This week Simone Biles showed great courage. She also showed us that many Americans like to be mean when someone shows a moment of personal weakness. Here are some comments from couches across America over her withdrawal from the Olympic women’s gymnastics team and all-around competitions:
“Maybe Simone Biles can do Nicorette ads as The Queen of Quitting?”
“Biles took one look at the Russian team and fell into a swoon…should have quit after Rio.”
And then this: “Sorry, Simone Biles, the Olympics isn’t about you, it’s about winning for America.”
The above comments come from The Washington Post and a headline from The Federalist. Social media posts are far, far nastier. (Also the Russian media was revolting.) Our digital world has made this type of mean-kid behavior more and more acceptable, even if our families raised us with basic manners. But even without the sewer of the Twitter-verse to remind us how lame we are, it is hard for many of us to admit anything but invincibility. I know a lot about that.
I have had Mèniére’s disease since I was 26. It’s disorder of the inner ear, or vestibular system—essentially it makes you dizzy and deaf. It’s thought to be autoimmune, but there a couple theories out there that it could be a virus. It’s related to migraines. No one does much to find a cure since it doesn’t kill you and no attractive celebrities have it. I had to leave the military when my symptoms became too severe, and I have a 60% disability rating as a result. I am reliant on hearing aids. Sometimes I fall down for no reason. I get severe vertigo. There are days I am unable to drive.
My point in all this is I have a chronic condition that gets in the way of my life and my work. It robbed me of a military career. I hate that. I try to pretend it doesn’t exist. I throw myself into work and professional pursuits. But it’s always here. And there’s always something wrong since I am functionally deaf. And there will always be arbitrary judgment for how I manage this condition with my life and work, sometimes just from me but also from business partners and even medical providers.
There is even judgment over whether I am disabled since I look normal and wear makeup and stuff. I am pretty passionate about advocating for disabled people and have worked with two large agencies that provide employment opportunities for disabled people for the last 15 years. My business is a certified service disabled veteran-owned small business because, well, me. I can tell that some business colleagues think I’m pulling one over, gaming the system, because I don’t have a leg brace or some external physical sign of disability. I was at a board meeting for one of the agencies I support once when the discussion came up over new members and someone suggested bringing someone from the disabled community for the “first time.” I reminded the person I was there and was told “you don’t count.” Basically, I can’t even be disabled right.
So if a disabled business owner and part-time pundit in the East Mountains feels anxious and gets imposter syndrome just getting through a regular work week, imagine what it took to go in to the Olympics as the favorite and stand aside for your own mental health. Biles lost two of the goals she has been working for full-time for the last five years, and also a lot of money. Team USA’s Suni Lee is going to be getting more endorsement offers with Thursday’s all-around gold medal win, which might not have been possible if Biles were competing at peak performance.
(Have you noticed VISA isn’t running as many of the ads featuring Biles flipping through the line to pick up her takeout sandwich? I have. Biles is losing income, and she knows it.)
For fun, I just looked up the most-prescribed medications in the United States. The first 13 are ones needed to keep us alive or out of pain. Then, Zoloft, used to treat depression, panic attacks, anxiety and PTSD. I imagine there are little brown bottles of Zoloft in the Olympic Village, among others. There are therapists with the medical professionals supporting the athletes and this is a good thing.
It’s a cruel world and in many ways getting crueler. Don’t wait for permission or relief to magically appear. Unless you are independently wealthy and have no family or friends whatsoever, someone depends on you for something, be it a work product, a job, a home, or a relationship. Please take care of yourself and listen before something breaks.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.