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Heather Armstrong, pioneering blogger known as “Dooce,” dead at 47

The pioneering blogger Heather Armstrong, who laid bare her struggles as a mother and her battles with depression and alcoholism on her site and on social media, has died at 47.

Armstrong died by suicide, her boyfriend Pete Ashdown told The Associated Press, saying he found her Tuesday night at their Salt Lake City home.

Ashdown said Armstrong had been sober for over 18 months but had recently had a relapse. He did not provide further details.

Armstrong, who had two children with her former husband and business partner, Jon Armstrong, began Dooce in 2001 while living in California. In an incident that made headlines, she lost her job in 2002 over what she had written about work on what was then a personal site chronicling her life. As her life changed, her frank writing about her children, relationships and other challenges writing led to her becoming one of the first and most popular mommy bloggers and influenced a generation of writing on the internet. 

She parlayed her successes with the blog, on Instagram and elsewhere into book deals, putting out a bestselling memoir in 2009, “It Sucked and then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita.” Her three books were published by Simon & Schuster, which is owned by the same parent company as CBS News. 

Armstrong appeared on Oprah and was on the Forbes list of 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.

Heather Armstrong describes her life as a professional blogger during an interview in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, July 18, 2008. Armstrong's website, which gets about 4 million hits a month, chronicles her daily life, much of it surrounding her four
Heather Armstrong describes her life as a professional blogger during an interview in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, July 18, 2008.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst N

Armstrong didn’t hold back on Dooce and Instagram. 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, 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, but chronicled 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.

Armstrong was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but left the religion years ago. She suffered chronic depression for much of her life, 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.

Her depression grew worse, leading her to enroll in a clinical trial at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, according to an interview she gave Vox. 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.”

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline here.

For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email [email protected].

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