One of the most successful and famous tennis players in the entire world, Naomi Osaka, made a surprise announcement to pull out of the French Open at the last minute because of a mental health crisis. Naomi spoke out about how being in a room full of journalists gives her anxiety. Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen discuss Naomi’s decision, how it can hopefully set a great example for the youth, and the backlash she’s received. Join in the conversation and witness how elements of racism, toxic capitalism, and debilitating work environments come into play. There are better ways to accommodate mental health and we’re on it in this episode. Don’t miss out!
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Dealing With Toxic Work Environments
Naomi Osaka: Mental Health Challenges And Racism Against Athletes
In a brief but hopefully, glorious history of this show, we have dedicated large portions of previous episodes talking about celebrities, notable public figures, and how there's been an increasing amount of people coming out in those positions talking about their mental health, depression, battles with anxiety. What we're going to talk about is something that happened where one of the most successful and famous tennis players in the entire world, Naomi Osaka, made a surprise announcement to pull out of the French Open at the last minute. Whitney and I have been paying attention to not only Naomi's announcement but the response and the backlash to her decision. It's been interesting to track this story because it's incredibly rare for an athlete of her magnitude and success to withdraw from a major tournament for mental health reasons.
Often, we see athletes pulling out of things like the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals or Wimbledon for physical injuries. The interesting thing about this and what we’re going to get into with the ramifications of this choice is this is the first time I’ve ever heard about a professional athlete withdrawing from competition for a mental injury. If it’s a physical injury, she pulled her calf muscle, tore her ACL or dislocated her shoulder, she can’t compete. The thing that makes this so interesting is the precedent that it is setting for an athlete to say, “I’m not competing because my mental health is more important than the money or the trophy.”
The responses have been fascinating. I pulled up an article from The Washington Post that talked about the response to Naomi among a larger generation of tennis stars talking about the intersection of mental health and racism. It’s interesting. Naomi Osaka is one of the most successful tennis players. After she withdrew from the competition, the French Open fined her $15,000 for pulling out of the post-match news conference. Apparently, if you participate in one of these tournaments, you are contractually required to participate in media sessions.
The first domino here was that she decided she didn’t want to participate in a post-match news conference so they fined her $15,000 and said that larger penalties would follow. In response to them fining her, she withdrew from the tournament completely. She was like, “I’m out.” In a subsequent Twitter post, she explained that she has been struggling for years with bouts of depression and that talking to a roomful of journalists about tennis was going to cause her serious anxiety. Interestingly, major sports stars like Stephen Curry who’s a point guard for the Golden State Warriors, Venus Williams and others replied in solidarity with her for speaking out for her mental health and prioritizing that over money or accolades.
In addition, there have been some other tennis superstars like Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff and Frances Tiafoe who’ve been speaking openly about racial justice and mental health. In particular, Stephens talked about her regret for deciding to quarantine for a tennis match in a tournament she was in instead of attending her grandmother’s funeral, prioritizing her career over family. There’s an Instagram series called Behind the Racquet. Coco Gauff talked about the pressures of being a teenage phenom. She talked about, “In my entire life, I was always the youngest to accomplish things and be successful, which added to the pressure and the hype that I didn’t want. As a young person, it adds even more pressure because you feel you need to do well at everything.”If an athlete doesn’t want to show up and play to protect mental health, they get railed for it. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting that these young athletes are talking about the importance of openness, personal challenges and successes. It’s setting a major precedent about players not just having conversations among themselves, but talking about it in a public forum like Twitter or the media. Serena Williams jumped in on this and talked about the risks of speaking out for black tennis players. She’s spoken about how she’s felt underappreciated, unheard and undervalued as a black woman in the tennis tournaments. This goes back to a 2018 incident that happened in the US Open where Serena Williams got into an intense argument. I remember seeing this footage of an umpire. Later on, they published cartoons of her characterizing her as the angry black woman. There were racist caricatures of her having a pacifier in her mouth as a young black woman throwing a tantrum.
Now, in reaction, people are talking about Naomi Osaka as being a diva, being petulant, not being appreciative of her status, her success and like, “How dare she withdraw from this tournament?” This article in The Washington Post is a long one. It brings up this interesting conversation as I volley the ball back to you. We're making tennis references. Why is it that we don't allow people in certain positions to do this? Naomi Osaka is a human being who had a history of struggling with depression and anxiety. Somehow, she's being vilified and the question is, why?
