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Podcast #21: Resilience

Updated: 11 hours ago

We all love winners and nothing makes you a winner like being resilient. Find out what that means and how you can do it with this podcast and blog.

Definition and Benefits

Resilience is a word that you may have heard, but don't normally associate with your own life. So, what does resilience mean? The New Brunswick Health Council (2020) defines it simply as: "the ability to bounce back from adversity". Having resiliency involves two related concepts that are critical to mental and physical health: a) a toughness to recover from problems, and b) an elasticity that allows you to spring back into shape (Apple Dictionary, 2024). Most of the studies on resilience don't focus on specific adversities (e.g., hurricanes, severe abuse, cancer, etc.) or tell you what should be a happy or successful conclusion. Rather, as Luthar (1993) says, "[Resilience] encompasses a variety of possible adversities and leaves the determination of success or happiness to the individual". In other words, your resiliency may not look like my resiliency--being resilient is unique to each individual. Also, you may respond to different challenges, crisises, or issues differently than I do (e.g., death of a child, war, divorce, bankruptcy, crippling illness, etc.), but our ability to bounce back is the key to making us resilient. (Butler & Edmonson, 2009; Morrison & Cosden, 1997;ADD CITATIONS).

 Another way to look at resiliency is through risk and protective factors. Negative experiences are often viewed as risk factors, while personal, coping characteristics and experiences are seen as protective factors (New Brunswick Health Council, 2020; Butler & Edmonson, 2024). Examples of protective factors are: good nutrition, taking medications, strong family or friend support, coping skills, religious faith, good communication skills, great social skills, adequate sleep, etc. Risk factors can include: history of physical, mental, or sexual abuse; family violence; low self-esteem; inconsistent parenting; mental health issues; alcohol or drug abuse; social isolation; oppositional behaviors; bullying; negative academic experiences; poor nutrition; or physical health problems. In addition, having disabilities can also be a risk factor. The British Psychological Society (2018) says that: "Children with special educational needs face challenges in school, whereby they are additionally vulnerable". This may be especially true when we are talking about LD and dyslexia.

Connections to LD/Dyslexia

Many educators, professionals, and parents, believe that resiliency is a significant factor in the successful lives of children and adults with disabilities (Ascend Healthcare, 2024; Glazzard, 2012; Haft & Hoeft, 2016; Mawila, 2024; Morrison & Cosden, 1997). As Morrison and Cosden explain (1997), "The presence of a learning disability is, in itself, a risk factor; however there are wide variations in the emotional and social adaptation of individuals with learning disabilities." They cite such areas of concern for folks with LD as: depression, anxiety, school drop-outs, juvenile delinquency, and substance abuse. In addition, some adults with LD or dyslexia remember their childhood, expecially school experiences, in an extremely negative way. Consequently as adults, they exhibit such over-whelming trauma that it can resemble Post Traumatic Stress (Alexander-Passe, 2010; Grossman, Hoffman, & Shrira, 2022). While these issues may happen to some individuals with invisible disabilities and not others, it seems critical to understand how all of the individuals are shaped by resiliency (Panicker, A. S., & Chelliah, A, 2016).

The research shows that having protective resiliency factors can make a difference between success or failure as an adult (Haft & Hoeft, 2016; Mawila, 2024). For instance, Kalka & Lockiewicz (2017) explain: "Many people with dyslexia experience numerous failures in their lifetime. This can reduce their life satisfaction and the sense of happiness. However, external support and one’s personal resources, for example resiliency, aid in dealing with difficult situations." Other professionals advocate using resiliency at any age to empower people with LD, ADHD, or dyslexia. They stress the importance of learning resiliency as a way to cope with life's many challenges (Bryan, 2003; Glazzard, 2012; Ofiesh, & Mather, 2023).

