My Story: The Suicide Dance

My Story: The Suicide Dance

By Cynthia Toussaint

Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace, a non-profit that focuses on the unique issues facing women in pain. Her organization sponsors the Women in Pain Conference

Fifteen years after being voted “The Couple Most Likely to Succeed” at our college, my life-partner John bought the self-deliverance book, Final Exit, that we both planned to use. We were the last people who would think of ending our lives, but that’s where the constant physical and emotional torture of chronic pain takes most of us.

I haven’t yet talked to the woman (or man) with high-impact pain who doesn’t think about suicide. It can be a fantasy - a coping mechanism - to help us survive. Or it can be our ultimate painkiller. Pain, and everything that accompanies it, often takes us beyond the boundary of human endurance.

I’ve planned my suicide countless times over the past 33 years. I don’t know how I’d survive without that option. It’s seemingly a contradiction, a paradox - but it makes perfect sense in the senseless, agonizing world of chronic pain. To survive the impossible, we must have a way out.

For me and probably most people with high-impact pain and fatigue, the desire for suicide comes not due to our physical suffering, but because of our ever-mounting losses. Our families and friends run for the hills, many of us lose the chance to have our own families, our doctors label us crazy or worse, society calls us malingerers and drug seekers, we lose our careers and dreams, and, in turn, our identities.

I’ve known a number of women in pain who have chosen suicide. I never judge them, but am always devastated to hear the news and wish they’d made the choice to push on – because they had something extraordinary to offer the world. I also know women who’ve been right up to the edge and haven’t, as yet, taken their lives.

One of my closest “sisters” moved up to the mountains two years ago, literally walking away from healthcare, family and friends - all who had failed and/or abandoned her. I was the only sister Carrie stayed in touch with, and I love her deeply. Before the holidays, Carrie told me she was considering taking her life again (she’d made an attempt with pills a decade prior.) Recently she cut off communication with me and I’m fearful I’ve lost her. Sadly, as a pain advocate, this experience is far from unique.

The horror of a chronic pain life can only be understood by those who live it. The despair decade after decade pulls us down into a hopeless abyss, an experience our life-long caregivers join us on in shared-isolation and suffering. Surviving is the difficult and seemingly more unnatural choice. I think it’s normal to think about taking our lives. When the hope of regaining well-being is long gone, we have to find control. For me, the fantasy of suicide oddly provides comfort and is sometimes how I get myself out of bed.

In order to survive – and this is the hardest part – we must accept that our pain is most likely not going to go away and our lives are forever altered. We must re-invent ourselves, finding deep purpose and meaning. We must also realize new expectations. John and I no longer seek a happy life. We seek a purposeful life that provides satisfaction and contentedness.

Cynth John Online - Copy

Cynthia and John

Bottom line, life is always the best choice. We with pain have “the strongest souls forged by the hottest fires.” We have wisdom and courage most people can’t imagine. Pain has gifted us extraordinary qualities the world desperately needs.

John and I still have our copy of Final Exit. It’s tucked away deep in a box somewhere collecting dust. A memento to remind us of a choice we didn’t make.

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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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Donna Hamilton Skelton

I think you are awesome! What a wonderful idea. And I like the time limit on it. That would keep me focused, but also not overwhelm your support person. There must be a way of connecting those of us wishing to do this. Bless you for this suggestion. I am on Facebook if you would like to PM me.


Ive been taking opiods for over ten years !!!! My Doctor told me there is a law being passed where my Internal Medicine Doctor will not be able prescribe my pain meds. So what am I going to do suffer the rest of my life?? My meds were stolen before and now they are locked in a lock box and then put in a Safe !!!
Ive had two failed back surgeries one a Laminectomy and a Fusion, my pain is everyday 24 hours a day and i cant work, so let the government have these surguries and see if they can jump around and do work around there homes. Chronic Pain is not a picnic !!

