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What Happened When I Took a Break Like Simone Biles

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I fell ill in 2008 with my mental illnesses. I went into the mental hospital in fall of 2008. While I was there, I was scheduled to have a job interview for a job running a mental health clinic for the poor. My treatment team at the hospital said there was no way was I doing that interview. They said I was there to heal and did not need to be thinking about future employment. I explained my current job was in jeopardy. They were still adamant I could not take the interview. In retrospect, they were correct. There is no way I would have been able to walk out of that hospital and run a clinic.

I did eventually get out of the hospital and a few months later, landed a new job as a deputy executive director of a local nonprofit serving the homeless.

Before my 90-day probation period was up, I was back in the mental hospital. That was when I decided to place my daughter in a temporary situation because I just could not cope with my mental health. I was being triggered by my daughter of past abuse and I could no longer care for her at home.

I left the hospital again, but never fully recovered. I was functioning at work, but not to the caliber of work I am accustomed to. I eventually got a bad review from my boss which sent me into a tailspin. That had never happened in my 20-year career. I thought I was hiding my illness better than that. My work continued to deteriorate.

I was working with my treatment team, and they were concerned about how I was doing at work and how I was handling all of the stress. Mid-summer 2010 I had an incident at work that endangered the children we were servicing, and it was my fault. The next day I asked for leave. My boss was perplexed. I just knew I was not mentally stable and I could easily make another mistake and I did not want it to impact anyone else.

I reentered the hospital and by the time I left six weeks later, I had agreed to stop being a mom permanently and to no longer work and go onto Social Security disability. As far as I was concerned, I had failed at life. The two things I prided myself on were over. Being a great mom and having a successful career. Now, everyone would know I have a mental condition and I would be judged and ridiculed.

Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles this past week set a boundary and said no more. No matter how important her work was, no matter how high profile she is, she was not going to sacrifice her mental and physical safety for a medal. She opened herself up to a lot of vitriol online, something I did not have to face, but I still beat myself up and saw myself as a failure. I respect her as a Black woman to say no more. To set an example for other women and girls that it is OK to take care of your mind and body at all costs.

Eleven years later and I still do not have my daughter or my job back. I had set an imaginary deadline for myself that I would be over my 22 years of trauma in three years and be back to work. That did not come to fruition.

Our bodies and minds can only take so much. We cannot push past our limits for others. Others set themselves as priorities, and so should we. So, no matter if you are struggling with parenting, having twisties in the air on the vault or completing tasks at work, you have the right to bow out. I was blessed to have the opportunity of a government program to help me sustain a living and have a family for my daughter while I healed. I acknowledge many of us to do not have access to this support. If you do, take advantage of it for your mental health’s sake.

Biles found the entire world rallying around her to take this break. We must have more of these celebrations.

If you know of someone who needs a break, or you need a break, remind yourself and others of these things:

They have worth outside of a job.

The work will be there later when they are ready.

You are in fact replaceable.

You are there to support them in all the ups and downs.

You will not negatively judge them or treat them differently.

Let them know they still have value outside of their job.

Tell them setting themselves as a priority is brave, not staying in a toxic environment that is compromising their health.

It is hard to step back when you have prided yourself on success and when your career is your life. But, in reality, your life is health and security. It took everything I had to set my health as a priority. I still struggle with not being a rock star in my career. In reality, I am doing my life passion — just in the doses that are appropriate for my mental state at the time. So, I am ignoring the naysayers and going on living my best life the best way I know how. Just like Simone.

Being “Mighty Strong” does not mean sacrificing yourself.

Lead image via Facebook Watch

Originally published: August 10, 2021
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