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Simone Biles Doesn't Owe You a Damn Thing

(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Trigger warning:  This article discusses the effects of mental illness and depression and may be triggering for some.  I am writing about my own personal experiences, which even to me, are tough to discuss publicly, but I feel I must in the wake of recent events. 

Several years ago, when I was in community college, people accused me of being “unempathetic” to my fellow students.  One of our classmates, who had been consistently late with group assignments, did not show up for a presentation we were scheduled to do that day.  As a result of his failure to show up, we were marked down 10% as a group. I removed myself to the hallway to call him to say just how pissed I was that he didn’t show up. He did not answer his phone, which led me to leave among one of the worst voice messages I have ever left.

Several weeks later, after I had calmed down, I happened to have lunch with him. I came to find out that his mother had been suffering from cancer for the better part of five years and had died just a few weeks prior to our presentation. He detailed how he had worked three jobs while attending school just to pay the bills. While his mother did have medical insurance, two of her medications were not covered by the policy requiring that they pay several hundred dollars a month in order to cover the cost. To top it all off, he had suffered from depression for most of his life and he went into detail just how debilitating the disease could be.  At the time, I had no way of understanding just how bad it was.

Over the last decade, I have gotten an unfortunate look into just how horrible depression and other mental illnesses can be, leading me into some of the darkest and most desperate times of my life. I had withdrawn from everyone in my life including my wife and kids. It required that I be medicated with some of the highest dosages of medications they recommend, in order to best treat the ongoing chemical imbalance. As I spiraled, I found myself contemplating suicide, figuring that my loved ones would be better off without me as an anchor in their lives. It was a dark (in terms of feeling as well as light) night in December 2017 that I truly began to understand what my classmate had been struggling with all those years before.

I had always been the clown of the group, with virtually none of my friends knowing just how bad it was for me. On the rare occasions I made it out of the house, it was under the mask of normality, with me slapping on a brave face, figuring that if I employed a bit of “fake it until you make it,” I would be fine.  Meanwhile, inside, I was in debilitating pain. My anxiety attacks were so severe I would tiptoe the line of consciousness while trying to bring myself out of them.

Now, years later, I am off most of my medications, but I still struggle daily with my ability to function.  My sporadic nature of writing at RedState is often a result of my own struggles with mental health.

This week when it was announced that Simone Biles was backing out of the Olympics, numerous people on the right first loaded and then fired the cannons of their lack of understanding at the poor young woman, calling her a quitter and discussing how she let everyone down.

Well, I am here to say that Simone Biles doesn’t owe you, or anyone else, a damn thing.  

Even the little we know about the years-long abuse that Biles suffered at the hands of Dr. Larry Nassar, a doctor assigned to the US Gymnastic team, should alone be enough encouragement for the haters to shut their mouths. But alas, they did not.

My colleague Jeff Charles wrote more on the actual stuff said here.  I won’t dignify their comments by repeating them.

The point, again, is that Biles has privately suffered trauma which neither you nor I will ever understand, and anyone who is donning their powdered wig of judgment needs to pump the brakes for a bit of self-reflection. Empathy, which I am more recently beginning to attempt to understand, requires one’s ability to feel for someone — absent your understanding of their exact circumstances. Just this past month, the conservative (and therefore often Christian) right was piling on Sha’Cari Richardson for marijuana use, in the wake of the death of her mother. Now, they are here piling on another woman who is struggling with her own mental and emotional health. Shame on them.

One point that’s not really being discussed in the wake of Biles’ move to drop out of competition is that if she competed and failed because of her mental status, it wouldn’t just drag down Biles’s Olympic history, but that of her equally hard-working teammates. While Biles’s move to drop out certainly had its own self-serving reasons, it is also important we recognize the sacrifice Biles made to ensure that she would become less of a distraction to her teammates. The same people who squawk at Biles for dropping out couldn’t name a single teammate of hers if they tried. They focused more on kicking Biles while she was down than respecting her decision for her own mental health and that of her teammates, who have all worked just as hard to be where they are as Biles has.

Biles owes no one an apology or explanation or mea culpa. She is free to account for her own health however she feels she must, and it is simply none of our damn business. Instead of her country uniting behind her in support, applauding all she had done to help qualify the team for the place they are, we have people loudly criticizing her extremely reasonable choice because they don’t understand it.

And for that lack of understanding, they should be grateful. Considering the pain, the darkness, and the desperation one feels in those afflicted moments, I would never (nor would Biles, I would imagine) wish it upon anyone. The fact that they do not understand that pain goes to show just how lucky they are. They should be grateful for their lack of need for that treatment, and the stability they enjoy. Instead of feeling like Biles took something from our country, we should be grateful for what she gave us:  Perspective.