The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live

The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live

Armstrong shares her story of living with debilitating depression and the radical treatment she underwent to cure it. For years she controlled her depression with a mixture of prescriptions, but when their effects start fading, Armstrong experiences an 18-month period of deep depression fueled by suicidal thoughts. Scared of what will become of her and the possibility of l...

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Title:The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live
Author:Heather B. Armstrong
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The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live Reviews

  • Erin

    Well, I never stray away from a tough subject in my reading material. I was seduced by the title and I stayed for the compelling and raw account of a woman's struggle to overcome the painful depression that enveloped her every moment. Heather B. Armstrong goes to a place that I never could have believed possible. In 2017 , the single mother of two and popular blogger, became the third partic

    Well, I never stray away from a tough subject in my reading material. I was seduced by the title and I stayed for the compelling and raw account of a woman's struggle to overcome the painful depression that enveloped her every moment. Heather B. Armstrong goes to a place that I never could have believed possible. In 2017 , the single mother of two and popular blogger, became the third participant in a scientific study in which the subject is given a huge dosage through anesthesia which would leave her nearly brain dead for 15 minutes. All done in an effort to quiet the electrical activity in her brain. She would go through this process TEN times.

    Heather shares her family story and treatments in such a conversational manner that I felt I was talking with a friend over a cup of coffee. As I came to the end of Heather's story, I couldn't help but allow the tears to fall freely. As much pain as there is in this book, there lies within a message of hope.

    is

    Goodreads Review 19/04/ 19

    Publication Date 23/04/19

  • Michelle

    Although author Heather Armstrong suffered from profound depression, she wasn’t suicidal and would never take her own life. In her fascinating medical memoir “The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times In Order To Live” (2019) it was this fact combined with other criteria that qualified her for a new cutting edge study and treatment: Armstrong would undergo a 15 minute chemically induced state similar to actual brain death while on a breathing tube. The treatments were de

    Although author Heather Armstrong suffered from profound depression, she wasn’t suicidal and would never take her own life. In her fascinating medical memoir “The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times In Order To Live” (2019) it was this fact combined with other criteria that qualified her for a new cutting edge study and treatment: Armstrong would undergo a 15 minute chemically induced state similar to actual brain death while on a breathing tube. The treatments were designed to re-program her brain chemistry and cognitive function to (hopefully) reduce or eliminate depressive symptoms and behaviors and improve her quality of life.

    As a single mother, Armstrong was overwhelmed with stress and anxiety; fearing her former husband would petition the courts and seek sole custody of their young daughter if he ever found out she was so ill. Unable to do simple tasks and basic life skills, she went for days on end without showering or changing her clothes, she would emotionally break-down, crying for extended periods over the phone while her alarmed mother consoled her—Armstrong simply did not want to be alive, and needed to feel better as soon as possible.

    Some of these brain treatments seem risky and experimental: In Singapore researchers and doctors are using brain implants to treat opioid addiction (2019). Armstrong was very fortunate to have a caring family (especially her mother and step-father) that offered her unconditional love and full support before, during, and after treatment which greatly improved Armstrong’s chances for a full recovery.**With thanks and appreciation to Gallery Threshold Pocket Books via NetGalley for the DDC for the purpose of review.

  • Beth

    Blogging must be such a weird way to make a living. You’re a good writer, so you start writing...about your job, your life, your kids. And then the ad money starts to roll and suddenly: commodification. And internet troll fury. Meanwhile, you’re still a good writer, so you keep writing. And your non-troll audience, who has been with you all along...through the having of babies and the getting of divorces and the moving of houses and all of it...keeps reading and rooting for you. And, in that odd

    Blogging must be such a weird way to make a living. You’re a good writer, so you start writing...about your job, your life, your kids. And then the ad money starts to roll and suddenly: commodification. And internet troll fury. Meanwhile, you’re still a good writer, so you keep writing. And your non-troll audience, who has been with you all along...through the having of babies and the getting of divorces and the moving of houses and all of it...keeps reading and rooting for you. And, in that odd way the internet connects us to strangers, keeps feeling invested in your life. So a book like this one—unsettling, smart, darkly funny, revealing—which from a different writer would be “shocking” and “pathbreaking” feels like a natural long-form extension of your stock in trade.

