Relaxing Into Wellness

Relaxing Into Wellness

Since starting For Grace 17 years ago, I’ve had little success unplugging and getting away from work. That is until last July – and I now find relaxation fairly easy to achieve. In fact it’s one of my biggest self-care go-to’s. But like every wellness-generating therapy, it takes practice.

I’m a self-proclaimed workaholic and that applied to my 21 pre-illness years. As a “triple threat” (singer, dancer and actor), I always had a dozen more things to do. Classes, rehearsals, auditions, on and on. There was nothing I loved better than my performing life, especially the bustling busyness of it all.

In those days, though, I was great at balancing the hubbub with good old fashioned leisure. I grew up in a big family with lots of friends, activities and relaxation. After fun and games outdoors, I remember often pulling a tub of Neapolitan ice cream out of the freezer, grabbing a big spoon and lounging on the couch watching the boob tube.

Cynthia Toussaint

After being ill with CRPS for 20 years and starting For Grace from my bed, balance had been wiped away. My partner and caregiver John was the only one still around – and being social was rarely an option. To fill the void, I worked constantly. Not only did For Grace give my life meaning, its endless work filled the hours. In fact, I despised the loneliness of the weekends so much I worked right through them.

After about a decade of this nose-to-the-grindstone stuff, I was way beyond burned out. My stressful existence spiked my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome so badly, I went years getting next-to-no restorative zzz’s. I remember often being in our office, chin slumped in hand, catching myself from falling. I was so sleep-deprived, so wrung out, my mind going a mile a minute, I was ready to collapse. Oh yeah, I got everything done – but I was in a perpetual fog, my self-built hell of fight or flight.

I tried time and again to relax because my integrative doctor constantly reminded me that my life lacked balance. That, and I inherently knew that all work and no play made me dull and sick. Trouble was I was so isolated that when I left work “relaxing” left me lonely, bored and, worst of all, depressed. It gave me too much time to think about the tragedy of my life, all of my losses.

Even when I traveled, I was so addicted to my treadmill I ping-ponged from tourist sight to sight with never a moment to pause and enjoy. There was always a close-by internet café where I could lose myself in work while in an exotic land.

Long after I’d learned that relaxation was not in the cards, I coincidentally began to meditate daily for work related-research. All the rage in the pain world was that meditation helped – and I wanted some personal experience when journalists inevitably asked. Strangely enough with time, I was getting hints that it was doing just that. More often than not, I’d come out of my meditation state refreshed, smiling and, yes, relaxed. My shoulders dropped and I was far less reactive to upset.

Then last summer something magical happened. Good friends invited John and me to meet them and many others on the Greek islands. This was my dream trip, but John always cautioned that it couldn’t be done in a wheelchair. These angels figured it all out for me – and soon we were in the playground of the gods.

I’d planned to work in our seaside apartment every day, but quickly grew resentful and uninterested when colleagues emailed to engage me in tasks. For the first time ever, I let them know I was unavailable until my return to LA – and COMPLETELY unplugged. I spent two glorious weeks swimming daily in the Aegean sea, lounging, eating, laughing shopping, and, most importantly, decompressing.

When I returned, relaxed and rejuvenated, my delighted doctor shared with a smile, “When you forget what day and time it is, Cynthia, that’s when you know you’re healing.” The new me isn’t so rigid with work, deadlines can be pushed and I enjoy my weekends, many now filled with social engagements, pursuing passions and, yes, relaxing.

I really love this new me. Life is so much more enjoyable when I’m not in a rat race trying to escape the hours. Instead, I relish my down time. I’m performing and more social, both which fill my soul. My work is more productive and efficient. Most importantly, my pain flares and bouts of depression aren’t nearly as often or severe, and I’m sleeping better than I have in two decades. There’s less turmoil and tumult driving my life, and I’m convinced that’s because I’m more at ease.

Looking back, the scales tipped to better wellness when I took up meditation. Prior to that, I was a skeptic because it seemed to me that doing nothing couldn’t possibly help women in pain heal. But now I’m a believer, a card-carrying, horn-tootin’, shout-it-from-the-mountain-tops proponent of guided stillness that embraces the present while listening deeply within.

That’s doing A LOT in my book.

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Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace in 2002. It is a Los Angeles-based 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.

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Louis Ogden

Travel is very painful to me. I already travel between Virginia and California to see my pain doctor and have to rest a couple of days b4 appt. I’ve tried biofeedback, two iterations of CBT (USELESS), meditation, and many more therapies and NOTHING works except opioids and I am losing access to those. Please stop the feel-good stories as they do not work for me either. I face day after day of agony 24/7!

Kristen

I wanted to add to Cynthia that I’m really happy that you did find what works for you and wish you all the best and all the happiness life has to offer you!

Jill

Cynthia, I know you mean to write uplifting inspirational articles, and sometimes it works. But I’m afraid you’ve lost touch with the reality of the vast majority of chronic pain suffers. Telling us about your seaside trip to Greece, your active social life, the ability to be productive, and always your loving, helpful partner John borders on self importance and to some degree may be depressing to those whose pain is not under control, are alone, and often bedridden. My own life is busy and fulfilling as I still have access to pain meds altho I have no John for comfort. But my heart hurts for all who have constant unrelieved pain and consider travel getting from bed to the kitchen. God bless you for your work, but please try to remember your audience when you write.

