Mikaela’s Meltdown Medal

Did it break your heart to watch Mikaela Shiffrin disqualify herself again on the slopes last night? That didn’t break mine. Watching her sit on the snow next to the course, in a state of pained disbelief, didn’t bring me to my own tears, either. What did break my heart was watching her disqualify her actual life. 

Despite the much greater issues facing people in China and around the world, I feel deeply for Mikaela. But for different reasons than the NBC announcers and athletes taking to Twitter last night wanted me to.

I feel for her because she wasn’t allowed to sit with her feelings without cameras documenting her every tear, as people all over the world defined her by assuming we knew what she was thinking and feeling.

Anyone who has dealt with narcissistic abuse knows what it feels like to be defined, over and over, in ways that are usually very far from the mark. People with narcissistic personality disorder think they know what you think. How you feel. Why you do the things you do. Who you are. The defining is relentless.

But even those of us without NPD tend to think we know what others think and feel sometimes. In some cases, people we’ve never actually met – like Mikaela.

I applaud Mikaela Shiffrin for planting herself there in the snow, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it made anyone else, and for not feeling the need to hide her disappointment under a fake smile. That was incredibly brave, and a gold medal in my book! 

I feel for Mikaela because of the amount of pressure placed upon her by our media. Didn’t Simone Biles teach them anything this summer?

I feel for her because she lost her dad suddenly, at a young age, and I know exactly how painful that can be. My own speculations were that this was playing a big role in her emotional avalanche last night, which she later attested to. Not being able to talk with him at her moment in need – I could have sat on that mountain for a year after my dad passed, grieving that ability for a face-to-face talk under much lesser triggers. 

I feel for her because emotional breakdowns are hard enough when you don’t have millions of eyes upon you. 

NBC clearly didn’t know what to do with her. A long side angle wasn’t enough. Quick! Someone get right in front of her and shove a camera directly in her face! No wait; that’s too awkward. Let’s go to a commercial. Crap; she’s still sitting there. What now? 

How about just stop treating her like a zoo animal for having emotions that felt bigger than she did, and focus on the athletes who are flying down the mountain? How about not dramatizing the fail for dollars, and instead showing her some human compassion?

Most of all, I feel for this young woman because she expressed that the mistakes made her question her last fifteen years. It seems inconceivable for a 26-year-old who has already won Olympic gold and an incredibly large collection of world championships. Who is filling her brain with the type of programming that would lead to such a catastrophic view? And who is supporting her through it? 

Two mistakes, which totaled only seconds of her life, do not wipe away all she’s worked for and achieved up until this moment.

Even more importantly, life can’t only be measured by external success. Mikaela’s life is not defined by her performances and if she believes it is, she is heading for an abundance of emotional wipeouts, regardless of what she does or doesn’t win in the future

This could be a defining point in her life – in such a good way – if someone helps her change the narrative.

She might learn just how amazing she is off the slopes, where it counts most.

We’re rooting for you, Mikaela Shiffrin! On and off the mountain. You should be incredibly proud of yourself for the medal you won last night that is much greater than gold – continuing to invite discussion on emotional health at the Games and beyond.

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