Stacy London, TLC’s makeover maven who once advised women “What Not to Wear,” usually gives the impression of being effortlessly organized and put together. So it’s a shock to hear London admit she spent the last year in a frenzy of ill-advised spending. Until you learn what she went through.stacylondonreal/Instagram
As London wrote for Refinery 29, she’d planned to take a year off of work after her TLC show, “Love, Lust or Run,” ended in 2015. But late in 2016, she learned her sabbatical would be longer than expected. After four years of chronic back pain, London needed 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 2017. But the best laid plans don’t always work out. If I’d known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have made any plans at all.
London wasn’t prepared for how physically painful the surgery and recovery would be. Nor did she take into account the possibility that she might not bounce back as quickly as she’d thought.
Between the post-surgery exhaustion and the pain, even the idea of work was simply too much. For the first time, London found herself not only without a job, but without a purpose. Desperate to get through the recovery period, she admits that finances were the last thing on her mind. The thing she wanted most was to feel better again. She wrote:
The problem was that while I had planned financially for the first year off, I hadn’t planned for the second. 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).
Soon, boredom and limited mobility pushed aside any sense of financial responsibility. London found herself shopping to pass the time:
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 […] I bought toys for my dog Dora — toys I could barely pick up. I paid for my housekeeper and a full-time driver I couldn’t take anywhere. And after you’ve binged every available Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon series (old AND new), the next logical activity? Online shopping, of course!
Even as she indulged herself, London knew she was being reckless, but she didn’t stop. She wrote that it’s still difficult to admit that she abandoned her sense of independence and responsibility in favor of a childish desire to treat herself.stacylondonreal/Instagram
London fell into the trap of using shopping to fill out a fantasy life, searching for just the right outfit to wear to an imaginary event. And believing that “when I bought this one last dress, shoe, bag, or necklace, my image in these imaginary scenarios would somehow be complete.”
She acknowledges that her fantasy-based shopping was a way to avoid the unpleasant present. But at the time, it was easy to delude herself — even to the point when she started ignoring her own style rules:
I’ve been in fashion for a long time; having smart, relevant style has always been a part of my job. But those giant vintage sterling chandelier earrings by some fancy Italian designer that were so heavy my lobes literally rejected them?
About two months after her surgery, London began to feel paranoid, anxious, and subject to frequent crying fits. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was suffering from clinical depression, which can often follow a surgery like hers. London’s response, however, was to fall deeper into fantasy and shopping.
As physical therapy began, London started to regain structure and control of her days … and then her boyfriend asked for a “break.”
The surgery and recovery had been hard on their relationship. And after two weeks apart, he wanted to break up. London, however, wasn’t ready to let go and was determined to fix both her back and her relationship. So she added couples therapy to the physical therapy and chiropractic care that was draining her savings.
By summer, with her back stronger and her relationship still weak, London decided on an (expensive) solution to their problems — a luxury vacation. She wrote:
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. And to do that, I naturally had to find all kinds of “dope” clothing and accessories for just that purpose. God forbid I should take anything I already owned. I brought so much “photo wardrobe” it required its own suitcase.
In Europe, London shared Instagram photos of their seemingly-perfect trip. Then she started to wake up to certain realities: her relationship wasn’t working, and she was spending way too much.stacylondonreal/Instagram
She came home, leaving her now-ex behind. In an intimate post on Instagram, London announced the “amicable” break-up, adding that the happiness in their photos was real and asking for kindness in how fans responded to the news.
But there were more difficulties to come.
Her apartment flooded, which required expensive repairs and the embarrassment of moving back in with her parents. Then, she learned that a college friend — whom she’d dated and lived with for years — had committed suicide. The devastating news kicked off another orgy of spending:
If I wasn’t completely broken before, I was now. 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 … to BUY! 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. Because heartbreakingly, people can’t always do that.
But a crash was coming. In December, London’s accountant told her that “I am not, in any way, as solvent as I thought I was.”
Over the course of a devastating year, she had tried to spend away her troubles but only learned how impossible that is. She wrote:
It took that one meeting to wake me the f*ck 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. I suppose the good news is now I know why it’s called a fire sale — because I need to burn this past year to the ground.
Now, London is trying to pick up the pieces from the past year. Knowing that she made mistakes hasn’t helped the wound to her self-esteem. And she sometimes wonders if it’s possible to put her life back together. Still, she can see what she’s gained from her difficult year. A year after her surgery, she wrote on Instagram:
This year has been hard work but I wouldn’t trade it for anything: I’m out of chronic pain physically AND psychologically. It feels like it was yesterday and at the same time, so very long ago.
Most of all, she hopes the new year will be a better one. As she wrote in Refinery 29:
“Being broken doesn’t presuppose you can put yourself back together just as you were. It means there will be cracks and wounds, battle cries of a life lived and mistakes made. We move forward, and everything changes. Nothing is static, including me.”