Princess Diana Saved My Life

This was the first blog post I ever published, on October 22, 2017. I republish it today, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in her honor. Thank you, Diana. What you suffered helped me to live.

Princess Diana saved my life.

However fanciful that statement may sound, it is also, to some degree, true.

In the years when the royal marriage was crumbling, and Diana’s popularity with the masses was at its lowest ebb, the articles being written by a rabid press were a thousand times more critical and far less fawning than they would be after her passing (although undoubtedly no more factual). More than one intrusive publication at the time explored the notion that perhaps the unpredictable and complex princess suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder.

Until I encountered those articles, I’d never heard of that psychological affliction. I was completely uninterested in whether the disorder applied to Princess Diana, but the description intrigued me. I needed to understand more about it. In one of my earliest ever internet searches, I researched the term. Leapfrogging from one page to another, I stumbled across a review of a book; a book written for family and friends of those with Borderline Personality Disorder. Included in the review was a questionnaire from the book: a quiz to determine if one was really in a relationship with a person suffering the disorder.

I took the quiz with an eye to unraveling my tortured relationship with my mother.

I answered “yes” to every question.

At last, at last, I had an explanation for the enigma who was my mother, and for the anguish and abuse that had comprised my childhood.

Knowledge is power, the saying goes, and like most proverbs, it carries a germ of truth. Armed at last with real understanding of the mental disorder that had, in all probability, troubled my mother, I began the long, excruciatingly painful but eventually rewarding struggle to excavate myself from the ruins of my childhood.

Decades later, it is a struggle that still continues. My healing is always tenuous. But without the famous and sometimes infamous Princess, and, more importantly, the insensitive, rude media speculation about her behavior—without those things, the healing that I experienced might never even have begun.

Like the multifaceted person who was Diana, Princess of Wales, my mother was saint to some, demon to others, and both, sometimes at the same moment, to me. The life that Betty Jean wove about me, my brothers, my father, even her acquaintances, was often a glimpse into the nether regions of hell. But we (and this is something of which I must constantly remind myself)–we escaped. She never could. My mother lived in that hell always.  The rest of us dwelt only on the fringes of her insanity, and at last, with physical distance, knowledge, understanding, therapy, and, finally, with her death, we were freed.

Forget me not
Forget Me Nots

With regard to those articles that set me on my search, though, well, aside from Diana’s well-publicized and admitted struggles with bulimia, no one, and certainly no member of the media, could ever have had genuine knowledge of any psychological disorder suffered by the beleaguered Princess. Those rumors were nothing but the fabrication of a bitterly unkind and often hostile press, hunting for their next story! Continued speculation on the matter would be both inappropriate and unspeakably cruel, for the truth is, none of it matters at all except to the family and friends who loved her. For the rest of us, that aspect of Diana’s life never was and still is none of our business.

But I will forever be grateful to the famous woman who endured such unbearable public abuse, so much anguish-provoking intrusion into her private existence, for without what I learned, encountering cruel conjecture and malicious speculation about Princess Diana, I might never have uncovered the knowledge I needed to begin the tortuous ascent from my own personal purgatory.

I say that Princess Diana saved my life, but it was really I who saved myself. I took her story, the painfully sad fairy tale of a real-life Princess, and allowed it to lead me to knowledge. I grasped that knowledge like a lifeline, weaving it into a net – an escape net, to which I clung for my very life. My very life: the life that I now have. The whole and healthy life that I created, like a phoenix, rising from the ashes of intense misery.

And while I may not live happily ever after, I will never cease to be grateful to nor forget the story of a princess with which that new life began.

Perhaps the press and media might learn a bit from “The Speech of Angels”, published October 24, 2017. You can locate it in the Archives.

