by 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.