This story begins in August, 2011. Natty Guy and I went to Key Largo, Florida with a couple of friends to take our scuba open-water certification. Our friends’ two adult children were also getting certified and, as they had rented a large house on the island, told the kids they could invite some others along.
Five of our friends’ daughter’s newly-graduated-from-college friends ended up joining us. For Natty Guy and I, hanging around with this crew was a novel and enlightening experience. Not having kids of our own, it was fun to recall what we were like at that age. The similarities (i.e., cheap PBR was the poolside drink of choice and the random flirtations/hooks-ups among the group seemed to switch almost hourly). The differences. Kids today are so polished, so experienced. This group included several world-travelers, rock climbers, long distance competitive bikers, accomplished artists, etc. We had a great week hanging out with them by the pool, snorkeling with them at Pennekamp State Park, sharing meals and hearing about their lives.
One of the girls stood out in particular – Brittany Belland. Her fantastic, wide smile and mischievous personality never failed to put her center stage in the group. A few weeks after this trip she fearlessly relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film. There was little doubt in any of our minds that she was something special and that one day we would be telling people our “we knew her when“….stories as she strolled a red carpet picking up a Golden Globe or other such award.
Brittany kept busy in LA. She worked in the industry quite a bit and paid bills via a few side hustles. Eventually we started seeing her in more national ads, like the ones for Progressive Insurance and O’Keefe’s lip balm (shown below). She was also getting quite a few indie film roles and TV spots, dabbling in directing, taking classes at the famed Groundlings and performing some stand-up gigs. On very rare occasion, I’d message her on Facebook to say hi and congratulate her latest successes.
She was very outspoken. About her politics. Women’s rights. Mental health issues. This past September, in honor of National Suicide Prevention month, she hosted and starred in a LA-based variety show titled Belland (directed and written by Samantha Bowling) to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It was a charity she had worked with and supported in the past.
Sadly, the day before Thanksgiving, this energetic, goofy, brilliant young woman who had worked so hard advocating for others lost her own battle with depression by suicide. She knew she was loved by family and friends. Knew the suicide prevention hotline number. And knew the suicide prevention text number. But it was not enough. She is gone.
The Problem, As I See It
Brittany’s suicide wasn’t the first that touched my life. There were also those of a high school crush, my Delta Gamma big sis, a friend’s mother, a stepbrother-in-law and the list goes on. In recent years and with several high-profile, celebrity suicides there has been a concerted focus on increasing awareness regarding mental health issues and “letting people know we care” and that we are “there for them”.
Now these things certainly do no harm. But they are also not helping. Devil’s Advocate, you say? As evidence I’ll argue that awareness for mental health issues has never been higher yet suicide rates among all age levels continue to soar.
So what do we do? Well, I’m hoping someone smarter than I am will read this post and be able to come up with something. But in the meantime, I hope we can focus more on tangible actions and coping techniques. An insidious trait of depression is that you can often see how to help others but not how to help yourself.
As someone who has suffered with depression, I’ve found a few coping techniques that keep me from going too dark. If you find yourself in that boat, I hope some of these tangible actions will help you as well. Talk about them…at home, in classrooms, etc. Depressed people need actions that they can perform and control!
Do your best to keep negative thoughts at bay. For me, this means eating healthfully, limiting alcohol and getting consistent exercise, especially of the aerobic variety. I tend to follow a saint/sinner program – from Sunday to Thursday my food/drink intake and exercise program is quite good. Friday & Saturday: Katie, bar the door, because I’m eating and drinking what I like! This routine can get thrown off during certain times of the year (like the holidays) so when I notice that, I immediately:
- Increase consumption of fruits, veggies and lean proteins
- Decrease consumption of simple carbohydrates and alcohol
- Prioritize cardiovascular exercise
Distinguish between legitimate reasons to be upset and general depressive spiraling. This sounds kind of obvious but can be tough for some of us.
- Legitimate: death or illness of a loved one, being involved in an accident, divorce, job loss, etc.
- Depressive Spiraling: general thoughts of it will never get better; I just suck at life; there’s no point, nothing ever changes, etc.
Once you are aware of spiraling, you need to STOP THE SPIRAL. The longer you’ve suffered with depression, the longer it will take to re-train your brain to stop falling down that rabbit hole. It will be a continual work-in-progress but it DOES work.
- Go outside. A walk in the park, by a lake. Something that gets you out and observing nature can help break the cycle of obsessive thoughts.
- Avoid negative influences. That friend or family member that always leaves you feeling anxious or “less than”? Yeah, you need to ditch them while you stop the spiral. Don’t let them make you feel guilty about it – that is part of their toxicity.
- Practice mindfulness (see grey boxes below). It’s intently focusing on a single thing for a period of time. And repeating until you break a negative thought cycle.
One time, when I was in therapy, my psychologist recommended holding a rock in my hand and just focusing on it during our sessions. Fortunately she gave me the heads-up that I’d likely feel ridiculous doing so. I was to notice it’s temperature. Whether it was rough or smooth. It’s size and weight. Yes, I paid about $200 an hour for a few weeks of this. But – it taught me a technique that worked.
