"Some women are lost in the fire. Some women are built from it."
—Michelle K.
The Fire Within Blog
Taking on Toxic

I’m a huge believer in self-care. In fact it’s what brought me to my first in 27-year partial CRPS remission.

For me self-care includes eating a plant-based diet, exercising six days a week, practicing daily mindfulness meditation, avoiding unnecessary “healthcare”, engaging in meaningful work, following my creative passions, staying well hydrated and, perhaps most important, removing toxic people from my life.

Regarding the last item, now that I’ve FINALLY learned how to let go of people who make me sick, my rule is that if someone, anyone, in my life is toxic, I try to fix it – and if they’re unwilling I walk away. No exceptions.

Recently though, I had a big challenge when it came to walking away – because the toxic person was supposed to be guarding my life. Literally, she was the lifeguard at my pool.

Six years ago when I first went into remission, I joined my local YMCA and their pool was a life-saver. I mean I went from 19 years of being unable to do any aerobic exercise to swimming a mile within a month of hitting the water.

John calls me a mermaid because I’m so natural in the water. I was on a swim team for years while growing up – and before CRPS spread into my upper body I used to swim for an hour straight using a pull-buoy (small floatation device that keeps the legs from kicking.) When my mom told me as a child, “When you grow up, Cynthia, you’ll be so glad you learned to swim”, she had no idea how spot on she was.

The three mornings a week that I don’t do ballet pilates, I get my heavenly aerobic work-out at the pool. Many lifeguards have come and gone – and I’ve deeply appreciated their commitment to keeping lap swimmers orderly and in the right lanes, all in an effort to avoid crashes and, ultimately, keep everyone safe. When there’s a good lifeguard, the pool is their domain – and all follow the rules.

Then came Jennifer.

When she started, Jennifer seemed pleasant enough and competent. But after a few months, her attitude and behavior changed. She began snarling her “good mornings” and dangerously pulling the lane ropes out, hooks and all, before lap swimming was over to get an early break.

It got worse when Jennifer chronically complained about how horribly the Y treated her and bad mouthed other swimmers – members who were my friends – in front of me. Then she started falling asleep in the guard tower, reducing our pool to the Wild West. Among other travesties, this allowed people to enter at the wrong end, leading to crashes.

I was terrified as I can’t afford a crash. I have body-wide CRPS, fibromyalgia and a broken arm that didn’t heal properly. It got so bad John joined me in the pool to see Jennifer in action. Low and behold, a couple of guys quickly jumped in from the deep end and one was headed straight for me while I was swimming the backstroke. John yelled and splashed at the last second stopping a head-on collision. Jennifer missed the whole thing.

John stormed into the Y office and got the ear of the head manager. As a result, Jennifer was reprimanded and retrained. No more crashes, no more bad mouthing – and no more talking to Cynthia.

No matter how hard I tried to maintain a professional, communicative relationship, Jennifer has never spoken to me since that day. Now that wouldn’t be a problem if we were a couple of Y members who didn’t get along. But one of the essential parts of lifeguarding is communicating, giving directions to the swimmers. That’s how people in a pool stay safe.

Last week I spoke with the aquatics director and while acknowledging that Jennifer’s a problem personality and this isn’t a safe situation for me, he basically shrugged his shoulders. So I made the hard decision to… walk away.

This was especially painful because like most women in pain I’m isolated much of the time. I’d made a core group of good friends at my Y, some who have emailed and phoned asking me to come back. It’s heartbreaking and I’ve lost much sleep and mental wellness over the whole experience.

I’m now a member of another Y, one that puts quite a few more miles on my caregiver – but one that treats its members respectfully and follows the mission of “building healthy communities.”

Walking away from toxic people is without doubt the hardest self-care practice there is. But I guarantee that if you stay, you’re in for a world of hurt. And none of us are needing more of that…

XO Cynthia