Motivational Monday: Changing Your Now

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending” (Maria Robinson. The Time Is Now). Marianne Williamson reinforces this in Lessons We Learned in Life, “We do not heal the past by dwelling there.  We heal the past by living fully in the present. “  That doesn’t mean we go through life free of pain and that we are happy all the time.  The reality of the past cannot be changed.  We change only by changing the now.  That is all we have to work with.  What I do now is me and molds who I will become tomorrow (David Reynolds. Constructive Living).

Wishing you peace and wellbeing as you change your now.

by Chris Mitchell

When trying to make sense of the social world as a person diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome I have often found myself learning social skills through observing those around me, especially non-verbal gestures such as facial expressions and eye contact. This can often leave little scope for exploring one’s own emotions and feelings, such as being able to notice how they arise and pass and where they take control over one’s actions. Stepping back from the flow on a ten-day Vipassana retreat enabled me to get in touch with this.

One of the purposes of ‘Vipassana’ (which means to ‘see things as they really are’ in the Pali language) is to help those who practice the technique to experience themselves as they are and experience sensations as they occur. By sensations I refer to anything experienced at the physical level, both those that arise from internal bodily feeling and those that arise from external factors, such as the surrounding temperature or the materials of the clothing one is wearing. A mixture of sensations occurs throughout the body constantly, but due to the many distractions around us we are often oblivious to them and how they can determine our thoughts and actions.

Observed in noble silence for ten days with no verbal communication, no non-verbal gestures or signals and no contact with the outside world, a Vipassana retreat provides a distraction-free environment in which one can get more in touch with oneself and be able to observe the comings and goings of thoughts and feelings, including different degrees of Asperger-related obsession with thoughts. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome what I found so helpful about there being no non-verbal communication was that I find trying to interpret a lot of non-verbal gestures (including understanding how other people feel about me) very confusing, which can then become a source of worry and anxiety, especially if I feel someone is giving me the ‘silent’ treatment. But during the retreat, being aware of the absence of non-verbal communication helped reduce a great deal of this worry, thus giving me more freedom to explore and understand the workings of my own mind.

During the first four days of the retreat participants are instructed to focus on the breath coming in and out around a triangular area from the tip of the nose to the upper lip, one gradually begins to notice a range of physical sensations that arise and pass around this limited area. Participants are encouraged to observe different sensory experiences as they occur rather than create sensations that we find comforting, allowing each breath coming in and out to be as it is naturally and each physical sensation to arise and pass as naturally as possible. On the fourth day one is then instructed to gradually expand awareness throughout the body, scanning through the body slowly starting from the top of the head.

Participants practice this technique for up to ten hours a day throughout the retreat, including three hour-long sittings of serious determination where one shouldn’t make any major movements to their posture or open their eyes unless absolutely necessary. This is so that as well as noticing different sensations or any urges to move, (such as averse sensations around the knee joints when sitting) one is able to observe their response rather than acting on it and acknowledge that sensations, both pleasant and painful are impermanent and subject to change.

Where I find Asperger’s Syndrome can be a strength during practice is through applying attention to detail and being able to notice sensations very closely. Sometimes, due to sensory preferences, the mind can end up being controlled by sensations that can lead to one becoming controlled by obsessive thought. With continued practice and patience, I found  that I was able to exert more control over my mind, including Asperger-related tendencies and obsessions, rather than allowing them to control me. Thanks to this I noticed that each night I was going to sleep much quicker than normal. I felt I was able to notice sensations on a deeper level, including blood flow and vibrations throughout my body coming from my heart beating. Normally, my mind distracts me from going to sleep.

I came home from the retreat thinking that although our physical make-up takes up a limited physical space it has a huge degree of variation with regards to what it is made up of in both a spiritual sense (with the five elements, earth, water, wood, fire) and in a scientific sense. Atoms and particles (the source of most physical sensations) are a constant in our make-up and we are unaware of how much they are influencing our thoughts and actions and how they trigger habits and obsessions. With awareness developed from patience and practice one can eventually exert more control over the mind, and thus more freedom from mental constraint, including anxiety and depression.

On my return to the outside world I noticed just how dependent we can be on external factors for happiness and self-esteem because we aren’t often in tune with how we are within. Turning our mirror neurons towards us enables us to see who we are as we are in the present, rather than being constrained by the need for outside approval. In turn, being happy in this way reflects well on those around us.

