Wellness Wednesday – The Root Cause Of All Dis-Ease… It’s Not What You Think: How Your Unexpressed Emotions Are Making You Sick with Dr. Todd Nelson
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Wellness Wednesday – The Root Cause Of All Dis-Ease… It’s Not What You Think: How Your Unexpressed Emotions Are Making You Sick with Dr. Todd Nelson
I am so excited to bring you on to this special conversation with Dr. Todd Nelson. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Todd at a beautiful place called the New Media Summit. We got into talking about some of our own personal experiences working with clients. I’m really excited to bring this beautiful, gorgeous soul on so that he can share a little bit about what he’s learned in his over 30 years of practice. If you know anybody who has ever struggled with anything in their physical body or even their mental, emotional body as far as health is concerned, please share this. We love it when you share. Todd is going to bring a wealth of information to you and it would be great if you are able to share.
Dr. Todd, thank you so much for joining us on the Wellness Wednesday show. You have been in this health world of helping people heal as a naturopathic doctor for far longer, even longer than I’ve been alive. I’ve been hearing a lot of your experiences and what you’ve journeyed through, not only with your clients but also in your own personal health. I couldn’t help but want to bring you onto the show so that you could share this with everyone here who’s joining us.
I appreciate it. It was so great to connect with you. We have so many similar thoughts and feelings about what healing is all about and what men are going through physically and emotionally. I’ve had some of my own health challenges. I’m excited to talk to you about all that. Hopefully, those joining us are going to benefit.
When I had this conversation with you, we were sitting over lunch and I remember this moment vividly. I was talking with you about how I had previously been working a lot with people who were diagnosed with autoimmune disease. In the Western medical world, not naturopathic, it’s like, “Here’s an autoimmune disease. Sorry, we don’t know much to tell you. Take some steroids. Take some creams, take some whatever. You’re going to have this the rest of your life.” When you and I were talking, I remember looking at you and feeling into my heart space and saying, “Don’t you feel that a majority of these illnesses and these diseases are based upon mental-emotional states?” I remember looking at your body and your whole body melted slightly. You looked at me and you were like, “How do you share that with your clients?” I would love to dive a little bit deeper. When we were having this conversation, what have you experienced in your many years? How does the mental-emotional state that you’ve found maybe even with your clients and also with yourself been a key contributor to those who have a disease or are you trying to heal their diagnosed disease?
A disease doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s not isolated. It’s not just one physiological experience that you’re having. Sometimes we have lots of physical influences with the environment, our choices and habits every day as far as what we’re eating, breathing, how we’re relating and what environments we’re showing up in. Also how we’re thinking and feeling can dramatically impact your physiology. Most people have a good sense of this at this point, even though medicine tried to separate those and say that body, mind and spirit are distinctly separate entities as well. You and I know that’s not true. When people are experiencing an autoimmune disease, you have to look at that both literally, what’s going on physiologically, chemically and what could be underlying as far as causes go. The questions that are almost never asked are, “What’s going on in your life emotionally? Have you been traumatized? Are you hard on yourself?”Majority of the illnesses and diseases are based upon the mental and emotional states. Click To Tweet
When you start thinking metaphorically about autoimmune disease, it’s when yourself is attacking yourself. Your white blood cells are going a little bit crazy and they’re attacking healthy tissue. Then you get inflammation and you get big sets of symptoms. I’ve always found it interesting that it’s a reflection of a real big disharmony in the immune system, which on a deeper level is reflecting a deep disharmony in yourself possibly in relationship to yourself. I don’t mean to generalize too much but a lot of people with autoimmune disease, they can be very self-critical or very hard on themselves. Perhaps they’re traumatized. They haven’t worked through those feelings and those feelings are eating at them internally.
We have to think about how our immune system suddenly goes from functioning okay to starting to attack our joints, our nervous system or other parts of our physiology. The job of our immune system is to decipher between self and not self. It starts going, “The self is attacking self.” A lot of times, if we self-examine for a long time, we see that we’re judging our self or we may have a lot of repressed trauma and feelings that we’re not even in touch with, we don’t even know about. If you get a diagnosis like that, in a way, it’s an invitation to dive deeper and start doing some self-exploration and to start looking at, “What places in me are being harsh on me or that’s unresolved for me and how do I achieve some harmony and peace?”
