Saturday, November 23, 2019

Just How Broken Are Things?

Don't ever, ever, EVER, ever, EVER, ever, eeeeevvvveeerrrr, ever, ever EVER, ever go to Let's run if you want to avoid misogyny, hate, and comments that are even worse than those found on YouTube. Good god, that place is a cesspit of toxic waste. Online misogyny has increased in general over the last few years, but on Let's Run it's extraordinarily virulent.

When I recently saw one thread on Let’s Run about Mary Cain's allegations against her former coach, I was disgusted and felt physically sick. It's clear that the majority of individuals commenting are not exactly psychologically astute, but what's most disturbing isn't just seeing a complete lack of awareness of any given subject plastered all over a particular forum. The intentionally degrading and vicious comments are what's so shocking. Despite an obvious lack of knowledge about development, health, and quite a long list of other topics, it's surprising how vocal these arrogant individuals are when it comes to pretending to know what's best for other people, especially young women.

As I expected, people coming forward suggesting the solution to avoiding any kind of body image or eating issue is simply to resist being attached to a number on the scale opened the gate for others to misinterpret the bigger picture, which is that some women can have a positive experience and stay healthy throughout a running career. And heaven knows that's a message we all need right now. However, people look at what was meant to be a few words of hope and support (I think) and twisted it to make it seem like the real message is really that those who don't rise above it all are weak, which some of us expected, but not to this extent.There has always been an incorrect idea floating around that any addiction or mental illness can be overcome by will power. I’m just surprised how many people still believe this myth.

I've been saying it for a long time now, but these are not just women's problems. As much as some will point the finger at what they consider weak females, more than one in ten men suffer from depression in the United States, and male athletes are even more prone to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. In 2014, the American College Health Association found that, in their survey of about twenty thousand student-athletes, 21 percent of males reported feeling depressed, and 31 percent of them felt anxious. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, suicide is the third most common cause of death among student-athletes.

Some of the ugliest comments I saw on the running forum suggested a young girl is a wuss for crying or struggling, you know, being human. They insist Mary should have just lost the weight her coach wanted her to, despite the fact that she was already physically breaking down. Imagine what a lack of proper nutrition does to the brain and how that affects emotions. But even if there were no link to emotions and being properly rested and fed, why would anyone call a young girl weak for reacting to a shitty situation with frustration and tears? It seems quite normal to me. How else was her teenage self supposed to act?

I'm not going to fully address the negative comments Mary's teammate may have said. If it's true, whoever said it has to live with herself and her insensitive attitude. If true, it just shows how ill-equipped people are when it comes to handling someone else's pain and suffering.

My first year in college, I had a mini meltdown before a big workout when I felt frustrated that I couldn’t keep up with my teammates in our warm-up run. Fortunately, three of them stopped and comforted me. That’s all it took. My coach talked to me when we got to the track, and the support I received allowed me to put my frustration aside and get to work. That kind of compassion and understanding doesn’t happen in a toxic environment. Instead, the one struggling is left to internalize all her bad experiences, which only makes things worse.

The bottom line is that mental illness needs to be taken more seriously. We will never fix the problems related to abusive coaches in the running community if there's a refusal to take into consideration the mental health of athletes as well, and that applies to all sports. The two issues go hand in hand.

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