Written by Ramsey Khasho, PsyD
As the 32nd Summer Olympics came to a close, the TV aired hours of footage from the previous two weeks in Tokyo. The highlight reel featured medal-winning moments in every sport from badminton, beach volleyball and BMX freestyle to swimming, skateboarding and surfing. But it was something else that held my attention, something that has been in short supply over the past 18 months—publicly displayed, unmasked emotion. Wonder, gratitude, passion, determination, belief, bonafide hope.
Under any circumstances, these accomplishments would have been inspiring. But the effect of watching lifelong dreams realized against all odds was visceral. As the Delta variant spreads across the world, it’s hard to believe that the games were held at all. For the first time ever, there were no live spectators at most events—no family, friends or fans cheering in the stands. Some athletes, instead of vying for a gold, spent their games in isolation after testing positive for COVID. This after enduring an extra year of training (and waiting and worrying they’ll peak at the wrong time or that one more year of aging will affect their performance), after last year’s games were called off for only the fourth time in Olympic history.
All the athletes faced immense pressure. The high standards that they set for themselves were compounded by expectations of teammates, coaches and home countries. The lack of loved ones there for emotional support, the world watching.
COVID test, temperature check, mask, repeat.
It all came to a head, at least publicly, when Simone Biles withdrew from the all-around gymnastics competition, citing her mental health. “We’re not just entertainment,” she said. “We’re humans.”
And that, whether they made it onto the podium or had their Olympic dreams dashed, was what this was all about. Human connection. A coalescence of joy and defeat apropos for a time defined by dialectics.
We’ve tried so hard to put the pandemic and all that has happened over the past year-and-a-half behind us. We are grateful for how far we’ve come. But how do we stay optimistic when it feels like we’re moving in the wrong direction? The confidence that infused our veins earlier this summer has morphed into uncertainty and fear once again. We are exhausted from putting on a brave face and marching forward. Polarization over vaccines and mask mandates are reminiscent of tense pre-election days, unearthing finger-pointing feelings of divide and contempt. Our hearts, heavy. The weight of the world.
But the “D” in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) reminds us that multiple opposing perspectives can be true at the same time. Perhaps the time has come in our pandemic journeys to channel the against-all-odds determination of those Olympians. Despite countless obstacles threatening to upend their quests for glory, those athletes never gave up hope. And when the pain became too much, they showed us that it’s OK to ask for help. In the chaos that is our world right now, that might be the most gold-medal winning message of all.
Coping skills, like any Olympic sport, require hard work, practice and patience. As we look ahead to the coming year, filled with more questions than answers, let us embrace the dialectic of acceptance and change. Dig deep, trust your resilience, have grace with yourself and others, honor your limits and surround yourself with people who encourage you and fuel your strength. Above all, don’t ever hesitate to call for reinforcement. Mental health is health, and CHC is here for you always.
Ramsey Khasho, PsyD
Chief Clinical Officer
Special Note: At CHC, we are just like you. We feel, we worry and we care about our kids, just like you. We understand, we care and we are right alongside you. Just as we believe in the promise and potential of every child, we believe in the capacity and the innate strength of every parent.
With nearly 70 years of experience helping local kids, teens, young adults and families navigate some of life’s most difficult challenges, CHC stands ready to lead the emotional recovery ahead, with courage, connection and compassion. We are open and available for therapeutic services via telehealth. If you have concerns, just call: our expert clinical team is standing by to help you with the same level of care that you know and trust. We’re in this together.