Harmony is a key word there. That’s not a conversation typically if you go to a rheumatologist. They don’t start asking you about those kinds of things. They’re just going to say, “Here are your blood markers and here are the meds to suppress that attack,” which invites more side effects and doesn’t address the cause or whatsoever. In my own case, I don’t have an autoimmune disease, but I have two genetic illnesses. I have a connective tissue disorder and I have a type of genetic neuropathy in my feet and legs. Then I got diagnosed with cancer in my left tonsil, which was completely shocking. It was funny because when I met you, one of the things we initially immediately started talking about was about unexpressed emotion and being able to speak our truth and especially as men.
Personally, that was a profound wakeup call to say, “What areas in me am I not speaking my truth? Am I not fully talking to myself in a healing, loving way? Am I not saying those things I need to say to other people that I need to be saying in an assertive and clear way?” That sparked off quite a conversation in myself to have to do that. Thankfully, I’ve had enough training and support in my life to get to a place where first it was a shock, then anger and then it’s fear. It’s all the steps of denial and grief. Thankfully, I have had in my life the support to get to the place fairly rapidly of starting to compassionately self-examine and say, “What are the holdouts in me where I’m not saying what I need to be saying maybe to those I love, to those I work with or to myself? How am I talking to myself here because it’s right in my throat?” I have to pay attention.
I wish that was more integrated into medicine where they would start that conversation day one in a gentle, compassionate and non-blaming way. Amanda, you demonstrate holding space for men that way, which I honor in you to be able to go, “Here’s where I’m at. Here’s what I’m truly experiencing. Here’s what I’m feeling and here’s my real vulnerability.” A lot of times as men, we’re terrified to say that both to the women in our lives and to the men in our lives. Thank you for that.
Thank you so much for being open and being vulnerable and authentic. Often, there’s a lot that you said that I feel is so powerful. One of which is being a space holder or being a “healer” or being in this world of wanting to help so many others. Sometimes there can be, number one, a neglecting of self as you’re trying to support and help so many others. We have talked about that and you know that when your self-care is high, then your pre-genetic dispositions happen. When your self-care maybe is a little bit lower, that’s when your body reminds you. Also another part of being in this holding space, there can be some shame. There is denial even like, “How has this happened to me?”
When I started to have my own symptoms of autoimmune, I remember being like, “What?” I eat so healthily. I’m so mindful. I do yoga and I do all these things. Mine was a skin condition on my face. What the message for me was truly being like, “I am afraid of showing myself fully. I’m afraid of how I’m going to be received. I’m insecure about my reflection on others.” You have to heal the physical body, but I truly believe that the physical body is trying to send you messages. One of our audience said, “This feels like divine timing. I started questioning how have I been ignoring my autoimmune disease.” That’s powerful and that’s a great question to ask ourselves. Whether you have autoimmune or you have some other disease in the body, your body is always trying to tell you something.
In our world, especially in the Western medicine world, I’m sure you’re very familiar with, “Let’s just put a Band-Aid on it or let’s just put a pill, let’s treat the symptom.” Something that I love that you said is creating this space to ask what is going on for you, the individual. What is going on for you on the mental, emotional side? Many men especially in my practice, that was another question that I’d asked you. I said, “What is your female to male ratio?” As I’ve asked many other naturopathic doctors, holistic nutritionists and people in the medical field or the healing arts field, oftentimes it’s more women than men. Diving deeper into that, it’s because we don’t give our men space.
We don’t give our men this space to feel that it’s okay to have space held for them and their vulnerability and to feel not okay or not strong. We put so much pressure on men to hold the strength and the stability and to hold that space and not allowing them to sink into their vulnerability, maybe even what would be known as the divine feminine aspects of ourselves, which this is also repressing and denying parts of ourselves. That was something we were speaking on the phone, which spoke to me and I would love for you to speak to that as well here.
Something that you shared with me was that there are a lot of stories around how we feel that men need to show up in the world as a society. They need to be strong. For a long time, they were supposed to be the providers. They need to have the structure. We, as women, often expect men in relationship to be vulnerable and emotionally available for us. Yet in your experience, you found that there wasn’t a lot of reciprocity on the other end. That when you needed to be vulnerable, soft or settle into these emotions, it wasn’t well-received for the women that you’re dating. I’m curious if you’d be open to talking a little bit more about that.How we're thinking and feeling can dramatically impact our physiology. Click To Tweet
As a doctor and a caretaker, I learned the role of caretaker in my family. Everybody in the family comes to me with their issues and problems. I have a big patient face that I have to show up and serve every day and be on point with my employees. Even though by nature I’ve been a real caretaker and I’ve been trained into that in my early life, especially in my dynamic with my mother initially being almost like her emotional surrogate and caretaker. A lot of men, if they admit it can find that role themselves where, “I’m going to sacrifice some of my own needs or even some of my own expression because it might upset mom. It might hurt mom. Mom’s a neurotic mess and I have to show up and take care of her.” That makes me good at showing up and caretaking women.
