Grappling with the death of Heather Armstrong: Where does Dooce leave us now?
John Gallagher wrote his dissertation about how people with a large following online relate to comments from their audience. Over many years he interviewed people who were top Redditors, top Amazon reviewers, and he interviewed Heather and me.
Heather and I both started blogs in 2002, we both got in trouble for writing about our coworkers, we both wrote about our bodies, our pregnancies, our money, and our divorces. We both received book deals and accolades and death threats. And I always admired her.
When I told Gallagher, “If I have haters that means I have an audience” he told me Heather said the exact same thing. I realized he was my best source of information for how Heather thinks about her blog — I always picked up when he called.
Heather was an early adopter of everything, and I learned to follow her. People told me, “Do it like Dooce” so I added photos to my blog. I couldn’t do photos like Dooce, but I knew to do photos of kids and animals because of her. Federated Media wanted to run ads on my blog and I kept saying no until an account manager said, “I work with Heather Armstrong” and then I said yes.
I remember walking through Target answering Gallagher’s questions about writing online. The craft aisle had the best reception so I paced while my son spread out crayons and papers and scissors on the floor so I could keep philosophizing about comments.
Gallagher told me Heather and I were the only people he interviewed who read all the comments. Heather said she gets “a jolt of happiness” every time she gets a comment. I said mostly I feel like I’m writing just to make sure someone is there.
I saw Heather getting paid to show her kids on her blog. I tried it once and the post took forever to write because I had to give my kids stage direction. So I was relieved when Heather announced she stopped doing ads with her kids — and I liked her kids more than ever because they put their collective foot down.
By that point I was so overwhelmed from homeschooling two kids and relocating two times that I was not even posting each month. I read that Heather engaged in “direct manipulation of algorithmic timing in IPI environments therefore considers the factors that go into spatial display.” What even is that?
Don’t answer. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it was, I wasn’t doing it. I knew at that point I was failing at blogging. And I saw Heather was failing at parenting.
People say Heather killing herself is not all that surprising given her problems with addiction. This is what I know from having Heather as my secret coworker for the last 20 years: before the addiction killed her, the blog did.
It’s easy to make life look fun when you can control your kids. But that ends. So don’t start thinking that you’re going to be the mom with the big influencer career and your spouse will be with the kids. It doesn’t work.
Content creation to feed influencer life is the sweatshop labor of the new millennium. Gallagher told me that Heather and I both mentioned wanting a regular paycheck but our big brands prevented us from getting regular jobs. These conversations with him served as reality checks for me: blogging had us boxed in.
Gallagher’s book came out in 2020: Update Culture and the Afterlife of Digital Writing. By then it seems Heather’s kids moved to their dad’s house. Permanently. She stopped posting about her kids. Heather never mentioned L going to college even though L’s dad’s new wife wrote all about it.
My older kid also went off to college. And like Heather, I’ve had a hard time finding my way on my blog since then. But I keep trying because I don’t think I can survive without blogging.
I thought Heather and I would both find new footing. But she killed herself two nights ago. So it’s just me now, but Heather still guides me. Because before she lost her will to live, she lost her emotional connection with her kids.
Being a mom influencer takes a huge amount of time and attention and well, everything, away from the kids. And the more time you take away from kids the more you have to earn to justify it. And with influencing, the kids end up getting auctioned, along with your brand and time and energy, to the highest bidder.
Also, daily parenting is way, way harder than daily content creation. And so much less fun. Parenting is quiet and still — making space that the kids can take up. Parenting means never being the center of attention.
Good parenting is the opposite of good content. So it’s inevitable that moms eventually stop influencing in favor of building relationships with their kids. But if you wait too long, and you stop too late, there are no more relationships to build.
It’s fitting that Heather’s final post was a long, meandering violation of her promise to stop writing about her kids. Heather’s loyalty was not to her children — her loyalty was always to her writing. We’ll remember her for her writing. But as a writer I’ll also remember that when she needed a reason to keep living, she felt too alone to go on.
Oh dang…this is a gut-punch. There are some lines in here that are just brilliant: “Content creation to feed influencer life is the sweatshop labor of the new millennium.” and “And with influencing, the kids end up getting auctioned, along with your brand and time and energy, to the highest bidder.” So bleak + truthful…
The reality behind everything is just so sad. I didn’t know Heather or her blog, but I started reading blogs in about 2006/7 and still really love them, so I’ve gathered a bit about her life the last couple days from internet corners. I’m so sorry, Penelope.
