mental health

The “twisties”… a world class gymnast is smart enough to know when to QUIT!

Simone Biles is in the news again. This time, it’s not because she managed to pull off some incredible gymnastics feat at the Tokyo Olympics. This time, she’s in the news because she pulled off a different kind of incredible feat. She knew when to quit.

Dominique Moceanu knows Simone’s struggle.

Regular readers might have noticed that I follow women’s gymnastics. I’m not an obsessive fan, or anything. In fact, I have zero gymnastics talent myself. I could never so much as turn a cartwheel, even when I was a young girl. I just like to watch gymnastics, in part, because of the drama of the sport, and because of the insane violations of physics gymnasts are able to do. I’m impressed by the grace and athleticism of gymnasts, even if I know that there’s a dark side to the sport.

Simone Biles is known as the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). Two days ago, she proved why she’s the G.O.A.T. by bravely pulling out the team competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games. She also pulled out the the all around competition, and will not be defending the gold medal she won in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Simone introduced the world to a special condition that gymnasts get. That condition is called “the twisties”, and basically it means that while she was in mid air, Simone lost focus and the ability to control her body, putting her in great danger.

Biles’ performance at the Tokyo Games has been notably off kilter. Last week, she qualified to compete in all of the event finals, but her routines weren’t going as brilliantly as they historically have. We didn’t know it at the time, but Simone was dealing with incredible stress that was messing with her mental health. Amazingly enough, it’s a sign of her overall mental health that she decided to leave the competition. She was wise enough not to keep going, despite the extreme pressure she’s no doubt been under for years. Biles not only had the incredible pressure to perform at the Olympics, she also had some personal family drama, as just last month, her brother Tevin Biles-Thomas, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in a 2018 shooting incident. No doubt, Biles’ brother’s legal problems were an added source of stress for the world class gymnast.

I’ve been watching women’s gymnastics long enough to have seen and heard about some really horrific accidents. There’s the now deceased former Soviet gymnast, Elena Mukhina, who attempted a Thomas Salto just weeks before the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Mukhina had told her coach that she was going to break her neck trying to do the Salto. Her coach told her to get over her fear. Unfortunately, Mukhina knew her limits better than the coach did, but lacked the ability to say “no”. She attempted the Salto, under rotated, and landed on her chin. Sure enough, Mukhina’s awful prediction came to pass. She broke her neck, and spent the next 26 years a quadriplegic. In 2006, Mukhina died at age 46, due to issues related to the paralysis.

A memorial video for Elena Mukhina someone posted on YouTube.

There’s also Julissa Gomez, who was about my age. In May 1988, the fifteen year old gymnast, daughter of Mexican immigrants, had a terrible accident that left her paralyzed. She was in Tokyo, Japan, planning to compete in the World Sports Fair. Gomez was attempting to do a Yurchenko vault, but had never gotten completely comfortable with her technique. Sometimes, when she would try to do the difficult maneuver, her feet would miss the springboard. In those days, gymnasts vaulted on a horizontally placed horse, rather than the table that is used today.

Gomez was warming up on May 5th, 1988, practicing the Yurchenko for the vault finals. She ran headlong toward the vault; then, her foot slipped on the springboard, causing her to slam head first into the vault. From that instant onward, Gomez was paralyzed from the neck down. She was placed on a ventilator, which tragically became disconnected. The lack of oxygen caused severe brain damage. Gomez missed her Olympic dream, and spent the next three years languishing, until she finally died in August 1991, at age 18.

A memorial video someone made for Julissa Gomez.

It should be mentioned that at the time of her death, Julissa Gomez was coached by Al Fong, who also coached the late gymnast, Christy Henrich. Henrich, who was also about my age, died in 1994 at age 22, after she suffered a harrowing ordeal with anorexia nervosa.

You can see Christy shake her head after a disastrous tumbling pass. The commentators say she looks “tired”. It turns out she was actually starving herself.

Gomez was previously coached by Bela Karolyi, who is well known in the women’s gymnastics world for his bigger than life personality, as well as his allegedly abusive methods. It was Bela Karolyi who cheered on Kerri Strug in 1996, convincing her to vault a second time at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, even though Strug was seriously injured. Fortunately, Strug did not end up paralyzed after that historic vault, but I would not be surprised if she still has issues with that ankle.

It turned out that Kerri didn’t even have to do this… the American team had enough points to win the gold without the second vault.

If you watch Kerri do this vault, you can see that she was running on pure adrenaline as she raced toward the horse and flipped through the air, landing on one foot. It’s amazing to see. At the time, people hailed her as a heroine, and she was the talk of the Games. I will admit, this is definitely the stuff of true grit. Since Simone Biles’ decision to pull out of Olympic competition, people have been looking at Kerri Strug’s vault differently. Some have been saying that Biles doesn’t have as much “grit” as Strug did in 1996, but others have noted that Kerri should have been allowed to say “no” to that second vault. She was clearly injured, and doing a second vault with such a severe injury put her at extreme risk.

