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, directed and starred in a LA-based variety show titled Belland 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! ♥