the smell of my desperation has become a stench

It’s time we lobby Congress to get rid of this natural occurrence

“Always pack lunches the night before.”

“Always take the stairs.”

I’m starting to assemble a list of things that improve the quality of my life, and yeah. So far I’m killing it with two whole things. It came to me as I was walking into the building where my dentist has his office, and whenever I’m there with my kids we take the elevator because buttons. 

Your kids love them, too, don’t they? They fight over who gets to push the buttons and suddenly they’ve hit six different floors in the process. And you’re just standing there thinking, why can’t we be one of the species who eat their young?

Fortunately there are only two floors in that building so I never have to take a four-hour elevator ride when they are with me. I was alone last week, looked at the elevator and thought, “Always take the stairs.” It was just one flight, but had it been five I still would have made the trek. Little physical exertions like this feel good and will help to keep me in good enough condition that I can take the stairs 20-30 years from now. Why is that important? Because walking canes are cumbersome. I’m vain.

So, two things so far. I’m adding to the list as they come to me instead of sitting down and deliberately writing out a list. It feels more organic this way. Every day last week I made the girls’ lunches the night before and, my god, so much space opened up. Ease and serenity immediately filled it. I stopped dreading the race of the morning routine. Yeah, I know every parenting book and magazine and website in the history of the world has included this advice, it’s nothing revolutionary, Heather Armstrong, are you seriously just coming to this realization? HEY. Cut me some slack, Barbara. What do you expect? My mom dropped me on my head when I was a baby and I grew up to become a blogger.


This is all a part of recent efforts to tackle my anxiety head on, to figure out ways to ease the grip it has had on my life for the last few years: juice fasting, engaging in joyous activities, cultivating a new mindset, remembering to take the stairs. A few weeks ago I had my eyebrows waxed by a close friend who has been doing it for almost a decade now. When I walked into her studio her jaw hit the floor. I knew my eyebrows had gotten out of hand, but come on. OVERREACT MUCH, MRS. HANSEN.

“What HAPPENED to you?” Oh my god. She and my daughter are colluding.

“Oh god, I know it’s been awhile—”

“You’re glowing!” she interrupted.

“Continue,” I said.

“You look totally different. Not that you don’t normally look great, but you look so much more at ease!”

“No, it’s okay. I know I normally look like crap. But this? I’m self-helping the shit out of my life.”

Yeah, some of these voodoo magic fairy things are working. One of the biggest transformations has been the ability to allow myself to have a bad day. A few months ago if I was having a rough time I would have thought, “I suck at life. In fact, I will always suck at it. No one sucks at it more than I do.” Because even my depression wants to be valedictorian.

Now? Now I stop myself and think, “Wait. Normal people have bad days. Everyone has bad days. You’re having a bad day. That’s all this is.” This tiny shift in thinking has had the hugest impact on my life because in the midst of something terrible or wrong I am finding light.

However, I don’t know if any of you have looked at your calendars recently, but March somehow happened. WE LET MARCH HAPPEN. I blame Obama. And last week I ran into a string of bad days that knocked me over so hard that I felt like I was drowning, like I was being hit in the head by wave after wave of water, a nonstop deluge. A bit of the old Heather returned and whispered, “All that voodoo magic fairy stuff is bullshit. It’s not working. It will never work.”

Because here I was expressing gratitude and finding joy and seeking out good things only to run up against an obstacle and suddenly lose my ability to cope. When I sat down to get up close with my thoughts that word started to blink in giant red letters: COPE.



Wait a minute. March. MARCH! Spring equinox. Rapidly changing light. Inability to cope. Would you look at that.

I write these posts (like this one and this one and this one and this one) to remind myself as much as I write them for you. And I am so glad I have them to reference: this time of year is hard for those of us who suffer from depression. We should be gentle with ourselves over the next few weeks.

My mother and I were texting this morning after I had come to her in a very vulnerable place last night. She said to me, “You are doing your best. Give yourself some space and credit for being human.”