Moceanu miraculously avoids falling off the beam after missing a skill.

At the same Olympics, Dominique Moceanu clawed her way on the balance beam. She almost fell off after making an error in which she hit her head. She was extremely lucky she wasn’t seriously injured. Moceanu said no one checked her after she hit her head on the beam.

In July 1998, Sang Lan, a Chinese gymnast, came to New York City to compete at the Goodwill Games. During warm ups for the vault event final, Lan, who was known as an excellent vaulter, attempted to do a “timer”, a simple vault meant to help the gymnast familiarize herself with the equipment. She fell, landing on her head, seriously injuring her spinal cord, and she was unable to raise herself off the mat. Lan spent the next year in New York City, paralyzed from the chest down. She remains paralyzed today, at age 40. Through physical therapy, Lan eventually regained some use of her arms and hands.

Connie Chung asked Sang Lan if she knew the vault was “all wrong” when she was in the air. Lan said she knew. She must have had “the twisties”, too.

It really saddens me to read comments from people who say Simone Biles didn’t “belong” at the Olympics. What kind of bullshit is that? She is an exceptional athlete who has proven time and again that no one else can touch her. Now that she’s pulled out of the all around, it’s anybody’s guess who will take home the gold. Although even if Biles hadn’t pulled out, that would be true. I remember in 1992, watching teenaged gymnast Kim Zmeskal slip off the balance beam at the Olympics in Barcelona. At the time, Zmeskal was thought to be the favorite to win the gold. Seconds into her routine, that dream of winning gold was over for her. Her teammate, Shannon Miller, ended up in the spotlight instead.

Poor Kim. She was only 16 years old… and she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

I also remember Kristie Phillips, who at age 14, was billed as the “New Mary Lou”. By the time the 1988 Olympics rolled around, Phillips had grown taller and gained weight. She wasn’t the gymnast she had been in 1986. And she didn’t make the Olympic team. She was named “second alternate”, which meant she didn’t get to go to Seoul. The devastation of that caused Kristie Phillips to suffer terrible mental health issues, to include suicidal ideation. I was so sad for Kristie, as I had been watching her during the Olympic Trials and really rooted for her.

Kristie’s foot went out of bounds on her floor exercise, shattering her Olympic dream.
Kristie tells Oprah Winfrey how she felt after she didn’t make the Olympics.

Women’s gymnastics is a truly beautiful sport. I love watching it, but I think if I had a daughter, I would not want her to be a gymnast. Besides the incredibly difficult and dangerous skills gymnasts do, there’s also the horror of the sexually abusive former team doctor, Larry Nassar, who molested hundreds of gymnasts under the guise of giving them “medical care”. Simone Biles was one of Nassar’s victims, and I’m sure the trauma related to that contributed to the mental state she found herself in this week in Tokyo.

Because Simone knew when to quit, she won’t be facing a tragic future… or NO future at all. She can move on after gymnastics. And so what if she didn’t win gold for America? She’s already done that! We have no right to demand anything at all of her, but we especially have no right to tell her to keep going when her body and mind have told her it’s time to quit. Because when it comes down to it, after the Olympics, athletes are on their own. They have to move on beyond the glory days. Very few of them become rich and famous from their athletic pursuits, and I’ve read many sad stories of former great athletes who didn’t know what to do with themselves once the Olympic dream was over for them.

Simone Biles is only 24 years old– a baby to most adults. But consider that age 24 is very old for a gymnast. She’s been under a lot of stress for many years– physically, mentally, and emotionally. The Nassar case happened fairly recently– add in the legal battle her brother was recently fighting, the tremendous pressure to win gold for America, and the tremendous physical and mental toll gymnastics places on its participants, and you have a woman who must have been on the razor’s edge of sanity. And yet, it’s a clear sign that Simone Biles is very sane, because she knew when to QUIT! And she no doubt knows there is life beyond the Olympics.

I would love to see Simone Biles compete in the event finals next week, if that’s what she wants to do, and she is fully prepared to do it. But even if she doesn’t compete, I still think she should be commended for being wise. No medal is more important than a person’s life and health. I don’t have a concept of “the twisties” as a gymnast might. My body can’t do what their bodies do. But I do know what it feels like to be mentally unhinged, and I know how disorienting and scary that can be, even for someone who isn’t trying to defy the laws of physics. Simone Biles made the right decision and has served as an incredible role model, not just to budding gymnasts, but to anyone suffering with mental health issues. She is to be commended for taking care of herself and having the ability to say “No”.

