Stacy London The day I celebrated my first anniversary of life after spine surgery — December 13 — I found out I was going broke. Well, not broke broke, but running out of cash fast. And, over the past year and a half, I had been burning through it hard and without a second thought.
But turned out to be a year marked by breakdowns. Not just politically, although that would be an obvious reason to feel unhinged; I had a lot happening personally as well. Because when shit happens, no one necessarily tells you shit can get seriously expensive, too. Said breakdowns officially began in December Although I was financially secure at the time, I was untethered to a job and had been since the year before, when Love, Lust or Run ended.
That year was always intended to be a kind of sabbatical. But by the end of it, it was clear that after four years of chronic back pain, staved off with steroid shots, I was going to need surgery. And not just any surgery, very expensive spinal surgery. My doctor had to go in and fuse vertebrae that were loose because they were grinding against each other, effectively turning my discs to powder.
This is a pretty common surgery, apparently. I was told the recovery time would be about six weeks. I thought, I can handle six weeks. Especially if it would end my chronic pain and set me up for a successful There was the pain from the operation itself, the extreme nausea from the painkillers, and, lest I forget, the warm prune juice I drank to help me poop.
Not to get too graphic, but imagine trying to BEND a healing spine over to vomit while having explosive diarrhea. Yep, I got too graphic. I underestimated the extent to which my cognition would be compromised. Everything was foggy, like I was under water. And even as the brain fog began to lift, I was still in pain and always tired. I had nothing to hold on to. In fact, I would have thrown money at anything — material or procedural — to make the recovery process easier.
I felt secure enough not to panic right away — I just had to get through six weeks, right? But it became obvious that six weeks was just the start of my recovery, including the first follow-up visit to my surgeon post-surgery which I am still paying off.
Advertisement Without a job to go to, and with a good enough excuse not to, I started to spend money almost mindlessly: I ordered in food twice a day mostly Bareburger and mostly with the Caviar app.
I bought toys for my dog Dora — toys I could barely pick up. Online shopping, of course! Well, for me anyway. As a result, my phone is now home to every brand and retail app on the planet, each at the ready for swiping and shopping-cart-filling aplenty. This sounds almost ridiculous as I type it. I consider myself to be a smart person. There are very few things I consider hard to admit, but this is one of them. Always being independent and being on my own has been a point of pride for me.
I want what I want when I want it, dammit! I realize now it was just a fantasy future, to distract me from an agonizing present. And it was easy to fool myself. But those giant vintage sterling chandelier earrings by some fancy Italian designer that were so heavy my lobes literally rejected them? Some time after the eight-week mark, I started to feel…well, weird.
Like something was eating me alive. As it turns out, what I had been feeling was clinical depression who knew? The body is traumatized on a deep, subconscious level. And no one really explained this to me. You know what is a great salve for depression? A kind of hell, really. I begged my surgeon to let me start physical therapy a bit early, which made a difference. In fact, having appointments gave structure to my days and a way to chart my healing.
By the end of February , while I was still wearing a brace, my boyfriend asked for a break. In some sense, I think he thought I would heal more quickly than I did. During that two-week break, I agonized even more — this time, about losing him, not just my grip on my own life.
I kept thinking that if I could just be cheerier, like my old self, we would get through it. When we sat down after those two weeks, he wanted to break up. At this point, I was trying to heal two broken things: I managed to convince him we could make it through.
So he went to therapy. And I went to therapy. I paid for my chiropractic care, all the while paying for my physical therapy, as many times a week as my surgeon would let me go. By July, I was free from a back brace and getting stronger, so we decided to go on a trip. Despite the ups and downs with my mood, and the fragile state of our relationship, like always, I thought an extravagant vacation could fix things.
We planned to go to Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Bruges, and Mallorca. Although he never asked me to, I paid for all the fancy hotel rooms. Because I like fancy hotels. I like suites with views. I like really nice restaurants. And, in Amsterdam, I rented a private boat to tour the city. We also wanted to take photographs — not touristy ones but art-y ones.
God forbid I should take anything I already owned. Advertisement We did see some great art. We did eat at nice restaurants. We did take pretty pictures. In Amsterdam, we made the decision to stay there a few extra days and not go to Bruges. That is the first time I ever remember saying to him and myself that maybe I was spending too much money, that I had to watch my budget. It was the first time I suddenly felt aware of my pattern of behavior since the surgery. When we landed in Mallorca, that first night, a friend texted me to ask how the trip was going.
We had a week left and I told her the truth: The following morning I said it out loud: When I left, he stayed behind. When I got back to Brooklyn, I stayed in bed for two days and that was it.
I got up and out and it was over. I had to move with Dora to my parents' house another kind of humiliation in and of itself while whole floors in my home were torn up and walls were cut open from top to bottom at no small expense.
I started to feel like everything about me and about my life was being unceremoniously dismantled, one floorboard at a time. It was the Tuesday morning the week I was staying with my family that I got a text from a dear college friend to call her.
When I did, her voice was shaking and she said I should sit down. Another dear friend of ours from college, whom I dated and lived with for almost three years and had loved very much, had taken his own life the day before. I have never known that particular feeling: Life has barely made sense since then.
I doubled up on physical therapy sessions. I hired a trainer. I bought oodles of vintage bags and more Zara coats. I even started looking at country houses upstate and apartments in Manhattan Because I was determined to live. I was determined to have a life that made me happy. Why I thought material items had that much to do with it, I can only attribute to wanting things that stay. I am not, in any way, as solvent as I thought I was.
Happy anniversary to me! It took that one meeting to wake me the fuck up. And, like a woman who might actually be going broke, I started purging my house and my closet of everything unnecessary for a mighty big fire sale on the horizon.