An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

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.

  • themomdane

    Look, lady. Keeping my family from falling apart by doing completely unrelated things like getting good grades and doing a funny valley girl voice (dating myself here) is MY job. Now it takes shape as producing beautiful children who force people who hate each other to spend time together and pretend they don’t want to punch each other. My job, I say, and you can’t have it!

    Seriously, though. Big hugs. As you may remember from Rader Institute ads from your days in LA: “It’s not your fault. You’re not alone.”

  • jennyleggett

    Grieving the loss of the childhood you didn’t have but wanted is such a hard emotion to get in touch with. Hang in there with yourself, you’re doing all the right things. And, heck, even if we were dotting every i and crossing every t, our kids are going to have a laundry list of topics for their therapist, so keep on keepin’ on, that’s life. 🙂

  • tasheffka

    Things that really suck about depression: you can’t see everyone around you in all that darkness. You are not alone. Your terrified 10 year-old girl and mine are standing not too far from each other. And you’re right. It’s not her fault. She did not fail and you have not failed. And yes, I know, that that doesn’t always sink all the way in, but maybe in the way that Chinese water torture finally breaks you, maybe enough people saying this and repeating this will let a little light in. And if a little light can get in, lots and lots of light can, too.

  • tolley.heather

    So I’ve been following your blog for the past couple years. I’ve never commented because I guess I figure it will likely get lost among the mass of other comments from the throngs of your admirers. 🙂 But in the off chance you read this and it makes a difference, I actually registered in order to post a comment.

    I just wanted to let you know how awesome I think you are. I don’t really follow blogs other than those of my close friends and family, but I always look forward to reading yours. I would love to be as witty, clever, and funny as you! I also appreciate your honesty. Particularly with this post. It is so helpful (to so many people, judging by the amount of comments) to know that other people struggle, in spite of the fact that “people are dying of cholera in Africa!” and we all have it relatively good over here. But we all have our own struggles nonetheless.

    I’m 23, and when I think of women that I want to emulate you are on the top of my list. I would ellaborate as to why, but this is already starting to feel too much like a love letter. Hang in there. You rock.

  • lfp

    unfortunately, you are SO not alone. having a child has poked me in every single wound, HARD. The way I was parented in my childhood has led me to not trust other people, OR my own instincts. I need to do both those things as a parent, and just as a human being!

    they finally divorced when I was 25 and it was such a relief, like the first word of truth spoken instead of all the gaslighting & putting on the successful face for the community.

    I’m fortunate to have a therapist I really click with, and I’m working on offloading all the crap, and helping that inner little girl, that perfectionist control freak, grow up. it’s a long road, and I think having a child accelerates it, or intensifies it, at least for me.

    thinking of you and wishing you peace along the path. it will get better, and you’ll have hard patches, but it will never be the same you going through it.

  • indy1016ja

    Ah, Heather, I’m so sorry it’s dragging you down again.

    My parents divorced when I was 10 and it took me until about 30 years later to truly deal with issues related to it. It’s one of those things that even though you can intellectualize the fact that it wasn’t your fault, there’s still that hurt child deep inside.

    I know this part of it is hard and horrible and makes every part of you feel raw, but it’s all good and important work and it will help.

  • Hoper9897

    I know somewhat how you feel. I am truly blessed with a wonderful family. But, even after 28 years, I still feel the abandonment of my father signing his rights away and walking out of my life. The feeling of not being good enough, not being wanted by the one person that should always want you has carried over into every faucet of my life.

    Stay strong Heather. We are all pulling for you.

  • RAGE against the MINIVAN

    This post resonates with me in so many ways. I have also been fighting my own demons in a season that, by external measures, should be full of joy. It is staggering how childhood hurts can encroach upon our every adult interaction.

    I do think that being in the “public eye”, so to speak, and having others dissect your life and success as if you are not a real person with real feeling, must add an extra measure of stress. I can’t imagine how you cope with all that noise and I think you show incredible grace and strength by weathering it as well as you do.

  • megrit411

    I am sorry you feel that way, sorry you have that cloud, that dark, dark cloud hanging over you. I’m glad you have a husband who understands you and is there for you. You also have an online community here for you too. Thank you for sharing. HUGS!

