Persistence. Perseverance. Resilience.
Chances are high you have walked through any gym, church, school, workplace, or home and have stopped to admire one of these words in picture frames—emphasized in capital letters, a bold declaration, underneath a photo of an athlete doing something spectacular.
Soldier on. Power through. Fake it till you make it. No pain, no gain.
Sadly, we focus far too much on resiliency and not nearly enough on what it takes to become resilient—recovery.
Recently, I have read the most heinous things about American gymnast Simone Biles and her decision to not continue competing at the Olympics.
Keyboard warriors call her a “disgrace to the nation,” a “national embarrassment,” “weak,” “self-indulgent,” and I am appalled.
Frankly, the only name that comes to mind when I think of those statements about someone at the Olympics is Larry Nassar. Nassar is the highly acclaimed doctor who sexually abused over 125 gymnasts—many from childhood into their adult years. One of whom was Simone Biles!
It’s only been a year since Biles spoke publicaly about her shame, self-blame, suicidal thoughts, and depression, secondary to the trauma she had experienced at the hands of a man she admired and trusted to help her reach for the stars and the gold medals.
PTSD is called post trauma stress disorder for a reason, with the keyword being a delayed reaction to trauma. I am not a doctor and do not know what Biles’ diagnosis is but what she described as happening mid-air during her flip is a textbook classic trauma response—not feeling in control of one’s own body.
After all, the body remembers what the mind tries to compartmentalize and forget.
Dissociation, derealization, or depersonalization are amongst the top-noted symptoms associated with trauma, all while the trauma is happening and long after.
Blanking, losing a sense of time, space, control—known as the freeze response—is completely involuntary and happens instinctively. And although it may seem like a relatively harmless coping mechanism when we go blank watching Netflix, it can be incredibly harmful if it happens when making important decisions, writing an exam, driving, operating machinery, or being midflight in the air doing a twist then being able to walk off the mat, which depends on our ability to be present in order to not break our neck in the process.
The fact that Biles was able to recognize she was dissociative and able to articulate that to the world is not a shortcoming. It’s is proof that she is recovering and not having a mental breakdown.
With mental health awareness being fed to us everywhere with people sharing their struggles openly, I sometimes feel like maybe people are understanding that a psychological injury can be just as devastating and much harder to heal than a physical one—but then, I digress.
Would we ever be having this conversation if Biles had injured her ankle, broke a bone, or tore her meniscus?
What we need more than ever is Trauma-Informed Education—not just for mental health workers but for the general public, from general practitioners to homemakers. Mental health should be taught in schools, just like physical education, with compulsory subjects on emotion regulation, relationships, healthy communication skills, empathy, and how to be a decent freaking human being.
Because when you understand the pillars of Trauma-Informed Care, Simone Biles looks like a goddamn warrior.
And it’s easy.
Here are the Four R’s.
Realization of the impact of trauma on the brain and body.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a traumatic trigger.
Responding in a helpful manner with connection, care, and compassion.
Resisting re-traumatizing and not putting a person in a position where they will relive or re-experience the initial trauma repeatedly.
If social media keyboard warriors knew the four basic tenets, do you think they would pause?
Perhaps we’d realize the pressure she was under, recognize that she had symptoms long before she arrived in Tokyo, respond in a manner that bridges connection and doesn’t shuns a victim, and resists re-traumatizing her by already knowing what we know: she was at the Olympics, a place where she had trained for under the care of a man who sexually assaulted her repeatedly.
And maybe, just maybe, we would not ask why she didn’t continue, but rather, ask ourselves instead how the hell she continued for so damn long?
We don’t need metals around someone’s neck to call them a champion.
Simone Biles already is.