Jean Price

Since this story was published, and after reading the comments that tell stories people without pain would have a difficult time understanding…I feel there has to be more we can do to help each other! I know we can’t solve each other’s problems, yet we certainly are on the same page about pain…and the emotional toll it can take. I have a friend who gives me a “poor, poor baby” when I need it! I can call her and tell her I need sympathy; and no questions asked, no reasoning, no proof, no explanations needed…she will say something like, “You, poor baby! This is not fair! You so don’t deserve this and I don’t know why you have to have this in your life. You do such a good job of caring for yourself, and I can’t imagine how hard this is! I wish I could take this all away and let you be pain free, for even a day, or a week. You work so hard at living life. You poor dear!” This may seem simplistic, even silly. But, the words and the compassion in her voice can help lift me. When I comment or thank her, she stops and ASKS me if I want to talk about it. (There needs to be a five to ten minute limit!.). I thank her for her kindness, and before we hang up, she asks me if there was anything else I needed and tells me I made HER day just by calling her. Maybe we could do this for each other. All it takes is a phone and the ability to ask for sympathy…from someone who knows pain. And all it takes from the person who is being supportive would be a few minutes to lay aside their own struggle to help another, no questions, no proof of pain, no comparing or competing….just telling them what you’d love to hear when you’re having an “at the edge” kind of day. Maybe you already have a friend who does or will do this for you. Or maybe you can can find one and instruct them on the “rules” of support. I offer this idea to you. Probably the best way would be for those wanting to be support people to make it known…perhaps the Pain Foundation could provide us a way to sign up, and a way for people to contact us for support. I’m going to email them this idea and see. I would gladly put my email or phone number in this comment, but I feel they might not approve, if they didn’t know the intent. Any feed back from you all is welcome. To have pain is hard enough, to feel alone and not understood and unsupported can be unbearable. There’s enough of us to help each other, I think. And I think the need is certainly real and apparent. Thanks!


I am new here so this is my first post. Way to much history to list at this point but I wanted to say the article was terrrific. I do hope I have found a place that understands the degree of my suffering from small fiber neuropathy, surgical pain and spine pain. It’s a tough life


Krissy- I appreciate your well written insights into pain care. We who do understand what people in pain experience can and should unite to make a stand to change the absurd and cruel pain care system- which I call the “rough beast”. It is difficult enough to try and live with pain without the rest of society adding to the burden. Maybe I am naïve- but it seems that the moral basis behind poor pain care is very weak and there is really no good excuse for the lack of progress in pain care. I have called for the creation of new rights for people in pain-and frequently criticize the lack of vision and planning in pain care.
People in pain need to have a database documenting unsatisfact5ory encounters with providers and government- and this should be used to call for reforms. We should call for reuiring medical schools to have plans of correction if there students-when they are providers- are disrespectful or provide unsatisfactory care. The same applies for licensing boards- if they are negligently entrusting providers- then let us document such and ask Governors to change licensing boards. Let us keep a tab on state and federal officials- with regard to their actions on the issues-and let us publicize their record so all can see.
We have the right- now we need the might- if people in pain don’t act- then I see no reason to believe government and the health care industry will somehow reform themselves- they will remain unregenerate.

Jean Price

PJ thanks for the compliment. I feel passionate about the grief and loss part of pain and finding the tools to deal with it. I also rely on God. I don’t think I’d be here without having my spiritual beliefs… tools of coping can only take us so far! I have an imagery I do when I am overwhelmed and it is very spiritual to me. I am not preaching either. My faith in God happened a short while before my life turned upside down with failed back surgeries. And it has made all the difference for me. With what I learned about grief combined with my spiritual growth, I am more whole now and more joyful than I was before pain came into my life. And I like me better! Whatever a person’s faith is, excercising and stretching that part of us can help when living with pain, too!

Kristine (Krissy)

You’re right, Dave. Perhaps if we hadn’t been treated so badly by family, friends, doctors, society, there would be far less depression. It seems like the “officials” don’t really get close enough to the subject to truly try and understand what’s actually happening in peoples’ lives. Compassion is a key word, and without it we’ve been sent in so many directions we tend to keep our pain within our own little worlds, and that’s not proactive.


I think this article is a sad commentary on our cruel, careless, and ineffective pain care system. Instead of instilling hope and providing compassionate and effective care- too many people concern themselves with suicide. And, i too, considered such toward the end of my journey with chronic pain. And i did not discover within me an invincible spring when i overcame my pain or anything like that. It was only upon being disturbed by the pain of others years after i overcome my own pain that i decided to try and help others.
THat is why i oppose ” pain management” gurus who say we cant (and wont even attempt) to cure peoples pain- but offer them some ” treatment” that might have some benefit. This is not adequate. We should have leaders in government and health care determined to make much more progress in pain care and offer much more hope for the lives of people in pain. We should no longer accept that pain management is all that can be expected- especially since there are people who overcome Lupus, MS, Cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc
Let us call for a much better more hopeful future for people in pain- where everyone has hope of a much better tomorrow.


