On Simone Biles and mental health

When commenting about Simone Biles’s decision this week, I made a mistake.

I was meaning to respond to people mocking her for giving up, so I pointed to her accomplishments. To how hard she worked. To how complicated her decision was.

In other words, I gave her permission to be mentally overwhelmed. In so doing, I communicated: Mental unwellness comes with conditions.

To the person lying in bed at 10 am because it’s just so hard to get up and go to their menial job, I said: You haven’t earned that excuse yet.

Where are your gold medals? Where are your years of commitment to a single task? Biles gets a week off, even this week of all weeks, because she has proven her worth.

That’s not how this should work.

Biles doesn’t need an excuse. “I’m just not mentally up to it” should be sufficient. When we tell the mockers, “Do you know how dangerous gymnastics can be?”, we tell the mentally overwhelmed that we’re not talking about them.

I have days, like today, where I’m mentally overwhelmed. The house is a mess. I have so much I want to talk about but everything seems to come out wrong. I feel caged by a brain that likes to torment me with shame and solitude.

I’ve never been to the Olympics. So when we make a case that Biles has earned the right to her break, we’re making the case that I don’t.

Here’s a better message about Biles: Good for her for being public about a difficult topic. Let’s open a cultural conversation about mental wellness and unwellness, and how we can better serve everyone’s needs. We shouldn’t need to prove our worth before we ask for compassion.

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