  • ckat22

    I wish I had better words, but the best I can come up with is: “I feel yah, Sistah!”

    It took months of far too intense therapy before I could admit that my parent’s failings were THEIR responsibility, not mine. And that, no matter how good their intentions, their choices negatively impacted me, and when I made excuses for them, it was the same as taking the fault onto myself.

    Funnily enough, putting the responsibility (and yes, blame) where it belonged IMPROVED my relationship with them.

    I spent decades believing my parents’ divorce didn’t really affect me – because I knew it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t want them to get back together (the 2 most common problems for children of divorce). I now know that there are a million different ways divorce impacts a child. I wish you the best in your journey to resolve this and all other challenges you choose to tackle.

    And finally (cause this isn’t long enough!), thank you, thank you, thank you for all you have given me over the years – joy, laughter, comfort and education (to name but a few gifts) …

  • green.grass

    I have been reading your blog for years, but just registered because this post really resonated with me.

    Thank you for sharing this post. I’m struggling too.

  • Tania D

    You are a brave woman to admit publicly that your dark cloud is still following you. I hope you can shake that dark passenger, get the help you need and that you can shed some of your pain real soon. You are very talented and I have been reading you for seven years or so.

  • arecipeforsanity

    I can’t thank you enough for this. I’ve struggled with major depression for many years, and you hit the nail on the head. At my core is that child who is still hurting, who couldn’t fix her family, who feels like a failure. Thank you for being brave enough to share all that you do with us, and thank you for writing this. Through your words, I feel like I can finally express how I feel.

  • dragonfish

    there are so many times I wish that I could call you Heather. I am sorry that you are struggling. thank you for being honest with all of us, and thank you for reminding at least me that I’m not the only one who has spent her whole life trying to make sure everything is ‘perfect’ for everyone around her. I’m SO afraid of medication, and I’m so afraid of admitting I’m broken. My only words for you are that you are NOT alone. all my best to you always.

  • josita

    Another person registering just to comment on this post.

    You are allowed to fuck up. Without, you know, trying to be the VALEDICTORIAN of fucking up.

    Hugs, hugs, hugs to you.

  • schmackie

    Thank you Phoebe Fay for what you said… (#72)

    “This is my biggest fear, that it will come back, no matter what I do. I’m afraid I’ll be smack dab in the middle of my life being AWESOME, and that horrible darkness will sneak in and steal away my ability to feel the good.”

    As a wave of anxiety passed over me last night while making dinner… came smack dab out of nowhere… I couldn’t put into words WHY THE HELL “HE” was back… I compare him to “Smoky” like on Lost… it’s this black smoke that comes through me and sucks all the self-worth right out of me… and brings all this doubt and fear with it…

    Then I came on and read this post. And I read everyone’s comments. And I felt human again, and smoky was gone.

    Thanks Heather. Thanks community.

  • ladyofthelake

    @dooce – Beautiful, brave, honest post. This is why we read you, not for your BRAAAAND but for your honesty in good times and in times when you need to let something out. It’s refreshing in some kind of way. I’m so sad that you are hurting and am feeling a motherly type of proud feeling that you are working through it (hope that’s not to creepy!).

    When I read your post I felt as @Mir did. I won’t go in to all of it but know that I needed to feel sick to my stomach and hurt so that maybe, just maybe I can help my kids to not hurt as much in the coming months. Thank you for responding to Mir. Once again you have helped us. I only hope that you can feel the Doco love and it will help you too.

  • mrs r

    I’m late to the party here, but wanted to add my admiration and support. Heather, you’re amazing and very generous to share your life with the whole interweb. I’m sorry you’re struggling right now – know that you have many, many people in your corner, hoping and praying for you. I’m one of those.

    My parents never divorced but I’ve always been the mediator and still feel responsible for making sure things go smoothly, no matter who I’m with. On the up side, that means I have a well-tuned ear for empathy, can see many sides in any given situation and most of the time can help one side see other points of view – skills that have made me a good reporter. But feeling responsible for making sure everyone is happy and feeling like a failure when things go awry? Not the most useful skills at all. I’m trying to avoid teaching my son those traits and hoping my husband and I can learn sane ways to communicate effectively. Thanks for helping in that respect.