Timely that this should arrive in my email today. I’m 34, a mother of 1, a wife, a sister, a daughter and I have systemic lupus and myeloproliferative disease that is eating away at my life little by little. My career my looks my home my sanity my social life, all gone; my now rented home feels at times like a prison. Chronic life altering pain is so isolating. Today I vocalized to my ever loving husband that I just wish I were dead because then I would be finally free of this ever awful ever present pain. Timely article, thank you, today I needed to know I’m not alone in those thoughts I won’t act on.


It is telling of my condition that at the end of your article I wanted to know if I could find a copy of ‘Final Exit’. My physical pain is becoming 2nd to my emotional pain. And I fear it will only worsen as I get older and as options for treating pain are taken from us.

This has been a big issue for me recently. I’ve dealt with a degenerative spinal condition, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel, a necrotic bone in my wrist, and a prolapsed disk for the past 25 years, all on top of PTSD from a young age with several suicide attempts. A few years ago the opthomologist told me I had macular degeneration in addition to cataracts and there was nothing they could do. In the past few years ALL my friends died, moved away, or proved themselves to be thieves here only to benefit themselves. My son lives in Florida and I talk to him only a couple of times a year. He never lets me talk to the grandkids. The rest of my family is either dead or estranged. I have no transportation except a bicycle and a miniscule amount of Social Security. For the most part I’m housebound. For many years I had a wonderful doctor who was very supportive and did everything possible to get accurate diagnoses and offer as much pain relief as I needed (or was willing to take.) After she left for greener pastures, the clinic was taken over by MBAs with absolutely no medical background whose only concern is the bottom line. Patient’s now seem to be just dollar signs. As soon as they got laptops for everyone they boxed up my previous ten years of records and stuck them in the basement so no subsequent provider would have any knowledge of my prior history, tests, diagnoses, or treatment. Suddenly I was accused of “drug seeking”, which is a total joke since I HATE taking meds at all. This is just background for the current crisis. In mid-August I developed much increased back pain and a severe nerve problem in my left arm. I knew it was from the vertebra in my neck. It’s hard to get a doctor’s appointment now, and I had one scheduled in October, so I decided to just wait. If I go as a walk-in I may wait all day in hopes of a few minutes with maybe a PA or NP. I knew I needed a new mri and to return to the neurosurgeon, but it took me two appointments and a screaming b**ch fit with the clinic director, and finally making my own appointment before the clinic would order the mri or the MassHealth taxi to take me 60 miles for both. They insisted I had to come back to the clinic after this was done, and when I did, the NP said “oh, your spinal condition is much, much worse and now involves the whole spine. Here, we need you to sign this”. She handed me a four page “pain contract” that is effectively a junkie contract, with stipulations that I had to go regularly to (their) psychiatrist, have to report there within the hour ON DEMAND with my pills in the bottle, to be counted by a Nurse Practitioner, and or a urine check (again to be… Read more »

Jeremy Goodwin, MS, MD

You wrote a beautiful essay. I think that it will touch many including those without physical pain. I will repost it in hope that some will find solace in not being alone.

There are those who have no partner, few friends and no family. Some have their pets and others, not even that. For them it is harder because there is often no one or a tiny few who understand and yet they have their own lives to run. They will regret not being more supportive should it occur ‘under their watch’.

It is a touching piece and a hopeful one. And it applies also to other areas of life where suicide is also perceived to be the only way out. I hope those who are not feeling so will also read it and feel deeply for those who have lost hope. There are many. Life is very, very hard especially when spent alone.


My suicide obsession was before the pain started. Through years of counseling, I learned to cope. Now that I am in daily pain, I do not see it as an option for me.
As I read the article and all the replies, my heart went out to every one of you. I unnderstand the frstration/end of the rope desperation. Jean Price, I love what you wrote and talking about grieving, yet finding ways to deal with it and move on. And please believe me, I am in no way making light of this. My husband lost his job 4 years ago. I have been without insurance. He is a disabled veteran with Agent Orange who went through by-pass surgery and broke down through the complications. My stress levels and pain went through the roof and…my doctor doesn’t believe in giving pain meds. So I take different meds with the nasty side effects to try to maintain.
My point is that in my own personal life, I have found my peace with God. Each person has their own way…I am not preaching to anyone…I am sharing what has worked for me. There are days that are overwhelming, but I know that I am covered and He has a plan for me. Therefore, I keep working through each thing that presents itself. No pain pills? My recliner is my friend. I stay in it until I can cope. Horrible anxiety attacks? I don’t go out, but stay quiet and knit, which I love. And I pray my way through it. Knowing that my husband’s heart is weakening and the agent orange continues to affect his body? I often cancel my plans and just spend the day with him.

