the smell of my desperation has become a stench

A peek inside our day, the fourth hour

(The first fifteen minutes can be seen here. The first hour is here, the second hour is here, the third hour is here.)

So this hour is the most boring of the day, and I could pretty much just list it out like this: interruption, interruption, interruption, oh! And one more: TORNADO DRILL.

Sometimes the interruption is polite and asks if I’d like some sweet tea. Shall we sit, gently fan our faces and figure out this problem? Here’s a sprig of mint to freshen your drink! And my! You do look lovely even though the sweat from your workout has curled the back of your hair into the shape of the manure I use to grow my daisies.

Many times the interruption is less forgiving and screams at me with the force of a fire alarm: EMERGENCY! FIX ME NOW! Yes, of course, parents in Third World countries are struggling to feed their children as I yell at you, but someone has to decide whether or not this ad campaign fits your brand. BRAND! BRAAAAAAAND!

It’s the dirtiest word in the blogosphere: brand. It’s worse even than SPONSORED BY.

No one wants to admit it, but there it is. I am no longer a person with feelings. I am not allowed to hurt or feel joy. Unless it happens in all caps. Then it fits the brand, and I am contractually obligated to exploit the shit out of that.

Can I share something with you? Since this hour of the day is pretty much a tangled string of curse words and DID YOU GET THIS DONE? And a whole bunch of pointless rambling at each other about minutia that has not one wit to do with the world going round.

I’d rather tell you that the last eight months or so have been pretty hard, and I’m struggling. I’ve pushed through with as much strength as I can, but that dark demon has returned and is trying to convince me that it’s not worth climbing over the next obstacle. Give up. Lie down and cry. Stare at the ceiling until every limb goes numb.

But since I don’t really have that option I push it all down and turn inside. Jon tries to pull it out of me so that he can help, but I don’t know how to share it.

So we see a therapist. Together, once a week. And then I see another therapist by myself. Because the pressure of running a business and being responsible for two employees and two children and two dogs and the mortgage and the food on the table and making sure THAT I’M NOT DOING IT WRONG, it has somehow stirred up my past. The past that I have not ever addressed or even known to address. The past that suffocates me as I struggle to change what it did to me.

I know my pain is relative. My life is good. I am blessed beyond measure. We are lucky. This isn’t about how poor little Heather has it so hard.

This is about the discovery that at my core is a ten-year-old girl who thought that she was responsible for keeping her entire family intact. If I was perfect, if I excelled at everything, if I didn’t show weakness my family would stay together.

But then that family fell apart anyway. All that work, and it fell apart anyway.

I failed.

Emotionally I have not progressed beyond that ten-year-old girl. I have physically carried that failure for twenty-five years. It has affected every relationship I have ever had, including the one I have with my own children. And tragically, it has robbed me of the happiness I should have been relishing these past eight months. Incredible and flourishing months.

Sometimes this hour of the day is spent sitting with my husband across the room from our therapist. She looks at me and tells me to stop lying to myself. Yes, your parents handled the divorce as best as they could, Heather, you’ve pointed that out how many times now? But still, it cut you up and spit you out.

Admit it. Say it out loud. Free that ten-year-old girl. Because it wasn’t her fault.

That’s what I’m trying to do this hour.

  • Amanda Patchin

    2011/04/25 at 10:11 am


  • FancyCooks

    2011/04/25 at 10:13 am

    As always…thanks for posting. You’re not alone!

  • kacyd

    2011/04/25 at 10:21 am

    wow girl….you are amazing and anyone who says otherwise can SUCK it..lots of xxoo

  • OKMom

    2011/04/25 at 10:21 am

    The Mom in me wants to hug you. One step forward, two steps back. Two steps forward, one step back. You’re getting there!

  • kellyelizardbeth

    2011/04/25 at 10:22 am

    I try really hard not to link to myself in comments, but this is something that has been *so close to my heart* and on my mind this week.