One of the things I was sharing with you, Amanda, was what I’ve attracted them in my life is relationships that repeat that pattern and it’s usually women. They can be wonderful women, but I’m not here to be critical or whatever about women. It’s more about I have attracted women who repeat that pattern where I’m caretaking. I’m feeling like I’m the giver and they’re the taker. I may feel some support, but if I hit a place where I’m super vulnerable emotionally or I’m going through something. In my experience so far, I haven’t been with somebody who can receive that or create space or just be with it in a loving, nurturing way without taking it on as a stress. Worse, being judgmental, critical or trying to push me back into being tough. That’s such a knee-jerk response with both men and women.
We’re going through vulnerability here as a man, friends, family and lovers are trained into, “I’m going to push you to be tougher,” rather than, “I’m going to be present for what’s going on with you in a genuine way, a loving way to help you feel like you’re loved.” For a woman, when you ask most women, I think you would agree with this. When women like presence from a man, they don’t necessarily need him to do anything about. Just to be present and to be loving and be heard. Thankfully, I’ve had some training in that. I can do that for women in my life. One of the things we’ve talked about is I’m a sensitive guy. Maybe some guys can relate to this. Some women I’ve attracted go, “I love that sensitivity because you’re there for me.” In your sensitivity, you can be compassionate for what I’m going through.
For me in my experience, it hasn’t been reciprocated as well as I would like it to be. I take responsibility that I’ve attracted that and I’ve been replaying that pattern. I have to go through transforming that. Some women are great at that, I just haven’t been with them. The other thing we talked about is how important that is men to men too. I’m blessed to have a men’s group I touch in with every week. I shared with you that it took us a long time to be trustworthy enough with one another. It’s to break down the tough guy, hold up, come back into the ring, keep swinging and break down our masks and start saying, “Here’s where I’m really at. This is what I’m feeling.” I’m sad, angry, overwhelmed, challenged or whatever it is, and have men hear me. That’s been life-changing, it’s helped me. Even physically, I can feel bad with some of the challenges I’m going through. I go into my men’s group. I can share and be heard and be held by the strength of my fellow men. Then I physically feel better. You probably witnessed that in your Men’s Circle that you facilitate.
For all the women, I am learning so much by sitting with men and by giving them the space to hear, to be heard, to share and to be vulnerable. You would have no idea how much they want to talk. I remember the first Men’s Circle that I did. I led them through these exercises. I had to be like, “I want to respect the time, so we’ve got to wrap it up.” It’s amazing how much when you give men the space that they’re willing and that they need to be able to take up so that they can get some of the weight that has been on their shoulders. One of the things that you had expressed like a lot of the men in your circle, they’re high-level, very successful in the world of what we’ve determined to be successful.
With a lot of this success also comes a lot of responsibility and a lot comes off maybe unspoken things that you think should be a certain way. Everything looks good on the outside, so what do you have to complain about? What are you crying about? A very manly statement, “What are you crying about?” All of us male, female, anywhere in between could benefit by holding space for one another in a divine feminine way. Meaning allowing it to be, realizing that all emotions are equal. They’re all very powerful. They’re all very incredible. They’re an incredible part of this human experience. Whether or not you want to accept it or admit it, those feelings of anger, pain, sadness and grief, those “lower vibrational feelings” are so necessary for us to be able to feel the elation, the ecstatic, the bliss and the contrast when we’re feeling really high and on the next level.
One of the things that were shared in our sacred space, Men’s Circle, was that in and of itself. It’s this grief and the sadness allow the person, the individual to understand what’s possible on the other side. I was speaking with a client and we were working where her pain was. A lot of it was also wrapped up in grief. There were traumatic experiences which we were taught in our world that you need to toughen up. If you’re having a traumatic experience, you don’t have time, you need to suck it up, you need to be strong and you need to move forward because you just don’t have time. Whether you’re a male, it’s very present for male and female. We’re given a little bit more room to be more emotional.
