Who Moved My Happy?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kimberly Lalley
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

In recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month, Erika Kendrick, presented “Who Moved My Happy?” at Timmerman Theatre for Comprehensive Airmen Fitness Day.  Kendrick is an author, public speaker and former Chicago Bulls cheerleader who knows firsthand about the subject.

When she was 18, Kendrick was diagnosed with severe acute depression.  After graduating from Stanford University, she was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychosis and panic attack disorder, she said. 

In her presentation, Kendrick shared her survival of a suicide attempt and other challenges she’s faced.  She started by asking for anyone who has ever experienced a mental health issue to raise their hand.  All the hands raised meant no one was alone.

“I remember being in a room—one with small, gray walls,” Kendrick said. “I was being placed on suicide watch. I dreamed about driving my red Toyota Corolla over the side of a cliff, and one day, I tried it.”

Following her suicide attempt, Kendrick was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and placed on suicide watch. She was 19 years old.

Kendrick said she was an over-achiever throughout her academic career, always aiming for a straight A's, if not an A+. When her doctor asked her if she had a suicide plan, Kendrick replied she had two.

“On paper, and even in real life, I was a successful kid. But behind closed doors, I was empty and hopeless,” Kendrick said.

When a counselor asked Kendrick to remember things that made her happy, Kendrick immediately thought of dancing. Instead of following her counselor’s advice—to take a dance class at the local YMCA—Kendrick set out to become an NBA cheerleader.

Even after the onset of her successful career as a cheerleader, Kendrick was still battling with the voices in her head. She recounted the story of a time the voices in her head told her to run over a fellow cheerleader.

Kendrick walked the audience through her mental fitness plan, “The Incredible 10,” following a question-and-answer session. Attendees had the opportunity to analyze their own lives and find ways to implement better mental health practices within them.

The Incredible 10 Mental Fitness Steps:
1. Support Squad – who makes you feel valued, brave, strong, loved and adored?
2. Therapy who is your favorite person?  Talk to them.
3. Clean Eats – sugar and processed food weighs us down.  Food plays an important role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Visualization  visualize your happy place.  Get comfy, close your eyes and go to your happy place.  See what you most want, feel it, taste it, smell it, and hear it. 
5. Meditate  mindful meditation helps with depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and sleep disorder.  There are a variety of choices such as chants, mantras or focusing on your breath.
6. Exercise leads to epic benefits releasing endorphins and anchors us in wellness.  Exercise and anti-depressants have the same effects on patients suffering from major depression.  Exercise reduces anxiety and depression, relieves stress, increases self-esteem, promotes better well-being, improves sleep, increases social confidence and can be a healthy distraction. 
7. Sleep – chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.  Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night.  Sleep increases mental and emotional resilience.
8. Music affects the levels of oxytocin in the brain.  It evokes feelings of contentment, reduces anxiety and increases feelings of calmness and security.
9. Soul Service – reconnect with your purpose that is aligned with your life mission.  A part of our brain lights up when we help other.  It’s the same part of our brain that doles out feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. 
10. Furry Friends – studies have shown that being around pets is associated with lower blood pressure and heart rate and leads to fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Ms. Vera Jordan, Suicide Prevention Program Manager with the 99th Division was pleased with the attendance at Kendrick’s session.  This was her second visit to JBMDL.  Kendrick addressed an audience of soldiers last year at Tommy B’s.  This year the Air Force and the Army collaborated for Comprehensive Airmen Fitness and she reached a larger audience.

“She has so much to share,” said Jordan.

The younger soldiers resonated with her.  They liked how engaging she is, they were given tools they could use with soldiers, friends or family members experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideations. As a person who experienced suicide attempts, Kendrick could give a firsthand account and that makes a difference.

“It got the military members talking,” said Jordan.