Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
It’s been a fucking horrible week. Let me be really, real it’s been a really fucking awful month and we’re only 10 days in. I’m actually terrified of what the other 21 days in this month might bring in the way of heartbreak and devastation. Real talk, I had to take an edible just to chill myself out enough to write this post. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve had verbal constipation. So many thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head in a fury but I just couldn’t get them out onto the screen. But this is my process and if I can’t write, I might actually implode from all the unprocessed, “stuck in my head” feelings. So, fuck it, life is unbearably short and I’m just going to bleed all over this damn keyboard. Consequences be damned.
Today, after a particularly horrible, country song lyric sort of week, I heard the news that my friend and the woman who inspired me to speak my own truth into the world, Heather Armstrong (Dooce) was no longer on this earth. I am absolutely fucking heartbroken. A world without her in it to profoundly shine a light on all the ugly and beautiful sides of life seems bleak. This may actually be the fucking winter of my discontent.
I spent my daughters’ early years in motherhood solitude (like prison but on an island and it’s just you and a couple little natives who don’t speak the language), searching for “mom friends” and longing for community. I was so lonely and isolated and there was nothing I yearned more for than connection, understanding and commiseration. I found that community amongst my people; fellow moms, dads and other “mommy bloggers” (I hate that fucking term) and Heather. We’re content creators (who happen to have kids) and we’re the OG founding mothers of today’s content creators and influencers.
I was stunned at the news yesterday that Heather Armstrong, aka Dooce to the online world, is no longer in this world. She was more than the original “mommy blogger”, more than the “Queen Mommy Blogger” she was a woman, a mom, a lover, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a foulmouthed hooligan, free spirit whose vulnerable and authentic words made the world a better place for a lot of us. She was a pioneer and legend in the mom blogging field. She crawled so we could run. She paved the way for all modern day influencers. For me, the world is a less beautiful place without her in it and there is a deep void where she is supposed to be in the world.
Heather’s words inspired me to push through my fear and share my most vulnerable, irreverent and often scary truth. When I first started blogging, not knowing anything about the industry and just knowing that words were my way of processing life, I reached out to Heather. Yep, I was so green that I fucking cold called (via email) the literal Queen of Mommy Blogging and asked for guidance. I had no idea about the hierarchy of the blogging world, I was brand new to the blogosphere. I jumped in with both feet and no idea of what I was doing. She responded.
That’s the type of person she was. She was fierce and feisty and fucking fabulous. She took what might have been a very inconvenient 10 minutes out of her crazy busy day and she read my email and gave me guidance. She was gracious, appreciative and generous. Heather didn’t hoard her secret to success. She knew there was no other Dooce and there was room for all of us on the internet. She offered thoughtful, useful advice instead of nuanced suggestions or condescending platitudes, as some prefer to do.
The first thing she did was to thank me for taking the time to reach out to her. Thanking me for my support, as a fan, because it allowed her to do what she loved the most… write and share her life.
Her advice shaped the writer I would become and the community I would build. She warned me that growing a following and community was hard work. She encouraged me to keep writing and keep working. Then she told me something that was invaluable and is the reason I have the connections I do in the blogging world… “Get involved in a community of people who you want to read your blog.” So, from there on, I wrote my truth, in my voice for the people I WANTED to read my blog…moms like me. Moms like Heather. The moms who are struggling daily, appreciating the small moments, sometimes think their kids are full on assholes but ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS love them and appreciate the burden and the bliss of motherhood while not taking any of it too seriously. But at the same time, moms who were as serious as a fucking heart attack because, after all, this is the world we are leaving to our daughters and sons.
She wished me luck with much love and that was the beginning of over a decade of friendship. I loved her from that moment. I admired her for her words on the screen but the words in my emails and messages, those were the words that really touched my heart. The conversations about everything and nothing, the wellness check ins, the commiseration and compassionate understanding.
I can’t presume to know all the thoughts that led her to that dark place on May 9th but I’ve been there myself on many occasions and I know that depression is a lying fucking demon that gets in your head and beats you down from the inside out. It is torturous and painful. Mental illness, the self-medicating addiction just to feel normal (or not feel at all) can be all consuming. Sometimes it feels like the only way out is death because going through it is just too painful an option. Heather was a warrior and fought through the pain publicly and privately for almost 2 decades. She was a prolific mental health advocate.
I don’t know about other people’s mental illnesses but believe me, I’ve done the research and lived with mine for most of my existence. None of us is perfect and we’re all just trying to survive this life. We make mistakes and faux pas when we are trying to get our mind right side up. At my worst, I was probably unbearable to others. Heather made it okay for me to be vulnerable and brave enough to share my own struggles with mental illness to help other women know they are not alone in their fight.
During my teens, I was suicidal for all of my high school tenure. I’ve had body dysmorphia since I was 12-years-old, followed by acute eating disorders that actually almost killed me from age 17-25. In college, my depression evolved from depths of hell suicidal ideation to full-on mania. The kind that makes you reckless, impulsive, dangerous, delusional and narcissistic. The kind of mania that is so bad that you become so angry and irritable that you circle right back to suicidal because you are on a runaway train and you cannot get off. The train is speeding towards a mountain, the brakes don’t work and the gas pedal is stuck to the floor so you just hold on and brace for impact, hoping you die so the pain will stop. That’s where I spent a big chunk of my life.
But when the proverbial train didn’t crash into the mountain and I was left stuck in the hell that was my existence, I turned to alcohol. I started to self-medicate because I couldn’t stop what my brain chemistry was doing to me. I didn’t even recognize the person I was becoming. The guilt of the reckless behavior, the shame of things I said and did while manic, the narcissism and self-absorption that everyone around me had to endure was too much to live with. From day to day, I had a plan to stop the pain but I just couldn’t do it. Ironically, my mental illness, which created my need to be perfect, please my parents and not disappoint anyone is what kept me fighting. Its why I’m here now. That and a whole lot of Catholic guilt.
Eventually, I got help. But for a long time, I didn’t even know what was wrong with me. I assumed I was just broken; undeserving of happiness. But once I was diagnosed, everything became clear and with the help of my team of doctors and specialist, we made a plan to live. It’s not easy. It’s a lot of hard work. It hurts. You have to face things about yourself that maybe you don’t want to accept but accepting it is the only way to get through it. Depression is a liar. The thing no one tells you is that it’s a fight that you will be fighting for the rest of your life. There is no fucking cure. Just medicine and therapy to make it bearable.
All this to say, Heather was more than just the “Queen Mommy Blogger” to me. She was a friend, a confidant, an inspiration and a mentor. She was loved and beloved. She shone the light on the ugly and beautiful of life without hesitation and with complete vulnerability. She was a talented writer and wordsmith. She was kind, caring, compassionate, loving, thoughtful, hilarious, off-the-wall and irreverent and we loved her for every single bit of it.
She lived for her Leta and Marlo. She loved Pete. Her time was too brief but it was impactful on the world. She used her platform to give light to important causes, sometimes even to her own detriment. She made a difference. Her words were a big part of her legacy and while I may never get to read another new post or message from her again, I can take comfort that for a little while I was in her orbit.
I will forever miss you, my friend. You were so much more than just a mommy blogger. I pray that you are free of the pain of this world and you are finally at peace.
To all of my OG blogger friends and community ( you know who you are), I love you and I’m here for you. I always have been and I always will be.
If you have a favorite memory of Heather, please share below in the comments.
If you are struggling with mental illness and/or suicidal ideation, don’t do it alone. You are not alone. You are a warrior and there are people to help. Even when the pain feels unbearable, you are worthy of living and being loved. Don’t give up.