We can all learn from each other. We can all learn by hearing what’s going on in the medical world, what’s going on in the internal world and what’s going on in the external world. I feel there’s this emergence of this unity that’s being asked to come back together. As you know, the body is an incredible vessel which only wants to be in balance. It has its ability to heal itself. If we don’t listen to it and if we’re masking it by pills and surgeries that may not be necessary and all of these other “topical style,” relief methods, we’re not allowing ourselves to listen to ourselves and see what is it that I’m not giving my awareness to or enough of my attention to.
When we’re not giving awareness or attention to these things, they eventually resurface in some form. Typically, in the form of some physical symptom. There’s the old analogy of, “If your fire alarm goes off in your house, you don’t hit it with a sledgehammer and go back to what you were doing.” With modern medicine and also culturally, especially in the Western world, if we hit some vulnerable places, sometimes we don’t always have the social support to feel through that. If we don’t genuinely be with our feelings and feel what we’re feeling, what we don’t realize particularly men is, “If I take the time and space to feel through what I’m feeling, eventually it dissipates the intensity of the feeling and it transforms.”
It opens up the space for more positive feelings, more clear awareness and more ability to move forward with some creative choices. If we don’t do that, it’s like a kid throwing a tantrum until they get your attention. Meaning it might be small symptoms at first but eventually, it gets bigger and bigger. Then it might be a big potentially even life-threatening symptom that says, “You better pay attention and you better wake up. Not only you better do that, but you have an opportunity here.” It’s like an invitation to slow down, get aware, get support, find somebody to be within that space where you can feel safe and express because every man I know has their vulnerabilities. The toughest guy you meet who looks externally tough, most of the time it’s an overcompensation.When your self-care is really high, then less of your pre-genetic dispositions happen. Click To Tweet
It’s a revelation of vulnerability. In my experience, I get stronger emotionally, spiritually and physically to the degree that I consciously feel what I feel. It seems like a dichotomy, but it’s very complimentary. Any kind of illness one is exposed to or starts coming up in any kind of symptom. Here I am a naturopathic doctor. I’m 60 years old. I travel in packs of high-level functional medicine people and I get a cancer diagnosis. It’s contained, treatable and low grade, but it’s like without immunity, “This can’t be me.” Initially, it’s total denial and not commensurate with my own self-image. I never thought I’d ever had that word in my vernacular about me.
It’s humbling and it is an invitation to step back. What I would say is because I’ve given myself about a week and a half of allowing myself to be very vulnerable, I’ve taken a lot of space. I’ve taken time off and I’ve had lots of support. Miracles are already happening, things I could not pre-imagine. I just happened to get connected with one of the top scientists in the world doing some leading-edge research on nutrition who was gracious enough to call me and talk to me for free. They just gave me some of the most profound insights that I never heard of regarding my cancer. I don’t think that would have happened had I not allowed myself to go through all my feelings and also to reach out, ask for support and be open to receive. That’s been a hard thing for me personally in my life is to say, “This is what I want.”
One of the first things I did was I got on email to my men’s group and I said, “This is what’s going on. I’m getting a biopsy. Here’s what I would like. I’d like bone broth soup. I would like all these soups and whatever you can do.” These guys started showing up at my door with food and whatever else they needed. They’re checking in with me every single day. Most guys can respond to this type of a diagnosis in a way where they become a lone wolf, “I don’t need the pack. I’ll just go out into the wilderness myself and suffer alone. I’ll stay in my denial and stay in my locked-up habitual reaction to where I am. I’ll tough it out and I’m going to beat this.” I would say, take a breath. Step back. Be willing and open to sharing your vulnerability to at least with one person. Start asking and defining, “What do I need to feel nurtured here because it’s a big deal?” Amanda, I’m sure when you’ve got the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, you needed some nurturing. You needed a lot of support for a while. Men do too.
One of the biggest intentions for me and one of the reasons why it’s so great to have you come on is not only your path in medicine, it’s understanding, seeing and working with hundreds if not thousands of patients over the years. Seeing the patterns and habits and also as someone who is in their 60s sharing these words of wisdom for the younger generation. For anyone who is below you in any way that could be in their 50s, 40s, 30s or in any way, truly speaking your authentic truth and saying, “We’ve been taught a certain way and an old story about how we needed to be, what being manly was or is. Right now, it’s an opportunity for all of us to soften, to reconnect to ourselves, to embrace, and accept all aspects in all areas of ourselves and to reach out and have support.” Whether it’s with one person or whether if it’s with a group, it’s truly finding that community or the opportunity to have a safe and sacred space.