Life is precious, even in pain. We have love to give, even in pain…even to each other because we understand each other. I get no empathy from others because they are too busy telling me what hurts in them, making it a stinkin’ competition!
So, this is my story. I send gentle hugs to you all…please press on if you can…


Thank you for acknowledging that it’s an individual’s right to choose to end their life. It feels like the only thing I have control over these days; when and how I will die, will I do it on my own terms or allow this world to force me to endure a horribly painful death? I will never judge a person in pain for whatever method they choose to deal with that pain. For me, the only thing that keeps me going some days is knowing I’ve made the choice to do so, prompting me to make that day as meaningful as I can.


Dear Cynthia,
Thank you for writing your personal story about suicide and chronic pain. I believe this is something so many of us have thought about, tried, planned or wondered how…

I tried to commit suicide many years ago. I felt that I just wanted some peace from my life and relief from my pain. I don’t think I’m ready to tell this story, but I will say that when I woke up (I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t wake up), I actually felt disappointed at first and I was shocked that I was alive. But my adult children were standing over me and as my clouded, crying eyes looked into theirs, I knew I would never do it again. I saw their pain and sadness — that I had actually tried to leave them in that horrific and cruel manner. I refused to let the ambulance and police take me to the hospital. I just wanted to be with my children. I didn’t know what day it was or how much time I had lost. To this day no one will tell me. But it’s the law that I had to be taken away. I spent a week or two in hospital and came out far better than when I went in.

I still think about suicide every day. Part of that, for me, is from depression, and part of depression is from pain and the inability to do the things I could as a healthy person.

I hope and pray for you and your partner to find enough life in the world to stay with us, and the same for anyone else reading this. It wasn’t worth it, and I was half-way there.

Jean Price

Your comments touch each of us who is living with chronic pain. Most people with chronic pain realize there are only two things that will stop the pain….a miracle or death. All of us would chose a miracle over dying, but that’s not an option we get. I was extremely fortunate to have worked with a program, before my chronic pain started 25 years ago, that dealt with hospice, grief, loss, and a senior organization designed to teach seniors they could maintain an independent life within the boundaries of their loss of function as long as they could make decisions about their life. It redefined independence from the mindset of functioning only to rather be about making your own decisions about your life within the circumstances of your situation and the choices available. I believe all patient with pain would benefit from a grief and loss program when their diagnosis is first given. The model they used was not the usual one of stages of grief but rather looking at grief as as series of task we do to reinvest after our losses. It started with a simple formula…change = loss = feelings/grief. The healthy way to grieve is to first accept that you’ve had a loss, tell the story, and feel the pain of that. Exploring all the feelings is important, and knowing the anger and frustration is normal, as is the fear and sadness and depression. You are not broken! You are going through a monumental change in your life! Then you can understand the loss is part of the new normal in your world. By doing this, you find you can reinvest in a life that will let you be be whole despite the loss, and ultimately even be the better for it. You can find ways to cope and lay down the feeling that are damaging. The flip side of this is denial….denying the feelings and the loss and the pain of the change. Denial takes a great deal of energy. And you need help making the loss not true, so you start using behavior or substances, from food and alcohol to recreational drugs, to dull the feelings. You become more angry and depressed and all the feelings escalate. But it keeps taking more and more to dull this because you’re living a lie…and it becomes a vicious cycle and even progresses to behavior of behavior or substance addictions. It’s a choice, ultimately, to accept the reality of the change or deny it. You need help supporting your choice to accept, and lots of practice, but it is so worth it. It helped me understand that although pain is life limiting, it doesn’t have to end life. True, it makes our world smaller, just like instantly aging. And I miss so many things I can no longer do. But if I ask my self …do I have enough for this moment?….I usually have to answer yes. If no, I need to see what I can do… Read more »


I also have stories but, for now, I’ll just say thank you for this post and advocacy. I honestly thought I was the only one. Without my children…I don’t know…