    I love this, really. Thank you.

  • cherylps

    2011/04/25 at 10:26 am

    The courage in this post is so amazing. Thank you for speaking your truth out loud so the whole world can hear it. You are not alone, and you looking honestly at this stuff helps others do the same. Thank. You. – Cheryl

  • KateH

    2011/04/25 at 10:28 am

    Many, many hugs… gentle or fierce or both.

    And a sprig of mint, if you’d like. Or a wedge of lime. Or how about a wedge of grapefruit? That could be amusing as the wedge is, um, wedged into a glass of sparkling water (is sparkling ok? we can do flat water if you’d prefer!). Or the grapefruit wedge could be perched on the glass’ edge and topple the whole thing over, giving the critters something to lap up and Leta something to scream about and Marlo something to slap her wee hands down into.

    Or just the hugs.

  • Ms. Pants

    2011/04/25 at 10:29 am

    Echo, echo, echo. Thank you. My parents have never understood that I’ve always felt like I’m responsible for keeping them together and happy. Hell, I’ve never understood it. But I’ve been scared to death for decades that they’d divorce and it would mean that I’m worthless. Thus far, they have stuck it out, but I’ve found other things to prove my worthlessness. And thusly, my therapist has agreed (in my head, at least) to build me a padded room in her retirement sanctuary should she ever need to retire.

  • tokenblogger

    2011/04/25 at 10:33 am

    If your therapist gets the ten year old in you to grow up — please send me her business card.

  • kaethend

    2011/04/25 at 10:36 am

    I am. right. there. with you. Except I’m two.

    Last week in therapy I described it as a tiny, hard, shiny, black knot. One of those knots you can’t even start to pick at to get the ropes undone because it’s so tight and hard and shiny.

    And then there’s this Space all around it. This wide, open Universe with all this space.

    I’m trying to find the bridge between so I’m not so caught in that knot all the time. So I can spend more time in that open, forgiving Space.

  • ADDGirl

    2011/04/25 at 10:36 am

    my parent’s divorce was hard on me and I was 17! I know it was harder on my younger siblings, and I’m glad you posted this. Sometimes it is easy to forget that just because something is common, doesn’t make it easy.

  • LynnFlynn

    2011/04/25 at 10:37 am

    They say (Who is they? I will never know.) that when something tragic happens to you when you’re young, you tend to feel that age for the rest of your life. My dad passed away suddenly when I was twelve. To this day, I still feel like an insecure twelve year old. I think, “I don’t want that person to drive to work, because what if they get in a car accident and die?” I am always worried about people leaving and never coming back. Do I know that this is silly and that I’m doing nothing but worrying myself sick with these thoughts? Absolutely. I’ve been trying to change that with anti-anxiety meds, but you and I both know that no amount of meds can completely suppress those thoughts.

    I think I speak for your true fans who care about you when I say that we are completely fine with you taking time off from blogging to get your shit together. Your family needs you way more than the internet does. We all want to see you happy!

  • Laura Jones

    2011/04/25 at 10:39 am

    You’re amazing, talented, intelligent, and I enjoy your blog. I hope the people in your life help you stay sane when the internet (and I include myself in this category) is insane. I used to feel that way about feminism as if I failed because I wanted to be a stay at home mom. I’m glad you blog about being a mom although I understand you run a business. I hope the darkness lifts soon. Hugs.

  • April McGel

    2011/04/25 at 10:39 am

    Thanks for this post. How many times has my therapist said, “April, stop lying to yourself.” But the perfectionist (8 yr old self) has a really hard time hearing it. Sending love and healing your way (and hoping some of it bounces back to me).

  • Round Rock Gal

    2011/04/25 at 10:40 am

    Wow! So heartbreaking. You have broken through so many other barriers, you will get through this as well. And it will be well documented, and we will all be the richer for your thoughtful prose.

    Sending you a well deserved hug!

