Thursday, July 29, 2021

So Grateful to Simone

When my girls and I watched the Olympic Gymnastics Team Trials in St. Louis, we were worried for Simone Biles. We weren’t worried about her gymnastics skills or abilities. We weren’t ever worried that she would disappoint us. We were worried because all the focus was on her. I mean, all the focus.

I tried to be diplomatic in my Facebook post. The whole time, we were really bothered that it seemed no one else even mattered, but we didn’t want it to appear we were badmouthing Simone:

We are in St Louis at the US Olympic Gymnastics Team Trials! We're two days in, and I can't even find enough words. Obviously, Simone Biles is a star of stars, but we watched the men last night and the women tonight, and every single one of these athletes could represent the USA, and they would rock the world.

There were 15 other gymnasts competing for spots on the US Women’s Team. Every single one of them was amazing, but they were pretty much ignored … and not because Simone encouraged any of it. She never seemed to be a diva. She just seemed to want to be part of the team. She cheered for others. She was everything you would want in a great teammate … except she wasn’t allowed to be that teammate. 

Her only fault? She was the greatest of all time, and everyone wanted a piece of her. I caught this picture to show how ridiculous it was. She was quietly taking a moment to walk into the locker room area. I don’t know why she was heading there, but I think I can guess. And she couldn’t even do that privately. When this picture was taken, there was still a gymnastics trial going on behind her. Young women were still trying to make the US team. But this camera was stuck on Simone … practically in her face.

And it wasn’t just the media. Some of the “fans” in our area were disgusting in their rudeness. A woman walked her teenage-ish daughter down to the first row while Simone was competing on uneven parallel bars, so she could get a picture of her daughter watching Simone Biles. Clearly, she didn’t give a damn about Simone. She just wanted a picture of her daughter in front of the star. She also didn’t give a rip about all the people who had paid for their seats and couldn’t see Simone because she had to get a picture of her daughter. Believe me, those people were not happy either.

A woman in our row stepped on us as she went running down with her child to get a close-up of Simone. Yes, she actually stepped on us. And it was very clear the picture was for her, not her daughter.

These were not young girls who idolize Simone Biles for the amazing gymnast she is. These were adults! These were adults setting the example for their children on how to treat another human being.

In 1991, our family got to watch the World Gymnastics Championships in Indianapolis. Of course, it was amazing. Seeing the best in the world can’t be anything but amazing, and we felt so privileged just to be there. We were a gymnastics family (and I’ve always been a gymnastics geek), so we knew Kim Zmeskal was the star to watch that year. I just remember she took my breath away, and I believe she ended up winning the all-around.

Fast forward to the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Prior to the games, Kim was on the covers of major magazines. She was the odds-on favorite. Everyone expected her to win. And then the unthinkable happened. She fell off the balance beam, and she stepped out of bounds on her floor routine. Sound familiar? We felt so horrible for her … not for us, not for our country … but for her. This human being, with the weight of the world on her shoulders, had some struggles in her routines. The thing that really upset me though, was the attitude of many Americans. Another gymnastics parent said to me, “Kim Zmeskal really let us down, didn’t she?”

She let us down?? She let us down as we sat on our couches watching this athlete who had spent her whole life training for this moment?? This was almost 20 years ago, and it still upsets me. How dare this woman think this young athlete let anyone down??

And now here we are. Simone Biles is struggling because the weight of the world has been placed on her as everyone expected her to win everything. Forget the fact that she’s human. Forget the fact that her teammates love her and vowed to step up for her. Forget the fact that, heaven forbid, they won a silver medal. 

Yes, it’s fabulous to win a gold medal! We all love hearing the national anthem as the US flag rises to the top. But these athletes are people. Most of them are very young people. They are crazy good at their sports, but that doesn’t make them robots. 

I am grateful to Simone for stepping back. I am grateful to her for saying it's for her mental health. I am grateful that she will always be one of the greatest athletes of all time, and I am especially grateful that perhaps this is the wake-up call our country needs ….  so we can focus on the humans who also happen to be great athletes. 

This much I know … our country needs to do better. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Anxiety is Real

If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know sometimes I let subjects percolate for a while before I put hands to the keyboard. This one has really spent some time in the percolating department, and I wasn’t even sure if I would write it ... but here we are.

