Bell, who turns 41 in July, has experienced anxiety and depression since age 18, when she left her native Michigan to study acting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “Why do I feel terrible and exhausted every day?” she asked herself then. “I wasn’t suicidal…. It was just a generalized dark cloud over me. I felt like my real personality was in a tiny cage inside my body.” Her mom, Lorelei, a registered nurse, had already pulled her aside to tell her about a hereditary component: Both Lorelei and Bell’s grandmother experienced anxiety and depression too. Lorelei dispelled any sense of shame or stigma, including about medication, asking Bell to consider why she was denying herself medication that could truly help her. (Bell has spoken about taking daily SSRI medications.)
Exercise is also chief among the aforementioned “good tools” that get Bell through, ever since college, when she started walking around New York City. She says exercising helps keep her patient and happy. In January she shared a slightly sweaty, makeup-free pic of herself on Instagram: “I’ve been struggling the last 2 weeks, for who-knows-why-slash-ALL-the-reasons. Today I finally got back on the treadmill, figuratively and literally. And I’m proud,” she wrote. “To anyone who’s been feeling the same, you can do it.”
Bell makes her days feel more manageable with a meditation borrowed from Anna, her Frozen alter ego: “Do the next right thing.” Often that means telling herself, “Get your ass up and go walk around the block.” Relatably, she goes through workout phases: L.A.-based studio Metamorphosis, a Pilates and circuit training mashup, is a favorite. During quarantine Bell relied on trainer Charlie Curtis (conveniently, he’s a friend and a member of her pandemic pod) and Indoorphins, his at-home nonintimidating yet high-intensity classes. Bell also employs the grand-millennial coping tactics of knitting and puzzling. “I puzzle a lot because I find it to be the best way to get people to stop talking to you,” she says matter-of-factly. It gives the multihyphenate and multitasker a much-needed mental break from said pod (which also includes Ryan Hansen, who played the fratty Dick Casablancas on Veronica Mars), on top of acting, producing, and hatching Happy Dance, her CBD product line. If you crave theories on the broad appeal of puzzling in the pandemic, Bell is happy to oblige: You don’t look at your phone, there’s no deadline, stakes, or room for creativity. Most of all, puzzles bring a semblance of order to a world of chaos: “There’s a place for each piece.”
Bell comes off like a natural sharer. She is a woman who once divulged on The Talk that her kids walked in on her and Shepard having sex. Shepard’s gassiness also comes up in the course of our Zoom session. Still, I think aloud that she doesn’t have to post her low moments to Instagram, or air them with me, an ostensible stranger. She could just let fans and followers believe the sprightly, superficial version of her. “You do, though,” Bell disagrees. “You have a responsibility…to try and make the world a safer, better place for other human beings.” Sometimes, Bell admits, “I still have this desire, this knee-jerk, to present perfection.” Enter Shepard, who consistently checks her, asking: “Are you being honest? Are you telling the whole story?”
There comes a place in almost every profile about Bell that revels in the opposites-attract dynamic of her marriage to Shepard. Bell is cast as the pert, Catholic school-educated “good girl” who—clutch pearls here—somehow ended up on the back of a motorcycle on a cross-country road trip with fellow Detroit native Shepard, the prototypical bad boy and Punk’d prankster whose past days-long benders blew her mind. I have to wonder if this Sandy Olsson–Danny Zuko narrative lacks nuance.