Stamina: Not Just a Buzzword for Women In Pain

Stamina: Not Just a Buzzword for Women In Pain

by Cynthia Toussaint

Cynthia Toussaint

Cynthia Toussaint

We women in pain are intimate with the red hot political issue of women and stamina. In fact we play the stamina card fully – and could write the book on it.

Last week I had a nasty flu bug. So like always I powered through it. While pool walking in the midst of my mile long swim Wednesday morning, I overheard a fellow swimmer mentioning his wife having the flu and I told him I had it too. Ted shot back, “I have no idea how you can swim with the flu.”

This was a comment I couldn’t even process. When I thought about what I swim with every day, I felt angry that my many invisible illnesses are never acknowledged – even though my pool mates know about them. Yet swimming with a simple flu was somehow unthinkable.

I’ve had body-wide Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (aka, “The Suicide Disease”) for 34 years – a pain that kept me bedridden and unable to speak for a decade and using a wheelchair to this day. For the past 20 years my fibromyalgia has made it almost impossible for me to get a single night of restorative sleep and I’m constantly dealing with over-the-moon fatigue and fibro fog. My Lupus and RA symptoms are getting worse, while my pelvic pain, TMJ and IBS remain steady.

The capper is having had my contracted OA arm broken by a physical therapist five years ago. Because the doctors are used to my high-impact pain, they paid no attention. It took them eleven months to diagnose my fracture and by then it was too late for treatment. The year after my arm was broken was the hardest swimming time of my life, but no one at the pool said a word. My pain was almost always at a level 10 when doing deep-water exercises, then slowly moving up to one armed laps before finally getting back to my one mile routine.

Before I got there, however, my doctors put me on the lupus infusion drug Benlysta – and after two infusions I got a mono-like virus that didn’t let up. At the time, I was afraid this drug was going to kill me. Of course I swam (and did everything else!) right through it. I remember one day a life guard asking me not to swim because I was pale and dizzy. She didn’t want to be responsible for me possibly drowning. I swam anyway.

I think this exceptional stamina that I and every woman in pain I know possesses is a result of a few things. First we all seem to be Type A personalities and don’t let anything get in the way of what we want to accomplish. Second, we intuitively know that if we stop moving, doing, we could lose it and spend the rest of our days curled up in bed. Last, we have pride and forge on with a smile as we don’t want anyone’s pity.

Despite my three-plus decades of physical pain, I work a more than fulltime job at For Grace, I nearly always say “yes” and never flake on anyone whether it be business or personal. My word is my word. Some days I feel like I can kick ass – and some days I don’t. Regardless, I make it happen. I suppose that’s the definition of stamina.

So it deeply angered me during the first presidential debate to hear Donald Trump tell Hillary Clinton she doesn’t have the stamina to hold office. It reminded me of the countless times male doctors berated me for not having the stuff to be well.

This is pure gender bias – how many men see women, especially those of us who are strong. These men need to keep themselves at the top of the societal totum pole – and they use sexist putdowns to convince themselves and others that this is the way it must remain.

We women in pain know better, and there’s big change in the air.

Together we’re stronger. Indeed.

Cynthia Toussaint is founder of For Grace, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that works on issues facing women in pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.

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There are 21 comments for this article
  1. Tim Mason at 6:06 am

    There is enough Fiction in the media concerning drugs, risks of drugs and what constitutes addiction. There are many things common to all men no matter your social standing, income , or sex. The enjoyment of sex and the sting of pain.
    A story of someone that continues to lay bricks at 60 years with crippling pain to feed a family is no different than a woman that struggles to raise grandchildren at 60 and work in retail.
    Stamina in old age is an enigma.
    Peace to all

  2. Jean Price at 9:22 am

    Wish we could take all the energy used here disputing the article and the author’s age and supposed gender bias and true level of “stamina” and instead turn it into a productive channel..like holding up our multiple pain issues to the general public or government officials who aren’t aware of what people with pain face! How do we expect them to understand when we continue to judge others and EACH other in pain? I could expound on any number of these points, too…but why?? Better places to spend my time and stamina…like writing a letter to be read at the pain rally on October 22. I’d suggest some of you with stories to tell do the same! It might just help get the word out and not bash anyone in the undertaking!

  3. Maureen at 8:46 pm

    Cynthia, I love your advocation for women in pain. I watched your LA symposium/conference online. I admire you and enjoy your postings. I too am a woman with chronic pain. I work at distracting myself from my sufferings, not that it is easy and can usually be exhausting.
    Life is difficult, but can always be worse.
    But…I have to say… I have no idea how you went and same with the flu!
    I somehow felt shame in reading that you did so, as though I should push myself to do the same or… It means I don’t push myself hard enough?!
    I know that I listen to my body well.
    But, it seemed that you couldn’t understand the man’s comment about it. You surely would be an exception to that.
    I get the gist of your message, but not all are such a super woman.

  4. John S at 8:17 am

    No more PLEASE- can we just leave the election out of this.

    Not DT & Not HRC has chronic pain. All remarks are political in nature and used to impune the other candidate.

