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How Cerebral Palsy Impacts My Mental Health And How I Find Happiness Nonethelss

“At my worst, I would hurt myself so I had an escape and a release. There are points where I feel so out of control in my body that even breathing is a task. I hold my breath. In truth, I have night terrors about what my funeral would be like, who would show up? Would I be missed? Would people come out of the woodwork when I was gone? If I left this body here would I hurt less? I battle every single day with loss. Your mind begins to play tricks on you.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Morgan McCarthy. I am approaching my 29th birthday. I live in upstate New York. In Saratoga Springs, where the horses race, where you’ll find yourself at the location of the very first potato chip and water known to heal your soul.

I am a daughter, a sister, a friend and I hold three degrees. One in English focused on Public Relations and Gerontology. The second is in Hospitality Management and the third and most important, in life.

As a Life Coach, I have been able to harness my speaking skills and fundraising capabilities to reach a larger audience. It’s something I have been a part of my whole life. My needs might have hindered my movement, but not my speech.

I live every day in gratitude for the research and education others put forth for the next generation so other kids don’t have to feel how I did. Opportunities like this one, I have hope will help the kids that are waiting to be included by their peers because they are judged for things they have no control over.

Career-wise, I credit my older sister, Erin for moving to New York City after college and finding resources and connections to help me grow. My middle sister, Erica, for being a teacher and inviting me into her classroom. My brother for being an extra layer of security growing up, always choosing me when I needed him on the bus ride home or the end of the driveway to feel safe when kids were mean.

There were many days I spent in tears because I just couldn’t understand how some kids could be so cruel. My parents never let me miss out on things as a child. Nothing was ever handed to me just because it would be harder if I did so, myself. I did everything, I tried everything. I settled on cheerleading, Girl Scouts, and figure skating, that later led to, monoskiing.

We grow stronger as a unit and over the years we all have grown and some of us have multiplied. That’s still where I return to peace and comfort. With all the amazing things I have been able to do, I have to ride the wave of emotions that come with such amazing opportunities that simply were a different trajectory than my peers.

Professionally, I currently help women (&men) foster a better relationship with themselves, their peers, and their diagnosis as it intersects with life. As well as anyone who wants to learn how to be a better friend.

As a disabled woman myself, living with two visible health conditions, cerebral palsy, and brachydactaly. (I will take the time to explain the impact on my health in later sections) I saw a gap in the market where I had someone, not everyone does.

That friend, Andrea Koenig, helped me through major moments in my life as a child and young adult because she is fourteen years older than me. From things like classroom accommodations to the possibility of driving to getting to a place where now, I now have a personal assistant who helps me with my day-to-day needs so I can be more independent. With her, I knew how to get by. So in 2022, I had a wild idea I could be that for others.

I now have a micro-influential following online, I was able to expand my career with opportunities like this one, being on Instagram (@Yourhotdisabledbestie). I’ve been able to support individuals and companies for a more inclusive lifestyle. A disabled Dear Abby, I like to say.

I have made so many new connections with those in similar situations. A space to learn, grow, and feel seen by others and have people who need it have a place to ask questions without fear that I am going to be offended. I know without a shadow of a doubt, without the presence of technology I would spend even more time alone than I already do. That is a slippery slope.

As for my personal life: I have a service dog named Dewey, he retired this year at 10. He gave me my first gig at parenthood. In 2015, I was blessed by a nonprofit organization called Canine Companions for Independence. CCI has given me a new leash on life. I wake up with a purpose to let Dewey out and feed him breakfast, make memories over the years with many people.

My passions include but aren’t limited to exercise, creative works of art, travel, and cooking. Exercise being most important, as we progress that was probably what saved me. The ability to be creative is innate within me from dancing to movies and being a visionary.

Travel is tricky, but still a love. If the world was more accessible I think I would do so more often. I like to think I’m a foodie, I grew up saying “BAM” like Emeril Lagasse all the time. Food Network will always be on my TV.

Happiness is tough for everyone, as I think it’s relative to your environmental stimuli. Yes, that is – in agreement with Gabor Mate. I would say 75% of the time I am well overjoyed to be a human on this planet.

However, You can’t maintain joy all the time. The contrast allows you to miss happiness when you have it. I hope sharing my mental health journey will help someone else. I think there is something beautiful about being honest about your pain when you’ve processed it.

