Give Me a Break!

Give Me a Break!

By Cynthia Toussaint.

Happy to report that For Grace’s November 2nd Change Agent Pain Summit was perfect. Our morning panel of doctors, researchers and professors was perfect. Our focus-group afternoon sessions were perfect. The ideas, action items and next steps were perfect. We were even asked by our excited sponsors to have a meeting just after to strategize about how to move this effort further. Like I said, perfect.

Cynthia Toussaint

Well, almost perfect. The only thing that didn’t make the grade was… me.

This event was three, long years in the making – and when I took the podium to launch the “ready, set, go” mood for the day, I was high-energy and passionate about the work. As I looked out at the change agents in the room, they were grinning and applauding with excitement. I had them in the palm of my hands!

And that’s when I blanked. Just dropped my speech. As is my way, I write and memorize my presentations, working without notes. I’ve blanked a few times with speeches in the past, but have always quickly found my footing. This time, it was gone.

I stopped and acknowledged my “fibro moment” which turned into what felt like an eternity of moments, all the while desperately trying to pull up my words. I’d worked really hard on this call-to-action which I thought would give participants a deep insight into the world of high-impact chronic pain while energizing them to do the good work.

I finally had to let go of what I’d prepared, skipping over the meat and potatoes of what I was going to say. Still I didn’t recapture my usual sparkle because I was rattled and disappointed. This had never happened to me. What the hell?!

Afterward I sat down, certain I’d ruined the day. And my self-flagellation didn’t end there. For a week straight, I kept reliving the moment (I even had nightmares about it), thinking of all the things I could have done to side step this blunder. I really beat myself up – which is my way when I make a mistake. To me, the day was a total failure. I’d screwed up so badly I couldn’t imagine showing my face again.

I’m well aware that many of us women in pain are Type-A personalities and expect nothing short of perfection. In fact as I was just writing this, I got a call from a pain sister who broke-down crying because her doctor told her she HAS to slow down when she’s in a flare. Trouble is, Meg over-achieves to prove that she isn’t broken.  And I’ve come to realize that I do the same, Wonder Woman cape and all.

I pride myself on being tough as nails. My partner John’s got me pegged when he comments “if you can put off something till tomorrow, you’ll always do it today.” Whenever I come down with the flu,  I still make my morning swim even when my pale complexion makes the lifeguard nervous.  I never cancel a travel engagement (work or leisure) due to a flare. I refuse to let a good opportunity fall by the wayside just because I have no idea how to do it, like when I ran for California State Assembly. And I NEVER use notes for a speech!

Trouble is, when I make a mistake, it’s incredibly hard to let myself off the hook. Yes, to give myself a break.

But this time, after a week of stewing, I starting listening deeply to my meditation guide, the voice that reminds me that  we’re all perfectly imperfect – and that when we make a mistake, it’s a rich opportunity to learn something new about ourselves and to grow.

As I spoke to people about my colossal mess-up, I got loving comments like, “you’re not a machine, Cynthia” and “you’re always so polished, it was nice to see you be human.” Like my meditation guide, everyone else could cut me some slack. And while it’s difficult for me, I decided it was ripe time I do the same.

When all is said and done, it’s self-indulgent to think that my speech snafu could ruin a wonderfully successful day three years in the planning. And none of us have to be super-women to prove our value despite illness.

Letting go of perfect is my new mantra. We women in pain have already got way too much on our plates without adding to our struggle. We succeed masterfully everyday of our lives just by showing up in all of our glorious badassness. And we need to be easy on and good to ourselves, even have a laugh, when we take a virtual face plant. Our tumbles don’t stop the world from spinning.

That being said, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be using notes when next I take the podium 😉

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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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Dear Maureen M.,
This isn’t the first time that you have rejoiced in what I was saying. If you only knew how that made me feel! Thank you so much. By the way I just moved also, it like to have killed me…but I got it done! Almost….😇. May God bless and keep you just the way you are! (of course minus the pain)
Most sincerely,
Terri James


Great work, Cynthia! ❤️

Maureen M.