This was underscored in a recent study about 17 young adults with disabilities who were educated online during the Pandemic. The researchers found that, "While the study participants experienced difficulties with remote learning, quarantining and social distancing, they also demonstrated how they drew on their personal resilience and self-determination to navigate the challenges" (Krings, 2021). Roberts (2023) sums it up by saying:"Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from difficult life experiences or challenges [or] change. The idea of change is something that is often unwelcome by many experiencing dyslexia. [However] change simply means something becoming something else and can be found in both the external and inner worlds".

All of these professionals underscore the importance of, not just talking about resiliency, but teaching students with invisible disabilities multiple ways to use it as well. Below is a comprehensive article on learning disabilities and resiliency that says all this much better than I ever could:


Scenario A)

Julia had always had a special relationship with her grandmother, Stella. Stella is the wealthy matriarch of their large family; she had seven girls who themselves had over 20 children and grandchildren. While Julia was often lost in the crowd of various relatives, cousins, nieces, aunts and uncles during family gatherings, she seemed to gravitate instinctively towards Stella. They were so much alike--both quiet, thoughtful, and petite; someone who never said much but was always watching other people. Stella was so fond of her granddaughter that she often invited her home for special weekends and even started a generous college fund for her. In fact, while Julia's grades were never that good due to her dyslexia, Stella was the only one who encouraged Julia to pursue her dream and be a family lawyer specializing in child welfare.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Julia has been in college for two years totally supported financially by her grandmother--and she may be flunking out. Julia loves her grandmother so much that she thought she should tell her in person. As a result, they decided to meet for lunch at a fancy place they both enjoyed. Julia was scared to death to tell Stella about her academic probation. Her counselor had been very clear: Julia had two semesters to bring her grades up or she would be dismissed from the College. Not only is Julia embarrassed and worried, she keeps asking herself: Did Stella waste all of that time and money on a loser? Will her grandmother be angry and stop loving her? Right now, no one knows Julia's secret. She wonders if she should start talking about it or just keep her mouth shut and see what happens.

Scenario B)

Ruth never smiles. Not just an occasional smile; she never smiles period. From Ruth's point of view, there's really nothing to smile about. She can never remember when she was happy, relaxed, or feeling good. Instead, she starts out every morning anxious and frustrated after a poor night's sleep. Her bad mood just gets worse throughout the day. So, sadness and gloom just seems to follow Ruth around.

All of this was complicated by Ruth's ADHD. Ruth was diagnosed in fourth grade when she was constantly causing problems with other students. She seemed to be always frustrated at home and school, especially when she had problems with reading and writing. Other students just made Ruth mad. Since she was impulsive, clumsy and had problems with personal space, she often got in lots of fights with the other students. Nobody wanted to be around Ruth, so the more anger she had, the more everyone left her alone. This became a vicious cycle; lonely, impulsive, mad, anxious, depressed, and lonely again.

Now that Ruth is an adult, she has lots less tantrums but still carries around lots of anger, anxiety and depression. Counseling just didn't work for her. But drinking does. As a successful CPA, she spends a lot of time alone in her home office at her computer, where she rewards herself with a few drinks after work. Those turn into a few more drinks and Ruth is finally able to sleep. She thought she was doing just fine until her sister, Sally came to stay with her for a few weeks. Sally is driving Ruth crazy because she keeps nagging her about her drinking. Ruth loves her sister but she really regrets letting Sally stay with her. Why won't she just shut up already and leave her alone?

Tips and Tricks

Tip #1: Connect with others

If there's one theme that keeps bubbling up during these podcasts and blogs, it's the importance of being in contact with others. It is also one of the cornerstones to resiliency. For instance, Nitchke, et. al. (2020) explored the relationship between resilience and social connectedness during the Pandemic. As they assert,"Our findings highlight the important role that social connections play in promoting resilience by buffering against negative physical and mental health outcomes, particularly in times of adversity."

While the spread of Covid-19 in 2020 was a world-wide event, people with invisible disabilities still face their own personal adversities everyday. These challenges can be as simple as not following directions in class due to your dyslexia. It can be carrying the heavy burden of anxiety or depression because you just don't fit in anywhere due to your invisible disability. It can be the feeling of hopelessness because you are constantly fired from one job or another because of your LD. It can be constantly hitting a wall because you can't communicate easily or effectively with others. All of these, and many other obstacles, make life a day-to-day challenge. Social isolation often just seems like the easy way out. It's definitely the only choice to survive.

