Casey Coombs reflects on the early aughts, mommy blogging, and the death of Dooce

The blogger formerly known as moosh in indy, in her own words.
Moosh and Dooce posing for a black and white photo

Casey Coombs HeadshotMy name is Casey, the blogger formerly known as moosh in indy. 

I am also a recovering Mormon, an addict, mother of two, wife to one, a lover of horses, an empath, a survivor of sexual assault, a continual survivor of my own mentally ill brain, and an OG mommy blogger. If there were a yearbook for mommy blogging, I would most certainly be included. Perhaps not eligible for superlatives, but I was there when everything went down. 

At the height of my career, I made nearly $10,000 monthly from freelance gigs, sponsorships, and advertising. I had a byline with Condé Nast Traveler and contracts with Disney and Hallmark. I hung out with a Jonas brother, photographed Harry Connick Jr., was a guest on Dr. Drew, attended NYC Fashion Week, and walked the red carpet at the Radio Disney Music Awards. 

My closest friends to this day consist of people I met through the internet, in the early aughts, we were writing about our real lives behind silly monikers like Moosh, Chicky, Bossy, Bloggess, Redneck Mommy, Amalah, Metalia, Finslippy, Momo, Her Bad Mother, Chookooloonks, Schmutzie, and Dooce. 

Heather Armstrong, the creator behind Dooce, completed suicide on May 9. While the mommy blogger class of the early 2000s were all stars, moons, andCasey talking into a microphone while pregnant planets orbiting and affecting each other in the blogosphere, Dooce was our sun, her beginning our big bang. Reading articles about her death in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Rolling Stone reinforced that what we did with our “silly little hobby” mattered. People noticed.

Heather was and always will be a big deal no matter how you felt about her, or if you even knew about her.

It is truly bonkers some of the things I got to do and what I was paid because I hit publish at the right time. It’s easy to second-guess my success all these years later because I dropped into the mommy blogging wave at the perfect moment and managed to ride it for several successful years. Was I a good writer, or was I just lucky? In all the trips and free mattresses (three to be exact), I found the most fulfillment when someone in the void would respond, “I thought I was the only one.” Early on, before I had been offered a single cent for my writing, I admitted to overdosing when I was seven months pregnant. With all the attention on postpartum depression, very little was given to antenatal depression. I also suffered from HG, hyperemesis gravidarum, made famous years later by Kate Middleton. It was a simple post, less than 500 words, and for years, it remained at the top of Google searches for “overdosing while pregnant.” In 2009 at a blogging conference in Chicago, I was told someone was looking for me. Later that evening, a woman grabbed my neck and was already crying, “I’m here because of what you wrote. Your words saved my life and my unborn baby’s life.” 

five female bloggers posing on a couchThe flip side of this success and honesty was that many of us had dedicated pages-deep forums on the famed hate site GOMI (Get Off My Internets). Often commenters in these forums had information we didn’t share publicly, meaning they were from our inner circles and using their proximity to us in real life to further the digital vitriol from the safety of anonymity. My forum was nowhere near what other bloggers had, but once one person says something terrible about you, it’s hard to believe everyone else isn’t thinking the same thing; they’re just not saying it out loud. 

Despite the many similarities Heather and I share, our paths only crossed once when I was able to thank her for her inspiration and attribute where I was in my writing career to her willingness to do it first. As a blogging community, we have lost many of our friends over the last decade, each death followed by a swell of grief and longing for the glory days of blogging before algorithms, gaming SEO, and buying followers changed the landscape for good. 

In my conversations with former and current friends brought about by recent events, yes, we mourn what once was, but there has also been enough time, and we’ve matured enough not to dwell on the ugly parts. We look back with a sort of gauzy memory of connection and sisterhood, amazed that we were able to have the opportunities we did. But spend enough time thinking about it, and the cracks begin to show. The backstabbing, the gossip, the rumors, and the hurt so many of us endured but were never able to talk about because we had to play nice and get along to keep our brands (which were really just ourselves) as tidy as possible. 

Heather’s darkest public words resonated with my own darkest thoughts. While many people have expressed shock, a common, quieter reaction has been, “I’m not surprised.” One friend said, “We smell our own.” and nothing has been more accurate about how I have always felt towards Heather – both good and bad. Less than two months ago, I was deep in suicidal ideation and googled “I don’t want to be alive anymore” just to see what the internet had to offer my state of mind. An article from The Mighty titled  ‘I Want You to Want to Live’ came up and while I don’t know the author Jody Betty, what I do know is Jody’s words kept me here for one more day, and one more day has turned into 60 more days and in those 60 days I have been able to become what is quite possibly the most broadly healthy version of me ever to exist. 

