Reflecting on Stacy London’s Year of Going Broke

Last week, Stacy London wrote an article for Refinery29 called “Stacy London On Her Year of Going Broke” (you can read it here). In it, she talks about having a really rough year – spinal surgery and the aftermath, a breakup, apartment renovations that sent her back to living with her parents for a while, and an ex’s/close friend’s death. Her “year of going broke” refers to how she dealt with all of this (or, didn’t deal with all of it) by spending without any regards for a budget. She was out of work, and was prepared to be out of work while she recovered from surgery, but as we all know, medical issues don’t always go as planned.

I was struck by two big things when I read the article. The first was how true it is that you really never know what’s going on in someone’s life. I was lucky enough to meet Stacy last year in the midst of when she was going through all of this, when she came to the Frick to give a talk about the power of personal style (you can read about that here). There was absolutely no indication that any of this was going on with her – she mentioned her spinal surgery, but by all indications, she was fully recovered. She was so kind and gracious and took time to have a conversation with anyone who wanted to meet her (and there was quite a crowd who wanted to do so).

The other thing that stuck out, though, was this quote, where she talks about how she spent her time recovering from surgery:

“Shopping provided me with a very interesting version of magical thinking at this time. I imagined parties and places I’d go, the people I’d be with, and when I bought this one last dress, shoe, bag, or necklace, my image in these imaginary scenarios would somehow be complete…or whole. I realize now it was just a fantasy future, to distract me from an agonizing present.”

I’ve had my share of SMA-related issues that have kept me from living my “normal” life. I actually have had spinal surgery, though a different one than Stacy had, but I was in middle school and wasn’t doing a lot of online shopping then. But a few years ago before I got my feeding tube, when I was trying desperately to gain weight, a few online shopping packages definitely ended up at my front door. When you’re dealing with a health issue that’s keeping you from living a “normal” life, a life that you’re so desperately trying to get back to, you cling to anything that makes you feel even a little bit closer to that normal. I so badly wanted to be able to gain weight and have energy and go out to dinner with my friends like I used to be able to do so easily. Buying a new top and thinking and hoping that I’d be able to wear it out soon really did make me feel that if I imagined hard enough, I’d be feeling better really soon. When you’re not feeling anything like yourself, it’s so easy to distract yourself with a fantasy future.

I never hit the emotional or financial lows that Stacy talks about in her article – once I got my feeding tube, I was (and still am!) shocked at how quickly I bounced back physically and got my energy back. While my experience may not be quite as dramatic as Stacy’s, I still think it’s really interesting how universal the reaction is to avoid and to pretend that things are still normal when something goes wrong. And I love that Stacy ends her article on a positive note, with hope. At some point, you have to accept that maybe you can’t go back to the normal that you used to be, but that maybe your new normal will be a wiser one – you can only hope.

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