Chris Mitchell is the author of Mindful Living with Asperger’s Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness both published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers


Disability Scoop
August 15, 2014

Jeff Long was one of 21 men with intellectual disabilities discovered in 2009 toiling away at an Iowa turkey processing plant and living in deplorable conditions while earning just $65 per month from an employer with an expired subminimum wage certificate. (Melanie Burford/Dallas Morning News/MCT)

A nationwide effort is underway to lodge federal complaints against sheltered workshops that are not fully complying with the law.

The National Disability Rights Network — an umbrella group for the federally-mandated protection and advocacy organizations in each state — is asking its members to aggressively review the practices of employers in their area that pay people with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Under current law, employers can obtain special permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to pay people with disabilities what’s known as subminimum wage. However, businesses with special wage certificates must adhere to strict procedures when doing so, regularly assessing each worker’s productivity level, among other requirements.

“We have good reason to believe that in many cases things are not being done correctly in those environments,” said Amy Scherer, a staff attorney with the National Disability Rights Network, which found in a 2011 report that government oversight of employers paying subminimum wage is limited.

Through an initiative launched late last month, the national group is urging its members across the country to report suspected violations to the Department of Labor. Already, an employer was discovered with no records documenting the payment of subminimum wage to its workers with disabilities.

Individuals can contact the protection and advocacy organization in their state if they are aware of a potential violation, Scherer said. Her group is hopeful that a coordinated effort to file complaints this summer will spur the Labor Department to act.

Officials with the federal agency said they welcome the effort.

“The agency has been pursuing strategies to strengthen compliance,” a Department of Labor spokeswoman said in a statement to Disability Scoop. “These strategies include using all available enforcement tools to remedy and deter future violations; providing new compliance assistance materials and tools; and hosting new compliance conferences for employers, community rehabilitation programs, advocates, workers and other interested parties.”

Hundreds of thousands of people with developmental disabilities are believed to work for less than minimum wage. But the practice has become contentious in recent years as individuals increasingly live and work in the community as opposed to segregated environments.

Just last month, President Barack Obama signed legislation limiting the ability of many young adults with disabilities to work for less than minimum wage unless they first explore other employment options.

Motivational Monday: Setting your heart

“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” (Confucius)

Wishing you peace and wellbeing as you set your heart right.

For Kurt Fearnley, wheelchairs and winning go hand-in-hand. With his three gold medals and two world records, this Paralympic racer is proof that athleticism and disability are NOT mutually exclusive!

Image description: Kurt Fearnley, wearing a helmet and sunglasses, competes in a wheelchair race with other athletes. A quote from Fearnley placed over the picture reads, “The most important quality any athlete needs is resilience.”

For Kurt Fearnley, wheelchairs and winning go hand-in-hand. With his three gold medals and two world records, this Paralympic racer is proof that athleticism and disability are NOT mutually exclusive!</p><br />
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<p>Image description: Kurt Fearnley, wearing a helmet and sunglasses, competes in a wheelchair race with other athletes. A quote from Fearnley placed over the picture reads, "The most important quality any athlete needs is resilience."

Yahoo Sports: The Post Game.  Written by Dan Russo

Second chances are rare in sports, but when surfing phenom Jesse Billauer got his, he also wanted to share it with others like him.

As a 17-year-old amateur surfer in 1996, Billauer was flung head first from his surfboard onto a sandbar. Billauer sustained a spinal cord injury, and doctors diagnosed him as a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the midchest down.

Then in 1999, with the help of his family and friends, he founded a non-profit organization, Life Rolls On, that uses sports to improve quality of life for those suffering from spinal cord injuries. That same year Billauer got back on his surfboard. That led to the creation of Life Rolls On’s signature program, They Will Surf Again, inspired by Billauer’s determination to ride the waves once more despite his paralysis.

“What that means is just get them on the waves and skateparks and just having that freedom and independence of having the wind and the water on their face and just getting out of their wheelchairs,” Billauer told ThePostGame. “Whether it be surfing or skating, they’re just doing new things — just a whole different sensation and just a beautiful feeling.”

They Will Surf Again is now in 10 locations, with New York and Nova Scotia being recent additions, hosting 60 to 100 adaptive athletes and 300 to 400 volunteers in every spot, Billauer said.

When he first got back in the water in 1999, he could hardly lift his head off the board. After time and hard work Billauer was propping himself up on the surfboard with his hands and arms, and surfing in a new and profound way.

Here’s Billauer shredding some great waves with friends in Honolulu:

After seeing Billauer’s belly-down style in an exhibition surf session at the 2003 U.S. Open of Surfing, the public address announcer said, “Next time you’re having a bad day just remember what you’re seeing out here.”

