The Crushing Sadness When an Internet Friend Dies: Mommyblogging, Mental Illness, and More

source: @dooce

Nearly twenty years ago, on Friday, July 11, 2003, Steve showed me his favorite political blogs – Andrew Sullivan, James Lileks, and other long forgotten sites. I thought they were cool, so I promptly set up a free blogspot account and began writing little things for my husband to read at lunch time. I never expected anybody to find it and read it. It was always just for fun. 

But people did find my blog and read it, despite the fact that I refused to commit to one type of blogging, and, thus, confused everyone. Some days I was an academic blogger, other days I was political blogger. And some days, I was a personal blogger, who talked about raising kids in a four floor walk-up in Manhattan, while teaching a graduate school class at Columbia. 

Personal blogging, sometimes called mommyblogging, was a huge thing back then. Women wrote irreverent, self-deprecating essays about raising kids, a welcome relief from the old-school, saccharine parenting books and magazines. Dooce was the OG mommyblogger, one of my daily reads, and she killed herself this week. I’m heartbroken.

Read more at Apt. 11D, the newsletter


11 thoughts on “The Crushing Sadness When an Internet Friend Dies: Mommyblogging, Mental Illness, and More

  1. I read blogs extensively in that time — I can’t remember exactly how it started, but I think when I was home on maternity leave/early newborn with my second child (who, I see, is about the same age as HA’s first). I was never a committed reader because HA was my kind of writer, but, I am feeling sadness and confronting the dissonance of HA’s picture in my feeds because she looks eerily like another Heather friend of mine (who is, fortunately, doing fine).

    I hope her family is doing as well as one could hope and that we find ways to address the intractable depression that some brains create. There are so many stories of people functioning, fighting, and then giving in that are very difficult for those of us who don’t experience the world that way.


  2. I never got into reading mommy bloggers because someone was always always mean. But even I know who she was. She definitely had an impact.

    I learned of Lileks through your blog and still direct people to the gallery of regrettable food.


  3. I’m still sad about the death of a friend from Buffy fandom over 12 years ago. Never met him IRL, but he was just a great person. Everyone one liked him (which was unusual in that crazy fandom). He was just a year younger than me and died of a heart attack in his sleep. 😦


  4. People are always surprised when funny people (like Robin Williams) turn out to be deeply sad, but it’s more the rule than an exception, especially among the professionally funny.


      1. I never really liked her blog, though I think I only encountered her during the farm period, but this was good. Glad you liked the article, hope I haven’t rekindled an addiction.


  5. I read the Penelope Trunk take, and, I think she’s absolutely right that monetizing one’s life, in the form of a blog,. We could also consider Joyce Maynard, and the “memoir essay” at 18 in the NY Times magazine followed by a life of memoiring which included violating the privacy of her family and children and to me at least looked like a life of finding enough drama to write about (without the internet). Monetizing your life exposes your life and creates incentives for creating content that might be bad for you and those around you.

    [potentially problematic talk of deaths by suicide below]

    But we could talk about the others whose lives were publicly lived without tragedy, and some with significant success, and, maybe just consider that Dooce had mental illness and addiction issues all her life and that her death by suicide should be consider a culmination of that disease (as, say, with David Brooks friend Peter, and Allan Krueger and Virginia Woolf). Was the blog, or aspects of it, also a manifestation of her illness? Maybe. Ellen Forney’s description of her Bipolar disorder & her stabilization in Marbles is what I rely on for an explanation of the personal experience of the chronic disease of the brain.

    Maybe think we could consider how other blogs/influencer creations are working economically, and personally (cup of jo, momstory, jen hatmaker, pioneer woman, just one cookbook come to my mind) especially as their marriages mature and their children are more vocal in their own choices. I do note that cup of jo is the most recent to announce a break up of her marriage (momstory & jen hatmaker, who also identified religiously ended their marriages some years ago).

    As a brain scientist, I am always troubled when a death by suicide is blamed on near proximal causes. There are suicides that are potentially influenced by cultural practice (japanese come to my mind, but there are others); there are suicides of young people, with potentially immature brains and with less life context. And, there are death by suicides that occur in people who have been living with chronic mental illness for a long time. I cast Dooce in that category and am less likely to blame a particular life incident.


  6. I have a personal blog shared with friends and family that has now become an important part of my own life. I have found as the kids grow older and into their own lives that I do a certain amount of pestering them for content that I have to temper. When they were young, my pictures and stories were almost all about my experience with them; then it was about them and what they were doing; now, their lives are lived independently and it is only through their stories that I get the stories.

    Both have enjoyed the document of the blog as a family history (which is a scrapbook, and does not have drama, but does include “instagram” moments) and continue to contribute because they use it for our shared history. But no one is famous. As time goes on, though, there will be less content about them and I should not demand the sharing of it.


    1. As times goes on, there are likely to be grandchildren, and a whole new generation of cute instagram moments to memorialize.

      Of course, I think that there is a huge difference between a family only or family-and-close-friends blog/insta/facebook page – and a heavily monetized public blog greedy for content, and exploiting the family relationships.

      It’s been an interesting exercise for me – with Mr 14 deciding a couple of years ago to curate his image – and requiring me to submit photos and a precis of content before he’ll agree to me adding to Facebook (my Facebook page is friends only).


      1. “a heavily monetized public blog greedy for content, and exploiting the family relationships.”

        I do look for examples of where this has been done gracefully (and, not being “greedy” for content is probably a necessity). I think the grace depends on the child as well. Sharers (and we talk about blogging, but there are other forms of sharing, including books) start with babies, who don’t have opinions but we all know that changes. I think the people who do find balance have communication with the people they write about (i.e. your son gets a say in posts) and they step back if their family requests (which is harder to do if income depends on the posts). Some kids do want to be collaborators, too.


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