the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The sun’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

Back in May I revealed that that I was experiencing one of the worst bouts of depression I’ve endured in years. I finally saw a nutritionist (she told me to count calories, so I counted the ways in which I would not see a nutritionist again), visited my primary care physician for a physical and blood work, and returned to regular therapy. I should probably stop listening to the most recent Radiohead album, but if we’re making tough decisions here MAYBE I DON’T REALLY NEED TO BE HAPPY.

My physical turned out to be routine and showed that I’m in phenomenal health, but the initial results of my blood work were infuriating: everything looked perfect if not more than perfect. ARGHHH. NO! Nooooo! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? There has to be something wrong! Do not blame Radiohead. I only listen to “Daydreaming” and cry once a day.

Fine. Twice an hour.

Fine. I’m doing it now.

I told my doctor how I was feeling, and she said she’d check for some possible abnormalities in the blood work that the standard physical doesn’t cover and get back to me. Four days ago the clinic finally called, and when I realized who it was I got sick to my stomach. Please let there be something wrong, please let there be something wrong, please let there be—

“Everything looks really good!” she began, and I immediately reached for the life-sized pillow of Thom Yorke I own so that I could weep into its pale, skinny neck. “However,” she continued, “…we did find that you have a very severe vitamin D deficiency.”

WAIT! WHAT? REALLY? Something is wrong! Something is wrong! A vitamin D deficiency! A vitamin D defici—

Well, DUH.


Duh, Heather. I eat no food containing vitamin D and I avoid the sun like a cockroach that scrambles when you turn on the light. Remember? I’ve had multiple cases of skin cancer. This is how I once spent an entire vacation in Hawaii:

A photo posted by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

When my doctor diagnosed my first basal cell carcinoma, I had one of those confrontations you have with the idea of mortality that makes you stop and really think about what you want inscribed on your tombstone. Options I have considered: “Most Obnoxious Radiohead Fan Ever” or “Cheated Mercilessly To Try And Beat Her Mother On Fitbit And Failed Every Time” or “My Butt”.

The idea of cancer had me panicked. Because of the multiple spots I’ve had removed from my body I always say, “Love the indoors!” when filling out dating profiles. I’ve also made it my goal to do whatever I can to guarantee my girls don’t get it. Skin cancer is currently the most common form of cancer in the U.S.—rates have actually tripled in the last 35 years—and people still walk around half naked while waving a middle finger or two at the sun. Guess what. The sun’s gonna burn that finger right off. That’s why I force my kids to stay inside and stare at Netflix in the summer while wearing pants and hoodies with the drawstrings pulled tight. Curtains CLOSED. Sometimes I even feed them.


Is that what I did as a kid? No. Nope. Not at all! Nuh-uh. ZERO YESES. My mom didn’t care about me! I routinely stripped down, doused myself in baby oil or Crisco (I’m looking at you, TENNESSEE), checked my perm, perhaps thought to see if a giant piece of bologna was stuck in my braces, and laid in the sun in an attempt to achieve the darkest tan my pasty white skin could manage. You know those hotdogs (that my kids won’t fix me) that rotate for hours on end in the roller rink? TWINS! Now I’m paying for it, but I also know how to stay safe in the sun—or, you know, how to avoid it all together—so I can demonstrate good habits to my girls. Rule #1: wear a tent whenever you leave the house.

When I first went looking for the best sunscreen following that initial bout with skin cancer I found EWG and have referenced them ever since. They had all the answers to everything I hadn’t ever thought to ask about sun protection. From Sunscreen 101 to the EWG’s Guide to Safer Sunscreen, they helped me find sunscreen that was safe, effective, and gentle. And gentle is key because the girls and I have super sensitive skin. And to be totally honest, I’ve given up on being gentle while trying to apply sunscreen on my kids. I GIVE UP. It’s like wrestling an angry, vindictive octopus who cooks its own meth.

In fact, that’s what parenthood is: trying to raise that octopus without getting arrested.

The most important thing I learned from EWG is that sunscreen is a last resort. Yes, you should put it on if you’re going to be in the sun, but you should also wear clothes, plan around the sun, find or make shade, wear a good pair of sunglasses, and check the UV index (the light, not the vodka, but if you do have vodka on hand you can peel off the label and use it as an umbrella).


Too many products on store shelves provide inadequate protection and use ingredients that have been linked to endocrine disruption. And just what is this endocrine disruption that I speak of? According to wikipedia, “endocrine disruptors may be associated with the development of learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems; deformations of the body (including limbs); breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid and other cancers; sexual development problems such as feminizing of males or masculinizing effects on females, etc.” This is where the authoritative voiceover asks menacingly, “Do you know what’s in your sunscreen?”


Anyway, I’m currently taking a vitamin D supplement and have made a goal of stepping away from my computer and getting out of the house more. I know how to protect myself from damaging my skin even further when out in this summer sun, and getting more fresh air can’t hurt my mood. I’ve also got an appointment with my dermatologist to check out some suspicious moles, and I have not been diligent enough about doing this on the regular. That’s right. I HAVE NOT BEEN TAKING MY OWN ADVICE. If I won’t even listen to me, I don’t know why I’m surprised that no one has yet to fix mama a hot dog.


