes with it, being put in those shoes, and in that moment. To make that decision, while literally the entire world is watching, is simply incredible.

As someone who battles mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety stemming from that disorder and chronic illness, voicing you are struggling and need space to concentrate on your mental health is not always an easy feat. Sometimes, it’s due to my voice shaking, but other times, because I’ve received some of the same negative statements as Simone. I’ve been called “weak,” a “coward” and was told I wasn’t “tough enough” simply because I was struggling. That stung. Today, those responsible for those words are no longer in my life.

The other thought that hit me when I observed Simone’s courage was: Why is society so against people struggling, period? Why is it taboo to be struggling with anxiety, depression or any other mental health diagnosis? Why should those of us who advocate for ourselves be congratulated simply for taking care of our health?

That last one, I feel I can answer: It’s seen as a courageous step to take care of your mental health now because of people like Simone crushing stigmas and stepping into a fight where, by simply saying “I need help,” is brave, normalizing taking care of ourselves. It is a fight, and it is a true battle in every sense of the word to go against the fray.

Stigmas never cured anything. They never stopped an issue from being present. Society’s opinion doesn’t change reality, but oh, does it help when those who are struggling are not shamed for being human. For having human emotions, for having health problems.

Over the past years, I’ve seen the shift toward understanding and awareness regarding mental health, which is long overdue. It was during that shift I was able to find help and advocate for myself. It’s a step that I’m truly thankful for.

We’re not quite at the point where everyone feels they can ask for help, but we’re getting closer thanks to people like Simone Biles humanizing mental health struggles. I have hope, even with the criticism still alive and well, I have hope.

Supporting Simone and others struggling with mental health issues is important. She is considered a hero by many for her incredible feats as one of the best gymnasts (if not, the best) in the world and I see why. To me, she’s more of hero in my eyes for working through the mental gymnastics of advocating for herself.

Well done, Simone. Well done, all of us.

Lead image via Simone Biles’ official Facebook

Originally published: August 4, 2021
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