I have been following the news of Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open due to her struggles with anxiety and depression. In her post about her withdrawal, she shared how the depression started when she won the US Open in 2018. I remember watching her the day after she beat Serena Williams on the Today show. The hosts Savannah and Hoda were gushing over Naomi, trying desperately to get her to match their over-the-top level of excitement and joy. Naomi was quiet, subdued, and appeared to be very overwhelmed. Savannah and Hoda commented on how shy she was, and you could see the question on Savannah and Hoda’s face—how can you not be over the moon—you just won a grand slam?!? But as I watched coffee in hand, my heart went out to Naomi, and I thought, wow, they just don’t get it. It wasn’t that simple; there were many emotions surrounding this win, the joy of winning, fear of being thrust into the spotlight, sadness of beating her idol and being booed in the process. There were a lot of complex emotions. Our culture just doesn’t have the patience for all those emotions, and frankly, neither do we as individuals.
When Naomi withdrew from the French Open there was no tantrum, no loud drama. She started by saying, I can’t participate in the press conference and was willing to pay the fine. She drew the boundary, she spoke her needs, and she practiced self-loyalty in a calm, measured, honest way. There was an outpouring of kindness and love, which made me smile. And right after it happened, I had hoped that we would start having some honest conversations about mental health. Then came the inevitable debate of she needs to suck it up and do her job; all jobs have bad parts of them, vs. we need to make some changes in the system and how the media does their job. But under all that was a more subtle message—she needs time to heal; once she takes time to heal, she will be fixed, and this won’t be a problem anymore. As if she broke an ankle, she could take a few weeks off, get some good therapy, and then re-enter the world a new person.
The I am Weak if I Own my Anxiety myth drives me crazy for 2 reasons 1. It keeps the idea alive that THOSE people have problems, and I can feel good about myself as long as I am not one of those people. 2. Anxiety/depression are things you get over. You heal from them if you are strong enough and diligent enough.
The truth is we ALL have struggles with our mental health. And we all need to prioritize our mental health—not just when it is convenient or when it is really bad but as a daily practice. And living with anxiety, even if it is High Functioning, is similar to any chronic condition, diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease. It is an ongoing part of your life—good days and bad days.
So for a few days, I railed against society, that we just don’t get it, and we have so far to go when it comes to mental health blah blah blah. And then I realized, wait a minute—I have internalized the I am Weak if I Own my Anxiety myth too—what if I started by railing against society AND continuing to unhook this myth in myself.
I am asking you to notice how the I am Weak if I Own my Anxiety myth plays out in your life. For me, I KNOW it isn’t true. I teach how it isn’t true, and yet it plays in my mind from time to time. It is baked into our society, our families our workplaces.
Mental health is something we as a culture and individuals play a lot of lip service to. Speak up, set boundaries, prioritize self-care. As if a few days of bubble baths and reading trashy novels can heal us. Living with anxiety takes way more than that.
Osaka exposed many things in her Instagram post. The predatory nature of some media outlets and the challenge of being a professional athlete. But most importantly, I feel she exposed the importance of ALWAYS prioritizing our mental health even when it is uncomfortable or unpopular. Self-loyalty means you have your own back even when no one else does, and that is freaking hard. Thank you, Osaka, for showing me the importance of self-loyalty.