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complaints, healthcare, mental health, transportation, travel

Mental health crises are health crises, too…

A few days ago, I read an article about a green haired woman who disrupted an American Airlines flight, trying to open the doors while the plane was en route from Texas to North Carolina. She wound up being duct taped to her seat after she attacked the flight attendants trying to calm her down. Someone uploaded a TikTok video of the woman, still bound to her seat, hands behind her back and chest and mouth taped, as people got off the plane. The woman was rocking back and forth, screaming “You! You! You!” on the July 6th trip from Dallas to Charlotte.

I don’t fault the flight attendants for restraining the woman. She was obviously putting people in danger, and something drastic needed to be done. What I do take issue with is the unkind comments people made about this woman, who is clearly having some kind of a mental health breakdown. I read so many comments from unsympathetic people assuming the woman was in control of her behavior. They were calling for her to be jailed, fined, or banned from flying for the rest of her life.

A video about this situation. Apparently, this person was on the plane when this happened.

I watched the video and it’s clear to me that that the woman on the American Airlines flight was having a mental health crisis. We don’t fault people who have seizures, heart attacks, miscarriages, or strokes while flying on airplanes. Those people tend to get compassion and support, rather than derision and cruelty. Why would a crisis involving someone’s mental health be any different? This lady is clearly not rational. She needs medical help from a licensed physician. It’s the same as anyone having a medical emergency on a plane. Her situation just involves her mind, rather than her heart, lungs, or brain.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

These freaks need to be fined, spend time in a cell, and be blacklisted from public transportation for all eternity.
They’re nut jobs without a clue or a prayer. You know they’re all Republicans, too, I should add.
(I don’t know too many Republicans with green hair, but I suppose it’s possible.)

I don’t understand why this continues to be tolerated. A minimum 20-year sentence, six figure fine and lifetime inclusion on the no fly/no bus/no train/no cruise list should put the brakes on it. (Seriously? Does this person really think the woman in that video has a clue about a threatened ban?)

Is this a problem? Would have voted to duct tape her & toss her off the airliner….mid- flight. (And that would probably result in your being sucked out along with her…)

Act like a lunatic on a plane –> join the No Fly List, permanently. (Could she help it? Can you help it when you have medical emergencies?)

Agree these people should Never be allowed to fly any airline Ever !Create a No Fly List . Simple (Is that what you would like to happen to you, should you ever have the misfortune of having a mental breakdown in public?)

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. I’m sure the entire plane was tired of her verbal vitriol. (What kind of stupid games?)

I keep thinking of that Airplane scene of the nun slapping the hysterical woman… (Ha ha, very funny, motherfucker.)

A couple of anti-mask types were on my last flight. Their anti-vax T shirts and their refusal to wear masks at the gate, as well as their arrogant, spoiling for a fight, defiant and entitled attitudes worried the rest of us. Luckily they behaved in the air, but why should anyone have to worry about this stuff? (But this lady wasn’t an “anti-mask type”. She has a mental illness and needs medical help.)

To be clear, I did not read that this woman had been belligerent, high, or drunk. I didn’t hear that she was refusing to cooperate with pandemic rules by wearing a face mask. Instead, I read that she was nervous and panicky from the beginning of the flight. She said she was claustrophobic and that, in an of itself, would indicate that she suffers from anxiety. I don’t know why she was flying, or if, for some reason, she didn’t take any meds she might have been on. The point is, she is clearly not mentally well.

Instead of realizing that she’s not well and needs medical assistance, apparently many people think she should go to jail. Some of them claim the woman “deserves” to be taped to her seat. I would submit that it was necessary to duct tape her for the safety of everyone on board. She didn’t “deserve” it, though. Saying she “deserves it” implies that she had control over herself and the situation. She obviously did not.

Over the past sixteen months of the COVID-19 nightmare, I have read a lot of lamenting from people about how “entitled”, “babyish”, “rude”, “inconsiderate”, “defiant”, and “stupid” people are for not wearing face masks or getting vaccinated. I’ve read many lectures about how wearing a mask and getting vaccinated is the “compassionate” thing to do for one’s fellow man. And yet, many of the same people who are lecturing others about being “kind” and “compassionate” by cooperatively wearing face masks and getting vaccinated are also calling for zero tolerance policies in situations like the one on the American Airlines flight. It seems to me that “zero tolerance” and “compassion and cooperation” are concepts that don’t blend well.

Instead of stopping to think about the reality of this situation and the fact that this woman was not in control of herself, some of these folks think she should just be tossed out of society. Many of them seem to think that no amount of jail time is enough. They have a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality. Or, they make these kinds of statements and then forget about what they would actually mean.

I have no doubt in my mind that if the green-haired lady gets appropriate medical care for her mental illness, she’ll be alright. I’m sure she didn’t get on that plane with a solid plan to freak out and panic. It’s true that she was biting, spitting, and being violent. Some people say that counts as being “belligerent”. But all you have to do to explain that behavior is think about what happens to animals when they are scared or in pain. Instinct takes over. Even the nicest and most loving pet dog will lash out if he or she is in severe pain or terrified. The same thing happens with human beings who are in a fight or flight mode. Adrenaline kicks in, vision tunnels, and people will kick, scratch, bite, and spit in order to escape. We’re not talking about being “rational” in that state of being. That situation defies rationality.