That inspiration grew Life Rolls On into a national movement as it branched into other action sports with They Will Skate Again and They Will Ski Again programs.

Part of the goal is bringing communities closer together, and with the right people involved, Billauer believes Life Rolls On will continue to grow.

“It feels like a nice family get-together,” Billauer said of Life Rolls On events. “Everybody’s there to help.”

“Hawaii Five-0″ star Scott Caan and singer Jason Mraz have been among the volunteers.

The group’s biggest fundraiser, Night by the Ocean Gala, is in its 10th year, and will be held at the Marriott in Marina del Rey on Oct. 11.

Life Rolls video:



The Huffington Post  | By Meredith Melnick

Posted: 08/11/2014 11:50 pm

The suicide death of beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams shocked many of his fans. But those who knew him were aware of his ongoing struggle with depression.

According to his publicist, Williams, 63, was completing a 12-step program for drug abuse and had been battling severe depression.

“You’re standing at a precipice and you look down, there’s a voice and it’s a little quiet voice that goes, ‘Jump,’” Williams told Diane Sawyer during an interview about his struggle with addiction in 2006. “The same voice that goes, ‘Just one.’ … And the idea of ‘just one’ for someone who has no tolerance for it, that’s not the possibility.”

More recently, Williams talked about the overwhelming fear and anxiety that led him to seek solace in alcohol.

“Having depression and being in a suicidal state twists reality. It doesn’t matter if someone has a wife or is well loved,” Julie Cerel, a psychologist and board chair of American Association of Suicidology, told USA Today. “They get so consumed by the depression and by the feelings of not being worthy that they forget all the wonderful things in their lives.”

Indeed, a major reason people with suicidal thoughts don’t seek help is the belief that nothing could possibly make things better, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Ariane Sherine, a writer for The Guardian, recently spoke with The Huffington Postabout her struggle.

“When I was suicidal and having suicidal ideations daily, hourly, I never imagined that I would be this happy and this stable again,” said Sherine.

Please don’t give up,” she told HuffPost Live’s Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani. “Life can get better … It might involve a lot of trial and error, but it’s possible to feel normal again, or almost normal again.”

Though we can never know what took place in Williams’ personal life, the actor’s now-public struggles have many people thinking about the difficulties faced by those battling depression and addiction. That’s especially important in light of recent evidence that high-profile suicides may inspire young people to take their own lives.


Each year, 34,000 people commit suicide, about twice as many deaths as caused by homicide – about one death per 15 minutes. By 2030, depression will outpace cancer, stroke, war and accidents as the world’s leading cause of disability and death, according to the World Health Organization.

While the elderly have the highest rate of suicide, anyone can be suicidal. Men, in general, are more likely to complete suicide, even though women are more likely to attempt it. About half of all suicides occur in men ages 25 to 65. Risk factors include overwhelming situations, such as aging, substance abuse, emotional trauma, unemployment or financial problems, according to the NIH.

Fully 90 percent of those who take their own lives struggle with an underlying mental health issue. According to the latest estimate, 13 percent of people will experience depression at some point in their lives. And about 15 percent of those with clinical depression will die by suicide.


Substance abuse in combination with a preexisting mental health condition, such as depression or bipolar disorder, can be deadly, according to the website of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a suicide prevention organization. Often, someone suffering from mental illness will seek alcohol or drugs to relieve symptoms, but this can lead to impaired judgment and impulsive behavior.

Williams discussed the interplay of substance abuse and suicidal thoughts during a 2010 interview on the comedy podcast WTF with Mark Maron [at 52:00]. Describing a dark period of drinking alone in his hotel room two years earlier and briefly considering suicide, Williams said his “conscious brain” told his drunk brain to “put the suicide over here in ‘discussable.’ Let’s leave it over here in the discussion area” until he was sober. 


It can be difficult to determine when a depressed loved one has progressed to suicidal tendencies. The SAVE network recommends asking the following questions in a non-judgmental and non-confrontational manner:

Do you ever feel so badly that you think about suicide?
Do you have a plan to commit suicide or take your life?
Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?
Have you thought about what method you would use?

Suicidal individuals may talk about feeling hopeless or guilty, pull away from loved ones and complete tasks that seem geared toward getting affairs in order, giving away possessions or otherwise arranging for family, according to the NIH.


If you or anyone you know has threatened suicide or is displaying tendencies, it is important to seek immediate help.