That’s truly what the Men Need Space Too Movement that I’m wanting. I am creating this wave of a space where regardless of where you are and regardless of what’s going on in your life, if you want a space, you can have it. The Men Need Space Too is about men showing up with other men, feeling that they can drop down their swords and open up to share as much or as little as they want. It may be super uncomfortable. Also, it is very healing. I appreciate you coming on and sharing your wisdom, your experience, and your vulnerability. I hope that this is an opportunity for you to speak your truth and maybe that’s truly a big part of your own healing journey. It’s choosing to speak up and to share your truth with others so that others can choose to learn and grow with you too.
To any man or even any woman, any individual, even if you don’t identify with one or the other, what would you say to people who maybe have dealt with some mental, emotional depression, stress, anxiety or some physical disease in the body? What would you say to the individual that might be able to create the space for them to learn from maybe what you have gone through in your own experience, both self and in your practice?
When you’re hit with a diagnosis and you’re in shock, it’s important to immediately start taking stock of who is it that you trust the most in your life? Who is it that could most support you? Maybe even write down who those people are and start thinking about, “If I could feel into what I need for me in this process, what would it be?” For me, initially it was food and listening and friends visiting me. That was important to me. To feel that my community came to me, showed up at my doorstep, fixed me food, listened to me and gave me some input or just sat there with me and could listen to me.
If you’re reading this and you have something like that, men or women, a lot of times we naturally do that. We go to family or we go to a best friend. I would challenge you to deepen it and to say don’t just go to them how you habitually go to them. Maybe pause, feel, take a little time, journal. Try to flush out, “Where am I? What am I feeling? Am I feeling terrified? Am I feeling hopeless? Am I feeling disempowered? What am I needing right now that would nurture me the most?” We all need that from one another. We all need to be nurtured. Then ask with the spirit and feeling of being okay. If somebody says, “No,” that’s okay. Maybe they’re not able or willing to show up. We have to give them space to be wherever they are, not fault them and judge them.
A big lesson for me is don’t ask somebody for something when I know they’re not the one who can give it to me. We tend to do that and then we tend to fault that person that they can’t give me what I want them to give to me. They may be either incapable or unwilling to do that. We need to forgive them, forgive ourselves and let that go. Go to people whom we trust, can show up for us and ask. Then the hard step for me that I’m practicing every single day that is challenging is to then receive it when it comes.
Without feeling like you need to give it back.With a lot of success also comes a lot of responsibility. Click To Tweet
That’s me, there’s the knee-jerk of, “How are you and what can I do for you?” It’s such a knee-jerk but thank you for that reminder.
Thank you, Dr. Todd. I appreciate you being here, being vulnerable and sharing your message. For those of you who don’t know, I do host an online Men’s Circle. If you don’t have space physically or you don’t feel that you have that opportunity to connect, please feel free to reach out to me. Also, if you want to read more about this, I feel that we are going to have more conversations. We’re uncovering the top of the beginning of a beautiful, maybe even a series that we can do together where you can speak more of your truth.
Share this with people who you may know who might be struggling or even suffering in silence or maybe who do have some challenge, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional that they’re going through. Todd, your words, not only are you speaking to them and they’re going to help you, but they will undoubtedly help so many others. I appreciate you and I want to respect your time. Thank you. I hope we can have you on again for deepening this conversation and realization and having more of a conscious conversation with others in the community as well.
I’d love to do that with you. Thank you so much. Acknowledging the space you hold and the real gift that you’re giving into the world is stunning. I appreciate you.
I’ll talk to you soon. Take care, Todd.
You too, Amanda.
Thank you so much for joining me in this episode. I cannot tell you how much your support means. If you found this content helpful in any way, shape or form, I would love it if you share this with your friends and family. If you haven’t yet already done so, please go on over iTunes and leave us a review. Your reviews help us rank higher which means more people can get inspired by this content. Together, we can support one another to continue on our journey towards our highest and best selves. I’ll catch you next week.
About Todd Nelson
Todd Nelson is a Naturopathic doctor who has been practicing for more than 30 years. He has a private practice is located in Lakewood Colorado where himself and his team is dedicated to helping you get to the root cause of your disease by addressing the individual and helping you dive deeper into all aspects of your health.
His motto is, “Creating well-being through the power of choice.” To learn more about Dr. Todd and his practice visit: http://tolwellness.com/about-todd-nelson