I wish that people– especially the ones bitching about how unkind and lacking in compassion the “rule breakers” are– would stop and consider that sometimes people who break the rules are in an emergency situation. They aren’t being “rude and inconsiderate” to you when they’re having a mental health breakdown or any other medical crisis. They need competent help, kindness, and understanding. I’m sure that most people would hope and expect for the same, should they ever need medical assistance. Respect, decency, empathy, and compassion go both ways. If you expect it from other people, you should also be willing to give it to others yourself.

I hope the woman from the flight is alright now. I also hope the flight attendants who had to deal with her are alright. I’m grateful that the flight attendants were able to subdue the woman and everyone made it to Charlotte safely. They are to be commended. This story, along with the terrible responses to it, is just one more reason why I’m going to hold off on unnecessary flights for the time being. People are awful.

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celebrities, mental health, money, psychology

Britney Spears says, “I deserve to have a life!”

This morning, 39 year old Britney Spears is all over the news. She went to court yesterday to ask a Los Angeles court judge, Brenda Penny, to end the “abusive conservatorship” her father, Jamie Spears, has had over her affairs since 2008 (a licensed professional conservator, Jodi Montgomery, took over direct oversight earlier this year). At this point, Spears’ financial affairs are jointly handled by Jamie Spears and Bessemer Trust. It’s hard to believe 13 years have passed since Britney’s very public mental health breakdown. I was never a big follower of Britney’s career, but I do remember the dramatic news stories and photos of her shaven head. I heard about her impulsive decision to marry Jason Alexander back in 2004, only to divorce him 55 hours later. Clearly, she did have mental health issues at one time. But does she still have them today?

News about Britney Spears. She doesn’t want to perform while her father is still in control. I don’t blame her.

Based on what I’ve read, which is admittedly not very much, it would seem to me that there are grounds to allow Britney Spears more control over her life. I haven’t heard of any other mental health dramas involving her in quite some time. She’s been quietly pushing to end the conservatorship for years. She was even working as an entertainer, at least until 2019. I wouldn’t have expected Spears to be working last year. Practically no one in the entertainment business was doing live shows after March 2020. But she’s clearly still successfully generating money, and people are still interested in her career.

Britney Spears dropped quite a bombshell in her testimony yesterday, claiming that she has an IUD that she would like to have removed so that she might have another child with her boyfriend, Sam Asghari. However, since she has no rights to make her own medical decisions, the IUD remains implanted against her will. She says she’s been forced to take medications she doesn’t want, such as lithium, a mood stabilizer often prescribed for treatment of bipolar disorder. Britney says the drug made her feel “drunk” and unable to carry on conversations with her family. She wants to do therapy at her home, where she might have privacy. Instead, she’s forced to go to another location, where the paparazzi “stalks” her.

Spears also claims that her management has forced her to perform against her will. She claims that she was threatened with a lawsuit if she didn’t do her shows. She says she felt like she was being “trafficked” and should be able to “say no to a dance move”. She’s claimed that she’s been forced to perform, even while sick with a high fever, and she’s been required to enter mental health treatment facilities against her will, based on exaggerated circumstances. Britney has also said that she doesn’t want to perform again, as long as her father is in charge of her affairs.

Finally, Britney Spears says that it makes no sense that she’s trusted and expected to perform at high level shows that involve millions of dollars in investments, yet can’t make the simplest decisions about personal aspects of her life. Frankly, I can see her point on this. It does seem to me like she should have had control over her affairs a long time ago, once the acute mental health crisis had ended. Or, at least she should have had some of her rights restored. At the very least, her affairs should not have been handled by a family member/authority figure like her father, but by a neutral party. But given that, as his daughter’s conservator, Jamie Spears was “earning” $16,000 a month plus $2,000 a month for office space rent, I guess I can see why he’d be reluctant to give up such a sweet gig.

What a mess! And it appears to be mostly over money, which is a real shame.

It’s concerning to read about some of the alleged personal issues Jamie Spears has had that might have made him a poor choice as a conservator in the first place. Lynne Spears’, Britney’s mom and Jamie’s second ex wife, claimed in her 2008 memoirs that her ex husband “verbally abused and abandoned her” and “exhibited erratic behavior.” In 1980, when Lynne Spears first attempted to divorce Jamie Spears, she filed a restraining order against him, worried that he would harass her, particularly if he had been drinking alcohol. Jamie Spears is evidently a notorious alcoholic. Lynne Spears has also spoken in favor of having Jamie Spears removed from his interests in Britney’s affairs.

