“Only the Strong Survive” ~ Jerry Butler

Dear Simone,

So, ever since I learned to do a cartwheel in the 3rd grade I’ve always loved gymnastics. And although I felt I was destined for greatness after that accomplishment, it turned out to be the only half-way coordinated thing I was able to do after years of trying others, so I decided to let my other talents shine. I’m 54 and still deciding on what those are. 🙄

Anyhoo, I suffer from bipolar as well as an eating disorder, and wanted to tell you this: the decisions you made regarding not competing in the finals of some of the events everyone expected you to win golds in was an extremely brave thing to do. I can’t imagine how difficult this decision was to make…working your entire life for this opportunity and then having to pull out shows me what a horrible state you were in. Then to top it off, you were treated to cruel posts, tweets, editorials, etc. about how you just weren’t being a professional.

Well, I have a couple words to say to those people and I hope you won’t get offended, but fuck them. It’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and wax eloquently about how you had an obligation to perform no matter what…hmmmm…I’d like to meet these people since apparently, they’re perfect. 🙄

Look, I know you have had a tough time in your life. Between shuffling through various foster care homes before being adopted by your grandpa, being bullied in high school because you were muscular, and having a brother who went through a trial for a shooting that he was acquitted for had to have taken such a toll. But…there’s more, isn’t there?

In 2013, you were treated by a sports psychologist because of how you felt after not performing as well as you wanted too at the U.S. Classic. Already you were under pressure to be the very best at the age of 16. For piss sakes, at 16 I was trying to drive a freaking stick shift and learning to flip burgers at Hardee’s…and I thought that was overwhelming.

You’ve also talked about being diagnosed with ADHD which is a term people throw around way too much. “Hey…this kid can’t sit still…he must be ADHD.” Nnnnnoooooo. He’s a kid. Actually, ADHD is a true mental health disorder that is a lot more than being a bit hyper, and it can make life extremely difficult to navigate. Hell, if it was just not sitting still, every 1st grader in the country would have this diagnosis (and come to think of it, that’s almost the case). And as an adult? ADHD causes anxiety, emotional issues, hyper-focus, restlessness as well as many others.

Then, so sadly, you were one of the victims of Larry Nasser (former US Gymnastics doctor), the son-of-a-bitch who sexually molested more than a hundred of his patients. You stated this caused you to have suicidal thoughts and as someone who was sexually abused by a doctor as well, I can relate to this. I was the same way. And I also know that the abuse never leaves you. Instead, it lives inside you as a memory that will always have some effect on your life, relationships, etc. It doesn’t have to define you…but it does become a part of you.

Finally, if all this wasn’t enough…you were forced to train an extra year after being ready for the Olympics prior to the pandemic hitting. This understandably caused you to go into a depression and even question if you wanted to continue in your gymnastic path…the path where you were to be the GOAT! Talk about pressure!

Soooooo gee…how dare you break down and step away from competing (except for the balance beam and you should be so proud of that bronze medal 🤩) after all of this.

Honey, I don’t know why the fuck (sorry again) people would have shown concern and sympathy for you had you broken your leg…but if your mind has a breakdown, you’re vilified for it. You would think that in 2021 there would be more understanding of mental health. But, as someone who deals with mental illness everyday and teaches psychology, I can tell you there’s not. The stigma is strong and for people who have no experience with it, saying things like ‘suck it up’ or ‘you have to go on’ is easy. Rrrriiiiigggghhhhtttt. So…let’s wait until they suffer a heart attack and then say: “C’mon buddy, suck it up!” Think that would fly? Think that would be the compassionate thing to do? Of course not and right now, there might be somebody saying what a bad analogy this is. After all, heart attacks can kill. But as you and I both know, so can mental health issues and illness. So really, it’s a perfect analogy.

I think you making the decision to not compete was a strong, brave thing to do, and the one that probably saved you from injury or even worse. I’ve had a breakdown. And I know just breathing. Just getting through the day. Just talking to others can be insurmountable at times. Having to perform in front of the world who expects you to be perfect? Impossible. You did the only thing you could.

In one of your interviews, you said you realized you were more than just a gymnast…and you’re right. You are an intelligent, beautiful, kind, funny young woman who has a talent you have used to motivate and awe so many people in this world. Yet, you also have the position and celebrity of your voice being heard. So I ask you to please do this: continue to take care of yourself and tell the haters to piss off; then, continue to talk about mental health and mental illness. Help us to break the stigma that’s been in place for…well…forever. I have a really strong feeling that you’ll touch just as many lives using your voice as you do your gymnastic talents.

Blessings to you, champ…

Professor K 🥰

P.S. If you want me to teach you my cartwheel, just holler.