So sorry to hear this. It’s strange how this spiderweb of lives works.
The level of loneliness and disconnection that it takes to do self harm, is difficult to determine, both for one’s self, and for one’s witnesses. I say this because for the individual, sometimes, (most times) these two demons creep up on us over time, usually over years. We go on as if nothing is changing or has changed, but then you hit a critical point, and see your life as worthless, because for you, your perspective of your life has crossed a psychological point of no return. If you catch it before then, and take action, you can be fine, but once the dragon takes flight, you have a hard long road back to feelings of self worth.
For your witnesses, it is difficult to know what to do or when to do it. This is often because we often take each other for granted. We bask in the presence of a loved one or a hated one… and enjoy their “reassuring” presence. But we do not look too deeply, because we are each busy treading water. Trying to keep our psychological noses above the splishing and splashing of life. Then something happens to our traveler, and we are in shock, but the warning signs were always there.
It takes a special someone to really see us, because most of the time, we cannot even see ourselves.
Be sure to look at yourself every now and then, and …
Your post is beautifully written and your thoughts are insightful. As one who has come back from the brink with medication and Dialectical Behavior Therapy, I think you are spot on. I have Bipolar disorder.
They were mostly BPD in my therapy group as it was designed for that specific illness, but it was so helpful to me. It gave me a life worth living.
Yes Dialectical therapy is just about the only thing that works as it’s a rewiring. All the Best, you’ll make it as those who embrace this Therapy are survivors like you. Sending you love x
You nailed it!
This setup feels different…
This is a take on Heather’s life and death that I’m sure I won’t see anywhere else. I appreciate the raw honesty. At the risk of sounding insensitive, I have been wondering, regardless of how much pain she was in, how she could leave her children in that manner and not try harder to fight to stay alive to be with them. It actually makes more sense to me with the context that they had emotionally and physically disconnected from her. Sad for all involved nonetheless.
My mother killed herself when I was 15 after many attempts. She left 4 children and had a mental illness.
I attempted suicide 4 times (first at 15–one month before she died). I also have a mental illness.
Sometimes you are in so much psychological (or physical) pain that your brain looks for permanent solutions.
It is hard to understand what Heather’s mind was doing. Sometimes a mother thinks it is best for the children when she can’t mother.
P, I’m glad you have such sharp and wonderful memories of Heather. Wonderful people can get overwhelmed by the pernicious thoughts and emotions.
R.I.P. Heather. Sometimes that is the only relief one can see.
The suicide risk for kids of suicide completers is exponential.
To try and break the generational waterfall takes huge trust that life can get better. Dialectical Behavioural Therapy helps to reframe the tunnel vision of hopelessness and black and white all or nothing. There will always be pain
It’s accepting this and learning to find strategies to live with it that keeps survivors alive. All the best,
I have struggled with depression and intermittent suicidal ideation most of my life. When you’re in it, you cannot see anything besides what a burden you are to those kids and those loved ones you would leave behind. You think you will fuck them up MORE by being there, by sticking around.
My dear husband was so calm when I admitted, about six years ago, that I was thinking about it and all the reasons why it seemed kinder than to remain with them, wrecking them in front of my face. He said, “Yes, I can see how suicide would be an answer for YOU. And maybe it would work for you. It would stop your agony. But then again, you don’t believe in an afterlife — and especially not hell. You aren’t sure, though. What if hell actually exists, and what if hell is you watching what your death does to me and the kids? Because your death would be, hands down, the worst thing we could ever go through. Imagine watching us go through that. Something you caused.”
His words took the option off the table immediately and permanently.
I know I will always, or likely always, have these thoughts every so often, but I know I cannot take that permanent option. Because what if he’s right? Then all my arguments for it would be for shit.
A second I thought today, when thinking about Heather’s kids, is however hard her life was, she had a support system, which must have lessened her burden some. But her death means she took that support away from her kids. I am not hating on her or judging her. But I cannot help remembering a kind of ugly post she wrote about Marlo, saying their anxiety stems directly from Jon’s leaving for Brooklyn. From moving away. How’s Marlo’s anxiety going to be now when her mom took leave for good?
