Katherine Nye, America's new weightlifting silver medalist, has a message about living with bipolar disorder
TOKYO - Katherine Nye is an Olympic silver medalist. She can lift more than three times her body weight directly above her head. She also has bipolar II disorder and wants people to be more comfortable talking about it.
The medal was awarded on Sunday evening in a hazy auditorium of the Tokyo International Forum adorned with pulsing lights and throbbing retro party tunes befitting a non-existent crowd. Her total weight of 249 kg (549 lbs.) Between a 111 kg (245 lbs.) Snap and a 138 kg (304 lbs.) Clean & Jerk was a personal record and second only to Neisi Dajomes of Ecuador. It was the highest ranking by an American weightlifter since the 2000 Sydney Games.
The diagnosis of Bipolar II came two years ago, and now she wants to make sure that the wider discussion of mental health does not push certain disorders further into a stigmatized space.
Nye has long sought to reach the Olympics - but not originally as a weightlifter. She trained as a gymnast for over a decade before an injury forced her on hiatus and realized that her heart wasn't. And that she would never be elite in this sport.
"Oh, I was definitely not talented enough for gymnastics," Nye said with a laugh. “I think I was good at gymnastics because I was very strong. And maybe I could have gone to college with it - big maybe. But I think when it came down to it, I knew I didn't have the passion and love for it. "
United States' Katherine Elizabeth Nye celebrates after a lift as she competes in the women's 76kg weightlifting at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Sunday, August 1, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (AP photo / Luca Bruno)
So she gave up gymnastics in 2014. Two years later, she found weightlifting through Crossfit. And in September 2019, she became the youngest U.S. woman to win a world championship on her way to winning the International Weightlifting Federation Lifter of the Year 2019. Two years later, she stands with an American flag around her shoulders and talks about what her message would be to young women everywhere.
In between, a longstanding pattern of extreme hypomania followed by attacks of depression reached a breaking point. After a disappointing performance at the 2019 Junior Pan American Championships, Nye returned home and was barely able to get out of bed.
"I was literally pursuing my dreams of being an Olympic weightlifter while trying to survive," she told ESPN. “I didn't want to do anything. Things I once enjoyed weren't anymore. I loved lifting weights, but couldn't bring myself to enjoy it. "
She saw a number of psychologists and eventually, "They basically figured out that I was definitely bipolar," she said.
"It was kind of scary at first, but then I realized that a diagnosis meant I could find a way to feel better."
With the often necessary trial and error of treatment plans, Nye now has more control over her mental health than ever before. She knows how to take care of herself during high pressure events, which means she spends most of her time in Tokyo with coaches and teammates.
"I'm almost never alone," she said, "because it's just not good for me."
Over the past week she has watched Simone Biles' inability to compete safely sparked an international conversation about the mental health of athletes.
"What I love and I hope we can see more of it," she said.
But she would also like to see something else.
“I think it's great that mental health is being de-stigmatized about many common conditions like depression, anxiety, and ADHD - which is fantastic. There's nothing wrong with that, ”said Nye.
“But I also think that many other diseases that are not as common and not understood are almost stigmatized. So I hope I can show people what it means to be bipolar - or hopefully share stories from other people who have other disorders that I don't even know enough about. I think it's important to talk about them as a whole, rather than just picking which ones are okay.
It's a perspective that could be lost in the large-scale celebration of self-care. For even as “mental health” becomes a growing and calming buzzword, there are still very real and often difficult and diverse problems that plague the estimated 2.6% of the American population living with bipolar disorder.
The normalization and acceptance of mental illness is a crucial first step in lowering the treatment barrier. But we don't have to stop there. We can take the time, energy, and effort to get specific. It only helps when someone so strong talks about it.
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