She’s right, and I love the sentiment for more than what she means on its face. Do normal people get knocked over like this? Does everyone suddenly find themselves unable to cope? No, they don’t. I know scores of people who cope throughout the year perfectly fine and never butt heads with an obstacle. But they might have other symptoms of being human: high blood pressure, a temper, acne. Maybe they have heart disease or warts or never call their mother on her birthday. Normal people have diseases and character flaws and areas in their lives where they fall short.

I love that she didn’t say to me, “Give yourself some credit for your illness.” She was inviting me into the circle of all of you and all of us. Give yourself credit for having a pulse, kid, because you open up the engine into any human being and you’ll find missing and broken pieces.

  • kmpinkel

    2014/03/11 at 5:43 am

    Mama knows best! Welcome to the sea of flailing humans. We just need to link arms, lay back and relax and we can float amongst the waves. (I can’t believe I just typed that. Time for my morning tea.) 🙂

  • Lori

    2014/03/11 at 7:02 am

    I don’t have issues with depression. I love my life. I see beauty in nearly everything. I also have bad days. Family and friends will do everything to try and cheer me up on those days, but I don’t want to be cheered up. I want to be selfish and crabby and feel sorry for myself. I think that being able to feel everything even if it’s bad helps me appreciate the good a little bit more.

  • Dana B.

    2014/03/11 at 7:03 am

    I love me some Avon Mama!

    I, too, suffer from debilitating anxiety (and from that, depression). The time changes are really hard for me as well.

    Lately my anxiety has been at a fever pitch and I know I need to do something about it, but I just don’t know where to start. I’m someone where if I can’t erase it all completely with one simple tool, then it’s too overwhelming for me to figure out. But I know that’s not going to happen so I’m looking at other options to help myself (like horse tranquilizers).

    We will have bad days and we will have good days – just like everyone else. I choose to believe I am more anxious than others because I am a more evolved species and think more than the common (wo)man 🙂

    Spring is almost here (thank f*ckin’ gawd)!! Hang in there! We can do this!

  • AK

    2014/03/11 at 7:09 am

    My husband has bipolar disorder, this time of year is also very difficult for him. Thanks for the reminder that this is true for many and helpful ways I can encourage him. We’ve been married 18 years and I’m always thankful for others that share their experiences so that we know we’re not alone.

  • with an i

    2014/03/11 at 7:12 am

    Actually, Heather, “normal people” (hm, what is normal, anyway?), do find themselves unable to cope, and long to jump into bed and hide-out under the pillow. I guess people who don’t suffer from anxiety or depression come out from under the pillow sooner. I love your mom’s advice. I hope I’m that same kind of mom for my grown daughter.
    We’re all just doing our best – which is all we can do.
    This is my first time posting. I’ve been reading for years. Somehow, when I read your post today, I just needed to comment.
    Thanks for sharing all that you do. You’re a part of my everyday life.
    hugs to you

  • Kristan

    2014/03/11 at 7:15 am

    “…open up the engine into any human being and you’ll find missing and broken pieces.”

    So very true, so very wise.

  • Kate

    2014/03/11 at 7:16 am

    Thank you for this post xxx

  • Kate

    2014/03/11 at 7:26 am

    Thank you for writing this! I’ve been more anxious the past couple days than normal and I hadn’t even considered daylight savings time. Pair that with a raging case of PMS and it’s a great week! yipee! I’m going to choose the healthy alternative and pour myself a large glass of wine.

  • karen

    2014/03/11 at 7:35 am

    This is PERFECTION.

  • Hollyh80

    2014/03/11 at 8:22 am

    I’m not a regular commenter here though I’ve been reading for years but I had to say thank you for this post. I needed to see this today. The last few days have been hard. Harder than I’ve had in a while. This was the reminder that I needed to just be human. So, thank you.

  • Anonymous

    2014/03/11 at 8:33 am

    I just wanted to say that I am a highly successful professor & mom of 2, with a truly great life. I don’t suffer from depression, live in a wonderful community with good friends, make a reasonable salary, have a loving husband, healthy children, etc. I have made it to this place by being highly competitive, highly competent, and highly resilient, and through a very high dose of amazing good luck.