In 1998, before Britney hit stardom, the family was struggling financially and on the verge of bankruptcy. When Jamie and Lynne Spears divorced in 2002, apparently things got better– Jamie Spears was not that involved in Britney’s life as she rocketed toward fame and fortune. It wasn’t until she had her breakdown that he was suddenly so interested in her affairs. Mr. Spears also allegedly was involved in an altercation involving one of Britney’s teenaged sons. Britney’s ex husband, Kevin Federline, got a restraining order against Jamie Spears, forbidding him to see his sons with Britney.

What especially sucks for Britney is that she is being forced to pay, not only for her own attorneys’ services, but also for the services of opposing attorneys. According to The New York Times:

As the fight drags on, the bills are piling up — and, in a quirk of the conservatorship system, Ms. Spears has to pay for lawyers on both sides, including those arguing against her wishes in court. A recent $890,000 bill from one set of Mr. Spears’s lawyers, covering about four months of work, included media strategizing for defending the conservatorship.

So… it appears to me that a whole lot of people are on Britney’s payroll, and a whole lot of people stand to lose if she regains the freedom to make her own decisions. It’s a really fucked up situation. I feel sad for her, because it looks to me like she’s being abused by someone who should always be interested in protecting her– her father. But instead, it looks like he’s profiting off of her and, perhaps, even getting a charge out of running her life. He’s allegedly referred to Britney as a “racehorse who has to be handled like one.” And at age 68, it’s not as if he’s likely to kick the bucket anytime soon.

Jamie Spears’ lawyer, Vivian Lee Thoreen assures us that Jamie has his daughter’s best interests at heart. She has stated to People magazine, quite nauseatingly, “Any time Britney wants to end her conservatorship, she can ask her lawyer to file a petition to terminate it; she has always had this right but in 13 years has never exercised it… Britney knows that her Daddy loves her, and that he will be there for her whenever and if she needs him, just as he always has been — conservatorship or not.” I don’t know about that… and while my southern mom always called her father “Daddy”, it seems especially inappropriate, disrespectful, and demeaning for a lawyer to address another adult in such a way, as if Britney Spears is just a child who needs reassurance. No 39 year old woman should be addressed like that, or spoken of or to in that way.

I truly hope that the judge in this case exercises wisdom. I don’t know all the details, of course, but from what I’ve read, it’s high time for Jamie Spears to get back in control and support of his own life. He needs to leave Britney alone. And if she really does need help managing her affairs, it should be from someone of her own choosing, who is neutral, professional, and works for her– and in her best interests. That help should not come from someone like her father, who will always have emotional ties to her, for better or worse. He’s not neutral, and from the sounds of it, he’s not particularly mentally stable himself.

No matter what, it sounds to me like Jamie’s time having any say in Britney’s life should end. I’m rooting for Britney. I hope she gets relief very soon. #Free Britney!

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athletes, celebrities, mental health, psychology, tragedies, YouTube

Partial repost: Christy Henrich and Karen Carpenter, and discovering Dr. Todd Grande…

Recently, I watched a video done about Karen Carpenter by YouTube shrink, Dr. Todd Grande. Dr. Grande does videos about mental health topics in a trademark “flat” kind of way. When I first encountered him on YouTube, I didn’t like his videos that much because his delivery was so dry. But I kept coming back, because he chose interesting topics. After awhile, I realized that I enjoy his videos and even his “flat” style… especially when he throws shade in kind of a bland way. In the video he made about Karen Carpenter, Dr. Grande remarked that in terms of her musical talent, Karen was “like a Ferrari stuck on a go cart track”. He implied that she was much more talented than her brother, Richard, is. I got a kick out of that observation.

Karen Carpenter… Dr. Grande implies that her wings were clipped by her brother… Frankly, I think her mother was more of a wing clipper.

Personally, I disagree with Dr. Grande that Karen’s talent was that much more impressive than Richard’s is. They had strengths in different areas. Richard is a fantastic pianist, and he’s a great arranger. He knew what songs went best with Karen’s vocals. Karen was a magnificent singer and drummer. Together, they worked well. Both of them worked apart with somewhat less success. I do think that Karen and Richard had a very controlling mother, and personally, I think if anyone should be blamed for what happened to Karen Carpenter, it could be her mom that deserves the most shade. Agnes Carpenter was overbearing and overreaching… and she didn’t want her children to be independent adults. Moreover, she obviously favored Richard, which probably took a toll on Karen’s self esteem. Maybe that had to do with her development of anorexia nervosa. I don’t know.

Anyway… I enjoyed watching Dr. Grande’s video about Karen Carpenter and realized he’d done a bunch of similar videos about other celebrities. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on Christy Henrich, a brilliant 80s era gymnast who famously perished from anorexia nervosa in 1994. So I left him a comment. Maybe he’ll read and heed it. I really think it would be interesting to hear Dr. Todd Grande’s deadpan views about Christy’s public struggle with anorexia. She had a tremendous work ethic, which extended to her illness. At one point, Christy’s weight fell to 47 pounds. It’s not that I admire her for being that emaciated. It’s more of a comment on her sheer will power and relentless pursuit of her goals, self-destructive as they were. I’m sure a mental health expert would have a lot to say about her.