    But this shouldn’t lessen the impact of this book’s power. Heather Armstrong’s voice and humor aren’t for everyone, but the life events she chronicles here are astonishing. And, in that odd way the internet connects us to strangers, my overwhelming reaction while reading it was pride and joy. I’m so proud of what Heather has accomplished—what a brave treatment to undertake—and her found happiness brings me joy.

  • Diane S ☔

    I had never heard of this young woman before reading this book. I've since learned she is a well known mommy blogger. So it is natural for her to write down her thoughts, and to share them with the world. Depression is an insidious disease, one I don't suffer from, though a few people very close to me have at one time or another in their lives.

    In this candid memoir, Heather, chronicles her life during an eighteen month bout of a severe depression. As the single parent to two daughter, she simpl

    I had never heard of this young woman before reading this book. I've since learned she is a well known mommy blogger. So it is natural for her to write down her thoughts, and to share them with the world. Depression is an insidious disease, one I don't suffer from, though a few people very close to me have at one time or another in their lives.

    In this candid memoir, Heather, chronicles her life during an eighteen month bout of a severe depression. As the single parent to two daughter, she simply wanted it all to end. The day to day struggle, the constant chores, she couldn't envision a time when she would feel happy. She loved her girls, knew deep down she needed to be around for them, yet knowing and feeling are two very different things.

    In desperation she agrees to become part of a study, only the third participant. This is the story of her days, glimpses of her past, and the treatment she undertakes. Mental illness still has such a stigma attached, and this played into her fears as well. She has a wonderful mother and step father who were with her during every treatment and beyond. Family support is crucial. This country, among many I'm sure, need better psychiatric care, easier to attain and pay for. Awareness is key.

    ARC from Edelweiss.

  • Barbara

    3.5 stars

    Heather B. Armstrong is a popular 'mommy blogger' who uses her website 'Dooce' to share posts about her family, personal life, pop culture, music, commercial products, and so on. Over the years Heather also wrote about her struggle with depression, which became more serious over time. By 2016 Heather had been suffering from an eighteen-month-long bout of a depression so deep that she wanted to be dead. Heather would wear the same yoga pants, sports bra, and T-shirt f

    3.5 stars

    Heather B. Armstrong is a popular 'mommy blogger' who uses her website 'Dooce' to share posts about her family, personal life, pop culture, music, commercial products, and so on. Over the years Heather also wrote about her struggle with depression, which became more serious over time. By 2016 Heather had been suffering from an eighteen-month-long bout of a depression so deep that she wanted to be dead. Heather would wear the same yoga pants, sports bra, and T-shirt for days in a row, with her unshowered body topped by dirty hair. Feeling her normally trim body was out of shape, Heather writes: "I slept in my yoga pants because I didn't want to have to change my pants and see my alien body."

    At the time Heather fell into the abyss, she'd been living in Salt Lake City, Utah for most of her life and was raising her two daughters Leta (13) and Marlo (7) alone.

    Heather's ex-husband Jon had moved to New York, and she was desperate to keep her depressive condition from him, fearing he'd demand custody of the children. Instead Heather would hide in a closet and call her mother, who lived nearby. Hoping the children couldn't hear, Heath would let loose, sometimes "making noises like a pig makes in a barn fire" and sometimes moaning "I don't want to be alive."

    Heather could hardly bring herself to do laundry or unload the dishwater; got anxious when her boss emailed or called, knowing he'd want something completed; and was amazed that she could perform her 'mommy' job from day to day, which she describes as: "Make sure the girls have eaten; make sure they're showered and dressed; make sure they have their homework; is Marlo wearing socks? make sure to let the dog back in; make sure we have Cheerios for the next two breakfasts; make sure Leta has taken a pill for her allergies; make sure Leta has asked her friend for a ride to school tomorrow, since the other carpool just cancelled......and so on. Morning after morning after morning. And then again. And then again." Heather felt like she was barely hanging on.

    Heather's psychiatrist, Dr. Lowry Bushnell, had prescribed many medications over the years, but her illness had become resistant to drugs - and pharmaceuticals no longer helped. When Heather visited Dr. Bushnell after a nine-month lapse, he looked at her and said "You don't have to tell me [how you feel]. It's all over your face. It has stolen your eyes." The psychiatrist then suggested that Heather participate in an experimental study with Dr. Brian Mickey, who was investigating the use of Propofol (the anesthetic that killed Michael Jackson) to treat depression.