Ditto to Terri James!
Cynthia, I can relate 110%to your story. I too am type A, have been since I was a kid. I’ve learned the hard way over and over and continue to learn each day. I moved 2 mths ago and have virtually no help since the movers got my houseful o’ stuff inside. I haven’t slept all night a single night since because ‘I want it all done and to be settled ASAP’! People say to me ‘you have the rest of your life to get settled’ and I say ‘No I don’t. I need it done so that I can refocus on my pain issues and try to get my old routine and Zen back BECAUSE my body is not normal therefore I can’t keep at this forever’. Yet…no one offers to come help me. It’s bizarre to me. Like Terri wrote…it can b a curse also. People see me as normal because I only present myself to others on ‘better’ days and when they hear of my accomplishments (no matter how much I end up suffering) they think I need no help from them. It’s my own ‘superwoman’ fault.
Regardless of my current happenings, I try to remind myself that only God is
perfect and so stop trying to be God! 🙂
Be proud of yourself and of all the awesome things that you do, and keep working on your many blessings and letting go of those faulty ‘few moments’. You are an incredible warrior!


You are all blessed to have pain that allows activitiy. You did hear 90 mme is a lie too. We are going zero. None. Then what?

karin l bendel

I too push through pain and find that distraction does wonders. Yes, it is there 24/7. Suck it up and on I go. I have chronic myofascial pain/pressure on the sides of my head, top and back all of the time. I ignore it the best I can and don’t like to medicate. Grit my teeth and do my life. Wishing all a Happy TG day.

Hi Cynthia,
From all I’ve read about you here on the national pain report mixed with you’re never ending compassion for life, in my book you are Superwoman! We’re not perfect, none of us and this comes from a perfectionist herself! It’s a gift and a curse put together. Although I like to think of it as a gift! So what if it drives others a little crazy, at times it does me too and that’s okay. The point is you gave it your all, and that’s what counts! Who knows, in all actuality perhaps you losing your footing so to speak was exactly what this particular crowd needed to see and hear at the time. That’s how I’ve come to deal with the issues life throws my way. There’s a reason for everything, one day we might understand why and then again we may not. I still believe God gives his toughest jobs to his strongest soldiers! March on Cynthia, hold your head high and march on! I’m proud of you! Take care and God bless you always!


Thx 4 sharing u r story. I’m sure u did great. Having a rare illness & other issues that cause horrific pain, I understand u r frustratetion. I give u a ton of credit speaking 2 a group of people while in pain., I can’t even talk on the phone when I’m in pain. Great job😃The people there understand pain. Being in my thirty’s when I became so sick I had to give up my businesses, driving, etc. it was very difficult 2 accept the person I had become but I have learned 2 accept, relax & not worry about what I can no longer do & to b thankful 4 my good days. Don’t beat u r self up.My prayers r with u😃


All if this sounds so familiar. An overachiever that won’t let themselves off the hook when they make a mistake.
I learned a long time ago that no matter how much I want to appear perfect to the outside world, I’m still going to be internally flawed. Call it an error, mistake or screw up, it doesn’t matter. My imperfections eventually buble to the surface and they are visible for all to see.
Desperate achieving much in my life and career, I have to accept that I’m still human and quite flawed.
It’s nice to see that other overachievers are equally flawed. We can certainly learn from our own mistakes and if we are lucky we can learn from the mistakes of others.


Cynthia, so sorry this happened to you. Can you still send what you were planning to say to the attendees by email? I’m sure they were understanding. But it would probably make you feel better that you got your message across. And yes, please do use notes, just in case there’s a next time!

Robert Schubring

I have two business associates who each suffer from ADHD.. Snafu is to be expected. We made our peace with a. Please stop beating yourself up, Cynthia, because polish is superficial. It’s what’s under the polish that has the real strength.


Cynthia, you and other women in pain don’t have the market cornered on over achievemnent to prove we’re not broken. I’m a long time full body CRPS patient who has worked my way back to being a Construction Manager. Flare or no flare, pain be damned, I am on the site at 6:15 in the morning and I’m there for close to 12 hours. Do I have the occasional slip or fall? Of course I do the only difference for me is that I won’t take that day off because of a fracture or sprain. I can’t, I’m in pain and that means I give no quarter to myself, I smile, joke, and am pleasant and an effective communicator. Do I push through flares in my not macho but stoic as hell manner? Damn straight I do. Type A? Not so much, accept less than perfection from myself? Yes, I don’t need to be perfect, nor do I need to produce a perfect work product. But…I do need to be tougher and far more resilient than my non pain bretheren.
Cynthia, cut your self some slack, maybe it’s easier for me to accept my lack of perfection - after all I’m male - and we all know that only women are perfect 🙂

Public speaking is a science of It’s own.I’m in a 12-step recovery program,and speak to patients and inmates in their respective temporary residences.
One insincere word,negative body language,or a poorly remembered”fact” will make your entire message fiction.
Notes show weakness,and your audience IS looking for that.
Be yourself. Say a little prayer( mine is”Father,help me to help you to help them” )and let truth flow. Thanks for your efforts.