Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez is not just an athlete, but an advocate for mental health and an inspiration to her culture and the world. She seeks to connect with everyone she meets and to be able to be a voice for those that may not have one strong enough.
During the Common Experience Insight Series featuring Hernandez, she was able to open up about her struggles with mental health and the pressures of being a Latina on a world stage. Having the floor available to share her story was inspiring and the quotes we chose to highlight will hopefully inspire you as well.
As a mental health advocate, Hernandez was open about going to therapy and seeking the help of a psychiatrist so she can keep focused and driven. However, it’s not always easy for her to stay the “human emoji” that everyone believes her to be. She struggles with anxiety and depression, but Hernandez made it clear that having those struggles is OK and not something to be ashamed of.
One of the biggest influences on how Hernandez thinks about her mental health is the book “The Body Keeps the Score.” She stated that we as human beings seek connection and that is how we keep from being stuck in the feeling of loneliness and isolation.
As a young girl growing up in the spotlight she has found that the best way to keep herself grounded is to be able to reach out to those around her and connect on their shared struggles with mental health. She said the thing that has helped her the most is having a name for the emotions she was having but never fully understood.
“I think that having a name for what is happening when it is happening is so important,” said Hernandez. “I know what makes me nervous I know what can trigger it and I know how to deal with it.”
She has found ways to bring herself back from her triggers like snapping her fingers or stimulating her senses.
“Self-soothing is so important too because no one is going to do it the way you want to do it,” said Hernandez. “You’re the one at the end of the day who’s going to have to go in there and search the way you want to be validated and search the way that you want to care for yourself.”
Hernandez has recognized that talking about mental health is important, whether you over or under share other people are going through the same thing and maybe scared to be open about it.
Having a young role model that can be raw and real about her experiences is inspiring in so many ways, but mental health is not the only thing that Hernandez steps up and represents for. She is the first Latina in 30 years to make the Olympic gymnastics team and with that carries a lot of responsibility as well as judgments.
Along with Hernandez’s helpful advice and support regarding mental health, she also stressed the importance of representation throughout the live stream and our interview. This is especially important for the self-confidence of children of color who are disproportionally affected by bullying for their skin color.
Hernandez refers to her own experience with racism and the detrimental impact it had on her psyche: “Some of those ‘small-ish’ things said in passing to me have still stuck with me today.”
To increase confidence and decrease injustices, Hernandez encourages students who have witnessed or faced racism to take a proactive approach to its prevention.
Hernandez said, “If you see something, do something about it. Why assume someone else is going to help when you’re right there [and] fully capable? Things like systemic racism and commenting on somebody’s skin are going to stick with them so even if it’s a small thing to you, do something about it.”
Hernandez herself has created waves in terms of representation as the first Latina to be a part of the Olympic female gymnastics team in 30 years. She has since published multiple books about her journey and is in the process of writing a TV show making her a long-sought-after idol to every curly-haired girl in the States.
In terms of how American society can improve its support of colored women and men in pursuit of their goals such as the Olympics Hernandez said, “I think [in] Latino and Black communities there’s not enough funding. Especially for sports like gymnastics that are so expensive, we need to make it more accessible for everyone.”
Hernandez also believes along with funding that representation is key to uplifting minority communities. She says, “And then just more representation for all sports. They’re not on screen but we know they’re there. Everybody’s different and so the more representation we can get (especially through television) the better.”
Hernandez continues to inspire change within America with her representation of colored women and mental health initiatives while also accomplishing her own life goals including the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Not only is she living out her dreams but building pathways for others to do so as well. Hernandez demands not only of herself but of all who look up to her to continuously strive for progression and to advocate for themselves:
“Sometimes we get so comfortable with where we are now, we don’t think change is worth it, but it is. Becoming the best human you can be is worth every step you have to take. No one knows what’s gonna happen. But if you don’t try, nothing’s gonna happen.”
For full interview:
Featured Image courtesy of Laurie Hernandez and Texas State University