Heather wrote “How else can I describe what it feels like to rip the bandage off of an open wound when the open wound is my entire body?
Imagine a clam without its shell. Permanently.”
That’s how I know she almost certainly had Borderline Personality Disorder. I know as much as a layman can about BPD. Often BPD sufferers have Aspie traits too btw.
My late Partner had both. He was the Most Talented Photographer and garden designer and the Most Loving Boyfriend and a Top Barrister and the Best Father.
He described his life pain in almost exactly the same words as Heather did (above).
He hung himself on 23 May 2021.
And sabotaged everyone around him, with a ripple effect like a tsunami. His kids (not mine) above all so I know the curse Heather has put on hers.
But shell-less clams have an 80% chance of dying early.
I tried my best to give him reason to live but it wasn’t enough. I thought I wasn’t enough but he wasn’t enough for himself.
I’ve survived and I’m Proud of my shell.
But BPD is unknown and overlooked and often confused with Autism due to its black and white literal thinking patterns – and needs catching early in the teenage years if there’s a chance of survival. Hanging on by a tether, then recovering slowly throughout a lifetime is better than hanging from the end of a rope.
I was thinking BPD for Heather as well. I think we know a lot about BPD. For example we know it’s inherited — you get it from living with a parent with BPD. It’s something you develop rather than something you’re born with. I think the reason it comes up with autism so much is that the parenting traits that create BPD in a child are traits that many autistic parents exhibit.
So much of Heather’s identity was denying traits in the Autism Spectrum Disorder. She wrote about thinking gender dysmorphia was not a thing, and ADHD was not a thing. (Note: I think both are real.) And she spent so much time trying to make autism traits disappear. I wonder if she had embraced autism if she could have found better help.
I hope for her kids that they can see right away that the suicide had nothing to do with them. I’m glad they were far away from her when it happened.
100% with you on all you say P.
Worst is to “find” someone like her boyfriend did. I didn’t find the love of my life on his rope… but easily could have. I had the keys but called the police. The mental images are bad for a while but not as bad as IRL.
My dead Partner’s Jewish family didn’t let me lay his prayer shawl on the coffin. They were ashamed of my non-Jewishness. Ironic as only myself and his Mum tried to keep him alive.
I’ve got HFA too. It’s a gift and so is life. But BPD in adulthood is so incurable most Psychiatrists shy away from patients. So I’d rather choose my own Aspieness any day.
All the best to you Penelope. It’s 02:31 in London UK. Time to sleep and wake up to another amazing day which luckily I’m able to see anew every single day. Some of us are born to live and some to die and tragically the choice is entirely personal.
I’m glad that you wrote about this.
Reading Heather’s last article, I get a strong impression that her daughter was not neurotypical.
Yes.The activist in me wants to point out how dangerous it is for families to stigmatize autism. If the mom resists the label (or ADHD or transgender which are both spectrum disorders) then she’s denying the kids a path toward self-identity and self-knowledge. Autism is a family condition. It’s all the family not some of the family. Heather hated those labels.
Once you told me I had autism. You were right and everything became clearer, calmer. It is impossible to detail the myriad of ways in which my life and that of my family improved after that revelation. I see the traits in my son and we are all better through knowing.
That makes me so happy! I always feel this is what will happen if people can just see the autism. I really appreciate you telling me your experience.
Every female in my life diagnosed at one point with BPD has aspergers so I think perhaps BPD is just a manifestation of aspergers with a lack of support or understanding.
Totally agree, Tracey. I have written in the past that borderline personality disorder is the dark side of how autistic mothers parent. Here’s the link that includes a bunch of research on the topic:
That’s absolutely correct Penelope and borne out by clinical research.
Also the case with my late Partner. I’m friends with his Mum. It wasn’t her fault she did the best under her circumstances with the tools at her disposal as a single Mum in a generation that did not understand HFA or Autism.
Support snd understanding and help could have changed things.
Awareness and non-judgmental engagement is key.
Again you can’t apply “neurotypical “ logic to any of this.
Aspie mothers and parents need strategies not judgement.
“Heather’s loyalty was not to her children — her loyalty was always to her writing.”