Is it that she’s costing her sponsor or the French Open money because they’re not going to get the viewership because she’s one of the superstars in the sport? They’re trying to be punitive and fine her because she’s going against the grain of what she ought to do. Maybe as a pro athlete, she’s supposed to suck it up and play. There have been some interesting responses to her decision. It’s troubling to me. The troubling part isn’t her colleagues coming to her support and saying, “Good for you.” That’s commendable. The troubling part is the people who stand to lose a lot of money for her withdrawing are the ones that are vilifying her for it. It goes back to this toxic aspect of entertainment and capitalism.
If an athlete doesn’t want to show up and play to protect their health, if an actor or actress doesn’t want to come on set and do the scene because they’re protecting their mental health, they get railed for it. I want to commend Naomi Osaka for doing this. How much does the winner of the French Open get? I want to see this. The Men’s and Women’s Singles champions earn approximately $1.8 million. Kudos to this young woman for saying, “I don’t give a crap about $2 million. I’m protecting my mental health.” The precedent she’s setting is incredible for so many reasons. Also, the backlash of the people standing to lose money, calling her a diva or a spoiled brat. I want to bring this up because it’s interesting to see if maybe her doing this is going to set the trend for more athletes taking a stand for not only their physical health but also their mental health. It’s a courageous and cool moment for this to be happening.
There is a lot to reflect upon here and I’ve been reading through some of the articles on this to better understand it. One thing that comes up is she is a woman of color and not just black. She’s also half Japanese. What’s interesting about that is it’s not about racism from potential white sponsors, organizers or whoever is in charge trying to tell her what to do, but she’s young and a woman. Culturally, this behavior is frowned upon. In fact, one of the articles on The Wire said that the norms in native Japanese culture frown upon speaking out, which could exacerbate anxiety and vulnerability.
For several years, she’s been explaining that speaking with the members of the media during press conferences causes her anxiety and sometimes she feels being bullied. She has alluded to being shy and feeling depressed after a match. No wonder she’s going through an enormous amount of pressure coupled with cultural and gender obligations as well. This article says that there may be an implicit expectation that women accommodate questions no matter how inappropriate the questions are or uncomfortable they may feel. While male athletes may be accommodated for remaining silent.
This is an incredibly important thing because it’s going against gender norms, cultural norms and youth. There are a lot of factors here. She’s technically Gen Z. I’ve noted through my observations of Gen Z culture that a lot of them are at this point in their own way, not exactly due to the amount of success and fame that she’s acquired. There is this trend among that generation of saying, “My mental health is so much more important than these other factors.” That’s incredible but it’s not that simple. There are a lot of factors.
With the limited amount of knowledge that I have about Naomi, I don’t know if $2 million is a big deal to her. Does she have a ton of money? For some people, that’s a small amount. Maybe she has enough and she’s like, “I don’t need extra money.” I don’t know about her financial situation. Only she could speak about what it is to say no, turn down and quit. I see this trend in which people in her generation are willing to sacrifice a lot for their mental health and that’s incredible. It’s important and a great example, hopefully.
The question becomes similar to what we’ve talked about with Bo Burnham’s Special and my continued observations because this is how TikTok works. The algorithm hones into the things you’re interested in. There are so many videos about Bo Burnham’s Special inside my TikTok feed. There’s a number of people talking about how their For You page is flooded with it. Is this just me or a lot of people are seeing this? I’m not sure, but there’s so much. Whether the algorithm is inflating my perception of how many people are talking about this, I’m not sure. From my perspective, the number of Gen Z people that are commenting on that special and how it resonates with them, which I feel the same way as him and Bo Burnham talks about it.
He’s a Millennial. It might not be fully generational but it seems like more Gen Z people or young Millennials are talking about how they can relate to what he’s talking about. Even though he’s a white male, a performer and not an athlete, he’s similar in the sense that he took a break. What’s interesting is it seemed it was okay from what I know of him. He stopped performing for five years and then he came back. Now he’s being applauded for speaking out about what he has in that Special. Is it because he’s white, a male, a little bit older and in a different career that he was “allowed to” or it was acceptable for him to take that big of a break?
Maybe there’s a difference that athletes tend to have a lot tied to their youth. I’m not sure about tennis but it seems like a lot of athletes are in their primes at certain ages. We look at a completely different sport but Tom Brady. Some people are commenting on his age all the time. It’s this huge deal that he’s still playing. There’s so much ageism and perhaps it’s from the biological side effects of that. Maybe it’s different in the sense that Naomi is young and people are afraid that she won’t be as successful if she takes a break and comes back later. It is different from Bo Burnham, who’s a white male comedian who essentially could work for the rest of his life and that would be acceptable.
