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Stacy London Shares the Bad Habit She Turned to While Recovering From ‘Agonizing’ Surgery

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Stacy London, host of TLC style makeover shows “What Not to Wear” and “Love, Lust or Run,” is taking viewers behind the scenes of her own life, including her struggles with chronic back pain and the aftermath of spinal surgery. In an essay published on Refinery 29 on Friday, London revealed how recovering from surgery left her “without a purpose,” fighting anxiety and depression and almost broke.

As London explained, she had been dealing with chronic back pain for four years when she had surgery to fuse vertebrae that were loose because they were “grinding together” and turning her discs to “powder.” At the time (December 2016), though she hadn’t worked since “Love, Lust or Run” had ended the year before, she was financially secure and planned on a six-week recovery.

With a boyfriend who was hit by a taxi while riding his bike 2 weeks ago (but thankfully had a helmet on) he got away…

Posted by Stacy London on Monday, December 19, 2016

However, she said she didn’t expect the extent to which the emotional and physical aftermath of the surgery would affect her. She described her time in the hospital as “agonizing,” from the pain from the operation to extreme nausea from the pain medications to diarrhea and vomiting. Once home, she was still on such heavy medication that she couldn’t remember when she had eaten or the nurses who were helping her.

“I underestimated the extent to which my cognition would be compromised. Everything was foggy, like I was under water,” London wrote. “And even as the brain fog began to lift, I was still in pain and always tired.”


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Every day I’m hustlin. Tap photo for credits

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Without a job to go to and unable to start physical therapy yet, London said she began to spend money “almost mindlessly” — ordering in food, buying dog toys and shopping for clothes and jewelry from retail and brand apps.

She said she feels a “deep shame” in spending this way, and said “surgery, sadness, and immobility” had her acting out.

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.

Then, eight weeks after surgery, she began to feel “weird” and “paranoid.” She didn’t want to go outside because she was anxious about slipping or someone bumping into her. She couldn’t sleep and had “uncontrollable fits of crying.”

I didn’t feel sad exactly, I just felt sick. Like something was eating me alive. As it turns out, what I had been feeling was clinical depression (who knew?), which I later discovered is quite common with surgeries involving the spine, brain, and heart. The body is traumatized on a deep, subconscious level. My guess is the body feels like it’s dying. It’s scary. And no one really explained this to me.

She said she pretended she didn’t have depression and kept shopping — she said there wasn’t much else she could do to “escape” what she was feeling. Starting physical therapy helped give her days structure, but then her boyfriend, photographer Nick Onken, asked for a break. London said she thought he thought she’d heal quicker than she did, and caretaking “wasn’t natural to him.” “I worried that I couldn’t control the paranoia, the anger, and that ultimately, I was driving him away. I kept thinking that if I could just be cheerier, like my old self, we would get through it,” she wrote.

That summer, in an effort to fix their relationship, they went on a trip to Europe, where London said she spent more money on clothes, hotels and fancy restaurants. But they broke up at the end of the trip, and soon after returning home, London had a flood in her apartment that required extensive repairs, and she found out an old friend had died by suicide.

“If I wasn’t completely broken before, I was now,” she wrote.

Finally, her accountant told her she wasn’t as “solvent” as she thought she was. That meeting, she said, woke her up, and she began cleaning out everything she didn’t need from her house and closet.

She said she is “very conscious” of her mistakes and her need to rectify them, not only to “stay afloat” but also deal with this “knock to her sense of self-esteem.”

A lot broke last year. And from all that brokenness, there is no other choice but to affirm life. It means picking up the pieces of mine off the floor. There are so many shards, sometimes I feel like it will be impossible to put them all back together. Being broken doesn’t presuppose you can put yourself back together just as you were. It means there will be cracks and wounds, battlecries of a life lived and mistakes made. We move forward, and everything changes. Nothing is static, including me.

London followed up her essay with a few tweets explaining that she understood her place of privilege and that others can’t afford to do what she did.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Phil Plait

Originally published: February 7, 2018
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