Ouch. I found your writing raw and insightful (as someone who stumbled upon Heather recently and binged a lot of her writing); this conclusion seems a tad uncompromising.
I don’t have an amazing relationship with my parents (although I love them dearly), and my father in particular struggled to translate his worries and anxieties into something other than anger. I wish they had gotten a divorce. Yet, looking back, I can understand how people’s internal landscapes can be twisted and warped into strange, incoherent places where good, compassionate impulses can manifest as something else.
Perhaps it is true that if someone holds on to an ideal but fails to actualize it, they don’t have sincere conviction. End of story.
But, the human condition is a bleeding mess of contradictions and not everything can be so conveniently resolved and filed away. Doing so is reductive, and in some sense profanes the wonderful and glorious complexities of life.
Every life has lessons, and I am not arguing against drawing lessons from this one, but if we say that grace is “undeserved favor”, then I wish we all had a little more grace, that, and the humility to not try to put the coda on another’s life.
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
With all due respect for your opinion, depression killed her. That’s what depression does all too often. I’m so sorry she couldn’t stick around.
Not disagreeing with you. (And also, I love your blog.) But I think people who have a better support system around them are more likely to avoid the path from depression to suicide. I think Heather’s blog ended up isolating her from her kids, and her anger and defensiveness from being picked on by commenters ended up isolating her from her friends.
Penelope is right, naysayers. It’s a matter of understanding BPD. My late Partner adored his kids but during those last 4 suicide attempts (before the last and 5th) he said he hated himself more than he loved his kids. The reason being was that his job and reputation was failing under Covid. People with BPD thrive on EXTERNAL VALIDATION and if unable to find that security they are lost. That’s why Rejection by others can push them to suicide. It’s a key part of BPD and I’ve read just about every clinical dossier out there. There’s a void inside people with BPD and they don’t know who they are except in the context of others. Though they will share Autism traits like black and white thinking, few boundaries, overstaring, risk taking and addiction with Aspies and those on the Spectrum they DON’T have the internal
Locus of self evaluation that Aspies have. They care to the death what others think of them because that reflects back their self worth. Unlike Aspies who mostly have an internal locus of self-evaluation.
In short – my late BPD Patner cared more about losing his job and his reputation than his kids because he killed himself over it. That’s the reductive and binary way of thinking of it. That’s what Penelope means in the context of reputation and validation informs life worth for those with BPD so yes that comes before kids. My late Partner said he felt worthless so wasn’t even worth anything to his family or kids feeling like this and because he loved us so much he did not want to live on those terms as we deserved more.
Don’t try to apply common sense to this conundrum. You can’t.
Penelope is right in the warped thinking of a BPD. External validation (ie job) is more important than kids.
Don’t judge Penelope. She has the empathy to understand what ‘normal’ people find to be warped thinking.
The brutal sharing and honesty isn’t narcissism. It’s wiring. And a desire to be close and loved by others.
I’m with you Penelope.
Those naysayers – do your research before you opine pls.
ABSOLUTELY, support system is everything! Sometimes the best support system isn’t enough, but without one, the outlook is pretty bleak.
I never read her blog, but I’ve heard her name before. I started mine in 2006 I think, so I can relate to being an OG in sharing your personal stuff on the internet. And online abuse has gotten worse over time. You really need a thick skin to survive it, or at least a monumental degree of stubbornness.
I’m guessing that you and I are blessed/cursed by that stubbornness.
Poor Heather! Every suicide is a knife in my heart.
Oh for god’s sake, Penelope.
“Parenting means never being the center of attention”
Seriously??? You have never been anything BUT the center of attention!!
“Heather’s loyalty was not to her children — her loyalty was always to her writing.”
Please indulge us with how your loyalty has been to your children and not to your writing.
Reminds me of the late, great David Foster Wallace. When he died, people who he barely (if ever) knew came out of the woodwork to talk about how they knew him. His wife wrote about how he would have hated it.
I have stuck with your ‘blog’ for years. The self-indulgent babble about the ‘Farmer’. The domestic abuse thing when you yelled at everyone who only wanted to help you, etc etc etc
But your ‘post’ about Dooce was insulting to her and those who care about her. I am done.
You’re clearly not a mother
We bid thee goodbye!
I don’t think she was condemning Heather, she was able to write this because she has experienced this struggle as well. I think every parent, to some extent, has too.
