Happy Mother’s Day, everybody. I know not everyone loves this holiday, but if you do celebrate Mother’s Day, I hope it’s a nice one for you. I don’t mind Mother’s Day much anymore. My mom and I get along pretty well, and I’ve come to terms that I’m a “mom” to dogs. I don’t really think of my dogs as my kids, although they are kind of my babies. At least I don’t have to send them to college. 😉
I’m kidding about the last part. I think I would have enjoyed sending an adult child to college, even though it costs so much. On the other hand, it’s nice to be debt free… and not having to pay for student loans anymore.
Younger daughter sent us a couple of videos. In one, she talked about how so many people her age are forgoing motherhood. It’s very obvious that she loves being a mom, and she’s very good at the job. I admire her patience and dedication to being there for her children. It’s more than she got from her own mom.
Something surreal happened the other day. I was sitting here looking through old blog posts and I found one in which I mentioned Heather B. Armstrong (nee Hamilton), author of the very popular blog Dooce, and a couple of books. I was never a regular reader of Dooce myself, but I knew about Heather because she was an ex Mormon and had grown up in Bartlett, Tennessee (near Memphis), which is where Bill’s dad lived for years before he passed. I think it might have even been May 9th when I looked at that post, not realizing that I would be getting shocking news about her that very day.
On May 9th, it was announced that 47 year old Heather Armstrong had died by her own hand. She reportedly suffered from depression and alcoholism, which was likely made worse by the toxicity of the Internet. Her writing had enchanted and delighted millions of people. She was even dubbed “Queen of the Mommy Bloggers”, because she was a Mommy Blogger before it was “cool”. At a time when blogs were mostly for people to trade among friends and family members, Heather Armstrong made it a place where anyone could have a voice. Dooce.com took off, and soon, scores of people were reading Armstrong’s thoughts on living, loving, marriage, and motherhood.
But Dooce.com had also excited mean spirited people who harassed her on a site called GOMI (Get Off My Internets), an “anti-fan” blog launched in 2008 by New York based blogger, Alice Wright. I had never heard of GOMI before I read about Heather Armstrong’s suicide, but apparently, a very special class of haters hang out there. They make a habit of reading blogs and trashing the writers.
Aside from garden variety clinical depression and alcoholism, Armstrong also had very severe postpartum depression after she had her older daughter in 2003. It was so bad that she needed to be hospitalized. In 2009, Armstrong published a very well-received book called It Sucked and then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita. In spite of her experiences with postpartum depression, Armstrong had another daughter in 2010. Then she divorced her ex husband, Jon Armstrong. She was in another relationship with Pete Ashdown, a two-time Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Utah, at the time of her death.
Heather Armstrong had reportedly quit drinking for awhile before her death, but then relapsed into alcoholism. She continued to write, although her posts– which had been almost daily for years– became a lot less frequent. Some readers were unnerved by the content of her most recent posts, which revealed a downward spiral.
I think a lot of people were shocked and saddened by Armstrong’s suicide. Even though I wasn’t one of her fans, I had heard of Dooce, and realized its success was what a lot of bloggers strive for. Many aspiring writers looked up to Heather Armstrong as a role model, but I think other people just thought of her as a dependable friend. And now she’s gone, and people are left wondering what happened.
I read a few news articles about Heather Armstrong’s death. I was saddened to read that so many comments people left were either clueless or kind of mean. Heather Armstrong will never read those comments, but she was a mom, and her kids can read. Now, it’s Mother’s Day, and their mom is gone forever. For them, Mother’s Day may turn into a “day of infamy”. That’s a day in which a person remembers something awful every year.
Although Armstrong killed herself, I know that her action was caused by legitimate mental illnesses. Many people will say she was selfish to commit suicide, but those people might not understand that suicidal people are often not in their right minds. I write “often not” because sometimes people commit suicide for reasons other than depression. Clearly, in Armstrong’s case, her decision came as a result of deep, unrelenting psychological pain that wasn’t eased by medical treatment. Her death, while brought about by her own hand, was every bit as the result of an illness as a death due to a stroke, cancer, or heart disease is. It’s not like she didn’t try to get well, either. Heather’s depression was severe enough that she even underwent an experimental treatment involving being put into chemically induced comas for fifteen minute sessions. The treatment was supposed to mimic brain death, to see if it might cure extreme depression.
I have suffered from depression myself, and I know how it made me feel. There were times when I was tempted by suicide. But by the grace of God, I managed to resist those impulses. I doubt that my issues were ever as deep as Heather’s were… and although sometimes I get rude comments on my blog, I have never been harassed like she was. I don’t go looking for comments about me, or my blog, so if anyone is talking trash about me, I’m oblivious. But I suspect my blog is too boring for people on GOMI.
I was also never Mormon… and while I know that a lot of people find joy in Mormonism, I also know that a lot of people suffer despair because of it. Armstrong, who had once been a devout church member, left the religion, and reportedly suffered backlash from her family and friends. She poured her thoughts and feelings into her writing, and wound up being fired from her job in Los Angeles. At the time, it was probably awful for her… but then the blog took off, and she was soon earning millions from ad revenue, book sales, and product endorsements.
As a blogger myself, I wonder if maybe Dooce’s success was a source of terrible stress for Armstrong. I know that writing, for me, is kind of therapeutic. But when you become popular, you have to be much more careful about what you write. And when you make money from sponsors, you have to be even more careful, because businesses don’t want to be aligned with controversies or bad press. So then, that “therapy” kind of goes by the wayside, because as a writer, you can no longer be so free with what you express. I would imagine it also becomes harder to stay authentic and interesting.
My own blog used to be more popular. When I was writing it on Blogger and lived in Stuttgart, I shared it a lot more, and I had more readers. I eventually realized that I didn’t really want to be super popular, especially in a military community. Even years since I moved the blog to WordPress and kind of started over, I sometimes run into people who have never even read it, but had a negative opinion of it and me, just because of the name. I try to remember, though, that everyone who becomes popular has to deal with negative opinions and even haters. The most talented, likeable, and famous people in the world have haters.
Heather Armstrong obviously had mental health issues. Writing was a comfort for her… until it was used as a weapon. And now she has two daughters who no longer have their mother on Mother’s Day. I don’t blame Heather for what happened, because I know that the horrors of depression and alcoholism are real. But I do feel for her daughters, who have lost their mom forever. So, my thoughts are with them today, as I am reminded that for some people, Mother’s Day is difficult, at best. And for some, it really is a “day of infamy”.
Wherever Heather B. Armstrong is today, I hope she’s finally at peace. And I wish the most peace and comfort to her survivors, especially her daughters.