But, that's just one piece of the picture. Research since 1938 has clearly shown that the more social connections you have the more resilient you will be. (Hilbrink, 2023; Suttie, 2017; Waldger & Schultz, 2020). For instance, Hillbrink (2023) explains: "Research shows how people with low social support are less tolerant to stress. When people feel that no one has their back, they are much more vigilant, with a higher resting heart rate and higher concentrations of stress hormones." Jang (2012) also found that social support from family, friends or co-workers clearly lowers stress and fosters resilience through love, friendship, trust, and reassurance. A perfect example of social support is Julia and her grandmother Stella in Scenario A.

They have always been close, and as she got older, Julia thought of Stella as her best friend. That's why it meant so much when Stella pushed her to pursue a college degree after high school. Of all of Julia's family, Stella was the only one who really, truly understood Julia's academic struggles along with the relentless stress and anxiety. But now, Julia now has to tell this same person who's always believed in her so much that she's a failure. However, when Julia finally used her love and deep social connection with Stella to focus on resiliency instead of academic failure, a miracle happened.

Julia and Stella always had the same ritual whenever they met for lunch. Each would look at the menu and then ask the waiter for the specials. Julia would then order whatever Stella did. This time however, Julia noticed right away that Stella seemed to have trouble reading the menu. When the waiter wasn't sure about the specials, Stella seemed confused and uncertain what to do next. Julia realized that her grandmother couldn't read! And, even more, she had been hiding it from everyone for years. Julia jumped right in and asked for drinks and more time to look at the menu. She then gently asked her grandmother about her reading skills. Stella finally admitted she never could read or write. Despite all of her successes in life, school had been a continual nightmare for Stella. She never forgot how stupid and frustrated she always felt no matter how wealthy she was or what a successful family she had. The more they talked the more Julia understood that Stella had dyslexia just like her! No wonder her grandmother was so sympathetic and supportive.

That critical insight made it so much easier to tell her grandmother about her academic probation. As they opened up to each other, Julia finally felt free. Also, her grandmother immediately gave her hope and a plan. Julia would take a brief leave of absence from the university and get lots of personalized tutoring and an up-dated dyslexia diagnosis. She would then re-enter college and work closely with the University Disability Office. While it would be their secret, Stella would be with her every step of the way and go with her to the Disability Office for the first time. Julia could move in with Stella to get started right away. The Plan worked. Julia was able, with long hours and lots of support from her grandmother and the Disability Office, to bring up her GPA. She then applied successfully to Grad School and completed two internships with various child welfare agencies. But of most importance, Julia learned a great lesson--how to stop getting lost in the stress, anxiety, and negatively of low grades and academic failure. She learned how to bounce back with resilience and hope. She also got the best gift she would ever receive; the on-going love, faith, and support of her grandmother. Julia couldn't have done it without Stella.

If you're looking to grow your resilience and move away from the rabbit hole of frustration, depression, and stress due to your invisible disability, try the suggestions below from Winbolt (2024) to strengthen your weak social ties; extend your comfort zone; and express gratitude. Julia tried them and they really worked for her. See how they can work for you. Here's the full article:

Tip #2: Find Something Funny

What's wrong with this picture? It's a horse laughing--and when was the last time that you saw a horse laughing? Now that you're thinking about this: when was the last time that you found yourself laughing? Laughter is not something that you normally would connect with LD or dyslexia. However, it's another one of those hidden gems that can really make a difference in your life. In fact, I've really wanted to talk about Tip #2 for a long time because it's free, easy to use, and can happen any time or any place. Also, I use it myself everyday!

