As someone who has struggled with mental illness for quite a while and hit a low
point a little while ago, I am torn on this Simone Biles thing. Admittedly, I don’t know as much as some other people but the stuff below is based on the information I have heard.
On one hand, if we want to normalize mental health issues, we need to treat them similar to physical health issues. Nobody would expect her to compete if she had a broken arm. As much progress as we have made on mental health, it still seems taboo to talk about it in terms of performance – especially athletes. But it also seems like a catch-22. If you talk to much about it, people won’t be open about their struggles. Take Tanner Mangum for example. Everyone was very proud of him for talking about his mental health and rightfully so. But, anytime someone mentioned his struggles on the field could be related to his mental health issues, they were shouted down about why people didn’t want to talk about mental health.
When I have been at my lowest struggling, sometimes being on a strict routine has helped me be at least functional. Maybe, Biles not having her family with her messed around with her routine. Maybe not having a regular crowd there messed with her routine. Maybe when she went back to the locker room, she actually called her family. I assume as an athlete of that caliber, she has struggled before. But she had a plan in place to help her get back on track. Maybe that wasn’t available to her given all the weirdness of the past year and a half.
On the other hand, I don’t respond well to coddling. That just isn’t who I am. I am way more inclined to improve my performance and overcome my challenges by dealing with someone like David Goggins than I am by dealing with my mom giving me encouragement to do my best. I am older and my coaches yelled and cussed at us a lot. Nobody I know was given a pass because of anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc. I don’t even give myself a pass most of the time. There are times when I have to bully myself into doing things that need to be done and one of the ways I do it is calling myself the same names I heard coaches call kids when I was growing up. It works for me, but I know it isn’t the way for everyone.
When I have coached my son’s teams, I can only think of a handful of kids that would respond better to that than they would being softer and just encouraging them. So, in some ways it is a generational thing as well. There is a downside to that though. There are a bunch of parents who let (or even forced) their kids to quit playing football because it was too hard to run in the summer and all the other physical things that come with it. I am not sure letting kids quit because it is “too hard” is truly helping out the kids either. I have always admired the kids that were out of shape and not very good, but kept coming back every year.
I am not sure what the answer is. Obviously, it isn’t a one size fits all. I probably don’t even make any sense to anyone, but I have been thinking about it and comparing it to my own situation. One thing I believe my mental health issues have helped me with is to be more empathetic. Before, I would have thought the way I deal with it myself was the right way to deal with it instead of just the right way for me to deal with it.
The only thing I am really happy about is I deal with my stuff mostly in private and behind closed doors instead of in front of hundreds of millions of people.