I have been mostly quiet on the internet since 2015. Growing up, my mom had a Joseph Hall quote on the fridge that read, “A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.” 

When you break down on the Internet, the Internet never forgets. I had broken down enough, and the trolls in GOMI and the gremlins in my brain wouldn’t let me forget.

I am well aware of the impact my addiction and mental health has had on my children and recognize that they will carry it for the rest of their lives. I will continue to do my very best to stay here, breaking generational cycles of “Emotions are weakness, stuff it down, turn it off, deny, deny, deny.” 

I have learned the two things that hurt my mental health and my recovery the most are loneliness and the inability to be honest about what’s going on in my head. Do you know what social media and the last three years have done to society? Made us achingly lonely and unable to be honest about our emotions without fear of repercussions.

Heather’s last words on her blog are powerful in their simplicity, Moosh and Dooce posing for a black and white photo

“Oh, this. This is just life. All of this is just a physical reaction to psychological pain.”

Sobriety was not some mystery I had to solve. It was simply looking at all my wounds and learning how to live with them.”

I’m still figuring it out. I spent so much time angry that I had lost my career as a writer and bitter that I would never be able to live up to what I did during that time, but I am still here, and I am starting over. And wow, do we need to normalize middle age humans, especially moms, starting over. I don’t regret staying home to raise my girls for one minute, but I also can’t deny the awkward experience of going back out into the workforce and to college to begin anew. 

The cruelty and the hate that now permeates the spaces where we once found community and connection is a permanent stain on society that keeps many people quiet, alone, suffering, and sick. 

The origins of mommy blogging, sharing our real lives from behind fake names, paved the way for today’s creator economy, where much of the new generation shares fake lives from behind real names. Those of us who were there from the beginning know that vulnerability comes with a steep social price tag, but the ROI on living honestly and authentically has been worth the investment for me over the past 18 years. It’s normal for death to cause us to look inward at where we’re at in our own lives, and the more in common we have with the loss, the more inward we turn. 

I remind myself daily that nothing truly bad can happen from being honest and staying sober/clean. Still, the road to complete honesty and sobriety can be an absolutely grueling one. Healing and recovery are not tidy, pain-free, easy, or even fun; in fact, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and at the present moment one of the most rewarding. But the reality of living with addiction and mental illness is that nothing is guaranteed, and those who suffer are always susceptible to lies their brains tell them. Add in an anonymous world with keyboards and their eyes on your cracks, and you barely stand a chance when you’re at your worst. Author Jennifer Weiner wrote on Facebook, “The mental illness and addiction that she lived with and wrote about were the immediate causes of her death, and, also, nobody puts ‘trolls’ on a death certificate.”

five bloggers posing in front of red carpetThe community I made from blogging saved my life more than once, and I would have never found the community I did had Heather not charged in and led the way. The ache I feel at her loss is as unique for me as it is for anyone affected by her, including you, dear reader. Because the truth is you wouldn’t be reading these words if Heather hadn’t hit publish for the first time all those years ago. The world is so big and can be so scary at times, but the truth is we are all so delicately interconnected, and our effect on each other fully supports chaos theory. A tattoo on my right forearm reads, “it’s chaos, be kind” a quote from author Michelle McNamara and a reminder that so much is out of our control, but kindness is always a choice.

A small group of Heather’s friends have established two separate 529 funds for her children’s individual educational needs. These funds will be managed by their father Jon, on their behalf. While this initiative was organized by a group of friends, please know that Jon, Pete, and Heather’s family have been consulted throughout this process.

If you wish to make a donation to be used for college, you can do so through these links:

For Leta Armstrong:

For Marlo Armstrong:

(While your name will appear alongside your gift, please note that all financial information is confidential and secure. These links are valid for donors in the US only. Please be aware that these uGift 529 funds are the *only* approved funds for Leta and Marlo.)

If you would prefer to make a charitable contribution in memory of Heather, the family recommends donations to Every Mother Counts. The organization’s mission to improve maternal health was deeply important to Heather, who served on their board for 8 years.

Casey (Mullins) Coombs lives in Indiana with her two daughters and magnificent husband. Her favorite thing to do is leave people better than she found them, and her second favorite thing to do is hug ponies.

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