My spirals tend to occur at bedtime and as I don’t always have a rock handy, I’ve found that running through multiplication tables or drawing numbers in my mind is an effective distraction. Yeah, I’m just that fun at parties! For you, it may be meditation or observing your breathing. Experiment a bit but find something that takes you out of the spiral, even for just a bit, and keep repeating it. It will get better.
For more life coping techniques, check out Four Options for Dealing with All Problems
Take care of you! ♥
10 thoughts on “The Post I Never Wanted to Write”
Well that was heartbreaking 😢 You would never have thought she was suffering after watching her work. Depression seems to be a lurker and pops up when you least expect it. I find myself fighting it during the winter months here in Michigan which is a long time. I do that technique as well finding. something repetitive to get the dark thoughts out. Thanks for sharing. ☺ Lots more we need to go as a society .
Thanks Carrie, I’m still just in shock. Agree. We’ve come along way. As a child of the 70’s I can remember when it was taboo to even mention the term suicides and anyone who died that way had had an “awful accident”. We’ve come a long way since then but still have far to go.
Thank you for writing about Brittany and this topic. I didn’t know Brittany well. We had a social media “friendship”, but she had given me some advice on how to help my son, who is bipolar, without getting him more upset, which is what I was doing. I have never dealt with depression, and I am unable to imagine how things get so dark that taking your own life is an option. I think you’re right that “being there” for someone isn’t enough-it’s like you’ve got to be in the exact right place at the right time. It seems the more depressed someone is, the less apt they are to reach out. Thank you for sharing the coping skills you’ve learned-I will certainly share them with my son.
I, too, once told Brittany that when she was famous I’d brag to my friends that I knew her “way back when.” Brittany was a talented actor/writer/director/singer, but more than that, she seemed to me an extraordinarily caring human being. My heart goes out to the people that were close to her.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment on this post. Am glad that Brittany had been a good resource for you and your son and am so sorry for your loss.
Elizabeth, thank you for taking the time to post about Brittany and about depression. I appreciate so much that you are trying to help others by sharing your coping techniques, and I am so glad that they have worked for you.
Unfortunately, Brittany tried every coping technique that one could possibly think of, and nothing worked for her. As she grew sicker, she required hospitalization, medication, regular psychiatry appointments, and intensive outpatient therapy three days a week, and still we lost her. My point being that sometimes mental illness is so strong that we are almost powerless once it gets to the spiraling stage. I urge anyone with depressive symptoms to seek professional help immediately and to strongly consider antidepressants or medication targeted for your particular mental health diagnosis. Remember that, just like cancer or heart disease, we must use a combination of medications and lifestyle modifications. Hopefully one day we will have therapies that can better cure depression/bipolar depression/schizophrenia/PTSD, etc.
Lastly, we must work to change society’s understanding of what depression “looks” like. Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain didn’t appear to be depressed, either. Unfortunately you cannot tell what a person is truly feeling or thinking based on how they appear on the outside.
Laura Belland, MD
Brittany’s eldest sister
Firstly, my most heartfelt sympathies on your loss. Thank you for sharing more about Brittany’s life and continuing her work to de-stigmatize, increase awareness regarding mental health conditions and increase research/funding for the same. I agree with you 100%! While I came of age in a different era than Brittany, I quickly learned that if I wanted to have any friends, I’d have to create a public persona. One that smiled and was positive and up for a good time. No one wanted to be around someone chronically depressed so I learned to try to hide that aspect of myself. The coping techniques I shared, while helpful, are most definitely NOT a golden ticket to relief. I’ve also been on Lexapro for some years and have pursued therapy on numerous occasions. Am very fortunate that these things have helped but I still on occasion find myself in periods of intense struggle. Which brings me to better therapies. It’s my understanding that there is some promising research with ketamine that is supposed to offer more effective and timely/nearly instantaneous relief to depression sufferers. I hope the research regarding this and other therapies will not only continue but increase and that as more people share their stories and experiences that more sufferers can be moved to seek treatment before that dreaded spiraling stage. Losing one is losing one too many. Hope you and your family will all be able to find some peace during this incredibly difficult time.
Betsy aka Natty Gal
I found this post today. Coping techniques give me comfort. I’m in the legal field and having a Plan B makes me feel less anxious.
But without the medication that I’m on, to calm my crazy brain, the light at the end of the tunnel would be turned off. It took me a very long time to reconcile myself to the fact that I have an illness which is not my fault and to feel better I need to take it. It does not make me crazy. Not taking it makes me crazy. And people out there sharing their stories makes those who are suffering feel less alone, because that loneliness can have fatal consequences. Thank you for sharing your story and Brittany’s.
Thanks for sharing your story! I agree that finding others out there with similar struggles helps us to feel less alone. And like, you am not sure my results would be as positive without medication. Hope this week is a good one for you!
What a sad yet thought promoting post. Just heartbreaking! But I appreciate you shining a light on this subject. I will keep her family in my prayers.
Thanks so much Terri. It’s hard to believe it’s approaching one year. Lovely family and friends that I know miss her so very much. My husband and I still think about and talk about her frequently.