Mommy blogger Heather Armstrong, known as Dooce to fans, dead at 47
NEW YORK (AP) — The pioneering mommy blogger Heather Armstrong, who laid bare her struggles as a parent and her battles with depression and alcoholism on her site Dooce.com and on social media, has died at 47.
Armstrong's boyfriend, Pete Ashdown, told The Associated Press that he found her Tuesday night at their Salt Lake City home.
She had two children with her former husband and business partner, Jon Armstrong, began Dooce in 2001 and built it into a lucrative career. She was one of the first and most popular mommy bloggers, writing frankly about her children, relationships and other challenges at a time that personal blogs were on the rise.
She parlayed her successes with the blog, on Instagram and elsewhere into book deals, putting out a memoir in 2009, “It Sucked and then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita.”
That year, Armstrong appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and was on the Forbes list of the most influential women in media.
In 2012, the Armstrongs announced they were separating. They divorced later that year. She began dating Ashdown, a former U.S. senate candidate, nearly six years ago. They lived together with Armstrong’s children, 19-year-old Leta and 13-year-old Marlo. He has three children from a previous marriage who spent time in their home as well.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story includes discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Ashdown said Armstrong died by suicide. He told the AP that she had been sober for more than 18 months, and recently had a relapse. He did not provide further details.
Armstrong didn't hold back on Instagram and Dooce, the latter a name that arose from her inability to quickly spell “dude” during online chats. Her raw, unapologetic posts on everything from pregnancy and breastfeeding to homework and carpooling were often infused with curses. As her popularity grew, so too did the barbs of critics, who accused her of bad parenting and worse.
One of her posts on Dooce spoke of a previous victory over drinking.
“On October 8th, 2021 I celebrated six months of sobriety by myself on the floor next to my bed feeling as if I were a wounded animal who wanted to be left alone to die,” Armstrong wrote. “There was no one in my life who could possibly comprehend how symbolic a victory it was for me, albeit ... one fraught with tears and sobbing so violent that at one point I thought my body would split in two. The grief submerged me in tidal waves of pain. For a few hours I found it hard to breathe.”
She went on: “Sobriety was not some mystery I had to solve. It was simply looking at all my wounds and learning how to live with them.”
In her memoir, she described how her blog began as a way to share her thoughts on pop culture with faraway friends. Within a year, her audience grew from a few friends to thousands of strangers around the world, she wrote.
More and more, Armstrong said, she found herself writing about her personal life and, eventually, an office job for a tech start-up, and “how much I wanted to strangle my boss, often using words and phrases that would embarrass a sailor.”
Her employer found the site and fired her, she wrote. She took it down but started back up again six months later, writing about her new husband, Armstrong, and how unemployment had forced them to move from Los Angeles to her mother's basement in Utah.
She was soon pregnant. The pregnancy offered “an endless trove” of content, she wrote, “but I truly believed that I would give it all up once I had the baby.”
She didn't, going on to chronicle her highs and lows as a new mother.
“I don't think I would have survived it had I not offered up my story and reached out to bridge the loneliness," she wrote.
At its peak, Dooce had more than 8 million monthly readers, a healthy following that allowed her to monetize her online presence.
Armstrong was raised in Memphis, Tennessee, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but left the faith after graduating from Brigham Young University and moving to Los Angeles. She suffered chronic depression for much of her life but wasn't diagnosed and treated until college, according to her book.
In 2017, after the unraveling of her marriage, the internet star dubbed “the queen of the mommy bloggers” by The New York Times Magazine took a tumble in popularity as social media came into its own.
Her depression grew worse, leading her to enroll in a clinical trial at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. She was put in a chemically induced coma for 15 minutes at a time for 10 sessions.
“I was feeling like life was not meant to be lived,” Armstrong told Vox. "When you are that desperate, you will try anything. I thought my kids deserved to have a happy, healthy mother, and I needed to know that I had tried all options to be that for them.”
In 2019, she wrote her third book, “The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live,” about her experiences with the treatment.
"I want people with depression to feel like they are seen,” she told Vox.
Armstrong attributed, in part, some of her past emotional spirals to sharing her life online for so long.
“The hate was very, very scary and very, very hard to live through,” she said in the interview. “It gets inside your head and eats away at your brain. It became untenable.”