A video a YouTuber made about Christy Henrich.

In the meantime, below is a repost of an article I wrote in February 2014 about Christy Henrich for my original blog. It was inspired because Bill and I went on a “hop” to Spain and Portugal in January of that year. On the way back to Texas, we landed in Missouri and drove through Christy’s hometown of Independence, Missouri. I thought of her as I realized how much Missouri reminds me of Virginia. As usual, the repost appears “as/is”.

Remembering Christy Henrich

Back in the late 1980s, I had a brief but intense obsession with watching gymnastics.  I would catch meets on ESPN or Home Team Sports.  In those days, ESPN only had one channel and I believe HTS is now defunct.  I remember seeing very old footage of Shannon Miller when she was just 12 years old.  I remember watching Brandy Johnson and Phoebe Mills.  I could never so much as turn a cartwheel myself, but I really enjoyed watching the tiny girls compete.  I admired them for being so tough and strong.  I was into horses myself, though.

I also remember Christy Henrich, who was less than a month younger than me.  When I first saw her, she reminded me a bit of a soccer player.  Short and muscular without an ounce of fat on her, she didn’t have the long, graceful limbs of the Russian or Romanian gymnasts.  But she was very strong and had an amazing work ethic.  Her coach, Al Fong, even called her E.T. for extra tough. Sometimes, that extra tough work ethic worked against her, as you can see in the video below.

This may have even been the first meet I ever saw Christy in… This performance was not very good. The commentators say she “looks tired” and “doesn’t look right”. They also mention that she was warming up way before everyone else was.

Not being privy to anything going on in gymnastics that wasn’t aired on TV, I didn’t know about Christy Henrich’s eventual slide into anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  Back in those days, I had a bit of an obsession about eating disorders, too.  I knew a lot about them and even flirted with them.  If I had known about Christy, I might have even admired her for her anorexia.  That’s how dumb I was at 16.

Christy Henrich at 17

I remember watching the very intense 1988 Summer Olympics gymnastics trials.  I was kind of rooting for Kristie Phillips, an adorable strawberry blonde who had seemed poised for gymnastics stardom.  A growth spurt and weight gain had sidelined her in 1987 and she was back to try to win a spot on the team.  She placed 8th and was named a second alternate.  She would not be going to Seoul unless someone got hurt.  Christy Henrich missed the team altogether by .0118 of a point.  There was no hope for her at all, unless she set her sights on 1992 in Barcelona.

About Kristie Phillips, who also suffered from an eating disorder.
Kristie Phillips was on Oprah, along with Christy’s mom and boyfriend. Here, she talks about her suicidal ideation after she missed the Olympic team.

In 1990, a judge supposedly told Christy Henrich after a meet in Budapest, Hungary that in order to be a serious contender for the Olympics, she would need to lose weight.  At 4’11” and 93 pounds, Christy didn’t have much weight to lose.  But she took the judge’s words to heart and went on a serious diet, quickly shedding five pounds.  She was praised for the weight loss at first, but then she slid headlong into a battle that would eventually cost her her life.

Christy Henrich in 1990

By January 1991, she had lost so much weight that her coach, Al Fong, kicked her out of the gym.  A week after he kicked her out, she came in to tell him she was quitting the sport.  Though she had a loving family and a boyfriend who wanted to marry her, the eating disorders had taken hold of her.  On July 26, 1994, she died of multiple organ failure.  She had just turned 22 years old and she weighed less than 60 pounds.  At one point, her weight was just 47 pounds.

A clip from a 1995 episode of Oprah in which Christy’s mother and boyfriend talk about her struggles with eating disorders.  

I remember reading Joan Ryan’s book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.  In fact, I read an excerpt of it in the Washington Post just days before I left the country for Armenia to serve in the Peace Corps.  When I got home in 1997, I bought the book and read it.  It was about female gymnasts and figure skaters.  In 2000, Ryan updated the book, including discussion about Dominique Moceanu’s desire to be emancipated from her parents because her father was spending her money. 

I don’t know what made me think of Christy today.  It’s not her birthday or the anniversary of her death, though in July of this year, she will have been dead for 20 years.  That amazes me.  It seems like yesterday, we were 22 years old.  The older you get, the faster time flies.

Last month, as Bill and I worked our way back to Texas from our trip abroad, we drove through Christy’s hometown of Independence, Missouri.  We stayed a night in Kansas City, which is where Christy died.  For some reason, I even thought about Christy’s mother as we passed through.  It was frigid during our brief time there and, looking around, it didn’t look like the kind of place that would excite me.  On the other hand, I did notice how nice and folksy everyone seemed to be.  It seems like the kind of place you could get to know your neighbors.