  • katliz

    2011/04/25 at 10:42 am

    “…that dark demon has returned and is trying to convince me that it’s not worth climbing over the next obstacle. Give up. Lie down and cry. Stare at the ceiling until every limb goes numb”

    That same demon took up what seemed like permanent residence in my head through the end of February. Two months of therapy and a return to meds handed him his walking papers for the most part – he peeks in at least once a day – but I’ve slowly returned from being his indentured servant. I don’t have that singular event or time in my life wherein I can pinpoint the energy on which he thrives, but he’s there.

    I know that a stranger on the internet can’t tell you anything your therapist hasn’t, so all I can do is tell you that you’re not alone. And those worst, darkest days a few months ago where I almost gave up? Know where I went to feel as if I wasn’t alone?

    Your life isn’t the only one your readers have saved. You’re worth the fight, and your work is worth the fight. You are loved, valued and appreciated more than you’ll ever know.

  • Cecily

    2011/04/25 at 10:43 am

    That shit stays with you. For DECADES I thought the fact that my father left when I was 21 months old had little effect on me. Ha! It touched on every single relationship, ruined most of them, and because nearly unbearable when I watched my husband interact with my daughter at that same age. It’s gotten more manageable now – thanks therapy and twelve step programs and antidepressants and mood stabilizers! But I have a daddy-shaped hole in my heart that will never go away. It’s like my addiction, in a way – just another thing I have to learn to work around. You know?

    Sorry you’re hurting, sweetheart. I’m thinking about you.

  • Caloden

    2011/04/25 at 10:47 am

    That demon is an absolute bitch to shake, but kudos to you and Jon for facing it on a weekly basis. Even if you can grasp the logic behind it, butting up against it on a daily basis is an ongoing, life long pursuit.

  • iPattie

    2011/04/25 at 10:48 am

    Thank you for sharing this with us. And wow — I had no idea how you continue to be affected by your parents’ divorce. Best of luck to you, and I hope therapy helps you ultimately develop a way to cope with it so it doesn’t affect you as it has been.

  • Mir

    2011/04/25 at 10:48 am

    So I realize this isn’t part of your day-in-the-life (nor do you have any obligation to answer this, ever), but any tips for those of us who have kids and got divorced in terms of saving them from a similar realization in their 30s? Because reading this today depressed the crap out of me. I know you didn’t write “Hey, YOU BROKE YOUR CHILDREN,” but with my particular pair of crap-colored glasses, that’s kind of what I read.

    P.S. Apologies for making this all about me. I really do appreciate that you shared that, and am just wondering if you feel like it gives you any footing in terms of extrapolating out how not to end up feeling similarly. Sigh.

  • libers5

    2011/04/25 at 10:48 am

    so sorry to hear you are struggling, and glad to hear you are working on it. it’s important work, stay with it.

  • radiantlisa

    2011/04/25 at 10:50 am

    Thank you so much for posting this – it gave me a much-needed epiphany about my own emotional state.

    So sorry to hear things are rough right now – I’ll be thinking good thoughts for you.

  • Jessica Eiden Smedley

    2011/04/25 at 10:53 am

    You are not alone.

  • kristanhoffman

    2011/04/25 at 10:54 am

    It sucks that you even have to give us a disclaimer, that your problems can’t be your problems without being measured against someone else’s.

    But look, you are a strong and beautiful and brave woman, and you share stories that resonate with us all. I hope you know that if Dooce ended tomorrow, that would be more than enough, and that you and your family would find a way to be just fine.

  • kristanhoffman

    2011/04/25 at 10:56 am

    Also, katliz’s comment (#16) made me cry. (Which proves my point exactly.)

  • ZachsMom

    2011/04/25 at 10:58 am

    Oh Heather, I can SO relate. My parents divorced when I was 19 years old and in the past 16 years, every time I had to tell someone they were divorced or even thought about it, it made me cry. I think as children no matter how old you are, it hurts to see your parents split up and to some degree you internalize it and make it somehow your fault.

