The Valedictorian of Being Dead – Heather B. Armstrong

When you want to be dead, there’s nothing quite like being dead.

Heather B. Armstrong has lived with depression since she was a child but her experience in 2017 was more intense than anything prior. She spent eighteen months severely depressed, wanting to be dead but forcing herself to go through the motions, doing “All the Things Needing to Get Done”, because of her children.

It was during this time of desperation that Heather learned of an experimental study being run by Dr Brian Mickey. She was only the third person to qualify for and agree to participate in Dr Mickey’s study. About three times a week for ten sessions, Heather was put to sleep with propofol anaesthesia.

Dr. Bushnell would eventually clarify that they weren’t technically killing me; it was more of a really, really intense induced coma. They were just almost killing me.

Heather’s writing style is engaging, taking the reader on the journey with her: the good, the bad, the TMI, the scary and the funny. I met her family, some of her friends and the professionals treating her. I learned about the abyss and found the humour in Heather’s inability to recall what year it was when she was coming out of anaesthesia (1979 or 2012, every single time).

I particularly loved how candid Heather was in describing her depression, including the fact that she was able to hide its severity from many people for so long.

No one knew that I wanted to be dead. That’s how good I am.

Heather’s story not only showcases her perseverance and bravery, it also highlights how integral supportive family and friends are for people living with mental illness. I adored Heather’s friend, Stacia, who stayed the night with her when she didn’t have the internal safety to be alone.

However, Heather’s mother, Linda, and stepfather, Rob, were the ones who stole my heart. The practical and emotional support they offered almost had me ugly crying. They are everything you need family to be when you need help. I could have hugged Linda when she said:

“We have nothing else to do this month other than be there when you wake up.”

As I read, I kept thinking back to times when I’ve had suicidal ideation and the more I thought about it the more courageous Heather seemed. Regardless of how desperate I was, I don’t think I could have attempted a treatment option with a possible side effect (however rare) of death. That may sound absurd to you. Here I am saying I wanted to die yet I would have been too scared to try a treatment that might kill me. Isn’t that exactly what I wanted?

Well, yes and no. See, to submit yourself to an experimental treatment like Heather did, you would have to think that it’s the only or best option for you. But because it’s labelled as ‘treatment’ a part of you, even if that part is teensy, would hope that it might work. That’s the part that would have terrified me: the prospect of holding hope while knowing that hope could literally kill me.

It can be hard for a lot of people to ask for help when they need it. It’s especially difficult when your brain is lying to you, telling you that the people who love you would be better off without you. Heather’s recovery, with the help of the medical profession as well as her family and friends, will hopefully convince readers that it’s perfectly okay to ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, disordered eating, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Author and blogger Heather B. Armstrong writes about her experience as one of only a few people to participate in an experimental treatment for depression involving ten rounds of a chemically induced coma approximating brain death.

For years, Heather B. Armstrong has alluded to her struggle with depression on her website. But in 2016, Heather found herself in the depths of a depression she just couldn’t shake, an episode darker and longer than anything she had previously experienced. 

This book recalls the torturous eighteen months of suicidal depression she endured and the month-long experimental study in which doctors used propofol anaesthesia to quiet all brain activity for a full fifteen minutes before bringing her back from a flatline. Ten times. The experience wasn’t easy. Not for Heather or her family. But a switch was flipped, and Heather hasn’t experienced a single moment of suicidal depression since. The Valedictorian of Being Dead brings to light a groundbreaking new treatment for depression.

One thought on “The Valedictorian of Being Dead – Heather B. Armstrong

  1. Pingback: Book Haul – June 2021 – Schizanthus Nerd

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