My social media is my communication with my people in the outside world. When you don’t have the people in your neighborhood to go for a coffee with, your bestie could be in California just waiting to hear from you.

I’m thankful to have grown up in an age where it is so readily accessible. Those are the friendships that mean more, people with a direct connection to health in all facets, especially chronic conditions.

💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

Trigger Warning: The following paragraphs discuss self-injury. 

The official names of my struggles are Anxiety and Depression related to the life of a patient with Chronic non-progressive health conditions. Meaning, they will never get better. They will never go away.

I have CP. It’s a brain injury that makes walking, processing information, motor planning, and special areas of life incredibly difficult. Living with a genetic bone condition is another source of pain, loss of typical hand and feet function. Granted, I still have them.

Every day is different with the amount of loss I will feel every time I wake up. I might be set off by a random stranger’s manicure or how their engagement ring sits on their finger.

I might wish I could take myself to Starbucks. I have my permit, I just choose not to drive because I don’t feel comfortable in the snow. Having service providers, that’s taken care of, and it’s much less stressful for me and how I see the world around me with said damage from my brain.

I could go into that in a lot more detail but Dr. Daniel Amen, who you can find on social media discusses that in more detail, linked later.

My Anxiety and Depression started in 5th grade, around 10. If not earlier when it came to standardized testing, like a simple spelling test in 1st grade. I would get sick and the nurse would call my mom.

She would bring me home and all of a sudden, I would have this huge sigh of relief. I believe it’s a cause that I am never not in fight or flight in my nervous system.

Again, with the brain damage and constant pain, I grew a threshold of what I could and could not tolerate. A test was enough stress with the stimuli in the classroom, even with testing accommodations, I struggled.

When the other kids were finishing before me, for example, I simply could not process and deal with the ruffle of papers, putting up the folders so kids couldn’t cheat. I felt suffocated by the room I was in.

When these moments are coupled with change when I enter middle school, the change in friends, the way I viewed my body, hormones, and my brain damage, in general, make a difference in my everyday life. 

Over time, my anxiety consumed me. I went from a friendly, happy-go-lucky kid to living with an eating disorder triggered by a dairy allergy. Matched with the isolation when my peers started to play sports.

I would make myself sick because I became too overwhelmed to even leave my house, which is considered agoraphobia and a deep state of depression.

I would not leave my bedroom except to wander to the bathroom. I was consumed with worry, that my fragile little body would not make it to the bathroom in time. 

A doctor in middle school even questioned if I was adopted, my mom tans easily and I was very low on Vitamin D.

Fear made it so that all of middle and high school I would cry all the time and have self-injurious tendencies. Not to a degree where I was bleeding profusely from my wrists. I would take coat hangers, picture frame glass, and anything that would give me a sensory output so the chaos around me would stop, I would find and hurt myself until I could regulate my breathing.

I know now I was seeking a release from the pressure I put on myself to be okay all the time. Happiness is a challenge because I wake up with a deep amount of grief from the woman I could have been if nothing happened. Every milestone a person meets with a diagnosis changes the perspective on how wonderful life is.

On the other hand, it’s equally devastating to miss those moments. I just never allowed myself the space to hold those feelings in the moment they happened. I was still lucky enough to be a part of things that people wish for every day.

I still was involved in homecomings, as a cheerleader and voted on the court. I went to both junior and senior proms. I was involved in every single thing my community offered. I made my mother a taxi driver. I was somehow able to balance every hospital visit and trip to the doctor’s office with finding time to do homework and be at a chorus concert.

The amount of energy it takes to make this experience look easy to the naked eye is a fragile balancing act.

The ease I am referring to is I have always been grateful to be the one to say “I have air in my lungs, on my own. I’m good.” I have my faith in God. There was a reason I was chosen to live like this simply because I can be strong when I need to.

Being strong doesn’t mean not being able to walk as well or as far as others, process information to simply, write this. To grieve if my body worked my capabilities to dance and hear music may have led me to Julliard. I always send myself back to “I’m good”.

I have clothes on my back, food in my belly, love from my family, and a roof over my head. These things don’t outweigh the suffering I take to my pillow at night. That is where my suffering lands though, for the most part, I am so happy this is my journey. It’s a destiny. 

Keep in mind, it was not ever, that I wasn’t getting help. Doctors simply didn’t have answers and my parents knew also to give space for what is your teenage years. They are hard for everyone.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

At my worst, I would hurt myself so I had an escape and a release. There are points where I feel so out of control in my body that even breathing is a task. I hold my breath. 