I bring up his Special more from the generational perspective of how much that's resonating with people. We're at the beginning or the early stages of this big trend. We see this with people quitting jobs which are happening in mid-2021. I believe from the data that I've seen that there's a huge movement of people quitting because they know they deserve more money or they're not happy with their work conditions. That’s exciting and hopefully, that’ll be a change. On the other side of it, there’s almost this bleakness because there isn’t quite a solution yet.We need to speak out because our generations and our age groups need help. We need to set that example. Click To Tweet
People like Naomi are still being bullied, punished and experiencing a lot of this pressure to keep going even though people are screaming for help. That’s another element of her situation and also for Bo Burnham. You can watch that Special and ask yourself if either he needs help and he’s asking for it through the Netflix special or as we discussed in our episode that came out, it's a reflection of what's going on with people at that younger age range, younger Millennials and older Gen Z like their mental health is declining.
He and Naomi are both like, “This is not about us. We’re speaking out because our generations and our age groups need help. We need to set that example.” I don’t know if Naomi thought about it that way but the response is lifting the veil and that needs a lot of focus. One issue that I had when you brought up The Washington Post, I also pulled up an article but it’s a different one. I found one called How to Know When You Need a Mental Health Break and Ways To Make the Most of It. It starts off talking about Naomi as an example and gets into how to identify when you need a break and some tips. I felt like the tips weren’t helpful at all. Especially because it almost felt like they were oversimplifying it, and this is part of it too. This is a much bigger issue. Struggles with depression, anxiety, overwhelm and burnout don’t get solved that quickly.
What’s weird about this article which was written by an Asian woman, I don’t know how old she is, I would guess maybe a Millennial. She gives some tips and points out some interesting facts but the tips are to learn to differentiate between good and bad stress. Identify red flags when you’re feeling burnt out and exhausted. Normalized taking care of your mental health. That point was it’s not only about the individuals normalizing it. We need to normalize it in our entire culture and that’s part of the issue with Naomi. The whole French Open is the one that’s not normalizing it. It’s not like you can be, “I’m going to normalize mental health.” Your corporation, the business that you work for, the school that you go to and your family environment. It’s not just about you. It’s a collective normalization that has to happen.
The article says, “Give yourself permission to rest.” Naomi is trying to give herself permission to rest and she’s being vilified for it. She’s being bullied and targeted, so you can’t just give yourself permission to rest. That to me is a weird way for this article. I understand the desire but sometimes giving yourself permission to rest means you can’t work for months, maybe even years. That’s the other element of Bo Burnham. It was many years that he took off from his work and he was fortunate to be able to. He came back and the first thing he did after coming back from time off is this Special that’s alluding to the fact that he still has mental health issues.
The big problem here is you can’t just take a week, a month off, skip some performance or tournament. It’s not that simple. There’s a big oversimplification of mental health and that’s part of the problem. It’s not just taking a pill or sleeping on the weekends. It’s not just, “Quit your job and go travel the world it.” It doesn’t get fixed that easily and that’s why we all collectively need to start normalizing and prioritizing this and figure out solutions that are less surface level and a lot deeper so we can get to the core of the issue. Part of the issue here is that Naomi is black and Asian. Her cultures have gone through some horrific things that don’t get fixed overnight. They don’t even get fixed in a year.
It’s going to take us years and years of work. She can’t just take a quick break. If she does and chooses to, she could certainly get back into playing tennis. From your research, Jason, I don’t know if that’s what she seems to be wanting to do. Is she trying to quit entirely? I don’t know what exactly because I haven’t dug that far. My point being, we can’t gloss over it and be like, “Black Lives Matter. Why don’t you take a month off? Why don’t you skip this tournament?” It’s not like she just can come back after a month and everything’s going to be okay.
There are two things I want to say in response to that. One, particularly with athletes, there’s a notion that they’re like robots. You got to this level because you did this thing or this set of skills over and over until you mastered them. If you think about how we perceive athletes in our culture, especially successful ones, million-dollar athletes, ones with endorsement deals, we treat them as other than human. We don’t treat them like human beings. Think about it. We treat them like they’re automatons, robots or machines. It’s like, “So and so got injured. When is he going to come back?” They’re rushing them to come back. Why are they rushing for them to come back? Because superstar athletes sell tickets.
Another level of this is the fact that the great majority of the controlling interests in professional sports, the owners of teams, the people who own things like Formula One radically are all older, rich, white men, and all billionaires. There are some interesting articles. There is one that talks about the Billionaire’s Club that are owning professional sports. For example, in the National Basketball Association, NBA, the only majority controlling owner in the entire league who is black is Michael Jordan. He is arguably the most successful basketball player of all time. Something is broken with that system too when the majority of the controlling owners are all older white men.