For a loved one struggling with depression, there are ways to offer support. (Though it is essential to know that depression is not due to a failure of support on the family’s part.)

When talking to someone suffering depression, “it’s best not to say anything that is going to make them think that what they’re dealing with is because of a lack of coping skills, personal weakness or a character flaw,” Dr. Adam Kaplin, an associate professor in the departments of psychiatry and neurology at Johns Hopkins University, told The Huffington Post for a previous article. “The worst part of depression is that it narrows the field of vision into a very small tube so they can’t see the options. A lot of [the goal of helping] is giving people a hope that things will get better.”

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“The only person you are destined to become, is the person you decide to be.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

So often we are programmed to believe that we aren’t worthy of choosing our destiny or have been told by others that the destiny we have dreamt about isn’t attainable or beyond our capabilities.  Today you have a chance to change your destiny, because it is never to late.

Wishing you peace and wellbeing as you choose your destiny.

By Lauren Klein (

A new study finds that troubled people can reap enormous benefits from keeping a journal that focuses their attention on the good things in life.

Waiting times for psychological counseling can be long. That makes it doubly hard on those who are seeking therapy: not only is treatment delayed, they’re also more likely to drop out prior to their initial appointment—and less likely to go on to seek help elsewhere.

So it’s urgent that those who are on a wait-list know if there’s something they can do to help themselves in the meantime. But is there?

Well, according to a paper published just earlier this year in the Journal of Happiness Studies, there might be a way to turn this unhappy waiting time into a healthy self-guided treatment all its own.

The researchers rounded up 48 people who were on a waiting list to receive psychotherapy, who reported problems ranging from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and eating disorders. Participants were assigned to one of three groups:

  • In the first, they were asked to keep a gratitude journal. “There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about,” read the instructions. “Think back over the past day and write down up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for.”
  • The second group kept a journal about kindness: “Kind acts are behaviors that benefit other people, or make others happy. They usually involve some effort on our part. Be sure to include at least one kind act that you did intentionally.” Like the first group, they were also asked to talk about their moods that day.
  • The third group—which acted as a control—was asked to write about their daily mood, noting their expectations for the following day, their sense of connectedness with others, and their overall satisfaction with life.

So, did this 14-day intervention help people waiting for therapy? Did it make them more grateful, kinder, and happier?

The researchers were looking for yes to all these questions—but that’s not the story their data gave them. Those in the gratitude group did report feeling more grateful at the end of these two weeks, but those in the kindness group didn’t get the same kind of benefit. That is, those who counted their kindnesses didn’t come out kinder because of it, suggesting that gratitude, but not kindness, can be cultivated in this short amount of time.

Despite this asymmetry, at least both the kindness and gratitude groups showed measurable improvements over those who simply monitored their mood. Both the kindness and gratitude groups enjoyed a higher percent of happy days, where they felt optimistic and expected the best. They were also more satisfied with their lives, which they perceived to be more meaningful, and they felt more connected with others each day.

In effect, all of these positive outcomes—this increased sense of connectedness, enhanced satisfaction with daily life, optimism, and reduced anxiety—address in some way the problems which qualified participants for the study in the first place. (Remember, they were all clinically distressed and seeking therapy that was at least more than a month out.)

So these results suggest that this brief intervention—which was self-guided, and lasted only two weeks—didn’t just increase feelings of gratitude. Keeping lists of gratitude and kindness made people feel happier, more connected, and more meaningful—doing the work that therapy is partly designed to do, all before a single professional session.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that gratitude and kindness interventions are beneficial. But it is perhaps the first to suggest that these brief, self-administered positive psychological strategies aren’t just for happy people who are looking to be happier. They can work for a group that needs help—“not [just] as end states,” write the authors, “but as emotional experiences that themselves have the capacity to stimulate positive change.”

By Guest Blogger Kathe Palermo Skinner, M.A., L.M.F.T.

Disability blog (

As a marriage and family therapist with multiple sclerosis, I write for this blog and others like it, getting the opportunity to be a source of strength for people and their families. That’s why I was surprised when one organization denied my professional presence because I didn’t have that specific chronic illness/disability.

Though illness-specific groups may be essential to living well, the “micro” view of disability dilutes what’s important for the non-disabled world to know. Advocating for one chronicity over another may be a reason society doesn’t see an inclusive, “macro” view of disability/chronic illness.

For inclusion to be successful, the commonality between disorders needs emphasis, not the differences between them.

Too Many Chefs in the Kitchen

The more “chefs” that compete for “counter space,” the smaller the counter space per chef becomes. Just ask me and David when we’re in the kitchen together.

