The Heather B. Hamilton Armstrong, a.k.a. Dooce, that I once knew

TW: suicide, mental illness, mommy blogs 

Please know as I process, I am mindful of Heather’s children. I’m not sure these words will ever cross their path. I am also a mom and want to show compassion for their mother. This is a post I never wanted to write. I thought by the time we were old, we would have worked this shit out. God, how I wish I could say these things to her face.

Heather and I were journal writers and record keepers. For me, this document is important. I cared deeply about her, even until the end. When things were good and when she was on, I could be my completely unfiltered self. Our relationship was amazing. Our banter, gossip and deep conversations, inside jokes and eye rolls were a delicious treat. It often seemed no one understood me like she did. Making people feel seen was her gift. I miss it.

I believe the Heather B. Hamilton Armstong that I knew is the Heather the internet fell in love with. Her life was a Shakespearean play, with a little of The Taming of the Shrew and mostly Macbeth. Her life ended abruptly as a result of heartbreaking tragedy as a result of her Sisyphean struggle with mental illness. 

At one time, and for quite some time, Heather and I were very best friends. Then we weren’t. 

May 10, 2023, I received a text from my friend Sarah, with a link to an Instagram post: “I assume you saw this but just in case.” As the world was learning, I also learned that Heather B. Hamilton (Armstrong) died by suicide.

Tears streamed down my face. I did not know I was crying. Words came out of my mouth. I couldn’t understand what I was saying. My hand picked up my phone and my fingers began texting; words missing words and incomplete sentences. It felt like my fingers, my words, my tears were already grieving something my brain was not ready to process. 

Oh Heather.” I said out loud. For her, for her children, my heart broke.

…Salt Lake City is a small town. Heather and I lived near each other for more than a decade. I honestly believed we would run into each other at the grocery store. I hope we would make peace. We never did.

All these years later, she seemed broken, unwell, isolated and stridently enabled. By the end, and from the casual observer, it seemed her current boyfriend had built a firewall between her and the rest of the world. I wonder if he loved her or was more enamored with the status she provided him. I hope he loved her. I will never know. What I do know is something my husband, Dave, shared. In a loving tone he said, “She still has it. Her writing is so good. I am just sorry she felt so desperately lonely…We were just down the street.

As I reflect, I ache. The last words I spoke to Heather were, “fine, you fucking whore.” I hung up the phone. We never spoke again. I always believed we would. 

My sons were six and four. I vividly remember our conversation. I can see my sons’ tiny, desperate faces as they urgently clung to my legs: “Mommy, why is that lady screaming at you? Why is she calling you embarrassment? What does embarrassment mean? Mommy, please don’t cry.” Terrified, my sons began to sob. Heather’s shrieks stole the oxygen. I could not speak. I was shaking. I was shook. I was afraid. I could not get a hold of Dave. So I called my Mormon bishop, even though I didn’t go to church. He was also my friend. I wailed. Between gasps and heaves, I told him what had happened. I don’t know why. 

At that moment, I was a wobbly shadow of myself. Looking back, I wish I could have done it better. I wish I had held my boundaries or had more compassion or both. I also wish that in that moment I had the wherewithal to forgive both of us. We were both dealing with our own shit and traumas. Mostly, I wish I understood that what was going on with Heather had nothing to do with me. I did not understand her rage. I cannot express its power. We were in a feedback loop. It was a mess. It went well beyond a normal fight between two best friends, even a really bad fight. 

Since that night and through a lot of therapy, I have come to realize that we were both suffering. We were both triggered. We both flooded as a result. I had a dysregulated stress response to Heather as a result of the past abuse I experienced and my own unrelated traumas. At that moment, I could not see past her very loud shrieks and cutting, cruel words. This was not the Heather I knew. I one-hundred percent did not get it. Our exchange left deep scars that took years (on my end) to repair.

I will carry this. 

Way back when we were T9-texting, before there were blogs, and before people felt safe buying things online or making money from sponsorships and their social media streams, I met Heather. We became friends in real life because we were dating two dudes who lived in the same house.

We met in college. She visited when my oldest son was born. When she and I made our way back to Utah, we lived one block away from each other — by choice. Heather and I both worked in high tech. We both began blogging unrelatedly and at the same time. I visited her in the hospital when Leta was born. Leta wore my sons’ hand-me-downs. I brought Heather People & Us Magazines the day she spent in a Mental Health Facility. My favorite was a fleece jacket made for me by a friend. Heather was a brilliant writer. She understood me like no one else ever did. I bet she got a lot of people. She was whip smart and could be so absolutely kind. She cried at my sorrows and laughed at my weird sense of humor. 

Our college friendship was my favorite. Her boyfriend, Jonny E, lived with my Dave. Jonny was the person I texted when I received the news of Heather’s passing. When Heather and Jon E. began dating, we became a foursome. Jonny, Dave and I lived together and I recall the day I was sitting in my room working on my laptop. Heather walked in with a stack of books. “Beth, can we talk?” I looked away from my laptop and said, “Of course.” “Beth, I think Jon and I are going to have sex. I went to the BYU library and checked out all of these science books.” We were all LDS and working our way out of being LDS. I said, “well the first thing you need to do is set aside all of those books.” We laughed about this for years.

