Simone Biles has drawn headlines by leaving the all round finals of the Olympic Games in artistic gymnastics. The reigning champion withdrew for mental health reasons. Biles states that she was under immense pressure being named the number one star, with everyone looking to her for perfect routines. The “weight of the world on her shoulders” led to Biles bailing out of her vault performance, and pulling from the competition.
Biles, who has multiple gymnastic skills named after her, was brave enough to choose her mental wellbeing over a competition, live on international TV. Her choice has brought a lot of criticism, with people calling her “selfish” and “weak”.
The same gymnast who has competed with broken toes in both feet, is now accused of weakness for needing to focus on her mental health. I honestly find her stance inspiring. Even contemplating quitting medicine strikes me with huge amounts of anxiety. Yet Biles was courageous enough to say she couldn’t do it with the world and media watching.
Mental health matters
Simone Biles has helped bring awareness of the importance of mental health. There is a stigma surrounding mental illness, with an outdated idea that being tough can fix it. If you look at the facts on mental health in Australia, you can see that it isn’t a problem that a select few face, many people will struggle with mental illness at some point in their life.
Facts on mental health in Australia:
- The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted in 2007 found that an estimated 1 in 5 (20%) Australians aged 16–85 experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months (ABS 2008)
- Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between 15 and 44 years of age
- Young Australians are more likely to take their own life than die in motor vehicle accidents
Especially with the current pandemic that has led to unemployment, lockdown, social restrictions and the inability to travel to see loved ones there is a huge strain on mental wellbeing. Mental health matters.
The fact that people are so enraged over Biles choosing her mental wellbeing over a competition really summarises the twisted priorities of some. There are people who value a gold medal and being “number one” above someone else’s health. Many were almost enraged from the idea that the USA would have one less gold medal added to their tally.
Sometimes success, or society’s idea of it, can be linked to being first, earning material wealth and sacrificing yourself. Yet, why don’t we value health above success?
In the end, what is more important – your health or a medal?
The parallels can be drawn to doctors wanting to leave medicine.
Being a doctor is considered one of the most successful jobs you can do. Revered by some, and elevated above other jobs, you can sometimes feel as if everyone is expecting something from you.
I personally believe every job is as important as the other, the world couldn’t function with only doctors. However, I know that my family and friends would be deeply disappointed if I quit my job as a doctor. I’m seen as a successful individual with my life ‘sorted’, yet I don’t feel that way most of the time.
Photo by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash
Feeling like a failure
The reason why I admire Simone Biles’ decision is because she wasn’t afraid to look like a failure or ‘drop out’.
I am still working as a doctor despite being unhappy with my job.
Lately I’ve been self reflecting and asking myself why I haven’t quit yet. After experiencing rock bottom lows the past two years I still continue in this profession.
What would it take?
A realisation came to me – I have a huge fear of failure. I’ve never really experienced failure in my life and am terrified of looking like a bit of a loser to my family. This immense fear is stronger than my desire for mental wellbeing. I’d rather face another mental breakdown than be unemployed and searching for a new career that may not succeed.
For high achievers it can be very difficult to separate your self worth from your accomplishments. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must have been for Biles to publicly make that choice. Especially after all those years of training for that one moment.
This makes me realise she is in fact one of the bravest people, to be able to strongly say she prioritises her health first and that she is worth it.
Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash
What does success mean to you?
What does success mean to you? Is it making a world impact, having a big house, stable income, close family or freedom? I think it’s inspirational to see this shift in thinking of what success really means.
I’m starting to realise that success can mean physical and mental wellbeing, and freedom of choice.
Valuing yourself for who you are instead of your achievements is an amazing thing. I still need to work on myself to believe that. Living a life as someone who always tried to make their parents proud, and who always succeeded, it can be hard to see the intrinsic value in yourself.
No matter if you’re an Olympic medallist or medical school dropout, you’re worthy of love and happiness.
This shift starts from within.
I know my journey is just beginning, but I’m thankful to have seen a public figure make a stand like this for everyone to see. If she can do it, anyone can (including myself).
Feature Photo : Laurence Griffiths/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images