    And I STILL have days where I get knocked over, when feel incapable or inadequate. I think everyone does. Knowing that it is normal to have days like this, and allowing ourselves some crap days, knowing in our hearts that another, better day will come, is key to getting back up and trying again. In fact, I think allowing ourselves those days is what helps us keep them from becoming those weeks or those months.

  • e

    2014/03/11 at 8:37 am

    Maybe you should try mindfulness meditation. I’m new to it myself, but it seems to help a lot with anxiety. Here’s to being human and self-helping 🙂 Also: SPRING! Yay!

  • REK981

    2014/03/11 at 8:41 am

    I’d like to know jsut one of the normal people. So I can throat punch them.

  • Lyla Jackson

    2014/03/11 at 8:56 am

    I remember your posts every equinox as I loose my mind. thx. xoxo

  • Rose Marie B

    2014/03/11 at 8:56 am

    You are NOT alone sister! Thank God spring comes every year…the rage that builds during the dark and cold winter days is dangerous to me and those around me. (Mostly dangerous to those around me, as I fantasize about stabbing them to death with a drinking straw.) I always tell others to treat themselves like they would a best friend…you’d never be as tough on a friend as you are on yourself. Damn, it only took me 50 years to learn this nifty little trick…glad you’re ahead of the curve. 🙂

  • cobaltblue

    2014/03/11 at 9:02 am

    “Welcome to the sea of flailing humans.” That is the best sentence.

  • Neeta

    2014/03/11 at 9:26 am

    Have you been reading anything in particular that has help remind you of these thoughts? I would love to hear some suggestions on coping and reminding yourself that you are human in a very un-human friendly world?

  • Susie

    2014/03/11 at 9:38 am

    MARCH!! Oh my god. I have been fully aware of the fall issues and depression, aware that I need to give myself a bit more credit when it comes that time of year. Give myself a little more slack, try not to be too judgemental on myself and my (in)ability to cope at times in the fall… somehow I completely missed the memo about March. THAT would explain the last two weeks! I love having something to blame, other than myself… thank you.

  • Sara

    2014/03/11 at 9:52 am

    Thank you for this reminder. I remembered that this time of year is always rough for me, but I didn’t know it was a common issue. This year has been particularly difficult and I’ve found myself so far down the road of negativity that I didn’t know if I would make it back. Talk about an inability to cope! Thanks for the reminder that we are all human and that entails imperfections – I forget that and needed to hear it today.

  • faydean

    2014/03/11 at 9:57 am

    You are kidding right? Do normal people have bad days? Um HELL FUCKING YES…like WEEKLY! I am a huge worrier and over reacter. Nice to meet you, anxiety queen : ). When my oldest child didn’t get into a middle magnet school for the gifted (after being at only ever a magnet elementary school for the gifted) I freaked out so bad I actually, seriously contemplated putting her in a private religious school that only had a total of 45 kids for the entire school (grades 1-12)!!! Oh, and pay $10,000 a year to do so!!! (Btw, we are not religious and don’t go to church and never have!!!) All because I feared “her coping with the change”. I didn’t sleep for two days. I totally freaked her out by telling her how worried I was about the “normal school”. It. Was. Downright. INSANE. And then, I took a freakin breath, made some calls and talked to some parents of other kids (normal parents) and I was fine. Two days of insane freak out bullshit that I totally did to myself (and my poor child) and then, with a little time and information, I was fine…just like that. That is example one of the four bazillion trillion times I’ve done that since I could say the words, “Oh MY GOD!” at the age of two.

    You are not alone. There are about, oh, 3.5 billion of us out here doing the same thing : ).

  • abbiejoy

    2014/03/11 at 9:58 am

    “Give yourself credit for having a pulse, kid, because you open up the engine into any human being and you’ll find missing and broken pieces.” This. Yes. Thanks so much for this.

  • theboldsoul

    2014/03/11 at 10:17 am

    “Do normal people get knocked over like this? Does everyone suddenly find themselves unable to cope? No, they don’t. I know scores of people who cope throughout the year perfectly fine and never butt heads with an obstacle.”