Christy Henrich in 1987.

I’m sure that the last twenty years have been tough for all who knew and loved Christy Henrich.  What happened to her was just gruesome.  I still like watching gymnastics today, but remember Christy’s story reminds me that the sport has a bit of a dark side.  To read more about Christy Henrich, I recommend the book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.  

An eye opening read.

Edited to add: in 2014, I still had no idea how dark gymnastics can be… that was before we knew about John Geddert and Larry Nassar.

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mental health, transportation, travel, true crime

The new harmful “delta variant” could also be an off duty Delta flight attendant…

We’ve been hearing about the dangerous “delta variant” of the coronavirus. On Friday, June 11th, 2021, another dangerous “Delta” variant emerged. In this case, it wasn’t a virus that was causing havoc. It was yet another passenger on a transcontinental Delta flight. And this particular “disruptive” passenger wasn’t just any rank and file person; it was an off duty Delta flight attendant.

A couple of days ago, I heard about the scary Delta flight that was forced to divert to Oklahoma City due to an “unruly” passenger. The flight, which had taken off from Los Angeles and was bound for Atlanta, went awry when the off duty Delta flight attendant apparently lost his shit mid flight. According to news reports, the unidentified passenger got on the intercom and told passengers to take their seats and prepare to use the oxygen masks. He reportedly attacked two flight attendants and threatened to bring down the plane. Naturally, that made people pretty tense. Next thing everyone knew, the captain made a request for “strong males” to help restrain a problem passenger.

In a widely circulated video, the aggressive passenger’s screams can be heard as several large men wearing face masks tackle him to the ground. A flight attendant asks everyone to take their seats so the man– likely now a former colleague– can be properly restrained.

Scary!

No one was injured in this incident. After the plane landed in Oklahoma City, law enforcement removed him and took him to a hospital. He was also questioned by the FBI. It’s being said that the flight attendant has “mental health issues”. Gee… you think?

This dude needs a medic!

Many people are reacting to this crisis by suggesting huge fines, lifetime bans, and jail time for passengers that freak out on planes. They reason that the reason there’s been a huge uptick in violent behavior on airplanes is because people are just “brats” who need to be punished. But I watched that video involving the guy on the Delta flight. To me, it looks like he has a mental illness. I doubt very seriously that the threat of a huge fine, imprisonment, or a ban on future flights would have prevented his outburst. Something is clearly medically wrong with him. He needs help from a competent psychiatrist, not a jail sentence or a fine.

Think about this. This guy was a flight attendant for Delta. He was probably on his way to work. Flight attendants often take “deadhead” flights to commute to their assignments if they don’t happen to live in the city where the flight originates. Maybe the guy lives in Los Angeles and had to work a flight originating in Atlanta. Or maybe he was on his way home after working.

The fact that the guy was a Delta flight attendant means he went through eight weeks of rigorous training. According to a 2018 era CNBC article, each year, over 100,000 apply to become Delta flight attendants, and less than one percent get hired. So that means he must have had something good going for him prior to that terrible flight during which he, hopefully temporarily, lost his marbles.

Double that in 2020 and 2021!

I have read that many flight attendants are on the edge of insanity right now, thanks to the huge increase of “unruly passenger incidents” over the past few months. Let’s face it. The events of the past five years have been unprecedented. I remember in 2016, I shared the above photo on social media. In 2021, I look at that photo about how “awful” 2016 was, and realize that we had no idea of what was coming. Seriously… the past five years have been an unprecedented shit show for a lot of people. Many folks who would ordinarily be perfectly calm, normal, law abiding citizens are losing their shit on a daily basis!

According to the Washington Post article I just posted:

The Federal Aviation Administration told The Washington Post this week that it has received about 2,900 reports of unruly passenger behavior since Jan. 1. Roughly 2,200 of those involved passengers who would not comply with the federal mandate to wear a face covering. The agency identified potential violations in 446 of those cases and has started enforcement action in 42.

Those numbers have grown over the past couple of weeks: When the FAA last released an update on May 24, it had gotten 2,500 reports of bad behavior with about 1,900 involving masks. The agency has not tracked the number of such reports from airlines in past years, but it said it investigated a total of 1,548 unruly passenger cases between 2010 and 2020.

Flight attendants are human too, and they are dealing with unprecedented violence and hostility from stressed out passengers. Is it any wonder that some of them are now dealing with mental health problems?

So… since January 1, 2021, there have been 2900 reports of “unruly passenger behavior”. Prior to that, from 2010-2020, there were 1,548 reports of “unruly passenger behavior”. That means that in just five months, there have been twice as many “unruly passengers” flying than in the ten years before! That is a HUGE increase.

