By Cynthia Toussaint.
For we women in pain, a super powerful, but perhaps impossible, self-care tool is living authentically. The thinking is that when we live a life that isn’t true to ourselves, we become sick from the stress and strain of our deceit. After all, it’s expressing our true self that leads to better wellness. At least, that’s what my mindfulness meditation tapes say. But, for me, they come up short.
Being real, being true to myself always came naturally, that is until pain turned my life topsy-turvy, upside down, throwing me way off course from my “true north.” Since then, I’ve searched and scratched, but have always come up achingly short when it comes to getting back on my authentic track.
Out of the gates I knew exactly what I wanted and was never shy about getting it. I was always happy being loud and social, so growing up in a big family surrounded by out-going neighbors and friends was heaven. School, until college, not so much. It was too cliquey and phony, so I put my hours in before skipping off to my delights.
Besides being with people, I was in love with ballet, tap dancing, singing and piano. By the time I was seven, I knew that I wanted to act in films, incorporating my singing and dancing skills. I’ve always been driven and there were no ifs, ands or buts about my career. I planned to marry and have a child fairly late in life, so as to minimally impact that trajectory.
Jump forward to age 19. I was loving college, my boyfriend John and performing in community theater and professional gigs. My life was one big high because I was doing EXACTLY what I wanted – and I delighted in being the luckiest girl in the world!
When CRPS entered my scene and many attempts to regain my authentic-self failed, I knew my life as a performer was over and that I’d never get to be a mother. After 20 years of barely surviving body-wide CRPS, the best future I could see was starting For Grace to help others avoid my fate. I have a true passion to be a story teller, as most performers do, and being a spokesperson seemed as close as I could get to my authentic self.
To be perfectly honest though, running a nonprofit to help women in pain, while deeply worthy and needed, has never fully lit the fire within. I possess genuine desire to do the work and real care for who it helps, but at the end of the day, it’s not what I yearn for. It’s an essence of the real Cynthia.
To keep For Grace going, I bring quasi-performance into the work. I feel brief satisfaction and contentedness when I pitch and land a big piece of media, especially when I get to consult and produce (even got an Emmy nomination.) When I get to speak publicly, especially when I testify on Capitol Hill or spearhead a senate hearing, that provides a meaningful “stage.” Indeed, the most important stage because the outcome is often a matter of life and death. But, still, it’s not Broadway or a Hollywood soundstage. It’s not my dream.
In addition, I’ve created singing and writing projects at For Grace that somewhat feed my authentic self. And I’m always pitching projects that will make better use of my skill set and excite me to a certain point. Still, every day what I want to do and what I can do are a world apart.
On a personal front, my social life with John is pretty much an exercise in shared-isolation, a common plight for many of us with long-lived, high-impact chronic pain. My authentic self hungers to be surrounded by friends, family and colleagues in performance. Instead I engage in a few groups that have a piece of what I desire, but ultimately leave me feeling like a misfit. This lack of connection causes deep depression and at times my only comfort is knowing death will come. I deserve better. We all do.
So when my mindfulness meditation guide tells me to look deep into my heart and live its desires, I get sad. I get angry. I know what I want, I know how to get it, I know how to do it. I still could live my authentic life if I could live my authentic life. I suspect many of us women in pain deal with this deep frustration. And, yes, that barrier definitely impedes our path to better wellness.
Further, I’ve grown short with my meditation tape guides because they assure me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be on my journey. And if I put my mind to it I can accomplish all of my dreams by living authentically. That sounds all good and fine, but it’s a lie. They’re trying to sell me a concept that I’m happy with what I have. I’m not.
Due to my illness, the life that is left to me, while including some good stuff, is half-measured and does not spin my top. I’m authentically sharing that I’m no longer able to live authentically. Does being honest and forthcoming about that give me any wellness points?
Thirty-six years and counting, I’m still seeking my new “true north.” I can see that star and will grab it if the right stuff falls into place. If I can land that career that’s always percolating in my mind, the one that seamlessly combines my two passions – to perform and help women in pain – my fire would be re-ignited.
It’s a long shot … and that’s the truth.
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.