I, unfortunately, know a lot about anxiety. I have it – not every minute and not every day – but it’s a part of me, and this past year has been a challenge keeping it in check. I have had to draw on every self-care strategy I have ever learned, and I’ve managed pretty well, but still, it’s a fact of my life. 

Looking back, I realize I had encounters with it starting in the 70s when I was in college. But back then, it was diagnosed as “colon issues.” No one mentioned anxiety, and I remember once watching a show that I think was Oprah, but it may have been Phil Donahue, where everyone in the audience was an anxiety sufferer. I remember becoming tearful watching it because I could relate to almost everything anyone said. I finally realized I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t a hypochondriac. I wasn’t hopeless. Although the treatment I got wasn’t great back then, at least I knew what I had was a real thing. 

I also remember my mom calling me, and I told her I was watching this show about panic attacks and anxiety, and she said, “Oh, don’t watch that!” I can smile about it now because she came from a different era, and in her world, talking about it would make it happen so she was trying to protect me. I do remember saying to her, “Mom, I have panic attacks.” Again, that didn’t help me progress to not having them, but I was able to say the words, and that was huge.

So, life went on, and in my twenties, I began to have full-blown panic attacks – heart-pounding, sweat-pouring, hyperventilating panic attacks. If you have never had one, well, lucky for you, because they are horrible. HORRIBLE. Mine were so bad at that time, I could barely leave my house for fear of having another one. Even going to get the mail was scary, and going to the grocery store was out of the question. It sounds crazy, right? It was crazy, but it was my world.

Many of you reading this are probably in two categories. Some of you have no idea how someone could let that happen to them, but I know there are others who get it completely. You’ve been there or maybe are there now, and you know horrible all too well.

Fast forward (through postpartum depressions and other difficult times) to today. There is treatment for anxiety. Not only that, but doctors no longer say, “Just relax. You’ll be fine.” There are still some other people who say that, but I know better than to let that upset me, because they just don’t understand. 

My personal treatment was medication, therapy, and surrounding myself with supportive people. I learned many techniques, such as slow, deep breathing; going for a walk; eating right-ish; avoiding the news; and not talking to myself in a negative way (sounds funny, but one therapist told me I had to replace the tapes I was playing in my head, and that made sense to me – another post for another day). I tried to use all of these techniques, but meds for anxiety weren’t extremely helpful to me. When my doctor and therapist worked together, though, and decided I was also suffering from depression, they agreed I needed to be on anti-depressants, and finally, the serious anxiety went away.

Here are some fun facts for those of you who may not know:

  • Anxiety can be a symptom of depression.
  • Anti-depressants are not happy pills and do not make stressors go away. As a friend once said, anti-depressants help you get back up to ground level, so you have the ability to take on the tough things happening.
  • Anxiety and depression are not invented by the person suffering from them. They are, in many cases, due to a long family history, and many people have a biological predisposition to them. 

Mayo Clinic has a really good website for medical information. When I visit Dr. Google, this is usually my go-to site. I am on anti-depressants called SSRIs, which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. There is science behind the treatment. Mayo Clinic says this:

“SSRIs treat depression by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that carry signals between brain nerve cells (neurons).

SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin into neurons. This makes more serotonin available to improve transmission of messages between neurons. SSRIs are called selective because they mainly affect serotonin, not other neurotransmitters.

SSRIs may also be used to treat conditions other than depression, such as anxiety disorders.

So, it’s really pretty basic. Serotonin, or lack thereof, is a huge part of depression and anxiety, which means these conditions are often due to a chemical imbalance. That is really important to know, especially for the naysayers. 

Serotonin Matters

And here’s the thing. You can’t just get meds, although they have been a lifesaver for me. You also need to get help to see what things sent you into the spiral so you can deal with them and have a happier life. I went on meds in 1991, and they turned my life around. A doc once asked me if I wanted to try to go off of them at some point. I gave her a big “hell no,” and if asked today, I would say the same thing.

Back to the reason I decided to write this, I’m sharing this part of myself in case someone else may recognize themselves and not know where to turn, or someone knows a person suffering from this and will hopefully be a bit more compassionate. 

Now that I’ve opened the flood gates, I realize I have more to say, but this is enough for now.


If you need help and don’t know where to turn:
https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/NAMI-HelpLine/Top-HelpLine-Resources