The Valedictorian of Being Dead

The Valedictorian of Being Dead
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Published: April 23, 2019
Blogger Heather B. Armstrong found some level of internet fame when she got fired for something she wrote in her website. She has always been open with her struggles with depression, which has been ongoing from the time she was young, but in 2016 she found herself in a dangerously low point of severe depression. Some spoilers ahead.

I've followed Heather B. Armstrong's (yes, always with the B) blog (dooce.com) for many years, since  before she even had her first child. I loved a lot of things about her early writings in her blog--the photos of her dogs and her family, her hilarious writing style, the template design (at a time when people were only beginning to discover WordPress, she and her then-husband were already making awesome designs on their blog templates)--but the thing I loved best was how she wrote about her family and her depression. In a sea of picture-perfect bloggers, she was among the few I was reading back then who made an effort at some measure of authenticity. At that time, I thought she should write a book. What a gift that she wrote specifically about her depression in this memoir.

The book chronicles in alternating chapters her daily challenges as a person with clinical depression and anxiety, and the highly experimental treatment that she went through in order to get out of that deep valley she couldn't seem to climb out of for almost a year. I think you'll appreciate the things that she wrote in the book if you also followed her  blog, especially in the early years. The title, for example, is a kind of private joke shared with the readers of her blog, where she wrote that she's an overachiever even in the worst things. I can still remember that blog entry about being the valedictorian in constipated bowel movements, that was equal parts hilarious and terrifying.

There were parts of the book about her family, particularly her dad and her ex husband, which I thought must have been very difficult to write, and I applaud her bravery for writing it. The book made it clear that people who do not suffer from depression or anxiety can never really know how it feels, but it doesn't mean that it's impossible to empathize. Heather described the day to day challenge of living with depression, and how familial love played a big part in how she copes with it. The way that she described her depression, even while injected with typical Heather B. Armstrong humor, draws you in and gives you a glimpse of how immensely difficult it must be, and how cruel it is to add more pain to that kind of suffering by not believing it or by being insensitive about it.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is how she talks about her mother, the Avon World Sales Leader. I wish everyone in the world had a mom like mine, and I guess Heather can also say that about her mom. The  book feels like a tribute to this wonderful woman and underscores the very valuable role of family.

If you suffer from depression and anxiety or have a family member or friend who does, or if you really just want to be a better human being by understanding it from the point of view of someone who lives with it daily, I recommend that you read this book.

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