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.
It is not lost on me that I am a small piece in Heather Hamilton Armstrong, aka Dooce’s life experience.
I believe that 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 a lot of Macbeth – ending in heartbreaking tragedy as a result of her Sisyphean struggle with mental illness.
Heather and I were journal writers and record keepers. For me, this document is important. You see, I cared deeply about her. When things were good and when she was on, I could be completely unfiltered, our relationship was amazing. Our banter, gossip and deep conversations, inside jokes and eyerolls were a delicious treat. No one seemed to understand me like she did. That was her gift. She made me feel special. I miss it. I always will.
I knew Heather Armstrong long before there were blogs, moms who blog, before smartphones, and way before people felt safe buying things online or making money from sponsorships and their social media streams. Sadly, I would suggest that it was our relationship to blogging that ultimately tanked our friendship. In fact, we did not become friends as a result of our online personas. We became friends in real life because we were dating two dudes who lived in the same house.
We met in college. She met Kyle when he was born. When she and I made our way back to Utah, we lived one block away from each other — by choice. I visited her in the hospital when Leta was born. Leta wore Kyle and Eli’s hand-me-downs. My favorite was a fleece jacket made for me by a friend. We both worked in high tech. We both began blogging unrelatedly and at the same time. 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 Ebbert, lived with Dave. He was the person I texted when I received the news of her passing. When Heather and Jon E. began dating, we became a foursome. 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 I have fond memories of watching Law & Order because Heather loved 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 Jon E. move. Dave gave them this old, giant, wooden console television. Jon 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.) Dave and Jon 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. I wish she could have felt my pride. I wish she would have been able to feel my honest friendship. I was confused when she called me jealous. I had no idea why she could not feel my support. I wish she knew I was safe. Mostly, I did not know or understand the voices that were in her head.
Let me be clear: I also 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 walk over to me and say, “can you believe Jon and Heather.” I should not have listened. I had friends who were annoyingly and stridently neutral. I wish Heather was able to understand me. I wish she did not feel the need to actively shun me. I wish our neutral friends had picked sides, or better, picked her. We were no longer equal in our friendship. She was famous and from what she communicated to me, she wanted me to know that it could never be equal.
The sycophants 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 didn’t take me long, however, to see how unhealthy and unkind it was. Heather was not something to use to prop myself up. Heather was my friend, albeit a difficult friend.
I also helped build the wedge.
Near the end, I was frustrated that our friendship was not withstanding all of the craziness. I wrote something. It stung. I hurt her feelings — deeply. I told myself she could handle it. Her words, especially the ones about me and Dave, were often biting and cruel. I was wrong. 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 overly dramatic. Maybe she was? But if you are going to expend the energy to be that dramatic, might you be suffering? I did not get it. I didn’t grasp her mental illness. I make no excuse for her cruelty. She was brutal. I remember, and to quote her, “I will send my minions” to DOX anyone who trolled her or “hurt her feelings.” She hated to be opposed or pushed back on. This was no longer the Heather I knew. I cannot state this enough.
I was terrified of her, yet I didn’t get it. I did not understand that maybe there was actually some truth to her words. Maybe she really was upset for a month and she really did struggle to get out of bed. I get depressed. I have never known a kind of suffering that causes you to stay in bed for a month. I did not get it. 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 Heather, to make her trust me, trust my intent or heal her brokenness. I am just not that powerful. My guess is we were destined to end, which sucks. There was so much I loved about her. I feel selfish. I am not sure she could be the person I wanted her to be.
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 had suicided.
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. Despite that fact, and that we had lived near each other for more than a decade since our breakup, it had been years since I was in contact with her. I still hopefully believed we would run into each other at the grocery store. I realized she was troubled. She pushed healthy people away. It was my observation that unhealthy people held her hostage and did not push back. It was my experience that when you did push back, eventually she would cut you off.
Now all these years later, she seemed isolated and enabled. I know it would have been impossible to reconcile. Yet, 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. For her, I will say my observations out loud. I will never know. What I do know is something my husband, Dave, shared, “She still has it. Her writing is so good. I am just sorry she felt so desperately lonely…We were just down the street.”
The last words I spoke to Heather were, “fine, you fucking whore.” Then I hung up the phone. We never spoke again. I always believed we would.
My sons were six and four. I remember it vividly. I can see their 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, they 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: 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 hurting. 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 screams and cutting, cruel words. This was not the Heather I knew. I one-hundred percent did not get it. It was rough (understatement). Our exchange left scars that took years (on my end) to repair and speak of without feeling extreme anxiety.
I will carry this.
At one time, and for quite some time, we were best friends. And then we weren’t.
Now as Heather fades away, I believe we all know what an absolute tragedy this is. I don’t feel any peace. I hope she does. 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.)