Suicide is also prevalent in those with Bipolar disorder.
S.- I wish you would’ve read your comment over 10 times and deleted it before send.
Dooce’s family wishes Penelope would have read her unfortunate commentary 20 times over before she posted it.
Please see https://gomiblog.com/penelope-trunk-thinks-dooce-is-delusional-and-the-rest-of-you-are-in-denial/
Please also see https://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2012/01/01/zero-tolerance-for-domestic-violence-is-wrong/
Please see https://www.thecut.com/2015/05/where-did-penelope-trunk-go-wrong.html
This post is so moving. Hugs to all the Mums out there.
Penelope I am sorry for your loss of someone you felt was a kindred spirit and in some ways a spiritual companion even though it doesn’t sound like you ever met. I do understand how such a loss can be profound.
I actually never heard of Dooce until she died, but I can definitely see how many people she reached.
re: “Parenting means never being the center of attention”, I’m not sure I agree. I think one of the things that makes parenting hard, esp. for mothers, is the constant need to try and figure out if this is a time for independent adulting/laying down the rules or a time for self-sacrifice/letting them discover their own path. And there is not a guidebook for that and what is needed can pivot in seconds, and changes dramatically as the children age.
From “Infinite Jest” –
“The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant.
The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
I’m so very sorry for all of your years of pain: treatment-resistant mental illness; alcoholism; physical pain; disordered eating. Any one of those challenges wouldve been too much for one person to endure, let alone struggling with all of them.
Rest in peace, Heather.
Great reflection, rings true. When my kids were young, I would ask moms whose children were grown for advice. Some working moms would get a wistful look in their eyes and wish they hadn’t worked so much, feeling they had lost out on relationships with their kids. But daily parenting is so unglamorous compared to other choices – in dark moods I feel our warped culture is deliberately designed to fail us.
This is terrible news Dooce was one of the first mom blogs I (and many others) read and aspired to be like. And your words are so true, never has the saying “life happens while your busy making other plans” rung more true for me than now with teenagers almost out of the house … Young kids make life feel like the battle us never going to end and the long days are just so terribly long but before we know it you turn back and they are tall and grown and have their own opinions. Thank you for always answering my comments over the years. I remember getting my first response from you many years ago and I was elated that someone like you would take tge time to reply to my little comment. That connection meant so much to me. Im sorry for your loss and to her family as well, there is so much grief in this world!
Spot on analysis.
I actually didn’t get into her blog as much as I got into other’s, but when I did read her stuff, I understood why she was so popular. She was just so raw. But that rawness translated to palpable mania in her more recent years. I felt like she wrote to deal with all of her trauma and pain, and it was hard to read but also hard to look away (kind of like your blog). But with your writing, there’s a sense of analysis that you’re trying to understand and process and fix. With her, it was more of an offloading, or documenting, more than trying to solve the problem. Maybe I’m wrong. But I can keep reading your blog. I couldn’t keep reading hers.
I’m 64 and recently have been cleaning out a closet. It’s one where, for decades I’ve stashed family mementos with the intention of organizing when I had more time. What’s most interesting as I now slowly go through these precious memories is how easy it is for me to throw out my own stuff—say, a program from a music concert I participated in, or a leadership award I won. At the time they seemed important and were part of my efforts to “maintain my personal identity while raising children.” Now, they mean nothing to me. Heck, most of them I don’t even remember. What really tugs at my heart and what I can’t move myself to get rid of, are my children’s things. Handmade cards they gave me for Mothers Day. Essays they wrote about summer vacation. News clippings of them in high school. Awards they won in college. These mementos are what matter. They represent the time I spent with my children and the things we did together. Influencing our children in person is worth so much more than influencing the world on social media. You’re doing things right, Penelope.
I find those are the only things I save as well. It’s easy to take pictures of my stuff I’ve saved and then throw it out. But there’s something special about having the kids stuff in my hand. There’s a closeness to them that I feel. That closeness takes care and work and the memory for me is about how much I gave to the kids and how good it feels to do that. I could have never predicted that.
You and Dooce were my earliest blogger role models. I started my blog in October 2003 and it changed the course of my career. Heather spoke in person at BlogHer in 2005 which I attended. I’ve been feeling so upset by this news. I figured she’d always be there, leading the way.
