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  • Writer's pictureCandy Widdifield

What is Required for Sustainable Healing?

There are different levels to healing as we go through brain and nervous system rewiring processes. Alleviating symptoms is not the same as cultivating resilience. This blog explores why and what is required to create healing in a sustainable way.

As I am sure many of you have noticed, all brain retraining programs have a basic component of how to change your brain pathways, but beyond that they differ in what else they target. Some have a heavy emphasis on meditation and regulation of the nervous system, some have additional levels that include trauma work, parts work or both. Some emphasize how to reintegrate back into life once you are well on your way to recovery. So the question becomes, what is actually required to have a level of healing and quality of life that we can sustain on an ongoing basis?

Personally, I learned the answer to this question the hard way. I had amazing symptom alleviation relatively early on in my recovery journey. By the nine month mark after going through brain retraining, I was ready to return to work part time (in addition to raising a child on my own and running a household). But because I didn't address the underlying patterns that predisposed me to limbic system impairment in the first place, I ran into some pretty big challenges. I was still an overachiever & perfectionist. I was also a helper & caretaker to the extent that I would chronically prioritize others above myself and negate my own needs. When I did prioritize my needs I would feel guilty. On top of that, I was still predisposed to getting caught up in a stress response when there was a lot on my plate. It didn't take long after returning to full time work for me to start to burn out. It wasn't the same as having Chronic Fatigue but I could see the direction in which I was headed and it wasn't good. Even though I saw the warning signs of burnout I waited until it reached a point where I could no longer ignore or override it before I made any major changes, in large part because I valued my work and I was brought up to believe that sacrificing yourself to help others is what makes you a "good person". A few months after finally making a major change work wise while I was still finding my way back to more optimal wellbeing, I was in a car accident. This not only brought back all my previous symptoms, but added a whole bunch more labels to my list. The vast majority of the labels fell in the category of limbic system impairment, and the few that didn't still had limbic & nervous system components to them. This experience sent me on quest to find resilience and figure out how to create healing in a more sustainable way.

My first insight into this came from a conversation with the top complex chronic disease medical doctor in Canada. He told me that 95% of people with complex chronic illness are overachievers or perfectionists. It is literally the people that hold themselves to way higher standards that later struggle to function (because we weren't designed to live under that level of stress and pressure). If we look back even further, we can see that these types of tendencies typically develop from a dysregulated nervous system earlier on in life. The overachiever, perfectionist, helper, people pleaser, and other roles that we created were coping mechanisms we developed along the way. While they may have been useful in our younger years, they are the pieces that keep us caught in limbic impairment and nervous system dysregulation. The other piece of information I discovered was the plethora of research showing that unresolved emotions play a huge role in chronic conditions, and when these emotions are addressed people start to heal. As evidenced by my story, we can alleviate symptoms without fully addressing these pieces, but until we do address these deeper layers we are still vulnerable to a recurrence of issues in the face of big stressors. And as we know, life has its ups and downs. There are losses, transitions, and aging that we have to face. So let's equip ourselves in the best way possible so that our lives don't get so knocked off course when these life events happen!

Addressing this deeper aspect of healing requires us to get familiar with the tendencies that we may have had all of our lives that affect how we show up in the world and what we believe. It means re-teaching our nervous system how to operate from a baseline of better regulation. It means creating space for genuine emotions to move through us and to learn to increase our tolerance for emotions. And finally, it means being intentional about how we transition back into a fuller, busier life so that we can consciously create a version of ourselves showing up in the world in a way that is sustainable and centers around quality of life and our values.

There are many different ways to do this. Start with ensuring that you have a regular daily meditation practice as part of your recovery routine, cultivate awareness of the states in which your nervous system is operating (i.e. are you in fight or flight, are you shut down, or are you in a calm regulated state?), and use basic breath work techniques to support you in restoring the baseline of regulation (see my YouTube channel for some quick breath work how-to's if needed). Ensure that you are doing your basic brain retraining of pruning away the old pathways and cultivating the new ones through actively and repetitively directing your thoughts, emotional states, and behaviours.

Then, once you have a better foundation and have experienced some positive progress, bring in the deeper level of healing work. This can be done through parts work, somatic work, identifying and addressing old beliefs and inner hidden barriers, and expressive writing. There are many different approaches that can help with this, it's about finding what works for you out of what is available in your brain retraining program (or experimenting with these components in addition to your program if it isn't included). Keep in mind that less is more when working at this level. Don't try to do it all. Pick one or two things that fit for you and go with that for a good while before re-evaulating. If you're struggling at this stage, consider working with a coach or mentor who has the skills to support you in the deeper work. Outside support at this stage can make all the difference. And know that this is a journey. You are not only rewiring your limbic system and regulating your nervous system, but you are creating the conditions for resilience. Give yourself the grace to take it one step at a time. Do it with self compassion. Know that we are capable of starting to create quality of life early on in this process, we don't have to wait until the end to see results. We keep adding to it, building on it, refining it, releasing the old and creating new ways of being in the world that will allow us to live fully and embrace whatever life brings our way!

Best wishes!

Caelum's Insights (A Functional Neurology Perspective):

I recently took part in a cadaver course to better understand the body’s physiology. One of the many fascinating things that I learnt over this week's course was about muscle knots and trigger points. These are nervous system-based, meaning that the nervous system is causing the muscle to react and resulting in a muscle knot or a trigger point. The instructor informed me that “you will never see a muscle knot on a cadaver, these are only present during life”. I found this so fascinating and yet another reason for the importance of nervous system regulation.

If you have any questions you would like answered in this blog or to be added to my coaching waitlist, please email me at


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