During this same time we watched a metric ton of Law & Order. Why? Because Heather loved Angie Harmon and we loved Heather’s love of Angie Harmon. Then we all loved Law & Order – only the Angie Harmon episodes. Heather was convincing that way. There was the time we were helping Heather and Jonny E. move. Dave gave them this old, giant, wooden console television. Jonny E. and Heather were driving a rented moving van. As they rounded the corner, from University Avenue to 500 North in Provo, Dave and I watched the television bounce out of the back of the van and skitter across the intersection. They stopped the van. We were all laughing hard. Heather and I kept saying, “I think I am going to pee my pants. Beth, I am totally peeing my pants.” (We may have both peed our pants.) Dave and Jonny E. lifted the TV back into the van and we followed behind to see that it made it safely to its new home. The wood was scraped up, but it still worked! When Heather and Jon E. moved to LA, Dave and I visited them there a couple of times. We strolled through their cool West Hollywood neighborhood. When Heather mentioned having painful constipation, Dave and Jon went to the drug store to buy her an enema. She was certain to tell me how it worked. “Ok Beth. I read the instructions. I held the water in as long as I could. Oh my God. It worked. I pooped.” I loved that unfiltered and delightful Heather.

Years later, as we slow-rolled out of our friendship, Heather was ascending, stratospherically and ultimately became the most famous mommy blogger ever on planet earth. Selfishly I wish she would have been able to feel the pride I felt for her. I wish she would have been able to feel my honest friendship. I wish Heather was able to understand me. I wish she knew I was safe and someone she could trust. I wish she did not feel the need to actively shun me. We were no longer participating in a reciprocal friendship. She was famous and from what she communicated to me, she wanted me to be her fan. I was confused when she called me jealous. I had no idea why she could not feel my support. Mostly, I did not know or understand the voices that were in her head.

Let me be clear: There was so much I loved about Heather. I helped build our wedge. I did not know how to handle fame, or rather, my weird relationship to fame. The constant onslaught of people trying to get closer to her through me was confusing. Have you ever had a best friend suddenly become famous? I made mistakes. I experienced Heather’s rise in our neighborhood, online and via our mutual friends. I had a neighbor who constantly complained to me about Heather and Jon. She would come to my house and say, “can you believe Jon and Heather.” Then allegedly, she would return to Jon and Heather to report what I said about them, (at least that is what Heather shared with me). The need for people to get close to Heather through me never seemed to end. We shared mutual friends who were annoyingly and stridently neutral. I think their behavior and refusal to set a boundary with me or Heather was equally damaging. I wish our neutral friends had picked sides, or better, picked her.

The sycophants and haters were also real. Bloggers reached out to me so they could get closer to her. It was all new territory. It was the Wild West of the internet. I should not get a pass. However, those neighbors, friends and internet people who used my relationship with Heather to leverage their relationship with her are also responsible.

In the purest form of the word sycophant, they used Heather to get what they want and to get a price of what she was having. I am ashamed of the moments I fell for it. I am sad I got caught up in it. It did not take me long, however, to see how unhealthy and unkind it was. It all sounds so petty now. I wish I had not been caught up in it. Heather was not something to use to prop myself up. Heather was my friend, albeit a very difficult friend. I also cannot imagine what she was going through.

Near the end, I was frustrated that our friendship was not withstanding all of the craziness. I wrote something. See, her written words, especially the ones about me and Dave, were often biting and cruel. I told myself she could handle it. She did not handle it. She screamed that I hurt her feelings — deeply. She told me she cried for a month, that she could not get out of bed for a month. “Beth, you are my very best friend. I don’t know if I can forgive you.” 

Honestly, I thought she was being unfair and overly dramatic. I did not grasp her mental illness. I make no excuse for her cruelty. She was brutal, cold and absolutely mean. I remember, and to quote her, “I will send my minions” to DOX anyone who trolled her or “hurt her feelings.” And then she sent her minions, who caused so much pain and suffering as a result. She openly stated that she hated to be opposed or pushed back on. Ultimately, this was the breaking point. I no longer knew or liked or felt safe with this version of Heather.

I was absolutely terrified of her. I also did not get it. I did not understand that maybe there was actually some truth to her words. Maybe she was actually upset for a month and struggled to get out of bed. Sure, I get depressed. Yet, I have never known a kind of suffering that causes you to stay in bed for a month. I did not comprehend.

What I also did not realize then and what I see so clearly now is that there was nothing I could do to fix her, to make her trust me, trust my intent or heal her brokenness. I am just not that powerful. I think at times I thought I was. I feel selfish. I am not sure she could be the person I wanted her to be. My guess is we were destined to end, which totally sucks.

Now as Heather fades away, I believe we all know what an absolute tragedy this is. I hope she finds peace. I hope she knows she was loved. May she find rest.

(PS: I am currently in Japan and wanted to get this up before another day passed. I would like to add links to this post/and maybe more edits.)