Kristen

I agree with Chris and Kathleen. I have tryed Meditation and I can’t think my Pain away.I also tryed Chair Yoga and that made my Pain even worse.Will Power alone will not take my Chronic pain away Vacations to some Island nope not happening for me when I can sit in a Car for more than 45 min tops and no money for extra luxuries.I was up tossing and turning all night in severe pain like so many and still have not got out of bed not because I don’t want to or because im lazy it’s because the Pain.I am greatful to still have my pain med even though it has been reduced but even so the smallest daily task are difficult for me just like most others on here.Sorry to Debra as well for what your Dr pulled which is so freaking cruel.I am glad you are standing up to him! I hope you get your medication back really soon and you couldn’t have said it better How much are we to take! My Heart goes out to all of us on here that are suffering.

Susan l maxson

This life is better than mine before I got sick with autonomic dysfunction poly neuropathy. I live in chronic pain about 90 lbs on max dosage of gabapentin and low dose of opiates, same dosage for years now. My body overheats and I rarely sweat. This is nothing like most chronic pain sufferers I know. Im 58 , female. This has been ailing me 8 years.

By the way I fired that doc on the 12th.

I really am glad Grace that meditation worked for you. It does not help me to think my pain is not there or to think of something else. My small dose of oxy with acetominephen was taken away from me on Mar. 12th. I was abandoned for a week prior to that by my doctor and was told he was out of town, the bad thing is my RX ran out on the 4th. and the doc would not renew it before he went out of town on the 5th. My pleas that I could not go that long without my meds were ignored and my meds were taken when he came back. Now he has put lies in my medical record. I had filed a grievance on him for my meds. Today I called Physician Complaint Line again and told them in light of what was recently done I want a review of my records from the pain clinic by a review board. I have heard this doc has blacklisted other people. I will not let it go quietly. Abuse by doctors has to be met by a challenge to that abuse. We as pain patients go through enough already. How much are we to take?

Louis Ogden

kathleen, nor does she represent all pain stricken males.

JaneF

ENJOY YOUR BLESSINGS, even if you have only one good day a week, try to remember the better day will be ahead of you.

chris

I agree with Kathleen. Chronic Pain is the real crises here. Some people like Cynthia, and a select few can function without medication. I do question the level of pain however. So far I haven’t yet met anyone with real Severe Chronic Pain related issues able alleviate it solely with meditation & relaxation. My hat’s off to you Cynthia, must be nice. I nearly killed my liver with over the counter meds. Thanks to legal prescription medication I am working through chronic pain related depression & pain and finally starting my life over at 55. My pain started at 19. I would have loved to have had pre Illness years! All mine were a struggle, a very painful one at that!

Chris

I’m sure this Grace person is very nice, but from what I read she must not be in chronic pain! Singing, Dancing acting, Auditions, classes, rehearsals ? and all 21 pe-Illness years. Hmmm. I never had pre-illness years. Must have been great! It’s great that meditation helped her and her pain. I’ve been through every kind of treatment you can imagine. From shots, nerve coterizations, physical therapy (a joke) I also meditate, do light yoga as it’s the only time I don’t feel pain (as much) but I can’t do yoga 24’7 and I can’t meditate 24’7. I know I don’t have the luxury of being a card tooting or able to work from my bed person. My pain is for the most part debilitating if not for medication. I’m still in pain but at least it takes the edge off so I can function. My pain has caused me severe depression and I wouldn’t be able to do much of anything without it.
When you have Chronic Pain it’s always at the forefront of your mind. I went for years with Doctors trying to figure out why I was in so much back pain. This started at 19 years of age. My pe-Illness years you could say was all before that. I am now 55. I sang professionally for years but that came with a price, a painful price! It wasn’t until my mid forties that they started figuring out what was going on, after childbirth, working full time, performing, recording, and being a Mom. I was eating over the counter meds like pezz and drinking as much as I could get away with so I could function and not feel the pain. I’m surprised I still have a liver.
It turned out I have severe degenerative disc disease all through my spine along with bone spurs, osteoarthritis and slipped discs all through my neck. I wasn’t introduced to Norco until my mid 40’s. Oh what a relief! I have been taking them for about 10 years. It was looked down upon even before this so called opioid crises. People need these meds and shouldn’t have to suffer because a select few. My hat’s off to Grace who can live with chronic pain without.

susan

Good for you. Not all people are fortunate enough to travel to the Agean Sea. We all have to find a way to relax. I was also very active before my dxed. I have to live on SSDI. I am blessed to have a great family. So I guess you would say my life is very different. (as well as most who suffer from chronic pain issues) Thank-you.

ElizabethR

Although I’m glad meditation works for the author, I don’t think it does for all and certainly not for me. Perhaps it’s effective for some as an adjunct therapy; however, it is unlikely to reduce overdosing among drug addicts–a population that almost always excludes long term pain patients who use prescribed medication responsibly and are stable.

Meditation most definitely will not appeal to those who created the “opioid crisis” while seriously punishing those who had nothing to do with it. How many lives are being upended and even destroyed by pain in the name of “solving” a “problem” caused by a different population entirely?

Great post. Thanks for sharing.

Gary Raymond

I have someone close to me who chills using marijuana. Another who maintains her weight using cocaine. They have been doing this for 40 years! Each of these chemicals are illegal in Virginia but are easier to obtain than legally prescribed opioid analgesics. So, while I slowly dissolve from spinal stenosis and my nervous system fries from diabetic neuropathy, at least my acquaintances have no turmoil in their lives.

kathleen

this Grace person does not represent all pain stricken Females..including me.
not even close.