By Cynthia Toussaint.
With integrative care, we rightfully examine the potent mind-body connection. But that connection is considered only after we have chronic illness and pain. With me though, my body signaled the ensuing illness years before it began – and I’ve always wondered if other women in pain have experienced this phenomenon.
I was super healthy growing up, always active and go-go-go. I was a ribbon-winner on the swim team and sweated daily in the ballet studio. I was agile and nimble, skipping from rock to rock and rope swinging in our backyard creek. Besides a bout with pneumonia when I was eleven and mono as a sixteen year-old, I steered clear of common illnesses. Hell, I used to rub poison oak on my body to the horror of the kids my family camped with to prove I wouldn’t get it – and I never did. I was the loudest of five siblings, so I sure knew my lungs were strong.
When I was 17, I had my first premonition of un-wellness, a foreboding of dark times. I became convinced that I wouldn’t be able to have a biological child due to something bad brewing in my body. In tears, I spoke to my mom about my fear that was becoming an obsession. Confused, she encouraged me to talk to my gynecologist. That kind doctor assured me all systems were go, giggling “Cynthia, you’ll be able to have as many children as you want.” I was relieved for a couple of days, then again certain something was wrong.
As a 20 year-old, I was living a perfect life before my second premonition. I was attending University of California Irvine as a Dance Major and loving every minute… my dorm, roommates, independence and being over-the-moon busy. Besides dancing four-to-six hours, my days were chocked full of singing and acting. I loved auditioning and performing at school and for professional jobs in Los Angeles. And my dream guy, John, delivered baby roses before every opening night.
That summer while I lived at my mom’s house and danced locally, I invested in a new gadget called an answering machine and worked with a professional photographer to shoot a dynamite headshot and composite (a series of photos with different “looks.”) I even bought the perfect audition outfit, a bright magenta jumpsuit with matching high-heeled Candies. I was set. The talk at school was that I’d be working professionally before year’s end.
I don’t recall the exact day, but I began having a gnawing feeling that my show business career was going to be cut short due to something wrong with my body. I was in tip-top shape, but felt certain my career would be over when I was 21. When I shared this grim foretelling with John, his face went blank. It didn’t make sense… except in my mind. Frantic, I called my photographer and bawled him out because I was still waiting on my composite copies. When they were finished, I had someone drive them to LA to deliver them pronto.
Right out of the gates, I was getting auditions for movies, music videos and TV shows and excitement filled my universe. Then in October of my 21st year, I sustained the ballet injury in college that triggered my CRPS.
By the mid-90’s, 15 years later, both of my premonitions had come true. Though I did everything possible to keep my career as a performer alive, including trying to work as a TV host with my disability, all of Hollywood’s doors were closed. Then shortly after John and I decided to risk having a baby, my doctor gave me a procedure that spread my still-undiagnosed CRPS making it impossible for me to get pregnant. The two most important things I planned to have in my life were ripped away – and somehow I knew about both before they were stolen.
I wonder if whatever mechanism that triggers chronic pain also provides each of us a “dog whistle” of illness to come. Perhaps, like me, we sense something cooking inside, knowing that if it catches fire it will decimate the life we planned.
I’m convinced my premonitions were an intuitive knowing that I was pre-disposed to high-impact, neuropathic chronic pain. And that gives me hopes that someday scientists will identify that strain of DNA that would give a head’s up.
If I’d been given a warning by someone in the know, I would have stopped dancing and focused on my acting career. If I’d been given a warning, I would have declined the procedure that ended my chance to be a mother. And perhaps my life would have been completely different.
Either way, our bodies talk – and we need to listen to even their faintest whispers.
Cynthia Toussaint champions awareness of the gender bias toward women in pain worldwide. Since her CRPS diagnosis in 1995, she remains active in the arenas of public speaking, writing, mass media and political advocacy for those who do not have a voice. Toussaint founded the nonprofit For Grace in 2002 and is the author of Battle for Grace: A Memoir of Pain, Redemption and Impossible Love.