Aly Raisman is a champion in every sense of the word. Since bringing home the gold medal as captain of the U.S. National Gymnastics team at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, Raisman has lent her voice to causes in and out of the world of gymnastics. You may know her from her impactful testimony at the sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty to 10 counts of sexual assault, after being accused of sexual assault by over 130 women. Now, Raisman has directed her energy to support the alleged victims of Dr. George Tyndall, a former University of Southern California gynecologist who has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women. (Dr. Tyndall was fired by USC in 2017; he denies the claims of sexual misconduct, according to CNN.) And even though she tells Bustle that advocacy can be draining, Raisman works hard to take care of herself in order to do it.
“I prioritize self-care more than I ever did,” Raisman tells Bustle. “I wish I could have prioritized it more when I was training. Everything I did when I was training was for gymnastics, even when I was outside of the gym, was with the purpose of having a good training session. Now, when I’m doing events, even though I’m not training, I still think about taking care of myself as if I were. It's a lot more draining than people imagine.”
Raisman says she’s still working on finding a balance between being supportive, especially for people who share their stories of abuse or trauma with her, and managing her own mental health. “Even though they don't know me, people feel comfortable sharing their stories with me,” a responsibility she says she doesn’t take lightly. Still, she says, “I don't think you ever get used to hearing so many people share their stories with you, because it's just devastating.”
She says that even if she hears triggering details at speaking engagements or other public events, she’ll do her best to cope in the moment. “If I ever really get triggered by something … I usually will call my therapist. If they're not available, I’ll call my mom. I wish there was a magic tool or exercise for when you get triggered by something. Unfortunately, what works for me might not work for other people.”
Another major practice Raisman uses to check in with her mental health day to day is by keeping a gratitude journal. “I'll write something that makes me feel grateful or hopeful, and it really allows me to take a moment for myself. I really don't find it cheesy at all. Everyone's different, but it really allows me to appreciate the little things in life, which oftentimes can be even more meaningful than the really big things."
It’s finding these small moments that Raisman says is particularly grounding. Her partnership with Life Is Good (based in Boston, Raisman’s home city) also focuses on seeking out optimism as much as you can with their #SomethingGood campaign. Every time #SomethingGood is shared on social media, $1 will be donated to the Life Is Good Kids Foundation, which supports healthcare professionals helping kids overcome trauma associated with violence, poverty, and sickness.
“Life is Good is so much more than a clothing brand,” Raisman says. “They really go above and beyond to support people and help people be the best versions of themselves.” One of her other gratitude practices comes directly from Life Is Good president Lisa Tanzer, who Raisman says helped her totally shift how she thinks about everyday tasks. “Instead of saying, ‘I have to go to the grocery store’ or ‘I have to go to school’, she says ‘I get to go to the grocery store’, or ‘I get to go to school’. I'll never forget [that] because people can relate to that.”
Small shifts like these aren’t a complete fix to dealing with the ups and downs of mental health, but they can help foster a positive outlook, which is instrumental towards making mental health feel more manageable. Gratitude and optimism are powerful tools, and Raisman shows us that they really can work when you use them.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.