It means that there's a system set in place where it's like, "We're going to pay you millions of dollars as an athlete. You should be happy with that. You've worked hard your whole life. Here's a few million dollars, tens of millions of dollars or even hundreds of millions in a contract." Some athletes are getting hundreds of millions of dollars in their contract but that's leveraged against billions of dollars in revenue from TV deals, ticket sales, merchandise, jerseys with their names on it. If you don’t play as an athlete and you’re a superstar athlete, you are costing your owners and the people in charge of these organizations a lot of money and they do not like that. Let’s be real about it. The pressure to force athletes to perform at a high level all the time and therefore to dehumanize them is real because there’s a ton of money involved.
This is about levels too because if you’re a third-stringer, you’re a person who sits on the end of the bench and not a name, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and LeBron James are names. If these people who are at the top of their game pull out, then you see the reaction we get of what Naomi chose to do. It’s also about fame and success but ultimately, it’s about money. People are pissed when successful superstar athletes like Naomi take a stand and say, “I don’t care about the money. I’m going to do what’s right for me.” “When are you going to come back?” “I don’t know.” The other side of this too that is important is I don’t think that it is appropriate or right for people who have never experienced depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, stress response or PTSD to comment or give advice to other people who are experiencing those things on what they ought to do. You should shut up.Stop giving advice to people who are struggling with mental health disorders that you know nothing about. Click To Tweet
I’m channeling Bo Burnham. Please shut up. Stop giving advice to people who are struggling with mental health disorders that you know nothing about. If you’re not a licensed professional who has seen dozens or hundreds of people or you yourself are struggling with it and know what it's like, or if you have never struggled with these things, how could you possibly understand? Anyone who's weighing in on Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, me or anyone else, with all due respect, I get unsolicited advice from people all the time. If you don't understand what it is like to go through this, please shut up.
That’s an important thing because as I was researching the response to Naomi, I found that 1 in 5 US adults experience some type of mental health condition. That’s according to the American Psychiatric Association. More than half of that population doesn’t get treatment and part of that is because people feel shame. They’re afraid of being perceived as weak. They don’t think that they’re allowed to get treatment or maybe it’s overwhelming. This is something I’ve been reflecting a lot on. Sometimes, it’s hard to take steps to get help.
Getting diagnosed can be a long journey. If you have shame or fear around that, that’s a huge obstacle. Once you overcome it, then you have to see if your insurance covers it. You have to find the right doctors, get referrals and go down this whole pipeline to get that help. You then have to decide what you’re going to do. Maybe you go on medication but medication can be expensive or maybe it’s something that you feel shame around. This is not an easy road. There’s a prevalence of mental health illness according to research that’s higher among females than males. Part of that is because of the social and economic difficulties that women face.
Naomi might be financially well off. I found that she earned more than $55 million in 2020 alone, but socially and economically, perhaps for her family, just because she makes a lot of money doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have mental health challenges. Maybe she feels guilt. Maybe her family is suffering. It’s not like making money is easy. Certainly, that gives her access to things that other people don’t have access to, but if you have mental health issues, it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making. It can be hard to get out of bed some days.
The thing that’s interwoven in this which is real is money, success, fame and influence do not preclude you from struggling with depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation. Money doesn’t cure shit. We’re talking about classism now. We talked about the racism aspect of this, which is real. Classism is also a huge part of this because if we think about not only the privatized health care system in the United States of America, combined it with the constant toxic capitalist pressure to pay your rent, mortgage, bills, take care of the kids, dogs and cats. When someone has $55 million, they’re not worried necessarily about covering the rent, mortgage and food.
When you are a person who is of lower income or middle income who is going month to month, how do you set aside time to take care of your mental health when the constant pressure is there to survive? This is a real thing that we need to talk about because if you’re a person who’s a low-income earner and you’re trying to make ends meet, it is not a luxury to take a month off or to take three months out of your life. You can’t do it. You have people to feed and things to do. I want to get real about this.
The other level of this is when you are a person who is successful and rich, it doesn’t preclude you from mental health struggles but it does give you the freedom to deal with them without having to worry about putting food on the table and making sure the roof stays over your head. The other level of challenge here is if you are a low-income person or you struggle to make ends meet, how do you carve out time to deal with your mental health when the pressure is always there to survive? Do we have programs in place in this country to assist people? We don’t. It’s like, “You’re on your own. Good luck.” It’s a broken system in the sense that we don’t have enough support for our citizens who are struggling with mental health.
Rich athletes and entertainers aside, for the average working American, we don’t have systems in place. It’s like, “Figure out how to pay for your meds and therapy. Good luck to you.” It’s no wonder there’s so much addiction, suicide and people are struggling. Naomi, while she is giving us so much to consider in how we dehumanize professional athletes and celebrities who struggle with this, we do need to be honest about when you are a rich, successful person, you do have more freedom to address these things in a way because you’re not struggling each month to survive. That’s a big difference.
