I started reading “The Valedictorian of Being Dead” by Heather B. Armstrong, and I just wanted to throw up.
It wasn’t that the book was bad–the exact opposite actually. It’s just that the content was so real and so raw and something I could completely relate to. It brought back memories and stirred up anxiety and I found myself feeling completely nauseated as I worked my way through the book.
I started reading Heather’s blog, Dooce.com years ago. In fact, it helped me to figure out that maybe I could work through some of my feelings by writing a blog too. I never had delusions that I could ever be Heather though, let’s just clear that up.
I came across her blog during my maternity leave with my second daughter, Madison. Her daughter, Marlo, was born right around the same time. Her writing was so similar to my new-again mom, sleepless night phase. She had an older daughter, Leta, who was born in 2004. After Leta was born, her life took a spiral. She suffered from serious post-partum depression on top of her regular depression. In the end, she needed to seek help and right herself for the sake of her baby girl. And she wrote a book about it, “It Sucked and then I Cried.”
I had a similar situation after the birth of my first child. I found myself drawn to her story. And her cute dog Chuck, who would balance just about anything on his head, didn’t hurt either. So I followed along for a while. Then things changed, as the Internet typically does. Heather was trying to capitalized on the need for Internet community with the popularity of Facebook and Twitter and the rise of social media. Then Heather got divorced. I tried to ride the pitches and rolls for a while, but ultimately abandoned ship.
Then, I saw she had a new book out, “The Valedictorian of Being Dead.” This chick will take every opportunity to remind you that she was valedictorian of her high school class. It’s probably mostly in jest, but nevertheless, it could work its way into a blog about canning beets. When I saw the title of the book, I thought “Oh geez. Has she no shame? This woman wants to be the best of everything.” I may have ever rolled my eyes.
But then I found myself checking my local library for a copy of the book after it’s release in April. I was first on the hold list when they finally got a copy.
And I devoured the book. I was done in just a few days, which is amazing considering I could only get in reading time when I was waiting for dance classes or a few minutes before I dozed off at night.
The book was not about how great Heather is. It’s not about her valedictorian status. No, it’s about her struggle with serious depression and her attempt to rid herself of the weight of it through propofol–the same stuff that killed Michael Jackson.
In the book, Heather chronicles her experience of being neurologically flatlined with propofol as a way to “reset” her brain and hopefully shake the depression she was experiencing.
I should mention that this isn’t just “run of the mill” depression. It’s not the low-level stuff that creeps up and hangs around (something I’m experiencing right now actually). This is call-your-mom-and-cry-about-how-the-world-would-be-better-without-you depression.
Been there. Been. There.
Suddenly, in reading it, I found myself in her shoes. The idea of being mentally dead ten times as a way of ridding myself of the depression (and anxiety) that impact my every day life seems scary as all get out, but I get it. I could see how she could be there.
We the reader are taken through the process of being put under, the process of coming out of the propofol haze and the light and hope that she begins to see in life. It was real, almost tangible hope. It was through her writing that we saw the old Heather being to emerge again.
I could have done without all of the passive aggressive jabs at her ex-husband though.
I read the book and talked about it to just about anyone who would listen. I kept saying, “I would never do it, but she….” and then I realized, maybe I would do it. Especially if it brought me that sort of hope.
However, this is book needs to come with a trigger warning. If you have struggled with depression, the reality of her emotions and actions can be almost too real. At least, it was for me.