    I finally saw a therapist last summer and she told me they were immature and selfish in how they handled it by putting me in the middle and that I had to let it go. (we also did this weird tapping thing all over my face and arms but don’t ask about that, I didn’t get it). I also did a lot of talking to my older brother who is wise beyond his years and that was helpful. We’ve never spoken about their divorce so it was good to get a different perspective on the whole thing. I would totally recommend speaking to a sibling about it if you think that would help. A spouse is nice to talk to but they didn’t grow up in your house so they can’t really “get” it. Be gentle with yourself, it wasn’t your fault. (easy to say, so hard to understand).

  • caits

    2011/04/25 at 11:02 am

    Inspiring and thoughtful. Just add some 12-year old tween hormonal angst into the mix and you’re preaching to the choir (was tween even a word 15 years ago? And yikes! That was 15 years ago already?).

    It’s so funny (not funny haha) how our little selves just take it all on our own shoulders in those situations and suddenly we convince ourselves that our behavior is THE ONLY answer to fixing this. We were so wrong, but even admitting now that we weren’t the cause or the fix seems impossible.

    Just know that there’s a lot of us – people stuck at THAT age when THAT happened – and we’re rooting for you and hoping to see you overcome (because maybe that will mean we can do it too).

  • moremadder

    2011/04/25 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for the reminder that I needed to look into getting back into therapy this morning …

    Also, a book recommendation: Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child ( It’s not about polymaths. It’s about children who were gifted at being strong and developing coping mechanisms, and now that they’ve grown up those coping mechanisms are hurting more than helping. Good stuff.

  • Camels and Chocolate

    2011/04/25 at 11:05 am

    This is why I love you so: You’re so brutally, painfully honest that every person reading your prose can also feel your pain. I’m sorry you’re hurting, but glad you’re working through it. You do have A LOT on your plate–I don’t think anyone would ever deny that fact!

  • kentuckienne

    2011/04/25 at 11:06 am

    I’m sure you thought it was just you, but I read your post and thought you were talking about me. I have the same “Why am I so unhappy? People are dying of cholera in Africa!” response, and the same conviction that things that happened when I was very young were somehow my fault. And it is so very hard to change after years of thinking that way. Thank you for letting us know that we are not alone in feeling this way.

  • SugarShopSweets

    2011/04/25 at 11:10 am

    So sorry.

    It is such a tragedy that there isn’t a way to make the thoughts of it disappear. I have begged my therapist to make my bad memories disappear but sadly there is nothing to do…

    Hang in there and keep doing your best. I hope opening up your heart and sharing helps it heal

    Kindest Regards

  • jen dalley

    2011/04/25 at 11:11 am

    Thanks for posting that.

    We LOVE you! (see those caps?)
    Keep pushing…

  • missusclark

    2011/04/25 at 11:13 am

    And here I was thinking, “Wow. This woman’s really got her shit together!” Your business keeps your family, you have two young, healthy, active kids, your house is clean, you keep up on pop music (what year is it, anyway?) you get to the gym *daily*, you’re amazingly funny and you take great photos. If only you knew how us lesser mortals envied your talents…

    You accomplish so much, with such style and grace, Heather. Of course it’s not your fault.

  • Former Homecoming Queen

    2011/04/25 at 11:15 am

    I feel like we are long lost relatives. Though you are about a foot taller than me=)

    I too act under the assumption that I need to be perfect to keep it all together, that my parents’ divorce was my fault. Nowadays, it’s more “if I don’t put those dishes away before bed my son will turn to drugs and end up in a cult.”

    Almost daily you remind me I’m not alone in this weird brain of mine. Thank you, and I hope you know how much you help.

  • sebeckley

    2011/04/25 at 11:17 am

    You are totally not alone in this. Superherojewelry is going through a similar thing.