People have said for years that "Humor is the best medicine". Turns out, they are absolutely right. And, there's lot of medical evidence to prove it. Professionals have used humor to treat patients in cardiology, dentistry, oncology, and in psychiatry. While you feel good when you laugh, you will also promote acutal physical and emotional changes throughout your body. As the folks from Zaggocare (2022) explain: "Laughing increases the brain’s production of endorphins – the natural way your body relieves pain, reduces stress and boosts mood. And laughing increases your intake of oxygen-rich air and blood flow and circulation, which can improve brain health." Other benefits of laughter are: boosting your immune system, relieving pain, and decreasing inflamation throughout your body. Laughter will also protect your heart by: keeping plaque from forming in your auteries; reducing your risk of heart disease; increasing "good cholestral levels; and facilitating blood flow (Zaggocare, 2022). Also, the greatest gift of laughter is that it decreases stress hormones and counteracts depression (ADD CITATIONS). 

So, if laughter is so powerful, why don't we get a medical prescription from our doctor to use it everyday? There's lots of different ideas about why laughter is so scarce in the 21st Century. Most authors point to the excessively stressful enviroment that we live in everyday, but others point to an increase worldwide in financial or political fears, depression, job loss or work pressures, family worries, or on-going social isolation or loneliness (ADD CITATIONS). Plus, to put it more bluntly, sometimes you just don't feel like laughing. If that's true, that's exactly the time when you need to take a quick break--and laugh.

But, how do you do that, without looking like a total idiot? When you think about it, there's really no good excuse NOT to laugh at least once a day. There's lots of simple, free ways to do that. For instance, take a daily "smile break" from 1 to 5 minutes to just sit and laugh (Aumiller, 2015). You may feel a little foolish at first, but your body doesn't know that. You still get the physical benefits of laughter. That's often enough to mentally break your mood and the influence of gloom or anxiety. Keep a "laughter first-aid box" in your desk at work or at home with all kinds of silly things to make you laugh (e.g., a favorite comic strip, a red clown nose, a silly picture, a crazy sign, a fake million dollar bill, etc.) and use as needed (Brainwise, 2020). Send silly sayings or cartoons online back and forth to a friend everyday. Listen to or watch clips online of people laughing and try to laugh with them. Follow your favorite folks on social media who make you laugh. Start a humor journal. Just keep in mind one caveat. As the folks from Zaggocare say: "Don’t laugh at the expense of others. Use your best judgment to discern the difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone. And don’t tell hurtful jokes". Remember, there's lots of simple, easy ways to make yourself laugh everyday, but the hardest part is making yourself do it. For instance, Ruth in Scenario B is a perfect example.

Ruth can't ever remember a day when she wasn't sad or mad or frustrated or anxious--or any combination of those. It would be easy to blame it on her ADHD or dysfunctional family or problems at school--but the bottom line is that she's always been unhappy. And now, even though on the surface, she seems to be a successful, independent adult, she still dreads waking up every morning. Plus, the drinking that helps her cope with her negativity only seems to make matters worse. But what can she do? Her big sister Sally, who loves her dearly, had enough. Sally's son Ben was previously diagnosed with severe depression and nearly drove her crazy. Luckily, Ben had a great therapist who suggested laughter as one way for everyone to cope with Ben's issues. The whole family started using the suggestions listed below and were amazed at the results. Laughter didn't cure Ben's depression, but it definitely made it easier for everyone, including Ben, to live with.

Sally pushed Ruth to do the same thing. While she stayed with Ruth, Sally started "Movie Night" to eat popcorn and watch silly movies. She took Ruth to the Zoo and to a Theme Park, where they observed children laughing. They made up funny stories about the animals. They started playing Cockroach Poker and challenged each other to a "Dance Off". When Sally moved back home, she continued to compete with Ruth to find the Worst Pun or Dippiest Joke of the Week. They sent each other funny cards every Monday. Ruth actually missed her sister, and all of the laughter. She realized how much her mood--and her life--had changed for the better. She continued to try to laugh at least once each day. All of this came in handy, when Ruth's employer declared bankruptcy. Then, she fell down a steep flight of steps and broke her hip. She was in a cast for 6 weeks and had extensive surgery. Ruth would have truly gone crazy with her ADHD if she couldn't laugh and break the cycle of gloom and depression. The jokes and videos that Sally sent her everyday literally kept her going.