    You’re BS-ing me, right? Of COURSE “normal” people and “everybody” gets knocked over sometimes. We ALL have moments (or days, weeks, months) where we can have trouble coping. And those “scores of people” you assume are coping all year long and never have an obstacle? They are faking it, trust me. They have problems and they have days where they just can’t bear to get out of bed too. They just want you to THINK they have it all under control, all the time. Heather, DAHling, your mama is right (she’s not the Avon World Sales Leader for nuthin’): cut yourself a break. Maybe someone who has this sort of challenge with chronic depression, like you, do have these difficulties more often, and yes, maybe it’s harder for folks like you to pull yourselves out of it when it happens. But never think we don’t ALL have crap days and stretches where we wonder, “I thought I was doing everything right; when’s it gonna get better?” The sooner you stop comparing yourself to everyone else you assume has some secret to a perfect, problem free life? The sooner you’ll have even MORE joy in yours. xoxo

  • Jen

    2014/03/11 at 10:54 am

    I’m really glad you said that!

  • Rrrandall

    2014/03/11 at 11:22 am

    I’m acquainted with one person who I’d label “normal”. She seems to really have her life together: has her kid’s meals planned weeks in advance, goes to bed at the same time every night, is generally put together and prepared to face her day.

    She is also the most awfully dull person I know. So much so that I had to hide her from my Facebook feed for chronic dullness. Favorite-musician-is-Michael-Buble-level-dullness. I’m sure she has bad days like everyone else, but I just can’t bring myself to care because I see her marching in one straight line through life and I can find nothing compelling or relatable in that.

    So we, the rest of the world, may be messier, more stressed, more depressed, more overwhelmed, but at least we can all get together and laugh at a fucking fart joke.

  • Kehau

    2014/03/11 at 11:23 am

    Aloha Heather- when faced with family problems – big ones- I adopted the mantra , “This too shall pass.” I would say it frequently out loud and in my head. In my head was sometimes a constant thistooshallpassthistooshallpassthistooshallpass accompanied with breathing exercises like those used for giving birth-Really! It helped. I hope it might help you, along with your realization that others have bad days, too, and that “you don’t suck at life” even if you are a high-and-mighty-twitter-girl!

    Also, since you are open to adopting new mind sets, and I do think that the way we think, react, etc. plays a large role in how we cope, I would suggest you consider nurturing the “glass is half full” philosophy. I, too, have dealt with depression, especially with the big family problems, but I have also thought the glass is half full and when faced with not thinking that anymore (while “glued” to my bed, watching way too many hours of tv), I have tried to cultivate that belief and mindset- sometimes only able to do so feebly when I’m in the thick of it, but i do consciously do it, and it always returns.

  • Kehau

    2014/03/11 at 11:38 am

    For Neeta- look for books, etc. on SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have two friends who have it and are like clockwork with being affected/affected by the seasons. Thinking good thoughts for you!

  • KathyB

    2014/03/11 at 12:18 pm

    It is a little disorienting, this spring coming on thing. I showed up for haircut a day early this morning. Oh, well.Put the reminder on phone wrong. I know my stylist doesn’t work on Tuesdays. Appointments are always on Wednesday.

    Kind of makes me need a nap, but I blame that on the hour that got stolen Saturday night. Love your seasonal cue to yourself and reminder, Heather. Yes, yes, and yes.I needed that too.

  • Manisha

    2014/03/11 at 12:32 pm

    Allowing myself to have a bad day has been a real revelation to me. I can’t believe it took me this long to realize that having a bad didn’t always have to be a string (a chain) of bad weeks of depression. Every March I forget how hard it can be because I’m so elated to having gotten through February, then March comes along and kicks my bum.

  • Gem Wilder

    2014/03/11 at 12:40 pm

    One of the things that has completely changed my anxiety levels as a mother has been to acknowledge that my kid has bad days sometimes too. Instead of stressing out over the fact that we have to leave the house NOW and she’s in the middle of a shit fit grizzle session, I can instead show her the little extra compassion and support that she needs to just get through the day. Some days we just need our Mamas, right?

