I found Heather Armstrong the day she posted about Leta’s birth. It was just another link on a page leading to another blog in a string I’d read that day.
I read that post three times then immediately switched over to her archive where I started to read from the beginning. Every single post became better than the last. It was the first time that I had ever seen anybody write the way I think.
Single simple sentences.
Then long rambling fields of words that I just knew poured out of her fingers and directly onto the screen in front of me exactly as they had left her brain. Frantic and disjointed but also logical. I used to see people criticize her writing and I’d be jealous because I knew those people didn’t live with the IMMUTABLE WORDS FOREVER RACING THROUGH THEIR BROKEN MINDS. IN ALL CAPS.
For almost 20 years I devoured everything she wrote. Every blog post. Every article. Every book. Every Tweet. Every Instagram caption. All of it.
When I couldn’t get my daughter to understand just how engulfing and sometimes debilitating my depression felt, I handed her It Sucked And Then I Cried. Trusting Heather’s words would be enough to get her to understand.
I’ve been a lot less vocal about my struggles. Partly it’s because I feel like mental health struggles aren’t as uncommon as they were back then. Not uncommon, that’s not it. Aren’t as unacceptable. And also because I know there are so many people out there that are far better at expressing something I have never felt I’ve adequately explained.
Last Friday I took the day off so I could drive down to Bakersfield and spend the night with Cassidy leading up to a long weekend ahead. Thursday night I’d still not packed. I was being sucked into a black hole and all I needed to do to catapult free was pack a bag.
I did everything else I could think of EXCEPT pack a bag.
Then on Friday morning, bag still unpacked, Ben asked me what time I would be leaving. I told him I didn’t think I was going to go till Saturday.
This is what my depression looked like. The complete inability to physically put clothing into a suitcase to take a trip and do something I’d been looking forward to for three years.
I was going to allow myself to vanish into the void because that was less painful and tiring than the stress of packing a suitcase.
Later, Ben asked me if everything was okay. It was the 3rd time he’d asked me that day which is always my indication that everything is, in fact, NOT okay with me.
“No. It’s not. I want to sit in a corner and cry. For no reason. Actually? I feel like I want to just cancel this entire thing. I’m GOING TO GO. I’m going to go spend an amazing weekend with my daughter and my best friend. But I just want to fucking cry. And this feeling is SO FRUSTRATING and stupid and I hate it.”
Ben smiles and nods. He knows I just need a breath.
“I am GOING TO GO. I just need a day to… feel this. Then tomorrow I’m going to drive down to Bakersfield. I’m going to have SO MUCH FUN. Today? I’m allowing myself to be sad. To FEEL sad. For no reason.”
So that’s what I did. Finally at around 8:00PM I forced myself to put things in my suitcase. No list, no thought, just started. I ended up with as much packed for this 2 night stay as I did for 10 nights in Mexico because my mindset was: Just get something, ANYTHING, in the fucking bag.
And I had AN AMAZING TIME. I laughed till my cheeks hurt. I ate delicious food. I got my ass kicked by Julie twice at the bowling ally. I got to watch Cassidy’s excitement about getting my old Prius which is a big upgrade for her. Got to laugh again with Jeannine and Mike.
It was perfect. But I REALLY did not want to go. I wanted to let a chemical imbalance ruin it all. So here we are. 20 years after reading that first blog post about Leta, and I’m still fighting.
But Heather is not.
And being honest, it scares me that somebody as privileged as Heather wasn’t able to get the help she really needed. Because what does that mean for the rest of us?
Today felt like a really big punch in the gut. I’m reminded that mental illness isn’t temporary. It isn’t EVER cured. It’s getting better or it’s getting worse.
But it’s ALWAYS.
Till the end.
My heart goes out to Leta, to Marlo, and to the rest of Heather’s family.