My husband and I have also discussed a plan and even told our children and during the past few years of having both had our pharmacy (we used for 20 years) stop filling our meds and then several more pharmacies. My husband lost his doctor and we finally got a new one but he had to go down on his medications dramatically and it has made us realize that if PROP & CDC or ramifications from the upcoming Summit in March which will try to convince all doctors and pharmacists that all pain patients are heroin users in the making; and we need to just learn to live with the pain and try other methods. Their ignorance is blinding since the medication does not eliminate the pain and the efforts made to try other treatments have been painful and costly. We are always in pain - I have chronic pelvic pain & Interstitial Cystitis and my husband as chronic post encephalitis headaches. Our pain is severe and constant and on a good day, the pain is a level 4 to 5 with our medications. Taking our lives is not what we want but some days the pain is already unbearable and if we are forced to cut down our dosages and since the only ones being offered extra money and empathy are the addicts - we do not have access to hot tubs, acupuncture, biofeedback. massauge because they are not covered by insurance. Pain patients do not get centers that we can go to that focus on a multi-module program to help minimize pain; there are no ads on tv (except for a drug for constipation) about the disease of chronic pain only about the addicts that abused and often steal drugs - whereas we do regular urine tests, go to pain clinics, follow the rules and pay full price for our medication, but there is no mention of the millions of suffering pain patients - except to put us into the same category as addicts, but without the empathy or considering pain a disease and the medication as treatment. This article is right suicide is the only option — other than following the footsteps of addicts and frankly I would not even know where or how to get heroin. I do not want to take my life but without my medications, I would have absolutely no alternative. Pain patients that go to clinics are not even allowed to try Marijuana because it is not legal federally - and we can only have so many failed painful & costly procedures. The People that have never had to live with severe continuous pain for weeks, months, years, decades on end that is relentless - have no idea what they are saying or recommending and yet they are the ones being allowed to make these decisions.


Must be nice to have a partner i wont evrr be a le to be w a man again due to this bs and dr undermedicating me i havent been w a man onna date in 3 years since i was 39 and ive been isolated for years beyond that and abuses bt family lost them all also because im an embarassment wish there was help for people in my situation disability isnt enough to live on and i can no longer work due to drs cutting meds.

Danny Elliott

I completely understand where this is coming from, except I haven’t reached the point of eliminating suicide, and probably never will. This is one of the few stories that has a time frame of chronic, severe pain longer than my 25 years.
I became friends with a guy who also suffered from chronic, severe pain. It wasn’t terminal. His was as a result of spinal cord damage due to radiation. Even though our pains were different, he was the only person/friend that I could talk with, and listen to, and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, there was complete understanding and empathy. He’d gone to see dozens of doctors and was taking opioidmmedications, but the pain was too strong. He got some relief, but as time went on, the relief was lessening by the day. His daughter had graduated from college and recently gotten married. He felt that she was now “taken care of” and he’d done all he could for her and his wife.
One day, he told me that he was going to see a doctor at Emory in Atlanta. His wife and daughter had been pushing for him to go there and he wanted to pacify them. But, he said that if they told him to try something he’d already tried (which he expected), then he couldn’t live with the pain anymore. After a couple of years of getting to know this once successful, vibrant guy who was now permanently using a wheelchair at 53-years old, how could I say anything to encourage him to not commit suicide? I knew his suffering was only getting worse, but still, I was shocked. He went to the doctor on a Friday. On Saturday night, he called to tell me that what he was told was the same things he’d already heard many times. He told me “good luck and God bless you” and hung up. Monday morning, I heard that Mike had passed away in his sleep. His family was distraught, of course. And they assumed that he died of natural causes. But I knew better. The pain had beaten this man down. It had taken away any future that he’d previously dreamed of. He knew what the future held and he couldn’t live through it.
I think of Mike most every day. I find that I’m envious sometimes, knowing he’s not suffering anymore and I’m still going after 25 years. More often I find myself considering a way out. Almost every day, now.

Great piece, Cynthia! Again.
Thank you for expressing the feeling we all have once in a while, very brave! I would like to use your piece to translate for the Dutch, if that’s okay? Of course I will mention the source and your name, even your picture if you don’t mind.
In case you know nothing about me, ask John. I have been in touch with him and sent him my three books ‘Coping with chronic pain, a team effort’
Warm regards,

Cynthia thank you so much for sharing and for being open and honest. Your rawness and compassion will help so many with chronic pain and I am proud to know you. Wishing you a low pain and high spirits day. - Paul Gileno