This is not what Zack Greinke experiences every day, but apparently it’s what Tom Garfinkel thinks he does.
We need to talk about people who continue to stigmatize mental illness.
I happen to have social anxiety disorder. I grew up with undiagnosed Asperger’s and was bullied horribly as a young girl, and as a result I now live with the constant fear of rejection and judgment from people. Combined with my horrible OCD, it’s awfully crippling and many social situations terrify me.
I got my Asperger’s diagnosis at age 20. There’s a lot of stigma attached to being on the autism spectrum, too, so much like my social anxiety disorder and OCD, I don’t talk about it too much in public except on the internet, where I blog about living with it.
So we need to bring up the CEO of the Padres, Tom Garfinkel, and what he said to Padres season ticket holders:
“He threw at him on purpose, OK?” Garfinkel told an estimated crowd of 40 or 50 at Petco Park on Friday, a day after the fight. “That’s what happened. They can say 3-and-2 count, 2-1 game, no one does that. Zack Greinke is a different kind of guy. Anyone seen ‘Rain Man’? He’s a very smart guy.”
Rain Man, as most people know, is a film about an autistic savant. Now, most people on the autism spectrum, myself included, don’t have savant skills, but the movie also opened a large number of people’s eyes to autism in general. I’m mind-boggled over this reference, though, because Zack Greinke is most definitely not on the autism spectrum. He has social anxiety disorder.
As someone who has both, I know the difference – social anxiety is defined by severe anxiety in social situations, often brought on by bad experiences in one’s youth, like my bullying. Autism is a difference in one’s brain that makes social interaction difficult. They often go together because, as in my case, children on the autism spectrum are bullied for being different and therefore develop social anxiety, which continues to plague them as adults. I for one am particularly nervous around men my age, as it was boys, not fellow girls, who made fun of me. It prevents me from testing the dating waters because I’m so afraid of negative judgment and more mental and emotional harm.
Here’s the problem with what Tom Garfinkel said: although he didn’t directly refer to Greinke as ‘Rain Man,’ he revealed an extremely poor understanding of mental health issues and autism, one that’s unfortunately quite pervasive in the public’s minds, as well. Garfinkel implied with his comment that autism and social anxiety are the same thing – which they are most definitely not – and reminded me that we still have a long way to go in this society before we overcome the stigma on mental illness in this country.
A year ago today, my colleague Stacey Gotsulias published this article on mental illness in baseball. It’s an absolute must-read. Mental health is not something we should be stigmatizing – it’s something we should be accepting and understanding more. It’s the 21st century. We don’t just take people with mental health problems and throw them into asylums anymore. We need to be learning about them and accepting them and understanding that like chronic physical injuries, mental health issues don’t leave and have to be regulated throughout one’s life.
It’s time to stop stigmatizing mental health in sports. In fact, it’s long past time to stop stigmatizing mental health everywhere. We fear what we do not understand. If people come to a better understanding of mental health issues, then society will be able to accept people – including myself and my colleague Stacey – with them. Don’t judge us automatically. Don’t assume that we need to be institutionalized. Just listen and try to understand and don’t ever, ever treat people with mental illnesses negatively.
Because you know something? They aren’t. Mental health issues are like every other chronic illness out there – something to live with that need understanding and acceptance.
Enough is enough.