People’s attention span is similarly filled up. With only eight seconds before the brain moves on, it’s imperative that disability advocates grab attention quickly. It’s not about the cause; it’s about whether the cause catches the eye. Think pink.  If you associate it with breast cancer awareness, you just illustrated my point.

And when many organizations compete for the same amount of space, there’s always an organization that doesn’t make the cut. It takes lots of money to develop brand awareness, keeping any disability in the public eye, which is where lots of fundraised dollars go. For example, the success of breast cancer’s “pink ribbon” campaign reduces visibility of all other cancers. The “pinks” don’t even share the spotlight.

Interestingly, there’s been a pinkish backlash that the campaign is about advertisers rather than the illness itself. Some corporations may spend much more on advertising and product-development than they do supporting patients through corporate giving.

Holding a Sign

Throughout the millennia, physical characteristics have defined which partner we pick in order to further the species. Even today, positive physical attributes often define who we choose in a variety of situations.

Studies in social and behavioral sciences repeatedly demonstrate this phenomenon. Ask yourself who is generally more desirable – even approachable – a pretty, smiling woman or the same woman who’s using an assistive device?

While physical traits may vary across culture and time, physical disability seems always to be a disqualification.

Different Is Bad

When Mom and I went mushroom hunting, she knew what was safe to pick. Even so, except for the two of us, no one in our mushroom-loving family ate Mom’s soup.

Most of us seek sameness: what we already know represents safety in a dangerous world. Like knowing which mushrooms to eat, being able to quickly pick out who is different is a survival technique that can increase our chance of being on the winning (i.e., not dead) side. While jumping to conclusions poisons thinking, when it comes to survival, what is thought to be safe is better than being sorry.

People with visible disabilities and chronic illnesses pay a stiff toll, daily. Even de jure protections like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) don’t quickly change society’s de facto attitudes or treatment. Consequently, significant portions of the population entitled to the protections of the ADA remain invisible, choosing to avoid what happens too often to people with disabilities in work, housing and relationships.

The In Crowd

My mother tried to get me to act in rational, rather than group-think, ways by employing interspecies logic that often involved lemmings. Like lemmings, we like to affiliate. Higher-order species have a “mine is better than yours” mentality; no one likes to be chosen last for kickball. Put another way, a person needs to feel superior to someone else. For example, I’m sometimes told, “At least I don’t have multiple sclerosis.”

Rather than forming a coalition that has strength in numbers, disability associations are often narrowly defined and exclusive, repelling people who don’t fit the bill (think pink). Sameness attracts the same, so when selectivity combines with disability, the result may be a man who judges other disabilities as not being as prestigious or disabling as his own. Or that another chronicity is less normal than his own.

Show Me the Money

Fundraising 101 teaches that attracting glamour to a cause is a win-win: Celebrities earn brownie points for social responsibility and organizations gain public awareness, which they hope translates into dollars.

How successful a cause is at the funding game is based on two realities from the world of social psychology: The group with well-produced and well-managed public relations and advertising is judged to be trustworthy and knowledgeable; and the more followers an organization has, the more adherents it draws. The Labor Day telethon is illustrative: highly regarded spokespeople increase giving; and the more people give, the more others are likely to give, too.

There are reasons all people don’t unite under the disabled/chronically ill banner. If no one otherwise knew you had a disability, would you want them to know? Do you have trouble identifying with some types of disability? Want to escape the judgment, treatment, discrimination, politics, classism, fractionalization, in-fighting and politics of disability inclusion?  Or do you simply have other things (like eating) on your plate?

The discomfort with, fear of and misunderstanding of the disabled population still exists, even among the disability community itself. Housing disproportionate numbers of people with disabilities, asylums existed as recently as 50 years ago. One-fourth of people with disabilities in this nation live below the poverty level, while the federal government codifies what ought to be a moral imperative in the first place.

Disability is an eight-second sound bite: Limbless vets, autistic kids, select high achievers. Inclusion? The disability community itself is exclusionary; perhaps we need to look for answers there, first.

Kathe Skinner has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for more than 35 years and knows first-hand what discrimination and judgment feel like in work and relationships and is now working to adapt to a changed reality as her disease progresses. Thankful for stability in two areas of her life, she has been married for almost 30 years and is a marriage and family therapist in private practice in Colorado where she lives with husband, David, and their two hooligan cats. Read more about Kathe at or Kathe welcomes your comments and can be reached at 719.598.6232.