It becomes a question of, “What do we do then?” Mental health and mental illness are not something that is relegated to one race, one color, one gender and one economic class. It's a crisis that leaves us with more questions and answers right now. If we acknowledge that it is a crisis, which it is, what do we do about it? I’m not throwing pharmaceuticals under the bus but telling people to go on meds and get therapy. The advice that I get from people sometimes is, “You clearly don’t understand what this is like based on the advice you’re giving me.”
It’s even scarier when you’ve tried all of the things that have been suggested to you, and you still feel this way. It’s frightening when for years, you have tried so many therapies and different solutions, and you still feel like you want to die, kill yourself and hopeless. It’s even more frightening because you don’t know what else to do. I’m speaking from my own experience when I say that. You feel even more exhausted because then it’s like, “What else do I do? If I’ve tried all of these things and nothing necessarily seems to work long term or it works and the efficacy falls off and I still feel awful again.”
To your point, Whitney, the comment you made about, “Take a month off.” It doesn’t work that way. I don’t believe that serious mental health illness is something to be cured. It’s something to be managed and understood. Have the shame and guilt removed from it so we can have an open conversation. More than anything, Naomi, Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan and other athletes in the past years speaking out about their mental health issues is critical because we’re all human beings here.
The emergence of success, fame, millions of dollars and toxic capitalism is hard. If you decide to quit your job for mental health reasons like a lot of these Gen Z-ers are doing then it's like, "I feel more space now to deal with this." The question is, "Then what?" You still have to put food on the table, you have student loans and credit card debt. For a person in the US or the world who's struggling with mental health, it's hard. This is not easy. To anyone who's reading who struggles, love to you and kudos to you for fighting the fight because it's not easy. It's especially more difficult when you're struggling to make ends meet to even deal with your own health.
Shifts do need to happen and it’s not easy. It makes me reflect more and have compassion for people that choose to end their lives because they feel so trapped. If you are struggling with your mental health, that’s hard enough. If you have to leave your job, quit your job to take care of yourself because you can’t work and you don’t have the financial support to make ends meet. That’s an incredible amount of pressure that some people cannot handle. I don’t know statistically, but I’ve heard countless stories about people choosing to end their lives because of finances because they feel so stuck.
We talked about that serious generation hustle and the illegal means that people will resort to when they feel desperate or they don’t feel they have another option. When we look at crime, it’d be interesting to see how much of it is related to mental health issues and racism. We’ve talked about this before too with gun violence. A lot of these people are mentally disturbed, desperate or angry. They don’t know what to do so they resort to horrific things that either end their lives, other people’s lives or cause others great pain. I don’t know why we’re not putting more emphasis on these issues because they’re affecting all of us and yet it’s like, “Let’s ignore it. Let’s push it away. Let’s shame people.”
That was another element that I didn’t know about what Naomi went through, and how the French Open sent out that Tweet showing a picture of other athletes. It’s like, “These people know what their assignment is.” That’s disgusting. Who approved that social media post? Who thought that it was okay to publicly shame and compare someone? That is true bullying and people booing her in the crowds. That’s intense and tough. It’s hard enough if you’re facing an internal battle but when that is exacerbated through an external response of shame and bullying at 23 years old.Speaking out about mental health issues is critical because we’re all human beings. Click To Tweet
We’ve talked about how this happens with other celebrities as well. The Meghan Markle story was brought up in a New York Times response to what Naomi is going through. They had to completely pull away from the family and go to another country. Fortunately, they had the power, fame and money to get by, although Prince Harry said they weren’t that financially off. It wasn’t super easy for them relatively but they had the support of Oprah. They’re in a different league and that in itself is a huge privilege. They had connections.
They have people to stay within a luxurious, private and secure place where they could hideaway, recover and work on other projects. I appreciate that Prince Harry created the project with Oprah, which we've also covered on this show but not everybody is going to have that opportunity. That is an issue that isn't discussed enough. It reminds me of an experience that I had when I was working at Apple. I was struggling with my mental health more than I even understood at the time. This is back in 2012. I was so anxious and exhausted because of the work hours. It was so frustrating because I was trying to communicate that to the people I worked with, mostly my managers who were the people in charge of the team that I was on at Apple. I remember feeling like they didn’t understand me.