So sorry for your loss, Penelope.
I just realized what you’re trying to do, Penelope. After looking at all of the press in the past five days….the commentary from notables….other influentials, you’re NOT included in any of it. You wanted so much to be. You were hoping for an interview…SOME sort of recognition. Still waiting….
What does Melissa say?
There’s the cruelty. No one can talk about the bloggers but the blogger. Always the message from you guys.
I came here because I was reading a post on Reddit that mentioned Asperger’s and it made me think of you. It’s been years since I’ve visited your blog, before the pandemic. Are you still friends with Melissa?
I’ve been reading Heather’s blog since the very beginning, and am very familiar with her history, her influence, her gifts and flaws. Processing her death, especially after her recent poor behaviour, has been sad and also fascinating.
What has surprised me most is the volume of people who have made her story all about them, and breathlessly raced to speculate about what she thought and what she should have done differently. Lots of people wondering things out loud – some kind, some not, but all of them wishing for answers that we’re not entitled to and won’t ever come anyway.
But in your case, you have presented your speculation and opinion as though it is fact. You’ve spoken for Heather and for her children in a way that implies knowledge that you absolutely do not have.
What a deeply narcissistic, parasitic take on this tragedy.
I hope that when her kids read this they understand that your biased sideline commentary was written for clicks and attention, not from anything resembling care for them, their mother, or anybody else. I don’t know how they will maintain their silence when they see people like you speaking on their behalf.
I hope the sanctimony and cruelty you’ve displayed here is worth it.
Yeah, you’re right that I made it about me. But we don’t need anyone writing obituaries that are not about themselves. Because ChatGPT writes amazing obituaries. Test it out for yourself. So then what do we, as real people, bring to the act of writing about someone to process the loss? It has to be in the context of ourselves or else we sound like robots.
I remember when my grandma died. I read the obituary in the newspaper and saw I was in the line “grandmother to ….. ” And I felt that was so not enough. It was nothing. I had so much to say about her because she let me live with her when my parents didn’t want me. The reason people stay in our hearts after they die is because the impact they had on us, personally. When I think about my life as a blogger, which has been most of my adult life, I will always have Heather in my heart, because I felt mostly alone navigating blind — but with her.
Her kids won’t read this, I predict. Her kids are thankfully surrounded by a community of family – extended and bonus – who are, right now, protecting them from the Internet as much as possible. L has been on Instagram thanking Heather’s friends for their words, but Penelope is spot on. Obituaries are for the living, not for the dead.
I knew Heather personally for a short time. (Yes, I guess that makes me one of those coming out of the woodwork to say “I knew her and this is what she coulda/shoulda/woulda said/done/thought.”) Everything you said, Penelope, is as accurate a description as one could make without being a close friend or family member. I think Heather would agree with nearly everything you wrote here. She would likely say that yeah, she could’ve made different choices but that would’ve been a choice in itself and she couldn’t hear over the noise in her head to make the different choices. Just my opinion, but a partially educated one.
Heather will always be in my heart, too, but only because she’s gone. If she were still here, our friendship would still have run its course and been over with. She would still be fighting her battles without a lot of the people who tried to help her or support her, which was her choice. Mommyblogger, influencer, whatever you want to call her, she did still do some good in this world and that’s probably why Penelope felt less alone with Heather in it.
I had to hold this post for a few days before reading your thoughts on Heather’s passing, Penelope. And I’m glad I could come here and read your reflection, and see once again, how the understanding generated from a “label” can be a form of support, revelation, that gives us some measure of room to breathe, freedom and acceptance of the multitudes our human brains and lives contain. Heather was an inspiration for so many of us early bloggers. And I met her a few times at various conferences, and worked with her on a few client campaigns when I moved from blogger to early days influencer marketer, and I was always glad to see her and collaborate. Heather, may you find peace. Your memory is a blessing to so many of us weirdos out here on the internet.
am obsessed with the idea that one incident, or more accurately one mistake, will/would ruin my life forever. I look for this in other peoples stories to see if it is true for them. For Heather, I wonder how her life would’ve been different if she hadn’t gotten divorced. Would she have been closer to her children? Did she lose her ability to influence her children with the divorce?