  • Angela

    2014/03/11 at 1:37 pm

    Even “normal” people who haven’t been diagnosed with anything have days where facing the world just seems impossible. You may not see it from some people but everyone has their obstacles, even if they aren’t as significant as some that others face. You are not alone, my friend!

  • Cathy

    2014/03/11 at 2:06 pm

    A year ago I was miserable and depressed. Even though I went to work most days, I was emotionally flat and sometimes could barely move. Four months prior I had stopped taking my medicine (bupropion). Why the hell I would stop taking my depression medication during the winter still befuddles me, especially when I live in Maine. I kept wondering when I was going to get better. When was my depression and anxiety going to go away for good. Anyway, to make a long story short (which is very hard for me to do), I started counseling, and taking my medicine again, and life is getting better. I am finally able to discern between a bad day and a bad life. I think that is a bid deal for people like us. It is because of you being able to share your “normalcy” that I was able to muster enough courage to see a counselor and realize that my depression and anxiety may never go away, but both are something I can manage.

  • chelsea

    2014/03/11 at 2:22 pm

    as i sat down during my ridiculous mid-p90x workout with tony and just awkwardly sobbed-i really felt like something was wroooong. thanks for the reminder of it being March and the reminder to be kind to ourselves. i could have just been trying to also get out of the ‘prison cell push-ups’ too.

  • Breanne

    2014/03/11 at 3:51 pm

    March! I didn’t know I could blame March! I only knew I could blame September.

    Thank you. For always sharing and being open, but also so that I feel less alone. <3

  • Guest32

    2014/03/11 at 5:15 pm

    Thank you so much for this. Like many others who have commented I did not realize March could kick my ass like it has. Now I can find it within myself to power through and look forward to long, warm summer days.

  • Cassidy Stockton

    2014/03/11 at 5:50 pm

    Oh man, these comments are as awesome as your post. Just nice to be reminded that indeed, we are all human. I guess that’s probably where the sentiment of “being human” comes from. Hang in there, you’re doing a good job!

  • BackyardBrilliant

    2014/03/11 at 7:01 pm

    Loved this! I know that in theory, everyone has bad days, but like you, I tend to catastrophize them. I put all the blame on myself and wonder if I will ever have a good day again instead of taking it for what it is – just one bad day. Thank you for the encouraging, real, and honest words. And to totally cheese it up: “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it.” Keep on trucking, you human, you!
    ~ Beth Anne

  • Nikki

    2014/03/11 at 7:02 pm

    I 100% thought this was going to be a post on lobbying congress to remove Dora 🙂
    But it was an equally good read, thanks!

  • Teal

    2014/03/11 at 9:26 pm

    “You are doing your best.” That’s key in dealing with anxiety and depression. It’s okay to have bad days & struggle sometimes. Depression poisons a person’s mind into thinking that you will “always” feel like this, and things will “never” get better. We just have to find a way to realize that this is not the case.

  • JessicafromSF

    2014/03/11 at 10:50 pm

    Thank you, Heather.

  • skepticalcyclist

    2014/03/12 at 11:19 am

    Word to this. EVERYBODY has days of darkness, days when coping seems impossible. This is not a special-snowflake occurrence. They may not happen very often, they may be well outside of diagnostic thresholds. But they happen to every fucking person.

  • Marisa Miller

    2014/03/12 at 11:22 am

    I think it’s been a week of suck for everyone. By Easter we should be feeling more margarita, less absinthe.

  • Carla

    2014/03/12 at 5:45 pm

    Anxiety sounds like such a hyperactive jumping up and down thing. But where it really gets you is in the more subtle nuances we deal with every day, and that’s why I think so many people are suffering from anxiety without knowing what it’s called.

    These past few months I’ve been trying to redirect my focus away from the biggies and tackling the reoccurring every day things that really pull at me. One seemingly small thing at a time and keeping at it until it has become a whole new routine. It really helps.

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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