Portia de Rossi wrote a brilliant book about an eating disorder which almost cost her her life. I’ve just finished reading it and have to say it kept me up until two last night. And I was tired to begin with, having slaved long long hours to get my new version of picture-kitchen.com out. I can thoroughly recommend this book – it’s called ‘Unbearable Lightness’ – and she writes beautifully. There is an honesty in her description that makes it possible for anybody to see the progression of (apparently) logical thought-processes that have resounding echoes for anyone who’s ever had weight issues, and how they led to the slow but steady decline into a kind of insanity that left her family and friends frantic and desperate but completely impotent to help.
What emerges in the book is a deeply human, vulnerable person with insecurities like the rest of us, so far removed from the invulnerable, icy Nelle Porter she portrayed so realistically in Ally McBeal that it just leaves one dizzy with disbelief. What she did have in common with the Nelle character was the sense of a human being tightly held in and highly disciplined.
For me, a huge insight came near the end of the book when she finally overcomes her compulsions to either eat far too little or far too much. These are things that echo with me as well – a few blogs ago I was exulting about a weight loss of around 20 kilos – weight that really needed to be lost because now that it’s gone, I really do feel stronger, lighter, better and more at home in my body. But now there is the fear of gaining it back. If I get a car again, will I get fat? I must walk every day, no butter, no this, no that…. Fact is, it’s impossible not to feel the pressure our society and the media exerts on us. What it must be like to have the tabloids exposing every dimple and wrinkle triumphantly to the world while those very journalists are often victims of the same ‘disfigurements’ themselves… we less famous people can be so grateful because nothing can buy the kind of privacy we enjoy. Although we feel that pressure anyway, we can be miserable about ourselves in private, if we insist on being miserable.
The description of her ‘well’ self which resulted from living with Francesca, (the girlfriend before she met Ellen) is an eye-opener. Here was a fairly thin woman who ate what she liked, stopped eating when she was full, and never weighed herself, and she ate with enjoyment, not with terror. It must have been a huge step for Portia to start imitating this way of being. But it worked. I can only imagine the courage it took to break the yoke she’d been under since the age of 12. She came to realise that if she felt like a meal consisting only of fries, that there were more available the next day and she didn’t have to eat another plateful. Or she could and probably would have salad the next day because that would probably be what she’d feel like. So – happy endings all round.
My insight came about because that is the way I am around money. I spoke about success anorexia also, a few blogs back, but for me it’s more specific. I have no problem with being successful – I have money anorexia. If it comes in, I pig out on my spending. I may be owing a great deal to credit cards and the like but if I hear about a 1950’s Borgward that may be for sale, I am on fire to go and look. And if I go and look, I know I’ll make arrangements to buy. And then the circle will begin again, because nothing eats money like a vintage car. Except perhaps a racehorse, a yacht or a private plane. Fortunately I’ve discovered a way to throw a stick through those spokes. My friends know of my addiction and when I (deliberately) mentioned this to a friend who means the world to me, she gave me a stern look and said ‘No Sav, that would make me very grumpy indeed.’ I don’t want her to be grumpy. So I haven’t been to look at the Borgward.
You see I know all the answers. I know it’s a ‘doodad’ according to Robert Kiyosaki. I’ve read all his books, the way anorexics devour any information on diet plans. And I can exist on almost nothing for months, going from deep shame that work was scarce, to wearing my poverty like a badge, enjoying the fact that my clothes are mended, that I won’t be buying anything new, even though money might be available – it’s a kind of inverted snobbishness. I have nothing but complete contempt for relatives and lovers of friends who’ve mentioned that that particular household has thrown away over R1000 worth of food every month because it spoiled in their fridge. And I feel superior to them, with all that wealth.
But even I realised there was something wrong with my thinking some years ago – I’d sold my house because work dried up and I went from borrowing money to get through the day before the final amount landed, to having hundreds of thousands in the bank, overnight. My anxiety was huge. I was desperately anxious not to spend that money.
Eventually it did go, horrified as I was, and much as I tried to hang onto it, that figure dropped, month after month till it was all gone. Sadly, like Portia and her eating, there’d been no joy in the spending. Work was still not coming in, but I made little effort to get it either, rather using that year to travel, to learn new skills (including tango and other ballroom/latin dancing lessons because that’s on my bucket list) and it turned out that in a careless moment I’d actually given the middle finger to a client by saying that I was now concentrating on animation. I guess I was bitter that they hadn’t been there with work in the time I’d been forced to sell my house but I wasn’t saying I didn’t want to illustrate for them, – it was just coming off the top of my head. Still, it was the death knell for any future work. I only realised the misunderstanding a year later when I wasn’t invited to a major launch they had in all the major cities. I made a few polite enquiries and was told that they’d felt they shouldn’t bother me. We’ve made peace now, but the recession has bitten rather hard in the meantime.
To go back to my contempt for the ‘wasteful wealthy people’ I mentioned earlier – maybe if I can truly absorb the fact that:
- what other people do with their money (or their food) has nothing to do with me
- my money disorder is my business and my work to fix
- it isn’t helpful to compare because there are always differences in the way everybody does things
- the main reason for this comparison is to deflect my attention from the fact that I have some work to do in this area
then, maybe balance is possible and maybe I’ll achieve it in my lifetime. And then I’ll feel comfortable with more than a few Rand in my account. And I can still be humble and still be a hedonist. I’ll let you know how it goes.