Also, at that time, I was working on this small team within the Apple Store and I was the only woman on that team. I felt proud about it but I also got discriminated against. I'm not trying to play the victim. I'm saying that it's interesting reflecting on some of my own experiences. One time I got publicly shamed. I wore short shorts to work once. I got pulled aside and asked to go home and change. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” Nowadays, you could get by because it’s trendy but maybe at the time, it wasn’t as trendy to wear shorts at the length that I was wearing. I don’t think my ass cheeks were hanging out or anything. They were just short. I have enough discretion to have looked in the mirror and thought that that was acceptable but when I got to work, my manager was like, “You can’t wear those here.”
I had to go to my team member. I don’t think it was the manager, but I was on this separate team within the company where I was training. I was doing training talks and presentations at the Apple Store. I was like, “I can’t go home because I have to do a presentation.” They let me do it but I felt so much shame and embarrassment the entire day for wearing those shorts and it stayed with me for many years. They sent out the next day a mass email to the entire store that I worked at talking about dress code. I felt so singled out. That’s what I meant by publicly shamed. Even though they privately pulled me aside, I wondered how many people knew that they sent that email because of my shorts and it was embarrassing. They probably wouldn’t do that to a guy. I was the only girl on the team.
I don’t remember the details precisely but there was some indication that they were nervous about having me on the presentation team because I was a woman and would get emotional. I remember one day when I was emotional and crying. I couldn’t pull myself together and I had to go home early for some mental health challenges that I experienced. I felt so much shame and embarrassment. I wasn’t able to proceed through the day. I was concerned for my job that I was going to get let go or taken off that team because of my mental state. I eventually quit the job because I was experiencing panic attacks, anxiety, burnout and exhaustion. I felt so much shame for doing that. I felt like they didn’t understand. I had to find a lot of courage and bravery to speak up and let them know.
It was such a rare thing back in 2012. I didn’t have any of the tools and nobody guided me through it. Even though I was asking for help and expressing what I was going through, there wasn’t a structure in place to support me. Had there been, I probably would have continued working there longer. I didn’t want to leave, but they weren’t supporting me in a way that I was able to thrive in my job. Even though that’s on a small scale compared to something like this and even though I have white privilege, I believe that part of that was related to my age. I was years younger than now. I was the only woman there. It was like, “She’s weak,” and that comes up in some of these articles. The fear to speak out about mental health challenges because of your gender and age. You don’t want to be perceived as weak so you keep it to yourself. I did that and bottled it up. One day, I couldn’t keep it anymore and had a panic attack. That’s what led me to quit my job.
What if I had been supported differently? Maybe I wouldn’t have quit then. Maybe other people had experienced that too. That’s what I wonder as well. I don’t think anybody knew why I quit and probably was never discussed. I also wondered what was the response behind my back during that process? I was so nervous about what other people thought of me. I was so afraid to be perceived as weak for leaving for mental health reasons. I’ve carried a lot of that shame with me for many years and that’s part of this discussion too. It’s not always easy to leave. I’ve been bullied at jobs too and that sat with me ever since. These things have a longer ripple effect and that’s part of this too. The more that I examine my own challenges with anxiety, feelings of depression and shame, I have to think about all those instances, all of those trauma responses, all of those scars.
Many people are walking around either bottling it up or living with the scars and blaming themselves. This comes up in an article I saw on Forbes, which is outlining what we can learn from Naomi about advocating for our own mental health. One of the tips is to avoid self-shaming. It sounds logical and it makes sense on an intellectual level, but it’s not that easy to avoid self-shaming. That’s one of the hardest and the most natural things to do is to blame yourself and think of yourself as weak and selfish.
This Forbes article says, “When you refuse to subject yourself to unhealthy workplace demands,” that was exactly what was happening in Apple. It was a great job. Overall, I have positive things to say about my time at Apple, but they did have unhealthy workplace demands. They would not shift them for me even though I knew they could. That was part of the reason I knew I had to leave. I know they could have changed but they didn’t. They refused to. I tried asking. The response was, “This is the system. This is the way that it is.” That’s still happening to this day in many organizations. It’s the way that it is. That’s why self-shaming tends to happen because when you express your needs and someone says, “That’s the way it is,” you think there’s something wrong with you.
When the French Open says, "Everybody else on the team and all the other tennis players are participating in the way that we've asked them to. They know what their job duties are.” You’re singled out. You’re going to self-shame because you think there’s something wrong with you. You’re ostracized, targeted and bullied. This Forbes article, it’s nice that they’re outlining this but it’s not that simple to set boundaries and avoid feeling this way. One of the tips is to consider leaving the job and not everybody is going to have that luxury. When I left Apple, I went and stayed with my parents for a few months until I had my shit figured out. Not everybody has that opportunity or access. Some people do not have someplace else to go.
