By now we’ve all read about, watched, and reflected on Simone Biles’ decision to drop out of the women’s gymnastics team competition in Tokyo after performing on the first apparatus of the night, the vault.
When Biles revealed that her decision was largely based on her mental health, everyone had an opinion. Some were disappointed she didn’t push through, some shook their heads in anger or rolled their eyes, and others defended her and spoke up for her decision.
Personally, I support her decision. I think prioritizing her mental health was a very brave move; she stated that she felt she was going to risk injury if she continued, and I cannot judge her harshly for that. There are few people in the world who would ever understand the daily pressure and struggles she has faced in recent years. The media has painted her as being the only gymnast responsible for bringing home medals, which of course is not true (and an insult to the rest of her hard-working teammates too).
Simone Biles faced immense pressure due to being deemed ‘the greatest gymnast of all time’ and having her every move critiqued. On top of this, I think many people forget that Covid is still around. Tokyo is locked down right now and, unless families are on the coaching staff, they’re not allowed to travel to watch the athletes. When I think about how difficult the past 18 months were for all of us, I am reminded that this is likely still being felt by the gymnasts. The difference is that now, their support systems, their families, cannot be with them. These factors cannot help anyone’s mental health either.
This is the first international games that my children will remember, being ages 6 and 9. I’ve let them stay up with me to watch gymnastics because they’ve been intrigued. When I told my kids what happened with Biles, they were disappointed and confused. They don’t understand much about mental health yet, but I tried to explain. As we discuss this more, I realized that this is what I want my kids to learn from Simone Biles:
Learn to recognize your feelings and know what is mentally healthy and what isn’t.
I want my children to know that if they feel frequently or constantly anxious, sad, depressed, stressed, angry, etc., that it is not healthy and is something they may need help with. I’m not going to speculate how long Biles debated dropping out of the competition before doing so, but she knew when enough was enough and knew she needed to act to protect herself.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, just seek it.
This is easier said than done for pretty much everyone. Admitting you need help is certainly something many of us are not good at, but I want my children to understand that, at times, asking for help is necessary. I want them to feel comfortable coming to me, my husband, or a trusted adult for help, and that it is okay if they ever feel they need to see a therapist. I want them to know that just like they would want to see a doctor for an infection, they can also get medical health for mental conditions.
The details of what medical and mental health support Biles will be seeking are not anyone’s business but hers. I have no doubt, however, that it was not easy for Biles to put her health first but the fact that she did so while the cameras were rolling was an amazing example for my children. Furthermore, after she asked for help, she did not go and hide and feel sorry for herself. I feel like it would have been almost easier for her to do that. Instead, she accepted what she had done, showed no sign of being ashamed of her decision, explained to her team what had happened, and went on to support and cheer for her teammates. What a beautiful example this was for not just my children, but for the world.
Put yourself first.
Biles expressed to her teammates that she didn’t feel comfortable or safe competing after her first vault during the team competition. She realized the pressure being put on her was affecting her to the point that she was in danger of injuring herself. The decision she made was for her own well-being, and I hope she knows she does not owe anyone a medal or an explanation about her choice not to compete. While I often tell my children to be kind and think of others, this is a prime example of the importance of self-care.
It’s ok to say no. Saying no is a sign of courage. There is nothing weak about it.
This is a lesson I didn’t learn until I was an adult but it is very important. How many times did I say yes to doing things I didn’t have time to do or that were too overwhelming for me to do, only because I felt I had to be an overachiever, or had to please or impress others? More than I care to admit and, more often than not, it reduced me to tears or impacted my self-esteem negatively.
Over the years, I have learned that if it doesn’t feel right in your gut, then it’s probably not something you should be doing. By stepping down during the team competition, Biles said no to pleasing anyone but herself. She said no to the media when she realized she just couldn’t be the main team member held responsible for gold medals anymore. I don’t want my children to follow in my footsteps on this one. I want them to see what Biles did and understand that they should say no when life becomes too much in order to take care of themselves.
It doesn’t matter what other people think.
I’ve spent probably too much time on social media reading comments people have made regarding Biles and her mental health. There are supporters and there are critics. Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks, I hope Biles has avoided reading any commentary about her choice because what the general public thinks doesn’t matter. We are not the ones who would have to live with a possible career-ending injury, so why should she care what anyone thinks? My kids need to understand that when it comes to mental health, their only concern should be themselves and their own well-being.
The stigma around mental health has gone on far too long in our country. Simone Biles has put a spotlight on mental health, and it is time for us to learn, as a nation, how to value and nurture mental health.
Unfortunately, our society has a long way to go when it comes to realizing the importance of mental health. However, I have hope. This week, that hope comes from a strong young woman named Simone Biles, who will not only go down in history books as the best gymnast in the world but also as a human who stood up for her own health at the risk of judgment by the entire world.