    Please let’s not turn this into a male vs female contest. It’s not about that, this is not a political forum.

    Thanks

    John S

  5. Tim Mason at 8:15 am

    ALL,
    Pain is no respecter of any person, male or female. Pain is Pain. Time and Tide wait for no man. Pain functions much like electricity, it respects no one.
    There is no contest as to who or whom can tolerate the most pain.
    People with pain are divided enough already-Young and old.
    There is simply no room for further division among pain patients.

  6. Cheri Furr at 10:55 pm

    Cynthia–several people who have made comments here obviously do not understand what you are saying at all, and the fact that a few of them say you can’t possibly be this sick because you look so attractive in your picture! It could be an old or altered picture, as someone DID point out. I do not have as many chronic illnesses as you do, but I have had CRPS for 17 years, so I understand that pain well. I truly admire you for being able to work full-time and exercise like you do, because I cannot. To the woman who said who was to say which was worse, her physical pain or the mental stress her husband suffers at work, I say “Ha!” to that! I had my first of my six major surgeries when I was 14. I had bacterial endocarditis when I was 18 and had to miss a semester of college. I took 22 hours each semester of my senior year, though, while working part-time, so I could graduate with my class. I worked a highly successful but high-stress career for 22 years and had a daughter by natural childbirth. Mr Trump makes me extremely angry also when he talks of Mrs. Clinton not having the stamina to be President. He is older than she is and it is pure sexism to speak about her this way. Why doesn’t anyone question his stamina? Because he is a MAN, and for no other reason. It has been scientifically proven that women have more stamina and have a much higher tolerance for pain. I’d like to see a man go through childbirth at all, much less with no epidural or drugs. Physical pain is worse than just “stress” because it also CAUSES mental stress! My husband had a hard time understanding CRPS. Then he got shingles, had blisters on just 1 1/2″ of his arm, and got on medication within the first four hours because I had studied Varicella Zoster and forced him to immediately go to the doctor. You would have thought he was dying, and the doctor told him maybe he could understand 1/100th of what I went through 24/7 that would never be healed. I admire you very much, agree with your article, and appreciate what you writing what you did. Thank you.

  7. HJ at 5:26 am

    Mixed reaction… Awe at what you cope with, yet this nagging guilt that I’m not “doing enough.”

    Yet, I feel I’m doing just about everything I can. Could I push harder? Probably. Would it improve my quality of life. No, just the opposite.

    Yet, that guilt still nags at me. I have to remind myself that we all cope with our illnesses differently and my way is no less valid than yours. I have to keep in mind that I’m doing what I think I need to do to improve my health. Sleep and rest and pacing my activities are what I personally need. And I know that from experience.

    Learning to pace my activity was hard. It went against “who I am.” I learned by actually setting a timer for 10 minutes and I’d work around the house for those 10 minutes. Then, I would set the timer for 30 minutes and I would rest. I count out 10 dishes and then ask myself if I can do 10 more or if it’s best if I sit down? It comes down to SHOULD I do 10 more, actually.

    I rate activities by exertion. For me, scrubbing the bathtub is super-high exertion. Turning the mattress, changing the bedsheets, washing the floor… I can still do these things, but only if I don’t make a day of which I try to do all of them. I have to assess how I feel, too, and sometimes re-adjust my plan for the day accordingly.

    There are mental exertions and physical exertions, too. Doing taxes is a pretty sizable mental exertion, while reading a magazine article is less-so. Some days, I’m not able to manage mental exertions and am better off sticking to physical tasks.

    I do have those days when I can’t manage mental or physical exertions. I have to be honest with myself.

  8. chrissie stevens at 10:47 pm

    The author’s attempt at saying what she meant is not well said but is food for thought, As a woman in chronic pain, I would like to say I handle it better than my husband who also happens to have chronic pain but that is like comparing pain levels; being subjective, how can one person say they hurt more than the other? I am by no means a Type A personality and completely disagree that that interpretation has anything to do with women having better stamina. Yet I do agree that women have the ability to push thru their pain more than men do. I believe that is mainly due to women managing children. Simply put, if you stop you drop. If you drop, who will tend to the children, what impression is she making on her kids if she shows pain?

  9. Teresa at 10:31 am

    Cynthia I think we as women keep on going because we have to. We can’t just give up. Our mother’s instill this in us. You talked about others not acknowledging the fact we keep going despite of our pain. People can relate to having the flu and physical activity but they have no clue what our pain feels like. I have arachnoiditis, when I say my leg hurts my family doesn’t have a clue that I’m consumed with level ten pain. They only know what ordinary leg pain feels like. If you haven’t experienced chronic intractable pain you have no way of knowing what it feels like. I quit worrying about if they understand because they can’t.

  10. John S at 9:40 pm

    Last night I woke up screaming from a shooting nerve pain. I was in tears on the floor and ready to dial 911

    My wife used trigger point massage to brake the cycle.

    Would a picture of me crying on the floor be more appropriate? No that’s not me that’s the pain.

    Cynthia, just take the compliment about your looks just for that – it’s a compliment.