So, what's to stop you from bringing a little laughter into your life? Give it a shot and try some of the ideas below:


Self-Care, Substance Abuse, and Resiliency

Professionals repeatedly emphasize that Self-Care is central to having resiliency. We've talked about lots and lots of ways to take care of yourself in previous Blogs and Podcasts. But one self-care issue that is rarely, if ever, discussed in relation to LD or dyslexia is chemical dependency. We saw this in Scenario B, when Ruth used alcohol to cope with her anger, frustration, stress, and depression due to her ADHD. Unfortunately, the little information that I found underscores the fact that she is not alone.

Throughout my observations and research with adults with LD or dyslexia over the last 35 years, I've seen many folks with invisible disabilities use alcohol or drugs to cope. But, here's the paradox: while I suspect that this is a wide-spread phemenona, there is almost little or no research in this area. In fact, understanding the connections between invisible disabilities and alcoholism and/or chemical dependency, is still virtually unknown territory. All I could find online was a few credible studies, along with lots of opinions and speculation. So, here's the best I know right now--and a few resources to get thinking.

1. What Researchers and Professionals Know: There does seem to be some preliminary agreement that lots of folks with LD, dyslexia, or ADHD have substance abuse problems with drugs and alcohol. Nonetheless, how or why this happens is unclear at best (American Addiction Centers, 2023; ADD CITATIONS!!!). I did find a few statistics to share. For instance, professionals at the American Addiction Center (2023) state that: "Some studies suggested that up to 60 percent of people in substance abuse treatment also have a learning disability". Van Emmerik-van Oortmerssen, et. al. (2012) found that:

"A large meta-analysis revealed that almost one in every four patients seeking treatment for a substance use disorder also have ADHD . In the vast majority of these cases, ADHD remained undiagnosed and consequently untreated". Frank (2024) concurred by stating that "Kids with ADHD are two to three times more likely to abuse substances than kids in the general population".

Additionally, Yates (2012) conducted a fascinating study of 50 individuals who were both chemically dependent and had dyslexia. He concluded: "Results showed that prevalence of dyslexia within this population is over 40% compared to estimates of 4–5% in the general population".  Again, only this is only one study with a limited sample. But, all of these numbers taken together reveal some pretty sobering statistics--which I believe are only the tip of the iceberg.

2. Are Individuals with LD, Dyslexia, or ADHD at Higher Risk for Substance Abuse? Various professionals continue to speculate about why some folks with invisible disabilities may be more susceptible to alcoholism or chemical dependency than their non-disabled peers (ADD CITATIONS!!). For instance Yates (2012) asserts that, "There is a considerable body of evidence indicating that dyslexia is far more than a literacy problem. Dyslexics, particularly in adulthood, are more likely to exhibit poor capacity for memory-span tasks, incapacity and physical awkwardness (dyspraxia) with various coping strategies having been developed over the years, to neutralise difficulties with reading and writing". Whether this demonstrates a direct correlation between dyslexia and drug dependence is anybody's guess. But, it's a really interesting hypothesis.

However, it should also be noted that educators in Britain came to another conclusion (Wilcockson, Pothos, & Fawcett, 2016). Their study showed differing amounts of substance abuse between 35 dyslexic and 62 non-dyslexic university students, but they also found that: "Dyslexics reported a substance use history that was significantly lower than non-dyslexic controls".

Still others think that potentially high rates of substance abuse are seen in dyslexic individuals (or those with other invisible disabilities) due to personal characteristics inherently found within those disabilities. For instance, Sonali (2015) states that: "Many reasons are postulated about the association of substance abuse and learning disabilities. For one, risk factors for adolescent substance abuse are very similar to the behavioral and emotional consequences of learning disabilities." Other authors agree with him, by pointing to such factors as: low self-esteem, poor social skills, isolation and lonliness, (ADD CITATIONS!!!!). Also, Taskian (2024) observed that: "Kids with ADHD tend to experience the effects of all substances more intensely. Their brains are hungrier for these experiences because of their wiring. Being prone to impulsivity, they may also progress to addiction faster than neurotypical teens". Again, while these are interesting theories, they clearly need more data and studies to clarify such crucial connections.