    With this treatment, the patient is put to sleep - that is put into a REALLY DEEP INDUCED COMA (simulating brain death) - about three times a week for ten sessions. The purpose is to find out if "burst suppression" - quieting the brain's electrical activity - can alleviate the symptoms of depression.....sort of like rebooting a computer. Heather agreed to the Propofol regimen and this book describes each of her ten treatments, interspersed with anecdotes about herself, her children, her parents, her job, and more.

    Heather's mother and stepfather stepped up to accompany her to each session, while her children - who didn't know exactly what was going on - quietly hoped for the best. Heather had to forego food and water prior to every therapy session, each of which went something like this: Heather arrives at the clinic; fills out a form assessing her level of depression; tells a nurse what drugs she's taking; has a 22-gauge needle inserted into her vein; lays down on a gurney; has sensors attached to her body; and passes out when a doctor starts the Propofol (plus other meds) drip. The medical team then inserts a breathing tube into Heather's throat, which is removed at the end of the session. When it's over, Heather is transported to a recovery room, where she wakes up confused and thirsty. A nurse then gives her apple juice and assesses her condition. When Heather demonstrates that she's compos mentis (knows her name and the year), she's allowed to go home with her folks.

    Heather's mother and stepfather watched every procedure from beginning to end, her mom keeping an eagle eye on everything and everyone, making sure Heather's eyes were taped shut and substances that constipated her were left out (to Heather's eternal embarrassment).🙂

    Heather notes that she started to feel better after treatment five.....and was on an upward trajectory from then on.

    In the course of Heather's story we learn that she comes from a family plagued by depression; she left the Mormon Church; her biological father has an anger problem and traumatized her as a child (I would have liked to know more about this); her mother is an angel who helps with laundry, meals, babysitting.....whatever's needed; her kids have a full roster of activities, including school, piano lessons, and sports; she helped a blind man run a marathon; she wouldn't mind having a nice boyfriend who has a job; and she's eternally grateful to the medical team that treated her, all of whom volunteered their time and were immensely caring and helpful.

    In an afterward, Dr. Brian Mickey, MD, PhD, writes that tens of millions of people around the world have treatment-resistant depression, and "this situation has inspired scientists like myself to search for new treatments." Dr. Mickey goes on to say "The study Heather participated in could be the beginning of something new. But the true benefits of Propofol for treatment-resistant depression remain unknown. Much work still needs to be done."

    So far Heather continues to do well. With luck, she'll be a long term success story.

    I found the story to be a bit repetitive (all those treatments) and would have liked to know more about Heather's upbringing. Nevertheless, the book is laudable for explaining a therapy that (eventually) might help a lot of people.

    Thanks to Netgalley, the author (Heather B. Armstrong), and the publisher (Gallery Books) for a copy of the book.

    You can follow my reviews at

  • Karen Rush

    A valiant effort chronicling a devastating illness, I feel for Armstrong and the strength it must have taken to face her demons head on via 10 experimental treatments despite scary complications. Gutsy as heck and her family support was unwavering and amazing. Thanks to Gallery Threshold for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  • Nancy

    I am so conflicted with this book.

    The good is that the author is honest about her depression and describes it so very well. Her writing is compulsive and her relationship with words is enviable. I applaud anybody who is willing to write an honest memoir. But that is where my conflict comes in. It is certainly her choice to share what she wishes to share of her personal journey and I acknowledge that. What drove me crazy was the little tidbits that hinted of a much, much bigger story that is pro

    I am so conflicted with this book.

    The good is that the author is honest about her depression and describes it so very well. Her writing is compulsive and her relationship with words is enviable. I applaud anybody who is willing to write an honest memoir. But that is where my conflict comes in. It is certainly her choice to share what she wishes to share of her personal journey and I acknowledge that. What drove me crazy was the little tidbits that hinted of a much, much bigger story that is probably relevant to her journey but then, after one sentence, she drops it. Why mention it at all if it isn’t going to be fleshed out adequately for the reader? There are deep issues with her father and I respect her discretion as she has a continued relationship with him yet she intimates how very horrible he was to her in her childhood by making a reference to TV bombshell and then drops it.

    I found the author very, very good at describing how it feels to be so depressed that she wanted to be dead but much of the book is a lot of description of the sounds of her mother’s shoes as she walks quickly, a conversation about constipation, how tired she is after a treatment, or the minutiae of making special sandwiches for her daughter’s. Her writing tends toward promising something deeper but leaves me wanting as it doesn’t deliver.