What it reinforces to me in your context, in Naomi’s context and all the contexts we’ve talked about is there’s this bizarre expectation when you are at work that you can’t show real human emotions. You can’t be the full version of who you are. You have to be a myopic compartmentalized slice of who you are because work needs to be done. What needs to happen? Money needs to be made, everyone. We need to push you as hard as we need to push you. Don’t you cry, kick and scream or show us your humanity because that takes away and it’s uncomfortable. In that context in the office, I remember at certain jobs where I knew that I was having an emotional episode like a mental health breakdown. I would go into the stairwell and cry, praying that people would not come and see me crying in the stairwell or going to the bathroom that “nobody uses” and putting myself in the stall, having a breakdown, crying in the stall and hoping no one comes in.
I would imagine that stuff happens a lot more than publicly spoken about. Why is that? Probably because people are being pushed way too hard in the toxic capitalist system we have, and in all of my work experience, it’s an unspoken thing. You don’t bring those things to work. You deal with those things when you get home. You need to have a breakdown, you wait until you get home. You don’t do it in the middle of the office. Why? It’s not acceptable and also there’s no invitation in work culture for people to display that part of their humanity. It’s not acceptable and it’s not invited. There’s no safe container to express those things. You go into a stairwell, a bathroom or you quit if you have the luxury to do that.
It’s a damaged and broken system that doesn’t allow people to be people. “You’re a worker, an employee, not a person. When you’re here, you play a role and deal with all your other shit at home.” That is fucked. A response might be, “We’re supposed to let people have breakdowns at work? Nothing will ever get done.” I would venture to say that if you let people have a healthier, more supported, more loving culture at work, they’d get more done because they’d have their humanity acknowledged. They’d feel safe to do their best work if you said, “I need to go and take 30 minutes.” You’re like, “What’s wrong?” There’s no shame or secretiveness around it like having an open dialogue with a boss, colleague or coworker.Avoid self-shaming. Click To Tweet
This gets to the root. Whether it’s athletics or working for a corporate giant like Apple, I find it bizarre. Think about it. You’re not allowed to act like that at work. It’s this bizarre social requirement we’ve created in the capitalist system of you’re not allowed to show that part of yourself. It’s bizarre to me, but it’s not bizarre when you think about that doesn’t help with efficiency. If you’re taking a half hour to go have a cry session with a trusted coworker or have a heart-to-heart with your boss, things aren’t getting done then. If we think about it, it is the constant pressure to produce, be efficient, make more money and succeed. That system is broken and dehumanizing. I will venture to say that it’s killing people.
There’s another article I found in The Seattle Times written by Marcus Harrison Greene who is also reflecting on his experiences with this and how he had a fear of jeopardizing his career so he didn’t tell his employer that he needed a break. He broke down in tears, relocated and was able to spend some time alone but he felt he let the community down. He is a black man that felt maybe he was letting the black community down. He got depressed, went through a lot of spirals and was even contemplating suicide.
At the end of his article, he says, “Our society is dying for the truth. Honesty is the one thing that publicly acknowledging your mental health struggles will guarantee you.” This whole thing is rough. When you look at the numbers of people that are suffering, it’s probably even more. Those are coming from polls that people are willing to fill out. He cited another study that found 62% of people dread their boss’s contempt. Should we ask for time off to recalibrate our mental health? If people can’t even ask their bosses for help, how many people are keeping it a secret from their friends and family? How many people are not even acknowledging that within themselves?
This is clearly a huge issue that millions of people are suffering through, and many of them are doing it silently. On the show, we don't always have a solution. Part of it is simply talking about it and encouraging you, the reader, to look into this further and ask yourself what do you need and what do the people around you need who might be suffering in silence around you. Are you suffering in silence? What have you gone through? How can you reflect on the trauma of all of this?
There are some incredible mental health resources at the end of the Seattle Times article. They list off a few. One that has come up a few times is Mental Health America. It’s a nonprofit. They have as many of these organizations and nonprofits that give an opportunity to donate. If you are not struggling, consider donating so you can help people who are. Do your research, make sure you’re donating to a place that you align with that feels it’s making the difference that’s important to you. To me, that feels like a step.
Speaking out about this, if you have the courage, paying attention to media like ours is another step in sharing this around. We have to continue advocating. Just like racism, it’s about raising your awareness, understanding what people are going through, what you’re going through, donating where you can. That comes up a lot when I’m studying racism. There are so many places to put your money and getting involved. If it’s not financial, maybe it’s volunteering. At the very least, checking in with your loved ones. That’s not going to solve it. I check in with Jason often when he’s struggling. I don’t believe that’s changing his state but it’s maybe at least adding a little brightness to the dark days. Removing a lot of this stigma and normalizing that at least gives us hope that more people will feel the courage and bravery to seek help.