I found the link to her deleted “transphobic” blog post. This was a post I could strongly relate to. (I assume you read it? In case you haven’t, here it is: https://web.archive.org/web/20220811174146/https://dooce.com/2022/08/10/america-is-wrong/) The post is about trying to save her daughter from making a grievous, irreversible mistake – testosterone. I’m trying to save my daughter from this mistake too. (My daughter can be he/him/they/them and dress and present herself however she likes. I don’t care. I’ll support her. I’ll call her whatever she wants and correct everyone else too. But, she absolutely must not take testosterone. I’m not going to let her permanently damage her body.)
She needed an editor. The post was all over the place. She went down the dark rabbit hole of Reddit, and wrote about it while still in the hole instead of pulling herself out of it first. She needed more perspective before writing about detransitioners. She clearly had no one to talk to. There was so much pain in that post, and she couldn’t share it with anyone. She had to delete the post.
This is what gets me about the 2020’s. We can’t share any thoughts that are not within the party line. We can’t think out loud or question anything or discuss any nuances. The rise and fall of the confessional mommy bloggers – so sad even as I don’t read them any more. I abandoned them like everyone else and Heather couldn’t adapt.
You are right that Heather wanted to deny any kind of diagnosis – ADHD, Autism, Gender Dysphoria. But there are things that I really related to in that post. We are all Addicts and we are all in pain. All girls hate their bodies. I wish she had found you and your groups – your writing groups and Autism groups.
You are right that she clearly lost that close connection with her children and that, in the end, relationships are all there is. She couldn’t find a way to live for her children, because she wasn’t connected to them. I feel really bad that she’s dead. I feel really bad for her children. I am glad that you are still here
Public service announcement. Kids can go on puberty blockers to stop the whole process of gendering and that gives the kid the choice when they turn 18 and it takes the parent’s decision making off the table. There is no “reversing non-reversing” issue because there is nothing to reverse. Puberty blockers essentially stop time. Olympic gymnasts have been taking puberty blockers forever.
This matters a lot. Having kids go through puberty limits their choices. Puberty blockers limits no one’s choice for anything.
I miss the heyday of blogs but see how it was unsustainable.
I used to follow you a lot when I was an ambitious new grad. Today I have a mediocre career, but I have 2 kids and they’re the best. We do fun things and boring things and easy things and hard things and who needs money when you’re an INFP anyways, right?
I mother and volunteer and grow my own lettuce. That is success for me and your writing helps me feel ok with that.
Glad you’re alive.
I’m an INFP with two kids( toddler after a 16 year gap).I don’t care so much about.Except when it’s something for my children-then I try get it.
I have a few part time manual labour jobs.Convenient around children ,shirt commute.I’m sure your mediocre is alot better than mine.
I too am glad Penelope is alive
Her last articles kind of remind me of Sylvia Plath’s writing. Something about the flow and the amount of details in her memory.
Just absolutely wow.
What a banger of a post. Nailed every emotional aspect of a world we only witness from the outside.
I feel like I could have written this myself. I also blogged for many years and started at the same time as Heather. We are a month apart in age, and her and a close friend kept in loose contact because their kids were born on the same day/time. We exchanged some sentences in the early years, before her blog took off.
To say her death has me so beyond forked up, is an understatement. I am grappling. The only thing that brings me comfort, is the thought of her and Chuck together again.
I read your entire post (but not all of the comments yet). I think it was a very interesting take, but I also think that you really do not have any basis for making any claims about Heather’s relationships with her children. You do not know what those were like. What really angers me, though, is when they got divorced their father moved *across the country* to New York to be with his girlfriend. Their father gave up being near the children for most of the year from when they were very young. Where’s the judgment there?! *He* ‘abandoned’ them very early on, and given everything we know about Heather’s mental health (and how hard it is to be a single mother) I can’t imagine that that was the optimal situation for any of them. I feel the need to say something when mothers and fathers are treated with very different types of expectations. Jon’s wife does not get to step in to be the hero when L goes to college. Say what you will about her, but Dooce was there to do the hard work for years and they weren’t. And I’m no Dooce fangirl.
Suicide is not rational. It will never make sense. There is no justification you can make up in your own mind for it- so stop trying. It’s tragic as would be someone dying from cancer. And one thing that we can say is that she did fight her mental Illness for a long, long time. For the kids.
