[content warning: sexual abuse]
An object or body falling near the Earth’s surface—any object or body—plummets toward the ground at a rate of 9.8 m/s^2, or about 32.2 feet per second squared. All things being equal, that’s the general strength of our planet’s pull to the ground.
That means if I drop my laptop: 1) I’ll be quite upset at my dorky ass if it breaks and 2) for every second of its journey to the ground, the speed of my laptop’s descent toward its demise will increase by 9.8 meters per second.
So, after one second in the air, the laptop’s speed will be about 9.8 meters per second and after two seconds, it’ll be 19.6 meters per second and after three seconds, it’ll be hurtling toward the ground at 29.4 meters per second and so on.
That’s just an object. It has no feelings or warm blood or creaky bones or dreams wrapped up in it.
In the eyes of gravity, we are no different than an object. We are simply mass, no better or worse than any other mass.
Gravity rudely fails to recognize our humanity.
I have a very slight fear of heights, but that’s nothing compared to the fear I have of my own brain. It is astonishingly deadly. For the better part of two decades, it has urged me—quietly and insistently—to kill myself.
Ever since I was 10 or 11, probably earlier, my brain has taken an inventory of things and issued a sober conclusion: the only way to get rid of your pain is to destroy me.
And what do you say to that as a kid? I’m still unpacking that time in my life. There was sexual abuse and physical abuse and poverty and a thoroughly broken home and on top of all it, feeling as though the world would bury me in the ground if they ever found out I secretly wanted to be a girl.
I don’t want to come across as a gatherer of maladies here, and I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. That’s not the point here.
My point is that there is nothing as terrifying as the feeling that your own brain is working against the simple fact of your existence.
The Yurchenko double pike is considered so perilous and challenging that no other woman has attempted it in competition, and it is unlikely that any woman in the world is even training to give it a try. To execute it, a gymnast first must launch herself into a roundoff back handspring onto the vaulting table, and then propel herself high enough to give herself time to flip twice in a pike position (body folded, legs straight) before landing on her feet.
It’s the kind of maneuver done much more easily by a platform diver who has the help of gravity and the safety of a soft landing. Biles, though, executes it by producing enough speed and strength to power herself high in the air and then flip so quickly on the way down that gravity seems to have been taken by surprise.
— Juliet Macur, The New York Times, 24 May 2021
I did something moderately scary when I was 26. I took a road trip with my then-partner to Bar Harbor, Maine. At the time, I imagined it was the kind of thing a healthy person does. I was scared because I wasn’t sure I was ready to take this kind of leap away from the earth.
I was only a few years removed from several hospitalizations for suicidal ideation. The tendencies were still there, and for that matter, they always will be.
I feel that, more often than not, the pathway to suicide or self-harm starts with a blameless and awkward misstep, something misplaced, that’s largely out of our control. And then it snowballs and gathers up speed and collides into the most precious and vulnerable parts of ourselves left unguarded.
I had done a lot of intense, ongoing therapy. I was getting right with my medication. I underwent numerous sessions of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), so many that I lost count. That’s when they knock you out, hook you up to wires, and send enough electricity into your brain to induce a seizure in an effort to alleviate severe depression.
My brain was so locked up, so stubborn, that my doctors felt a reasonable approach was electrocuting my skull.
But I got better. I starting getting more skilled at managing my mental health. I learned to ask for help, a critical lesson not taught in my childhood home.
And so, here I was on this road trip with my partner, feeling the closest I’ve ever felt to being healthy, and yet, I was I still scared.
I was a young person in the company of someone I deeply loved, on a vacation in a beautiful place, other external worries nowhere to be found, and yet, a part of me was still worried.
The ground is always safer.
Simone was driving one day near her home in Houston when she burst into tears on the phone with her mother as the pain of the abuse she suffered from Nassar came to the surface.
"I just remember breaking down and calling my mom," Biles said. "She told me to pull over. She was like, 'Can you drive?' because I was crying so hard."
"She was just hysterical," an emotional Nellie said. "She didn't say anything, she just cried, and we just cried together because I knew what it was she wanted to talk about. She didn't have to say anything."
Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in 2018 after more than 150 victims came forward to make statements about being sexually abused by him. Biles had initially refused to speak about it with anyone, even her closest family members.
— Scott Stump, TODAY.com, 7 July 2021
I can’t speak for anyone else with a mental health disability, but I’m ashamed to say that I don’t yet fully understand what’s going to provoke my brain into the kind of place where taking my own life seems sensible. Or where to those places where inches wound up being the difference between living or dying.
I could be completely “in the zone” in whatever I’m doing, and out of nowhere, an errant thought or memory crashes my consciousness and I’m back down to the dirt.
These moments are commonly known as “triggers”. They can be anything. I know the more obvious ones in my case, but there are moments that move sideways and cast a shadow over me when I least expect it.
I don’t know how to explain what happens. I can’t itemize the more surprising triggers because I don’t fully understand them myself. If I say them out loud, I feel ridiculous. I feel childish:
The lighting in this room reminds me of the trailer we lived in when I was kid, where those things happened.
The word my friend just used reminds me of my mother.
I woke up today and remembered I don’t have a childhood home to visit during the holidays.
I feel like shit. I berate myself for not getting over it. I feel irresponsible to let something so small have control over me. How can I expect anyone to respect me like a grown adult when my brain seems unwilling to do so?
I didn’t tell my partner that on the second night of our trip, I went outside in the early hours of the morning, away from our warm bed in our hotel room, away from the comfort of their skin against my mine, away from where I thought I could trust enough to be myself, out into the parking lot, away from any line of sight from our room, and heavily sobbed in the backseat of our car.
The medication hadn’t been enough. The therapy hadn’t been enough. Everything I had done up to that moment hadn’t been enough. Wherever I was trying to go with this, I clearly wasn’t there yet.
I cried for five minutes or so, dried my face, composed myself, and went back inside.
Just like I’d done a million times before and I expect I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.
While the withdrawal of the biggest star at this summer's games was a shocking development at the time, perhaps Biles' health battle shouldn't be so surprising.
Biles has ADHD, and it appears she hasn't been able to take her medication in Tokyo…
Ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, Biles filed for a "therapeutic use exemption" through the World Anti-Doping Agency, which enabled her to continue taking the drug throughout her breakout competition.
However, according to the Associated Kyoto Program — a nonprofit that facilitates travel between the US and Japan — "all medications containing stimulants are prohibited" in Japan.
"This includes Adderall, a standard medication used to treat ADHD symptoms in the US," the AKP website says. "If you bring Adderall into Japan for any reason, you risk arrest and imprisonment.”
— Meredith Cash, Insider.com, 30 July 2021
I have days when I can’t leave my apartment. I have days when I know I can’t go to a social gathering, not because I don’t want to see my friends and have a good time, but because my depression and anxiety is in such a state that I fear I’ll crumble.
No matter what I do, no matter how intentional I am in negotiating my mental health disabilities, I know there are always going to be days when I can’t escape the pull of my own brain, and it’s much easier to stay as close to the ground as possible instead of risking a fall from a great height.
I’ll never do anything half as brave as what Simone Biles did this week, and it disturbs me how this particular moment of greatness isn’t universally recognized as such.
Do these people not realize the greatness she displayed? Do they not realize how many successful people struggle mightily with mental health disabilities and still wouldn’t have dreamed of doing what she so bravely did?
I couldn’t have done what she did. The pressure would have been too much. I would have tried to “play through the pain”, that bullshit maxim said to every young athlete ever.
And yet, one of the greatest athletes of our time, already a champion many times over, with the world watching, with the expectations of our country on her shoulders, with all the trauma she’s endured lurking in the back of her mind as trauma so often does, with the harm and complexity of a discipline in which a misplaced inch can mean paralysis or death, Simone Biles did something I’m scared to do in even the most trivial of social situations:
She put her mental health first, unapologetically and without reservation.
I have seen some sad and cruel people comment on Biles, apparently under the impression that she didn’t successfully take flight this week.
There were many more of us who were watching, too, and came to a far different conclusion.
In that moment, we saw gravity spurned.
Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but if you feel so moved to support my writing, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Founding Member at $210.
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