    Thanks

    John S

  11. DMSR at 2:55 pm

    The veracity of your conditions aside, I have other issues with this contribution. After reading it several times, I find its overall point ambiguous. If it is a veiled political argument attempting to say that Hillary Clinton will eliminate gender bias if elected, raising women to an equal position on the proverbial totEm pole, I don’t think so. It also doesn’t really belong here if that’s the case. What about concern for pain patients in particular, male or female? “There’s big change in the air” – Really?

  12. Angelica Heavner at 6:15 pm

    Tim and Connie, I understand your confusion and frustration with this article. One yes the pic does look like she is younger but does not necessarily mean she is. Remember pics can be adjusted or people just have a very young looking face. People who meet me and my husband dont believe we have a son who is 28 or 21 and a daughter 25.
    Another thing CRPS can hit at any age even children so age means nothing, pain can be started at any age.
    Connie I really understand your point. My mom is the strongest lady I know. I have seen her go down twice in my life that I remember. Once when she had walking pneumonia, the doctor wanted her admitted immediately and she refused. The other was the night my younger brother passed away. Other than that my mom just keeps going. She is 70 yrs old, teaches English and History at college levels, she is also going for her PhD now for higher education, she is raising my niece (who she adopted, my brother’s daughter) who is 8, taking care of my stepdad who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a yr ago, and dealing with a 10 acre property pretty much on her own. When she goes down now its bad and it kicks her harder for longer because she waits to long before going in. Sounds like most women doesn’t it?
    Stamina comes in many forms and I think people need to relook at the definition for that word before using it. Unless you say “I give up” immediately after getting hurt, sick, or any other road block that life hands out everyone has some stamina.

  13. Tim Mason at 5:24 pm

    Gracie and others. For a image of CRPS please refer to Fig 18.1 in the colored plate section of the Book Pain Wise by David Kloth M.D. et al. I know of two people personally that have CRPS and it is anything but invisible. I challenge you to look up images of this insidious disease.
    Note: the ISBN # for this book (Pain-Wise ~ A patinet’s guide to Pain Management) is 978-1-57826-408-7

  14. connie at 2:37 pm

    You look very young and well rested to me. This article negates the battle that men and women who are losing the battle with chronic pain are in. I get enough of being made to feel that I am not trying hard enough from doctors and people who don’t know what it is like to live in pain every minute of every day. As for Hillary Clinton being physically able to power through, what happens when in a moment of crisis she has one of those episodes during which, no matter how much stamina she has, she can’t function? I don’t think this country can afford to take that chance!

  15. JoDawn at 11:08 am

    Cynthia-
    Another great article, although I still think your stamina puts mine to shame! I guess just like we are all different, we all have different “maximum levels”.
    Of course my sweet husband always points out all the things I do, more the past year with at least a partial remission, and some days more than I should. LOL!
    But as far as women or men having more stamina, I think it depends on the person and situation. Three days of labor, or the stress my hubby deals with at work? Who can quantify that?
    And I think it’s important for people to realize that there are times that a person in pain does need to rest and let their body heal or recouperate. You’ll feel much more alive when you can at least get outside, weather permitting!
    Cynthia, you are one of the strongest women I know, and I’ve got a family of them! You are an inspiration, and a reminder to get as much out of every day that I can!
    HUGS!

    PS-
    TIM, she’s real and has real pain. Being gorgeous isn’t much of a consolation for hurting all the time, although she is beautiful inside and out. & whatever your pain issues, I hope today is a good day for you!

  16. John S at 9:03 am

    If you listen to Marianne Skolek she will tell the world that people in pain have no Credibility. This was after the CNN show on Opiates.

    Cynthia, I think you have plenty of Credibility and I thank you for your article. Keep fighting and remember- we know the truth.

    Thank you

    John S

  17. Mark Ibsen at 8:36 am

    Tim Mason:
    What you ARE missing is the distinction: INVISIBLE ILLNESS.

  18. Gracie Bagosy-Young at 7:14 am

    I feel every word that you just wrote, every day of my life.
    Having spent my career prior to illness in a role traditionally held by men, I battled.
    Being chronically ill now, I battle.
    Quitting has simply never been an option.
    Thank you,
    Gracie Bagosy-Young
    Gracie Gean Chronic Pain Advocacy & Consulting
    http://www.GGPainAdvocacy.com

  19. Tim Mason at 4:30 am

    “I’ve had body-wide Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (aka, “The Suicide Disease”) for 34 years – a pain that kept me bedridden and unable to speak for a decade and using a wheelchair to this day. For the past 20 years my fibromyalgia has made it almost impossible for me to get a single night of restorative sleep and I’m constantly dealing with over-the-moon fatigue and fibro fog. My Lupus and RA symptoms are getting worse, while my pelvic pain, TMJ and IBS remain steady.”

    This article is unbelievable. You barely look 34 in that photo. Were you born with CRPS?
    I have had mononucleosis and the flu during several winters I have seen people with CRPS. Their affected limbs look like they have been bitten by a poisonous snake.
    Do you really have all these diseases and are you in a wheelchair?
    I appear to be missing something here.