This post was made in partnership with EWG.

  • Taste of France

    2016/07/11 at 9:19 am

    My dad also had multiple bouts of skin cancer (getting those cut-it-off-layer-by-layer surgeries on his face and ears), and to boost his Vitamin D he was told to expose the underside of his forearms for 15 minutes a day while keeping the rest of him covered and/or in the shade. That’s all it takes. 15 minutes a day on your forearms (turn them over to give the rays to the part that usually doesn’t get it). Of course, I’m not a doctor, I’m just repeating what he was told. So ask yours.
    I agree on using clothing for protection–long sleeves and turtleneck for me. Plus rash guards keep the pool water cleaner–not as much slimy lotion.

  • Karen Bernstein

    2016/07/11 at 10:05 am

    vitamin D FTW! If you were really, really low, you can take a prescription whopper dose for a few weeks to get it back up into the non-vampire range.

  • Stephanie Deal

    2016/07/11 at 10:35 am

    As I too am a bit of a very white vampire (LOL) as I also avoid the sun – I wasn’t surprised to learn that lack of vitamin D also aggravates my arthritis (who knew?). SO my Dr had me on mega-doses of D and now I’m on over the counter D. I really do feel better taking it. Good luck GF — hope you feel better SOON!

  • Suzy Soro

    2016/07/11 at 12:08 pm

    I take 100,000 Vitamin D in liquid form every 3-4 months. I get it from France but you can get it here by prescription, I think? My mother never wore sunglasses and now has macular degeneration and they can’t prove it’s NOT from sun damage. I wear sunglasses even when I shower because A. I look good in them and B. I don’t have to squint when I’m outdoors, which makes wrinkles around the eyes and no thank you.

  • PaintingChef

    2016/07/11 at 12:20 pm

    I’ve also suffered with a vitamin D deficiency and have had success with a daily supplement. I’m a very conscientious sunscreen-er (same history of skin cancer) but we are outdoor people in the summer so I was really surprised that I had a deficiency. Then my doctor asked me if I always wore sunglasses. Well duh. Yes. Have you seen how light my eyes are, doctor? Of course. Also I have sunlight-triggered migraines. I wear sunglasses until it is dark. APPARENTLY… your eyes are the biggest receptors of vitamin D so that was my problem.

    Anyway… that was an interesting thing I learned about vitamin D from my doctor.

  • Elizabeth B

    2016/07/11 at 12:23 pm

    Well. I guess my pasty white legs get to stay pasty white. And also dammit, I hadn’t really listened to the lyrics very closely on the new Radiohead album yet, but now I’m looking up lyrics while I listen to it, and wow it really is kind of dark. I probably shouldn’t listen to it when I’m depressed either but I will anyway. I love me some Radiohead. Isn’t Tom Yorke’s voice the most relaxing and awesome thing you’ve ever heard? Yes, yes it is.

    Seriously though, thanks for the info; I had no idea most sunscreens had bad stuff in them. I hardly ever use it because I’m like the most indoor person ever, but I will pass it along.

  • Suzanne

    2016/07/11 at 12:26 pm

    This is interesting – there was someone at the gym who I work out with who they thought may have leukemia and it turned out to be a vitamin D deficiency.

  • Michele Behnke-Nead

    2016/07/11 at 12:45 pm

    You have “safety” spelled wrong in two of the EWG videos in the opening and ending credits. Is there a good product for protecting my scalp that won’t make my hair look greasy? Hats don’t tend to stay on when I’m at the water park with my kids.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2016/07/11 at 2:23 pm

    It’s probably psychosomatic, but here on day four or five of taking a whopping dose of vitamin D, I feel sooooo much better. Leukemia, wow. That is interesting.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2016/07/11 at 2:24 pm

    I let them know, thanks for catching that! As for protecting your scalp… I’ll have to ask. I usually keep my hat on and don’t go underwater. But if you’re going underwater, hmm…

  • Jan

    2016/07/11 at 2:45 pm

    I am naturally pale (read: fish-belly white) so, when I lived in the Keys for 12 years, I was a fiend about applying sunscreen, especially BullFrog if I was going to be in the water. Later I move back to TN (hi! but not Bartlett) and a few years ago, I started getting these *things* in weird places. The dermatologist said they were something-something keratoses – not cancer, but still something you don’t want hanging around. I had them on my scalp (crown and back), on my nose, and even one of my eyelid. Fetching! The ones in the scalp had to be removed and biopsied to be sure (all OK), and thank goodness removing the ones on my face was simple and painless and left no scar. I whined about having been so diligent with sunscreen, and her counter was, “Did you rub it into your scalp? Did you smear it across your eyelids?” She wasn’t scolding, just making a point.
    Now I’m in the vitamin D deficiency club. Do we get t-shirts? “D is for Diva! D is for Drama!” I get very little sunlight because (1) I work indoors all day and (2) I don’t like roasting in the sun unless there’s an ocean at my toes. I’m also diabetic and when my D level came back in the basement, my endo put me on a prescription strength supplement to protect my kidneys (as well as my bones because I am old). It’s easy to take and amazingly inexpensive at the pharmacy. And it’s pretty. Looks like a little football made out of emerald.