  • thegrumpymama

    I couldn’t post the other day because I forgot my password and only had a minute. So. Late to the party. But, I still needed to add my voice to the collective voice. Love you, Heather. I struggle every day too. Not for the same reasons, but some days are awfully black and lying down and giving up seems preferable to the struggle. You bring joy to my life. You are one of the puzzle pieces of my day. If the world lost Heather Armstrong it would be a much darker place. Keep doing what you are doing. Keep trying. We are here, standing behind you.
    Another Heather (Heather Ann)

  • Victoria_Girl

    I love you.

  • Byrde

    That’s a good way to spend an hour. Because your therapist is right.

  • kkinney

    That part about I’m-not-allowed-to-have-problems-because-someone-else-somewhere-else-has-it-worse… that crap thought most definitely has contributed to my mental health…well, the lack thereof.

    It sucks and I’m sorry and I pray tides turn soon for you. I’m reading David Richo’s “When the Past Is Present: Healing the Emotional Wounds that Sabotage our Relationships” and trying to figure out what it is that I don’t know I don’t know and how that makes me act and react the way I do. Life is amazing, but @#$% it is HARD.

    As always, thanks for caring about your readers and sharing this part of your life with us. The number of people you help is awe-inspiring.

  • momof8

    You know we love you. I wish we could make it all better. We are here.

  • HeckYes

    Reading this was kind of painful because I know how you are feeling. My family also had huge challenges and as hard as I tried I couldn’t prevent bad things from happening. It scars you. I hope you can get to a better place soon. You have a lot of demands on you, and you are kicking ass! XOXO

  • caratjane

    Been working for a long time to get past my own frozen in my 12 year old self. My husband has been consistently for 17 years unable to accept my experiences as “excuses”, which caused me first to be very resentful, but eventually to appreciate it. Finally, when I finally felt able to talk to my dad about how I felt, HE HAD NO IDEA — NO IDEA about my feelings of inadequacy, frustration, fear, etc. No idea. I was floored. Here I am – a 40 yr old woman acting like a jackass for the past 20-25 years to get this man’s attention/approval, and he didn’t realize how it was affecting me at all. I want you deeply to get there… it is life changing and freeing.

  • PrestonK

    When you say that the internet saved your life, I can see why. These comments are awesome. Not only for you, but for everyone reading. Turns out the internet is not just a porn machine.

    There’s not much I can add, except “huggies” (as someone really cute once said 🙂

  • diana jade

    One of the things that made me work hard on my marriage, sometimes just clinging to it, is seeing how hurt you are by your parents’ divorce. I have three kids, too. It’s not easy, it’s worth.

  • Lisa_J_D

    Hey, although it sometimes seems a complete impossibility, there is light at the end of the tunnel – I promise. Been there, done that – sometimes revisit – but now I always manage to come out the other side. It’s taken a long long time, and lots of love, but you can do it. There’s a lot of love in your life and that will make all the difference.

    Thank you for being so open and honest, it helps to know that other people go through this – and for those who are new to it all, to know that you survive it. Big hugs, take the time and smile at all the love coming your way from people.

  • Laura A.

    Been there. Done that. And you are not alone. But just for day, I am not letting the Bell Jar win. Just for today I am going to move until I feel better and I am going to work on myself so I can give my best to my family. Hang with me.

  • Hipkat

    Heather, I hope you are feeling stronger and gaining hope from all of these comments. As I read through everyone’s stories, I realized that no one gets through childhood unscarred, no matter how it looks on the outside. My folks never divorced but never got along. Polar opposites whose marriage I never understood. I put myself in the job of mediator. I was their carrier pigeon, relaying messages that began, “Mom said to tell you …” and flying back with “Dad says …” My brother damaged himself in the opposite direction, removing himself entirely and living shut up in his room, hiding from the noise. I’m not an introspective person and hadn’t thought about this for a long time. Hearing all of these stories helps me so damn much. It helps me know that I’m doing the right thing when I’m honest with my kids (“Mommy’s feeling really crabby right now so I need you to chill!”) and when I apologize to them when I lose my cool. They’re happy, goofy little nuts and I’m continually amazed at how awesome and loving they are. Heather, hang in there. You are loved.

  • reikigirl73

    As always, I have found comfort in your words. Helps to know I’m not alone in trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be learning from my life.