One thing I want to say is to bring more humanity, compassion and realness to this conversation to the workplace to our social programs. I would like to advocate and find out how we can have clinically diagnosed mental health issues as part of the unemployment system and the benefits system. If a person is clinically depressed, suicidal, anxious, bipolar, etc., if it is severe enough and they cannot work. Those state programs are more supportive and more tailored to supporting those human beings. We talked about solutions. I wanted to mention a few that came to my mind. I want to personally advocate for more of those so that’s more available to people, instead of knowing that I’m at a dire place in my mental health and I cannot work right now, to make sure that we have support structures in our state and federal systems that are doing more for those people. I don’t know how this is going to happen, but having much more supportive structures in the workplace so people feel supported, feel safe, feel the ability to speak without fear of retribution or being let go.
That’s one of the things too. When I think about potentially getting an in-person gig or if I end up working in an in-person setting with a team, I’m afraid because I have been working for myself for many years. I’ve been indoors 95% of the time in many months. I’m afraid if I go to a job or a gig structure where I’m working with other people outside of my house, that if I have a manic episode, a breakdown or I need to cry, what do I do? Going to the stairwell or bathroom to cry my eyes out for twenty minutes didn’t work back then. It’s not going to work now. I want to say that this is an effort where we need to stop acting like this doesn’t exist. We need to start humanizing people, no matter their income, social status, race or gender. They’re human beings who are in pain and we need to support one another.Do your research, make sure you’re donating to a place that you align with that feels it’s making the difference that’s important to you. Click To Tweet
Somehow having a more supportive dialogue in the workplace around this and acting like we are the humans we are is a good first step. I’m a little bit terrified but maybe me being in that environment is an opportunity to walk my walk. If I’m having issues with that, that I speak openly and honestly about it, no matter the consequence. If I get let go, screw it, but it’s important that we start having these real conversations because acting like this isn’t happening is making it worse. Love to Naomi Osaka and to all the people who are reading this and struggling with mental illness, who are afraid to speak up about it for fear of retribution or being misunderstood. We have to use our voices. We have to find the courage within ourselves to speak our truth and bring this to the light because it’s been in the darkness for way too long.
That being said, we always love hearing from you, dear reader, your thoughts, feelings, musings and responses. If this episode resonated with you, if you have any thoughts or feelings you want to share with us, you can always email us. Our direct email is [email protected]. Whitney and I have something that is a little bit lighter. If this is a dense potpie of mental health examination, we have a light fluffy fondue waiting for you with our second podcast which we launched and called This Hits the Spot. It is all about featuring our joys and our happiness for the things that are touching our lives in terms of products, supplements, services, things we’re excited about on your wellness journey that is assisting us on our path. This Hits the Spot is all about sharing those resources with you. We make it fun, it’s light and there are jingles. We tend to get slap-happy as we do. When Whitney and I spend a lot of time together, there’s a lot of slap happiness. It’s only available at this point to our newsletter subscribers and our patrons from Patreon. You’ve got to be a newsletter subscriber.
Now I'm wishing that we had titled the podcast, Slap Happy. It could have been good. We wanted a name that’s similar to this podcast. It was either going to have the word “Comfort” in it or the word “This.” We went with “This.” I like This Hits the Spot but Slap Happy is pretty good.
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It’s temporary. One of the things that we’re going to do as our funds on Patreon increases, we’ll hire a designer to do a custom version of the This Hits the Spot logo. We wanted a French Bulldog involved. I couldn’t find quite the right one so I went with a pug who’s eating a doughnut. If you become a patron, you can help us decide what artwork to go with and make little adjustments to it. It’s only $2 a month minimum. If you can make that work, we would be grateful so that we can make a lot more work for you. We will link to This Hits the Spot. There’s a little landing page for it where you can choose whether to subscribe to the newsletter or go on to Patreon. Don’t forget about our YouTube channel as well. There’s a lot. We love your feedback in general. You can always comment over there. You can email us. We love it all. We appreciate you. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you soon for the next episode!
*We use affiliate links in our show notes. This means we receive a small sales commission if you purchase an item based on our recommendation.
- Behind the Racquet – Instagram
- Naomi Osaka: How Prioritising Mental Wellness Can Go Against The Rules
- How to Know When You Need a Mental Health Break and Ways To Make the Most of It
- 7 Things Naomi Osaka Taught Us About Mental Health and Career Success
- Naomi Osaka Prioritized Her Mental Health. It's Time We Followed Suit.
- Mental Health America
- [email protected]
- This Hits the Spot
- Wellevatr Patreon
- YouTube channel – This Might Get Uncomfortable
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