Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

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“I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude. Being as thin as possible was a way to make the job of being an actress easier . . .”

Portia de Rossi weighed only 82 pounds when she collapsed on the set of the Hollywood film in which she was playing her first leading role. This should have been the culmination of all her years of hard work—first as a child model in Australia, then as a cast member of one of the hottest shows on American television. On the outside she was thin and blond, glamorous and successful. On the inside, she was literally dying.

In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn’t enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point.

Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder.

From her lowest point, Portia began the painful climb back to a life of health and honesty, falling in love with and eventually marrying Ellen DeGeneres, and emerging as an outspoken and articulate advocate for gay rights and women’s health issues.

In this remarkable and beautifully written work, Portia shines a bright light on a dark subject. A crucial book for all those who might sometimes feel at war with themselves or their bodies, Unbearable Lightness is a story that inspires hope and nourishes the spirit.
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About the author

Portia de Rossi is an Australian-born actress best known for her roles in the television series Ally McBeal, Arrested Development, and most recently Better Off Ted. She lives in Los Angeles with her wife, Ellen DeGeneres.

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4.5
107 total
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Additional Information

Publisher
Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Nov 1, 2010
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9781439177808
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Entertainment & Performing Arts
Biography & Autobiography / LGBT
Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
Psychology / Psychopathology / Eating Disorders
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Kid Rex is the story of one woman’s struggle to overcome anorexia. After knowing other friends with anorexia and being baffled by their behavior (often wondering, “Why doesn’t she just eat?!”) Moisin suddenly found herself prone to the same disease, not eating at all and going weeks at a time taking in nothing but water and the occasional black coffee. She learns how to deceive the therapists her worried family sends her to, giving them all of the symptoms of depression so they’ll misdiagnose her and let her continue to be anorexic.

When she recognizes that she has a serious problem, though, she finally owns up to a therapist working at her university. She tells him that she’s an anorexic who needs to go to some group meetings to work through her condition. He looks at her doubtfully and says, “No, I don’t think you’re an anorexic.” All that runs through her mind is that she must be fat. Shortly after this devastating therapy visit, the Twin Towers fall in the September 11th attacks, and Moisin watches it happen from her apartment window. Her ensuing depression quickens her already dangerous downward spiral.

Kid Rex is a book about hope, and looking to oneself and to those around you to help get out from under the hold of such a dreadful and powerful disease. This book is written for people who are also suffering from anorexia to let them know they’re not alone, but Moisin never takes on a know-it-all tone. Books on anorexia that are currently available are either preachy, or more commonly, clinical accounts written by doctors, not people suffering from the disease.

Michelle Stewart always knew in her heart that her eating disorder would kill her. What she didn’t expect in its early stages was that she would continue to function - albeit far from optimally - for decades before succumbing to its deadly effects. A conscientious and ambitious woman driven by a desire to make a positive difference in the world, Michelle went on to build a successful career first in journalism and then in communications for the British Columbia Ministry of Health. Michelle devoted her working life to raising awareness of healthcare issues, all the while hiding her own anorexia and bulimia from friends and colleagues. By the time she was 48 years old, more than thirty years of self-imposed starvation, binging and purging had ravaged her organs. In May 2013 she was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and given only a few months to live.

Determined to come out of the shadows and share her story while she still had the chance, Michelle began writing a very personal and revealing blog in which she chronicled her lifelong struggle with her eating disorder and her experiences as a palliative patient within the very same healthcare system in which she had performed her life’s work. “I have had a 32 year dress rehearsal for the fate I now face,” she writes. This memoir is a collection of the most poignant pieces of writing from that blog, supplemented with previously unpublished pieces of original poetry from the author.

Michelle Stewart’s book stands out against other eating disorder memoirs in several ways. As a middle aged longtime sufferer, she belies the notion that eating disorders only affect the young - or that victims tend to either recover or perish early. According to experts featured in the foreword, medical practictioners who treat patients with eating disorders are seeing rising numbers of long-term sufferers like Michelle. These tend to be high-functioning individuals who keep their disorder underground for years while their bodies slowly disintegrate. Michelle’s advanced years give her a valuable and rare perspective on a widespread mental health problem.

Second, through her years spent in healthcare advocacy and communications, Michelle developed well informed insight into issues around medical services and the relationships between healthcare providers and their patients, including palliative patients. In her book, Michelle shares her personal views on disease-specific funding, patient care and the right-to-die movement, making a valuable contribution to the public conversation.

Finally, the book is a deeply engaging and compelling tale of terminal illness progression that follows one woman from diagnosis to death. Anyone who has been touched by life-limiting illness in their own experience or in their family will be moved by this account of the palliative care journey told from the patient’s perspective.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL, AND BOSTON GLOBE BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW • ONE OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR • BILL GATES’S HOLIDAY READING LIST • FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE’S AWARD IN AUTOBIOGRAPHY • FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE’S JOHN LEONARD PRIZE FOR BEST FIRST BOOK • FINALIST FOR THE PEN/JEAN STEIN BOOK AWARD 

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • O: The Oprah Magazine • Time • NPR • Good Morning America • San Francisco Chronicle • The Guardian • The Economist • Financial Times • Newsday • New York Post • theSkimm • Refinery29 • Bloomberg • Self • Real Simple • Town & Country • Bustle • Paste • Publishers Weekly • Library Journal • LibraryReads • BookRiot • Pamela Paul, KQED • New York Public Library

An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

“Beautiful and propulsive . . . Despite the singularity of [Tara Westover’s] childhood, the questions her book poses are universal: How much of ourselves should we give to those we love? And how much must we betray them to grow up?”—Vogue

“Westover has somehow managed not only to capture her unsurpassably exceptional upbringing, but to make her current situation seem not so exceptional at all, and resonant for many others.”—The New York Times Book Review
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