By Cynthia Toussaint.
The day I accepted the reality that there was no cure for my CRPS, the natural healing powers in my body had space to take hold – and bring me to better wellness.
When I tore my hamstring at the ballet barre 35 years ago, my trainer told me I might not dance for up to eight weeks. I was angry and determined to prove him wrong. Come on, I was always a strong, healthy dancer – and I was going to lick this setback lickety-split!
I had a full expectation of a speedy cure because my life experiences had taught me that unless an injury or illness killed someone, the person got fixed. Back then, I believed that once a doctor laid his magic hands on you, you’d be whole again.
A year and half later, the burning pain mysteriously spread into my “healthy” leg and I had to leave my dancing gig in Las Vegas. The good news was that I could finally rest and seek out my cure once and for all. By then the pain told me that I would no longer have a career as a dancer – but I was certain the doctors would make me well enough to move on to the acting career I’d planned my whole life.
That’s when the doctor abuse started and phrases like “it’s all in your head”, “conversion disorder” and “hysterical female” put a halt to my entitled cure. As the years ticked off and the CRPS spread while people ran for the hills, my fate hit me like a cold slap in the face. No doctor was going to pull a cure out of his hat for me. I was never going to get well.
After I’d been sick for a decade, I moved to Los Angeles to re-ignite my show business career with what I had left. They couldn’t fix my body, but I was going to damn well fix my life. Of course, I hadn’t yet gotten the memo that Hollywood doesn’t hire the disabled, especially a woman in a wheelchair who’s pain makes her “unreliable.”
With dreams gone and hopes dashed (not to mention the 24/7 level 10 pain, fatigue and near total isolation!), I decided that suicide was my only option. I remember looking at the bottle of pills, that I was always going to take tomorrow, and laughing at the foolishness of that elusive cure. But that extra day bought me the time to see that, even without a cure, even without reclaiming what I once was, there were things in this world worth living for.
With time, a lot of time, I inched toward acceptance and finally, and most importantly, I embraced suffering as an intimate part of me and, indeed, my new normal.
Being okay with “what is” allowed me to let go of my dreams lost and exorbitant expectations. Once I honestly looked at the new me, it opened the door to fresh possibilities. And eventually, to my great surprise, healing.
Eight years later, I left the abusive Western medicine model, a humonguously positive step for me. Though I was collecting auto-immune diseases like trading cards, I was feeling better and able to do more. Then after an intense period of writing my life experience as a book with John, my 38-year partner and caregiver, my pain relief was too much to deny.
Always a water-lover, I got into a pool first and quickly became a swimmer again. In no time I was doing a floor ballet barre and practicing a movement therapy called feldenkrais. Miraculously my singing voice returned after fifteen years of pain-induced hibernation. And I was playing my beloved piano again. Then I started traveling… and never quit.
Looking back with a big dose of understanding the virtues of self-care, I see that the positive shifts I made in my life, along with accepting the new me, allowed my brain to release feel-good chemicals to bring better wellness. The anxiety-inducing, disappointment-mounting pursuit of a cure produced the opposite.
Perhaps what I love most about integrative care is that it focuses, not on a cure, but on healing.
To this day, well-intentioned friends and acquaintances, forever bring me the cutting-edge cure for all that ails me. If I bought and used these countless machines, potions and belief systems, I would be out of money, time and healing.
We women in pain need to avoid the culture of cure as the end all – and embrace acceptance as the off-ramp to well-being.
As my surrogate father once said, “you’ve finally befriended your pain, Cynthia, which is bringing you some freedom. That being said, if tomorrow your pain decides to pack its bags and go, that would be just dandy.” Of course, I want to be cured, I want the pain and fatigue to be gone at long last. But the smart money is on that ain’t gonna happen.
In the meantime, healing is where it’s happening. The obsessive, false hope for a cure almost ended me. Acceptance is bringing me wellness, new horizons and all that jazz…
Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace in 2002. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to gender disparity in the treatment of pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.