Oprah’s Brown Satin Gown

§ Perhaps it’s not always about race. §

In a recent casual conversation with a friend, we discussed the many over-the-top gowns worn by celebrities at various award ceremonies through the decades. I mentioned that I seemed to recall a dress worn by Oprah, perhaps in the 1990s: the most stunning, classic, utterly gorgeous gown I had ever seen. It was a confection of satin and chiffon reminiscent of a bygone era; sophisticated and elegant. Although I couldn’t be certain,

Brown Satin

I also thought I recalled this to have been the year that the news rags, reporting on the award ceremony the following day, had savaged Oprah’s gown in their descriptions. They disparaged the elegant simplicity of the dress, which stood out in such direct contrast to the exaggerated, ridiculous apparel being worn by other female celebrities that year. Oprah’s superb gown was described contemptuously.

“Well, of course they were rude,” my friend commented. “Oprah’s Black.”

I didn’t respond, but I thought to myself, “No, I really don’t think that was the reason.”

You see, in the early 1970s, I’d become heavily invested in reading women’s magazines. I was young and perhaps trying to define a style for myself while overcoming debilitating shyness. Reading articles about dress, hair, makeup and women’s issues became my passion.

Unfortunately, the 1970s, although a turbulent time for societal changes, was also the decade of books such as The Total Woman (yes, after discovering magazine articles about it, I read the absolutely-dreadful book itself. It should have been titled: How to Reverse 100 Years of Women’s Progress in Six Easy Steps). Consequently, looking back now, I can’t say that all the periodicals I read actually did me much good toward my defined goals! But they did, conversely, give me a bit of instruction in critical thinking. During the five or so years that I read these publications, I began to note a relentless trend: the very advice, recommendations, and endorsements from one season or year were totally invalidated in subsequent issues.

I recall precisely when I first noticed this conundrum. I’d read an essay enthusiastically endorsing heavy, kohl-style eyeliner in dark colors of navy blue and black. The accompanying photos were striking, but I, not being skilled at all with eyeliner in any case, and particularly not with heavy liquid eyeliners, quickly dismissed the idea. But in the next seasonal issue of the very same magazine, I was astonished to read a makeup article stating that “thank heaven”, the kohl-lined, Egyptian-style eyes had gone the way of the dodo. Since I had a habit of keeping old editions, I rooted around and lay hands upon the earlier issue. Yep, there it was: praise and approval, advocating thick, dark eyeliner. Yep, there it was again: a whole article devoted to whisper-thin, lightly lined eyes.

Huh.

I began to read my periodicals with a far more critical eye, realizing that, be it fashion, marriage, makeup, dating, hemlines, children, work, or any other aspect of life and behavior that the articles might address, this repetitive conflict appeared. A bold reversal of everything stated one year cropped up the next. Sometimes the instruction changed even between spring and fall!

Of course, in one aspect this made sense: How could the fashion houses keep women buying new clothes and makeup if everything didn’t constantly change? But advice on marriage, children, dating? How could that alter so rapidly? There was, I realized, no logic to the stuff I was reading. Right then and there, I gave up on turning for life advice to whatever nonsense popular journalism was spouting at any particular time. I read for entertainment, not instruction.

I carried this knowledge regarding editorial inconsistency away with me and thereafter applied it critically to every advice book or magazine article I read. So it was in this light that I now considered my memory of Oprah’s gorgeous-but-maligned brown satin gown. For you see, as much as I remembered the articles lambasting her dress, I also clearly recalled what the periodicals said the very next year following that same annual award ceremony. “A Return to Classic Elegance and Timeless Grace!” the reviews trumpeted, one after another, ad infinitum.

Although not actually named (now that was racist!) It seemed Oprah had actually been a trendsetter; a woman ahead of her time. Now every celebrity was jumping on the bandwagon of good taste and sophistication, rather than attempting to discover who could rack up the most points for appearing in a garish, vulgar outfit.

Decades later, not wanting to turn our lighthearted conversation into a deep discussion, I remembered all of this but said nothing about it to my friend. But I thought at the time, and still think, that it’s not always about race. Often, yes; even, sad to say, commonly–but not always. Sometimes it’s just about the way life and the world and the news media machine functions. Sometimes it’s just about fashion houses trying to palm off new styles in dress and makeup and hair on a foolish public which embraces such nonsense–because if no one buys anything new, they are out of business.

