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  • Writer's pictureCandy Widdifield

Not all Dips are Setbacks

Updated: Feb 4

When we have an exacerbation of symptoms it is easy to think that we've had a setback, especially if we are tracking symptoms on an ongoing basis and using symptom levels as an indicator of recovery. We need to remember that brain retraining is rarely a linear process of things simply getting better and better. Symptoms are not an accurate indicator of where we are in our recovery, for a number of reasons.

First, as stated above, recovery is rarely a linear process. There is an ebb and flow to the progression. This is why it is important to focus on the overall trajectory of improvement rather than the day to day experiences. Part of retraining is to take our focus off the symptoms and to trust that, as we rewire, the symptoms will resolve in their own time.

Second, we need to remember that there are layers to the rewiring process. Often when we make progress and move through one layer to a deeper layer in rewiring, we can experience symptoms surfacing that are related to the current layer. Then, as that layer gets rewired, symptoms will diminish again until we reach the next layer. Not all layers have an increase in symptoms, but some do. Because of the increase, we can mistakenly think that we are going backwards, which generally comes with a whole host of automatic negative thoughts and beliefs that slow down our recovery progression. When we entertain these symptom thought patterns, it causes us to take longer to move through the current layer, which often reconfirms the mistaken perception that we've had a setback.

Third, recovery involves creating a foundation of alternative neural pathways. Until those pathways are reinforced to the degree that they become more dominant in the brain, we don't necessarily see the benefits of these neural pathways. This means that while we are building the new foundation our symptom don't necessarily change. This doesn't mean that changes aren't happening in the brain. Think of it like building a house. The foundation has the be laid first before you can build the walls. When the foundation is being poured (which is often underground) if you are looking from a distance it doesn't look like construction has started on the house. We don't see the progress. The foundation is a necessary component however, otherwise the structure won't be sound or sustainable. Same with the new pathways in the brain. If you are actively doing your practices, catching your thoughts and elevating your emotional states throughout the day, your new neural pathways are getting stimulated and reinforced. Eventually you will reach the point of critical mass where you will begin to see the expression of those new pathways in terms of symptom alleviation, changes in thoughts, and more ease in getting into and maintaining elevated emotions.

At this point, there will likely be a back and forth between the new neural pathways and the old pathways that are still being pruned away. This causes an ebb and flow in our experience. Both pathways are competing for dominance until the new pathways are strong enough to become the dominant way the brain operates. If, during this competition for dominance, we interpret the ebbs as setbacks, again we are likely going to be reinforcing the old pathways through our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, causing the ebb to last longer and slowing the growth of the foundation of the new pathways.

As you can see, there are a number of reasons for not using symptoms as an indicator of progress. With this understanding, we can rise above our current experience, understand that it is all part of the process, focus on the bigger picture instead of the details, and trust that as we engage in the things we need to do to create and reinforce alternative healthy neural pathways in the brain, evidence of our efforts will become apparent and sustained over time.

Until Next Time!


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