3. Resources: So, let's bring this closer to home. In my experience, no one is more resilient that folks who are coping with substance abuse. So, what do you do if you have an invisible disability and are also alcoholic or chemically dependant? That's the key question--and the good news is that there's lots of information, both in-patient and out-patient, out there for you. Just keep in mind that most of these resources do not necessarily focus on your invisible disability; just substance abuse in general. After that the homework begins....

So, here's a good place to start. In the United States, your first call could be to SAMHSA (1-800-662-HELP). When I called them, they texted me 4 different Treatment Centers in the Philadelphia area in less than 5 minutes. This site (see below) has lots of resources both in-person and online, nationally or by individual states. You can also ask family, friends, your physician, a trusted teacher or counselor, or your clergy for local referrals. Or, try googling the term "substance abuse treatment near me" to get started.

After you find a specific treatment facility to talk to, the next question is how will you pay for it? This can be the "deal-breaker", as treatment is often very, very expensive. For instance, just going to detox can range from $1,000 to $1,500. In-patient rehab can run over $6,000 per day for a 30 day program. Out-patient can be $5,000 for a 3 month program. Well-known or luxury facilities often cost substantially more (Addiction Center, 2024). Unless you have very deep pockets to pay cash, most folks will need to use Medicaid, Federal military insurance (e.g., TRICARE), or private health insurance. All of these vary greatly. As you can see, you really have your work cut out for you.

Speaking of work, you will also need to be both your own cheerleader and your own advocate when you find the facility you want. While many programs are at least acquainted with invisible disabilities, their actual experience and expertise varies widely wherever you go. Whether public or private, many facilities will fold the ideas of LD, dyslexia, or ADHD under the category of "Mental Health Treatment" or "Co-occuring Conditions". What that actually means is usually up to you to find out. Treatment for any kind of substance abuse can be a complicated process. It may involve: personalized or group therapy, medical care/ medication, alternative therapies, exercise, nutrition, lifestyle changes, and family therapy or education. Specifically how each program applies this to LD, dyslexia, or ADHD is anybody's guess.

My personal preference, and one that I have been involved in for many years, is Alcholics Anomyous. (See below). As in any 12 Step Group, the onus is clearly on you to put in the time, work, and energy for your own sobriety. But, literally millions of people from all walks of life and in 120 countries can't be wrong. As they say, "It works if you work it." In addition, there is Alanon, Alateen, and Adult Children of Alcoholics for your family and friends to support you and themselves. Other additional speciality groups available are: Narcotics Anomyous, Cocaine Anomyous, Emotions Anomyous, Gamblers' Anomyous, Overeater's Anomyous, and so forth. There may be also local, 12-Step groups in various languages, or for deaf individuals, men, women, or LGBTQ folks. All of this is free. Moreover, you can attend personalized meetings 24/7 face-to-face or online whenever you wish. While these meetings won't focus specifically on your invisible disability, in my experience, they are always warm, welcoming, and willing to go the extra mile for you.

As you can see, all of this information and resources clearly are just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to truly be resilient and work on your substance abuse issues, there's lots here to help you. Be like Ruth in Scenario B. With her sister's support, she started attending two AA meetings a week. She just got her 3-year Sobriety Chip and smiles a lot more around family and friends. She's become the picture of resiliency. Follow Ruth's example and look at the ideas below.

*Please Note: All of this material has focused specifically on the United States and resources available to Americans. These comments definately do not negate or downplay the pressing need for support and services for individuals with invisible disabilities in other countries throughout the world. I have purposefully not referred to other countries as I am not familiar with them as I am with the United States. So, the best I can offer is a little bit of information, like the webpages below. Also, I think all the previous material is accurate. However, any info from others about other countries would be really appreciated! Just send me an email at


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