But no matter what the truth of it all, I will never forget Oprah’s perfectly stunning brown satin gown.

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like these posts in the Archives: “The Slave Cabin”, on 02/28/18; “Amosandra”, from 06/01/2018; “You Dirty Wop!” , 02/01/2018; “A Bra of a Different Color”, posted 10/02/2019, or “Racism Knows No Logic”, from 06/10/2020 )

Princess Diana Saved My Life

Princess Diana saved my life.

However fanciful that statement may sound, it is also, to some degree, true.

In the years when the royal marriage was crumbling, and Diana’s popularity with the masses was at its lowest ebb, the articles being written by a rabid press were a thousand times more critical and far less fawning than they would be after her passing (although undoubtedly no more factual). More than one intrusive publication at the time explored the notion that perhaps the unpredictable and complex princess suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder.

Until I encountered those articles, I’d never heard of that psychological affliction. I was completely uninterested in whether the disorder applied to Princess Diana, but the description intrigued me. I needed to understand more about it. In one of my earliest ever internet searches, I researched the term. Leapfrogging from one page to another, I stumbled across a review of a book; a book written for family and friends of those with Borderline Personality Disorder. Included in the review was a questionnaire from the book. It was a quiz to determine if one was trapped in a relationship with a person suffering the disorder.

I took the quiz with an eye to unraveling my tortured relationship with my mother.

I answered “yes” to every question.

At last, at last, I had an explanation for the enigma who was my mother, and for the anguish and abuse that had comprised my childhood.

Knowledge is power, the saying goes, and like most proverbs, it carries a germ of truth. Armed at last with real understanding of the mental disorder that had, in all probability, troubled my mother, I began the long, excruciatingly painful but eventually rewarding struggle to excavate myself from the ruins of my childhood.

Decades later, it is a struggle that still continues. My healing is always tenuous. But without the famous and sometimes infamous Princess, and, more importantly, the insensitive, rude media speculation about her behavior—without those things, the healing that I experienced might never even have begun.

Like the multifaceted person who was Diana, Princess of Wales, my mother was saint to some, demon to others, and both, sometimes at the same moment, to me. The life that Betty Jean wove about me, my brothers, my father, even her acquaintances, was often a glimpse into the nether regions of hell. But we (and this is something of which I must constantly remind myself) escaped. She never could. My mother lived in that hell always. She was her own hell. The rest of us dwelt only on the fringes of her insanity, and at last, with physical distance, knowledge, understanding, and therapy, and finally with her death, we were freed.

With regard to those articles that set me on my search, though, well, aside from Diana’s well-publicized and admitted struggles with bulimia, no one, and certainly no member of the media, could ever have had genuine knowledge of any psychological disorder suffered by the beleaguered Princess. Those rumors were nothing but the fabrication of a bitterly unkind and often hostile press, hunting for their next story. Continued speculation on the matter would be both inappropriate and unspeakably cruel, for the truth is, none of it matters at all except to the family and friends who loved her. For the rest of us, that aspect of Diana’s life never was and still is none of our business.

But I will forever be grateful to the famous woman who endured such unbearable public abuse, so much anguish-provoking intrusion into her private existence, for without what I learned, encountering cruel conjecture and malicious speculation about Princess Diana, I might never have uncovered the knowledge I needed to begin the tortuous ascent from my own personal purgatory.

I say that Princess Diana saved my life, but it was really I who saved myself. I took her story, the painfully sad fairy tale of a real-life Princess, and allowed it to lead me to knowledge. I grasped that knowledge like a lifeline, weaving it into a net – an escape net, to which I clung for my very life. My very life: the life that I now have. The whole and healthy life that I created, like a phoenix, rising from the ashes of intense misery.

And while I may not live happily ever after, I will never cease to be grateful to nor forget the story of a princess with which that new life began.