  • suesheeme

    I clicked the link to login to comment to you on this and it sent me to the URL that says, in part, “destination=bounceback”. (Thank you Jon.)

    And you will. Bounce back.

    Love and hugs. I am here, watching and reading. You will never be alone in your struggles and your dreams.

  • dwindrem

    Heather, I cannot tell you how many days you’ve made me laugh, think and cry. Sometimes all at the same time. Mostly it just feels like you get me, which is very strange because most of the people closest to me don’t seem to get me AT ALL. I am the one who keeps things going whose help is needed (whether imagined or real) to fix all that is wrong in my family. It is truly exhausting. For me I think it’s about the one male in my life who was supposed to love me know matter what (my father), never having anything to do with me or my siblings. I am the youngest and I to this day think of it as my responsibility to keep everyone’s balls up in the air – it’s just not possible. I learned this lesson when my brother died after years of drug abuse and untreated mental illness. Yesterday I sobbed thinking of your post and listening to the Fray – How to save a life. I wasn’t able to save his and I feel responsible. I think becoming a wife and mother has saved me in a lot of ways and it is certainly what keeps me going when the black cloud threatens.

    You are a true inspiration. I am wishing you much peace.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart, much love.


  • Pluckychick

    Dear Heather,

    It sucks. You’ll cry. You’ll cry some more and you will get better. And better. Without having to be perfect. And you will start to feel good without guilt. You are so very not alone.


  • The Bold Soul

    First, thank you for your honesty about this.

    Second, I can relate. My parents divorced when I was 10 (oldest of 2 daughters) and while I didn’t feel responsible for their divorce, I DID feel responsible for my mother’s happiness for, like, 30 years afterward. Mom barely dated after her divorce and never remarried, my sister married (a great guy) after she graduated college and had kids right away so she had her own life, and I think I felt like it was MY job to keep mom happy, entertained, or whatever. Trying to be perfect for her was part of how I tried to keep her happy… but I have never, EVER felt good enough. I know she loves me, but she’s not happy with herself so she can’t be happy with me or anything else. Took me a long time to figure THAT out (and a lot of therapy).

    Wasn’t until my mid-40’s I realized I was wasting my own life trying to make someone happy who will, sadly, never BE happy, because she doesn’t want to be. Then I took my life back, moved to France because that was MY dream… and THEN I met my husband. He was worth waiting for, but I do wish I hadn’t wasted so much time and energy trying to fill a void in someone’s life when really? It wasn’t my job. Especially for someone for whom nothing is EVER good enough.

    Let it go, Heather. It wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t your job, and you don’t need to hold onto that stuff any more. It serves no purpose.

  • Emmadoula

    Thank you for your courage and incredible post. I often wonder if I’m the only one who is scared and feels the pressure to “not fail”. I’ve been stuck in career/life decisions for a while, because I’m so scared to move forward. Your post helped me see that I’m not alone. You are amazing and I look up to you so much. You are funny and witty and incredibly smart and inspiring. Acknowledge the 10 year old within and tell her that all will be well. While you do that, I’ll go talk to the 8 year old within me who is so afraid to just “be”. I wish you all the best. Thank you for being real.

  • zchamu

    It wasn’t you. It wasn’t.

    Remember: being imperfect is what has brought you to here. Wonderful, glorious, messy here.

  • yetanothermartha

    I haven’t ever written here, but I want you to know that I have shared this experience. My parents divorced when I was 10. I am a bit older than you so I had the lucky break of being the first child in my class who had a divorce … I am an overachiever that way. Mental illness runs in my gene pool, and my parents were no exception. So, talk about not handling it well, divorce and wackadoodle parents (who drank, too, so there’s that). Thankfully I have had excellent therapy in my life … 3 years of intense 5-day a week analysis when I was a kid (no, we didn’t have psychotropic medications back then, and they were doing the best they could to help me deal with the drop to my knees sobbing panic attacks), and 8 years of really, really good therapy in my 30s and 40s after the birth of my son. My shrink is the smartest man I know and he made me face the bullshit I was trying to bask in. I will take medication every day for the rest of my life. I have done hard, slogging, awful, nasty, onion peeling, self discovering, teary, panic attack filled work with him. And. Here’s the good news, Heather. It gets better. I remember the days and weeks and months like you have now. And, for the most part they are gone. I still struggle when something, some interaction with my dad, calls up the old responses. But, my shrink pronounced me a while ago, “You are essentially a well person.” Keep exercising, keep doing the therapy, keep taking your meds, keep talking to Jon. Love your kids, take the time to enjoy a moment or two. And, it will get better.