  • PrimeKids

    2016/07/11 at 4:15 pm

    SUPER important info. Thanks for your thoughts here, and way to go on your brand and blog. You are killing it. #Sunscreenup

  • Alicia Perkins Russo

    2016/07/11 at 4:29 pm

    Not psychosomatic at all…Vitamin D deficiency is common in women of a certain age (apparently, my age (ish)). I was feeling run down (like, could barely bring myself to get out of bed) and my doctor did blood work and found I had almost none – and I’m outdoors plenty. Started taking 2,000 mg daily and like magic, I felt 100% better!

  • Suzanne

    2016/07/11 at 5:46 pm

    Not surprised – the change in my gym mate has been shocking. From someone who had to stop attending to back better than they were before. When his wife told me the final results after hearing all of the things it could have been, I was floored

  • wh0oznicole

    2016/07/11 at 7:30 pm

    I also have a vitamin D deficiency, which started when I moved to the US from the Philippines. I take vitamin D supplements. I’ve only had sunburn a couple of times in my life. Even though I rarely get burned because even though I have enough melanin in my skin, I still wear sunscreen because skin cancer does not discriminate.

  • KathyB

    2016/07/12 at 10:25 am

    Back in the 80’s when the ozone hole was growing, Australia had a famous Slip Slap Slop campaign to help prevent skin cancer. Slip on sunglasses, Slap on a hat, Slop on sunscreen. I think that is a correct memory, but maybe not. My biggest memory was that there were blind bunny rabbits there from the mega doses of nasty rays. If memory serves at least the ozone shield has repaired itself with discontinuance of aerosols. Humans are capable of positive change, sometimes.

    Vitamin D is a staple for women my age. Many pluses.

    Be good to yourself, Heather. Grieving for the noisy presence of Marlo and serenity of Leta makes you weary also. Do I think you are capable of starting that process months early. Why, yes, yes I do. Listen to anything you damn well please, but please try not to beat yourself up.

    Always in your corner

  • Kelly B

    2016/07/12 at 11:48 am

    When I first heard you talk about being tired all the time, I wondered if it was a Vitamin D or B12 deficiency — B12 deficiency is especially not fun especially mixed with SAD. I’ve had both at one time or another because I believe in trying new ways to have zero energy.

    Glad you got a diagnosis I know how frustrating not knowing why you are so tired can be.

  • christine

    2016/07/12 at 11:56 am

    Dude, don’t knock it — the placebo effect ROCKS. Likely more effective than most traditional medicine treatments, like vitamin supplements. Enjoy it. 🙂

  • Jonathan

    2016/07/12 at 1:34 pm

    I had a similar upbringing to you – running around half naked all summer, brown as a berry by the time we went back to school in the autumn. And now we have our own kids, we throw hats, long shirts, and factor 50 cream on them… go figure.

  • Melissa Newberry

    2016/07/12 at 1:35 pm

    I love this post! How do you combat the teenage girl rhetoric of “I’m so pale” or “I can’t wait to tan” or “I can’t wear too much sunscreen or I won’t get tan”? I was the same way as a kid but it’s really hard to get the thoughts out of their head that their skin needs to be a different color.

  • Cheryl

    2016/07/12 at 2:40 pm

    I grew up in a place (and time) where laying in the sun slathered in baby oil (or Bain de Soleil orange gelee SPF 4) was all the rage. You know, Southern CA in the 1970’s and early 80’s. Thankfully, around 1979 I decided to become a hardcore punk, which meant forgoing the sun at all costs.

    Now I live in a place where seeing the sun is such a rare occurrence that I literally have to ask “WHAT IS THAT BRIGHT GLOBE IN THE SKY? MAKE IT STOP! IT BURNS!”

    Taking a Vit D supplement is pretty much de rigueur here, but didn’t know until fairly recently that if one has thyroid disease (which I do), one is likely even more deficient than the usual run of the mill pasty white PNW’ers that I rub my long sleeve covered elbows with. Also, having thyroid disease makes it harder for my body to *absorb* Vit D. Who knew?

    So in the winter I take up to 10,000 IU’s of the stuff a day. And in the summer, 5,000 IU’s. My 10 year old daughter gets 1,000 IU’s daily. We ain’t playing!

    Anyway, I dunno if it’ll help w/ your bouts of depression Heather, but it definitely has helped with mine (+ an antidepressant and therapy when I can afford it)… because I’m sure as sh*t not going out into the sun. Ewwwwwwwww!

  • mjbutah

    2016/07/12 at 3:27 pm

    Pasty Women Unite! We should form a club and have meetings. Indoors of course.
    Struggling a lot lately myself, although I noticed that since getting my dog back from my ex’s house (he’s been there since October) and being forced to get out and you know, actually get exercise and walk the dog it has made a little difference in my mood. Thanks for reminding me that I need to refill the Vitamin D as well and quit bursting into tears at random things. (Wilco does it for me EVERY TIME so I can almost be glad I missed the ticket sale at Red Butte and I don’t get to go to the concert AGAIN. Almost)

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.

read more