This phenomenon can’t be happening because every single “unruly passenger” is an unlawful asshole who needs to be straightened out with fines, jail time, and a lifetime ban from flights. People are unusually stressed out and some are legitimately mentally ill. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s much more difficult for those people to access the mental healthcare they need.

Moreover, consider what a pain in the ass flying is even when times are normal. Airports are often busy, stressful places with crowds, noise, and standing in line. Now, everybody has to do that with a face mask on, and increased scrutiny and intolerance from others. I know a lot of people don’t think the masks are a big deal, but the evidence shows that not everyone feels that way. Those people, like it or not, are clearly demanding to be heard.

I have mentioned that I have no desire whatsoever to fly right now. Before the pandemic, we had to contend with high ticket prices, tight seats, inconsiderate recliners, seat kickers, bad food, delays, crowds, and uptight security agents. Now, it seems like there are a lot of people who resent the COVID-19 rules, and a lot of people who are extremely neurotic and hyper-vigilant and demanding about enforcing the rules. Some people are calling for “zero tolerance” rules, which means that every rule violator gets treated the same, regardless of why they are violating the rules. That leads to even more stress than there was before.

Could it be that the Delta flight attendant was possibly dealing with the aftereffects of his very stressful job– a job in which many of his colleagues report increased disrespect and abuse from angry and stressed out passengers? If he also has an organic psychiatric problem, especially if it was untreated, that would only add to the stress. Was he on some kind of medication that he missed? Did he have a psychotic break of some kind? Having watched the video, I can’t agree that he was just someone who was acting like an asshole. He looks like he’s seriously mentally ill. If that’s the case, he has a medical problem, and should be treated as such. We should have some compassion for him instead of insults.

After I read one too many comments about how the airlines need to make things even stricter and more unpleasant for everyone, I had to leave one of my own. I wrote that I didn’t think someone with a mental illness was going to stop and think about zero tolerance policies or onerous consequences before acting out. So those measures won’t do any good. People who are mentally healthy are likely to be cooperative anyway. People who are mentally ill might not be able to help themselves when they freak out.

We wouldn’t punish someone for having a heart attack or a seizure on an airplane, would we? So why would we take those actions when someone has a psychiatric emergency? Psychiatric problems are medical problems, too, and they can often be fixed with medication. I know this from personal experience. The Delta flight attendant who went nuts the other day may be right as rain if he gets appropriate treatment. So why would we ban him from flying for life if all he might need is medical treatment?

Now… if it turns out he was drunk or high or was just being an uncooperative jerk… or he was actually expressing premeditated intentions to hurt people by bringing weapons on the plane– okay. Those people should be punished. There are a lot of inconsiderate assholes out there who probably should be sanctioned. But in this case, I think I’d like to know more about what happened before I would call for a lifetime ban on flying, huge fines, or jail time. If this guy has a mental illness, jail will not help him or society, anyway.

Here’s something else that people may not be considering when they suggest lifetime flying bans. This guy– once a trained Delta flight attendant– must have been normal at some point. Consider that by banning him, the airlines are also going to be banning anyone close to him. I don’t know a thing about this guy’s family situation, but do you think that if Delta bans him, his significant others or children will choose to fly Delta? What about supportive friends and extended family members and their immediate families? That’s a lot of potentially missed revenue for the airlines, and if every single unruly passenger is banned from flying, it could have a serious negative effect on business.

Of course, the counter argument is that people won’t fly unless these “unruly” types don’t get banned. But think about this… how many folks who claim they’ll never fly again are actually going to follow what happens to this man, once he’s out of the news? Maybe someone like me– I like to read follow up news about certain cases. But most people are busier with their lives than I am. They’ll forget all about this once it blows over. A lifetime ban is “forever”, though, and that could have a really serious effect on this guy’s life, even after he gets well. He may not deserve a lifetime ban.

After I wrote my comment that this appears to be a mental health issue and the flight attendant probably wouldn’t have considered the consequences before he acted, the poster to whom I had responded wrote that it would be up to the courts to decide. My response was:

“Exactly. It’s not for you or me or anyone else in the comment section to decide what the appropriate action is in this case. This man needs to be evaluated by a qualified mental health provider, not judged by the masses. Jail would not help someone with a mental health problem and appropriate treatment could make all the difference. I’m sure you would want that kind of forbearance and due process for yourself and your loved ones should you have the misfortune of being affected by a mental illness.”

I honestly doubt this man– who was employed by Delta and no doubt has no doubt felt the huge strain of the past fifteen months, particularly for flight attendants– was planning to act out on this flight. He deserves some consideration for his psychiatric medical problem, if he has one. If clear evidence emerges that he deliberately misbehaved on the flight, that’s another story. Zero tolerance rules usually make zero sense, because every situation is different.

As for me… I continue to avoid flying, if I can. I don’t want to pay for this experience. I would rather wait until things are a bit more under control and “normal”. And I hope this won’t be the “new normal”. We shouldn’t expect that it will be.

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