    And I just recently had a near death experience that (finally) allowed me to realize that yeah, BAD S**T has happened to me. And that’s ok. Because I am strong and I can heal.

    It doesn’t matter that other people have it worse. The reality is that the only way to get to the other side of the trauma is to acknowledge that it was bad (really, earth-shatteringly bad) and that you are _not_ a bad person for having that trauma and having that trauma make it hard for you to function.

    It should make you a little crazy to survive a painful divorce. It it didn’t, you’d be a sociopath. Embrace your humanity and frailty. Then figure out how to heal and move on.

    Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Be ok with being human and being hurt. We have all been there.

    You think the pain will destroy you, so you minimize it, but if you surrender to it and walk through, there are elephants and modern furniture on the other side.

  • imPLANTed

    2011/04/25 at 11:19 am

    Thanks Mir#20 for your comment. I have a ten-year old who I’m trying to break the news to.

  • mydeaddogma

    2011/04/25 at 11:21 am

    No doubt circumstances, responsibilities, and past experiences influence mood to varying degrees. And talk therapy can definitely help with coping and perspective.

    Unfortunately for many of us however, the ultimate determinant is brain chemistry — and the best we can often do is to utilize all available aids and focus on simply putting one foot in front of the other. The brain-chemistry-impaired version of AA’s ‘One Day At A Time’…

    Lucky people with ‘good’ brain chemistry may see lack of appreciation or ingratitude. Those of us not sharing their good fortune understand, empathize, and pray for strength for your continuing Step-By-Step walk. God bless.

  • round_2

    2011/04/25 at 11:23 am

    *Punched in the gut*

    I have never posted ANYTHING on a blog before today. This post has cleared up some emotional cobwebs.

  • helixiafox

    2011/04/25 at 11:26 am

    Oh, my dear. It’s great that you are aware of the problem, of course it is hard to fix. Divorce is incredibly traumatic for kids and we live in this weird society where we are expected to pretend that nothing effects us ever, or that it’s no big deal because someone else has it worse, when in reality we really need to mourn the innocent we lost, even if it was because of something seemingly ‘small’. It can only be measured by the effect it had on you.

    I knew for years that being sexually abused as a child probably messed me up, that I had varying degrees of attachment and intimacy/trust issues, but it didn’t go away until I buried myself in therapy and crying constantly and being extremely vulnerable. Mourning, hating the people who let me down even though some of them are still the most important people in my life and even though they only did the best they could with what they knew. And then slowly gaining a sense of entitlement and taking care of myself. In my case, the depression and anxiety that had followed me since I was a little girl then ceased. But don’t get me wrong, it was by no means easy or pleasant and certainly this isn’t the way for everyone.

    It wasn’t your fault, but only you can convince yourself of that. It’s YOUR journey and it’s a very difficult one. Take care of that ten year old girl.

  • Erin Human

    2011/04/25 at 11:26 am

    Oh man… I am struggling with similar issues lately. I love my life, but somehow the mere fact of being a parent now means old family/mother/me issues are repeating on me like a bad meal. It’s precisely BECAUSE I am otherwise happy that this is torturing me. I don’t have a therapist, but perhaps I should…

  • dfunkmcgunk

    2011/04/25 at 11:27 am

    I am sitting here speechless, which is a first for me. I could have written this same post (with slightly different details, obviously).

    I know what it’s like to feel responsible for your entire family. I felt that way growing up, and I feel that way now, and the weight of it all can be unbearable.

    Everyday, I fear that we will lose our jobs, become homeless, and be forced to sell dreamcatchers on the venice boardwalk (please LAWD don’t let that happen!). The anxiety and stress I’ve put on myself over the years weighs me down and I feel like an old woman (and I’m only 30!).