If you were friends with Heather or part of her family, you’re going to defend her. This is predictable. No surprises.
But the truth is, Heather was a torrid mess throughout her blogging career. In the early days she would create fake accounts and post comments as someone else. I used to track them. It was obvious. She bullied frequently and reveled in stirring up adoration from her fans, who flocked to these comments and fell at her feet, just as she intended.
Heather fed her own nemesis and danced in her own shadows. There are clinical ways to categorize her behaviors, but the easiest is to simply acknowledge she wasn’t just owned by the darkness but bowed to its tease.
We are left to ponder her death, the merits of her career and dooce, and where to go from here, without the woman, who, despite her alarming behaviors, still enchanted and enticed.
She left a giant sinkhole in the blogosphere-turned-social-media-gluttony, and no one can come close to making those shoes fit, though plenty will try.
As for the criticism directed at Penelope, go suck a ball sack.
This is such a shitty post. I’m also a middle-aged autistic woman, and even I know it’s NOT OKAY to write about other people’s KIDS like this.
Good Post. Thanks.
“And the more time you take away from kids the more you have to earn to justify it” I agree. Most of us have seen this from both ends. 1st we are the children of the working mom and then we are the working mom of the children. I’ve been forcing myself to remember what it was like to be the child of a working mom. It hurts, but I ‘m better for it.
“Also, daily parenting is way, way harder than daily content creation. And so much less fun. Parenting is quiet and still — making space that the kids can take up. Parenting means never being the center of attention.” I agree but knowing this doesn’t make me feel angry or jealous. I feel angry becuase I’m not naturally good at it. Its takes a lot of effort to do it right. Going to work, in itself, is easy for me, creating and meeting deadlines, problem solving, tedious steps to make a plan work, that I can do with ease. Balancing authority with understanding, sorting out like vs love, squasing my addictions because I don’t want my bad habits to affect my kids, not letting my irrational fears inflict on my children, etc. I just want to get to a place to where I feel that I’m starting to get it right.
These words you wrote leap from the screen: “Content creation to feed influencer life is the sweatshop labor of the new millennium.” I didn’t know who Heather Armstrong was, but a quick google found not her contributions, but reporting on a hateful trollsite of people dancing on her grave. I am not surprised. I have followed you for decades and blogged myself for many years, but never found the formula to success…or the motivation, I guess. I have been thinking of starting again, but this whole influencer lifestyle thing just seems so wrong, along with all of social media. I quit Facebook, but found myself on LinkedIn, again a slave to the endless feed of desperate content. I feel like we need to end social media. These addictive forces of faux affirmation and amplified, anonymous negativity are maybe not causes, but certainly are catalysts for so many bad things. Someone should burn it all down.
…and by “burn it all down,” of course I mean, through legal means, not physical fire. I just feel that the net overall impact of the last couple decades has been incredibly harmful to our collective mental health and the functioning of society.
I first learned about Heather Armstrong while reading The Week magazine May 26th 2023 obituaries! Heather was very truthful about the realities of motherhood! I am sure that her Dooce blog helped to make the lives of millions of women better!! The only thing she did know was how 🤔 to do was to heal herself from the wounds that trolls gave her! Drinking alcohol 🍸 can temporarily numb the pain, suffering and agony. However, that does not get rid of the hurt, pain and suffering! She needed to learn how to release the hurt, pain, agony and suffering from her mind, heart and spirit!! BUT HOW???🤔 HOW do you release the hurt 😞 from your mind, heart, and spirit?? You have to do something that is very difficult to do!! You have to forgive 🙏 the person that hurt you!! BUT WHY?? Forgiveness begins the healing process because you are letting go of the hurt! You do not have to live with it or continue to carry it!! You can decide to let the hurt go!! Again, this is not easy to do because when someone hurts us our normal response is to hurt them! The other necessary thing to do is a self check!! A WHAT?? SELF CHECK!! When you think about the person that hurt you, is your mind flooded with positive or negative thoughts??🤔 If your mind is filled with negative thoughts, you need to forgive the person again!! This can also be done if someone has created a negative situation that hurt you!! Again, we are not helpless victims! Instead of just looking at and living with wounds that others have inflicted upon us, we should take steps to release those wounds!! This will help to speed up the healing process!!
What do you think?? 🤔