    Apparently, there are also inside jokes or references that I didn’t get. I don’t like to feel stupid or excluded when I read a book. I enjoy an intellectually challenging read but the references were not that. They were inferences made within her mind, pop culture, or her blog. Truthfully, I’m not as trendy as she is.

    I admire the author for who she is and what she has accomplished and continues to accomplish. Fans of her blog will probably understand a lot more than I did. My review is based on my frustration level and not on the author’s writing ability.

  • Deborah Stevens

    Memoir consists of two things: the strength of the story being told, and the strength of the book.

    The story here is very compelling because it concerns a topic we all know, some of us too well: depression. Considered the "common cold of mental health," almost everyone has experienced it. Yet in some it becomes so entrenched and treatment resistant that it endangers the life of the sufferer. This was the case for Heather B. Armstrong, leading her to try an experimental treatment involving being v

    Memoir consists of two things: the strength of the story being told, and the strength of the book.

    The story here is very compelling because it concerns a topic we all know, some of us too well: depression. Considered the "common cold of mental health," almost everyone has experienced it. Yet in some it becomes so entrenched and treatment resistant that it endangers the life of the sufferer. This was the case for Heather B. Armstrong, leading her to try an experimental treatment involving being very deeply anesthetized, 10 times.

    The book, however, is not strong. Armstrong does not take the time at the outset to introduce herself in any compelling way to her reader; perhaps she is writing more to her blog followers than to new readers such as myself. She is also wildly inaccurate in her description of her IV placements before each treatment, describing the 22 gauge needle as enormous (not the case, this needle is much smaller than those used in blood donation), and the medical professionals placing the needles as phlebotomists (we phlebotomists draw blood but do not place IVs. Ever. This would have been a certified IV Tech or an RN.). She lost all credibility with me here.

    The strongest part of her narrative is her description of what it is like to be depressed, and this may appeal to those readers who are in relationship to a depressed individual and wish to better understand the hopelessness, lethargy, parenting lapses and poor hygiene that she describes. And the success that Armstrong experienced as a result of her treatment is such a ray of hope. I wish her continued health and strength.

    With thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  • Sarah

    Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for providing me with an e-arc for review, this has in no way influenced my opinion.

    The Valedictorian of Being Dead is Heather B. Armstrong's recollections of her experience of undergoing an experimental treatment to attempt to lessen her depression symptoms. She is put into a state of brain death ten times over the course of a 3 week period, and has not had a relapse since.

    The best part of this book was the afterword, written by the primary doctor leadi

    Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for providing me with an e-arc for review, this has in no way influenced my opinion.

    The Valedictorian of Being Dead is Heather B. Armstrong's recollections of her experience of undergoing an experimental treatment to attempt to lessen her depression symptoms. She is put into a state of brain death ten times over the course of a 3 week period, and has not had a relapse since.

    The best part of this book was the afterword, written by the primary doctor leading the study, reiterating that this study is early days and that more money and eyes are required to holistically improve the lives of depressed patients.

    I did not enjoy my time reading this book - not because it was triggering or anything like that, but for writing related reasons. Armstrong's voice, on paper, agitates me - I care for neither her style nor her "humour (Her "humour" isn't too dry or subversive for me; it's just absent, but she talks about it like it is a thing that exists).

    The word valedictorian is used constantly, a weird tick coupled with the idea that being the valedictorian is somehow life's sole aspirational goal. I don't remember who was valedictorian at my graduation and I can't think of the last time I've even heard the word; maybe it's an American thing - like yearbook superlatives - to give a s*** about the role? I started feeling like Peter in that Family Guy episode wherein he draws attention to movies that mention the film title in dialogue, although he finds it enchanting.

    Lastly, because Armstrong's life is so known to her fans, as someone new to her I was left feeling like I needed an in-book primer - I couldn't summon up the revulsion I think I was supposed to feel toward her father, ex-husband, or ex-boyfriends, creating an emotional gulf I couldn't cross, further compounding how little I was otherwise connecting with the memoir.

    However, I think this book could be helpful to other people. The struggles of depression, single parenting, and dating are struggles that many people can relate to - even if Armstrong admittedly comes to these struggles with a moderate amount of privilege. There is value in showing that while privilege mitigates struggles, money and post-secondary education don't resolve everything on their own.

    I hope the right audience finds this book and benefits from the anecdotes Armstrong has to impart.

  • Gretchen Rubin

    Haunting, powerful memoir of depression.

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