    The question is: how do we stop thinking like that? We’ve spent the majority of our lives feeling responsible for everything and everyone that we neglect ourselves. We are stuck in our ten year old minds. I sometimes liken myself to an animal – I am just surviving, not really living. I’m happy but it’s always in the back of my mind that pressure, that stress, that anxiety of being the caretaker.

    It’s exhausting!

    You aren’t alone in feeling like you are responsible for keeping everything together. We need to remember we have great partners who can share the “burden” and we aren’t responsible for everything. We have many people in our lives who wouldn’t let us fall.


  • Funnygirl78

    2011/04/25 at 11:28 am

    Your breath-taking honesty and courage is amazing. Love.

  • SamarZ24

    2011/04/25 at 11:28 am

    Wow….I don’t even know what to say, except that in some small ways, I understand. I hope you know that you’re not alone, and I hope you feel better soon.

  • slappyintheface

    2011/04/25 at 11:31 am

    A great friend of mine once told me, “You don’t have to get over it, you just have to get on with it”. She was right …. oh so right. Everything in our lives doesn’t have to be solved or have an easy answer. Shit happens and sometimes you just have to address it and then get on with it. In the “crappy things lottery”, I won big time, but I am slowly learning to come to terms with it, learn from it, and use it to help others. Life goes on.

  • Heathers Garden

    2011/04/25 at 11:33 am

    Heather, I’m sorry you’re having a tough time right now. Living in the joy of the moment isn’t always easy for me either, but it’s so wonderful when I do. Big virtual hug from me to you. –Heather

  • JourneyBeyondSurvival

    2011/04/25 at 11:34 am

    How comforting is it to you that you are not alone?

    Not very? Oh. YEs, I can relate to that to. But, I believe that everyone has their pile of problems, and I believe they all-cumulatively-over our lives are hard.

    Why does this matter? I doesn’t.

    It does make literally going crazy over my infant daughter, then being right about her disability, and watching it strip her of skills manageable. Why? Because the hardest part of my whole life has been my mental illness. By far.

    Mental illness is the great equalizer because nobody sees it, I don’t want just anybody to know about it, and I don’t get sympathy. Everyone wanted to help when my daughter needed a wheelchair. But, when I wanted to stay sane?


    Like I said. I understand. Heather Armstrong? You do whatever it takes.

  • Janice

    2011/04/25 at 11:37 am

    You have been a very good girl for a very long time. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to admit you hurt. You can crawl into the Internet’s lap and put your head on it’s shoulder and have a good cry. Your tears are welcome here.

  • Debbie7

    2011/04/25 at 11:39 am

    Thanks for being honest, I’m in a very similar place myself and in my marriage as well. I’m so, so grateful that we are fortunate enough to be able to go to an excellent therapist.

    I’ve been reading since before you were a “brand,” and I love your evolution. I hope that you can be proud of it and of yourself. You really *are* “like, a MAGICIAN” here, every day.

  • nluvwthmybstfrnd

    2011/04/25 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for posting this and making me feel like I’M not alone. Isn’t it weird how the past (that you weren’t even aware of) can come up and slap you right across the face when you’re least expecting it? And it sucks when you realize it wasn’t so sudden after all. That it has actually been a pain in the ass all along. That it has affected every aspect of your life. I KNOW. I hope that by facing the past, you’ll be able to keep it there once and for all. Sending you hugs, Heather.

  • lisdom

    2011/04/25 at 11:43 am

    I don’t want to get too personal here, but I think to some extent, most of us will have some major issue that holds us back that is pretty directly related to our parents. For me, it’s being incredibly afraid of being poor. Thanks for sharing, and I hope that just sharing it with us, and inevitably with your parents who read this blog, will help to heal some wounds. Maybe try to put yourself in Leta or Marlo’s position, and imagine them blaming themselves for any issues you and Jon have with each other. Seems silly, right? Doesn’t mean you don’t still struggle, but hopefully it could give you perspective while you’re getting through this. So encouraged by your honesty. It helps us all realize we’re not alone.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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