  • Csection47

    Thanks for posting this. It helped me realize that I’m not doing so well lately either. It really helps to read about your honesty about yourself. I’ve decided that if it is ok that you’re having problems then I’ll have to deal with myself too.

  • CalypsoRodeo

    Hey sweetie. I’m coming out from the depths of lurkerville to tell you, I LOVE YOU. I could have written those lines myself but they would be just a jumbled up miss mash of words that make no sense.. kinda like this comment..
    Seriously. I LOVE YOU HEATHER. Thank you for giving so much of you on this forum/medium/blog thing. You’re amazing. Thank you for being the voice of the clinically depressed, the broken, the destitute.
    You’re so smart and funny and quirky and every time I read your entries, it propels me to do better, document more, and write the nitty gritty, the raw, the stuff no one dares to let out. And that right there.. is where healing and forgiveness happens. LOVE YOU.
    Praying that you can take that ten year old girl, give her a big hug and let her know it’s gonna be okay…

  • Little Nikolette

    Just finally finished reading all the comments. I think you posted this just in time for alot of us. I just started therapy again a few months ago. I no longer think of it as some kind of fun thing I get to do, I think of it as gut-wrenching work – you mean it doesn’t work to just push my feelings aside and tell myself everything is hunky-dory? I have to revisit all the things that make me feel like shit? Gee what a let-down.

    But besides the whole demon-on-my-shoulder bit, I also have read so many comments that remind me of my responsibility for my 2 daughters. Yikes, I have not been making very good choices as to how I act and react with them. Sometimes I do really well, and other times I wish I could open my mouth and just suck things back like I’d never said them. I’m hoping the therapy I get for myself will lessen the amount they have to get when they’re grown.

    And some have just made me cry (Thanks Emmadoula).

    thanks again Dooce. I hope to be able to read your blog for a long time to come.

  • LoveLis

    Thank you. I’ve been off medication for seven years and while I always told myself that this is something I have to deal with my whole life, at some point I forgot that. The last six months have been hell and I’ve wanted to give up, but today I made the appointment to talk about meds again. I just… this post was at the right time for me. And I’m amazed by your strength. Just… thank you.

  • Kristyne

    Heather, thank you for reminding me that as a mother, my children are so much more affected by the things I say and do than I’ll ever know. You’re lovely.

  • tristanslc

    Okay… just so you know I re-registered for your site because I couldn’t remember my credentials, and I’ve linked it to my Facebook and I’m… I’m… I’m… it was a little frustrating but it’s worth it because I FINALLY get to post this comment:

    ** hugs, Heather **

  • jen.yaya

    Wow, thank you for writing this. Again, a chorus of ‘you are not alone’.

    My parents are still together… but holy crap there were times I wished as a teenager they weren’t. Their marriage has always been difficult. Separated multiple times, in & out of counseling for years. I’m the oldest of three girls and at 30 I’m finally realizing that even up until this past year I have been trying to be the glue. If I could just be so incredibly, immaculately perfect then somehow everyone will just miraculously stop being selfish, start caring about one another, and start being understanding and honest. Then everything will be fixed… if I can manage to do just the right thing always, not mess up anything ever, and make the wisest decisions ever in the history of the world… ever.

    That shit is exhausting. Therapy has helped. Along with the occasional use of anti-anxiety medication. I am SO not alone, and I know it because of this website. Having a sexy husband doesn’t hurt either.

  • decsmom

    First time commenting: Don’t worry, Heather. I know that little girl. Except she’s 7. And in 2 years her mom will get cancer. And then 2 years later she’ll lose her mom. And she has a little brother to worry about. And she has to live with the father she barely knows and she feels like she doesn’t “belong” to anyone. Until later. But we all have our struggles. And it’s okay to talk about the STRUGGLE of it. And no one’s struggle is better or worse, it’s just OURS. Thanks for sharing so those of us with those little girls inside feel a little less alone. We should start a play group.

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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