In truth, I have night terrors about what my funeral would be like, who would show up? Would I be missed? Would people come out of the woodwork when I was gone? If I left this body here would I hurt less? I battle every single day with loss. Your mind begins to play tricks on you. 

I never came to a place where I had to grapple with those feelings because I got help, it just was a long road to getting answers. I got to a place with my family where it wasn’t just teenage angst. In high school, I got medicine and a therapist. That helped for a while. 

For all I knew through high school and college, it was a bandaid. I was still unhappy deep down, these behaviors continued in private. I tried to taper independently in 2014, in college and I still had no control over my emotions that it was too hard.

When I moved home in 2016 I spent that year finding myself and then got approved for state services. In 2017, that helped because I was able to have in-home services and the freedom to leave and go out.

During this time I began getting sick. I would sweat profusely, be nauseous, and feel like passing out simply grocery shopping. I would return home and sleep.

Any time I was stressed or felt like I couldn’t handle it, I would hurt myself, but it was suppressed because the medication dulled the pain and made me sleepy. So I would sleep. A LOT. 

Suicidal thoughts never go away. Really, I have found, it’s a decision to be happy every day. God put me here in this body to provide knowledge of this journey. I truly believe that he puts things in your path and doesn’t make mistakes. You can choose to communicate your needs and advocate for yourself until you’re heard.

Since 2021, with a push from my experience, I passed through the pandemic where everything got even worse. I finally decided to see if the dose of the medication I was on was the cause of these other body systems failing me.

I‘ve come out of medicine and turned my life completely on its head because I advocated for myself after 14 years of medicine, it no longer served its purpose. It was hurting me still. I was on a large dose in respect to others through research I had done.

As previously stated, I was always tired, sweaty, nauseous, couldn’t see, and had heart palpitations. It took a good four years to say to my medical team I wanted to be done with medicine.

I’m happy to share those parts because I know there are people who need medical intervention. This is not to say medication does not work. This is me saying that you can heal holistically too.

Below I will share what I believe to be the reason I have motivation every day to be okay and when I’m not. I discuss it with those who are trained to understand, have been through the issue itself, or a just simply a part of my life because they love me.

I do not fault how I was raised to not wallow in sadness as the sole reason I did those things to myself. I have made peace that I am an emotional and empathetic human.

No parent wants to see their child suffer. No sibling wants to bear the thought that their little sister doesn’t have what they have because she can’t. That’s not how she was made. I had to discover who I am, not asleep and watching life pass me by.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

Things started to turn around after COVID-19. I made friends on TikTok. One of them had cerebral palsy himself and it changed how I saw myself. He said, “It’s okay not to be okay.” I had to sit with that, meditate with it.

He took a lot of what I always was told I wasn’t allowed to do and said “Try and see… you can. You did that, not me.”. I became close with his friends, who play soccer professionally, and they really gave me the space and the goals to grow and change.

Some examples of that are flying for the first time, walking six miles, seeing fireworks and not having a medical event in the process alongside my personal assistant who was there through it all. I would not be the woman I am without her. Amongst her own skills in her profession, she is constantly helping me grow to try new things. 

But being there, there’s not a nicer feeling than someone asking to carry your walker up a flight of stairs, or when you take a picture to say hey, I’m right behind you, I got you.

Friendship that was built over an app, where you can livestream your day. I went from being alone to laughing, feeling included and I am a lot more relaxed knowing someone would climb a fence to see me, and support me when someone says I’m too slow.

It was with their support and they will say in complete shock, that I tried something. Something I had always wanted to do was run. It’s something I see in my dreams and I truly never tried because It was always advised against.

Since third grade, I wanted to do the steeplechase. This makes more sense to say, Nick is a 3x paralympic gold medalist with USA para track and field, living with CP himself.

I know I will never be that fast. The conversations we had though, led me to a place where it held space for me to change. Not because I want to beat him, not because I feel like my Olympic dreams have sailed because I’m 29.

It’s because of those six words he shared with me and anyone he impacts. I’m not that special. I just heard what he said. This actually worked. I listened to every interview, watched every video, and sat with the feelings he brought into my heart because he had been through it.

I didn’t have to be someone that I wasn’t around him or his friends and because of his friends, I built friendships with individuals that are desensitized to a stigma that is often correlated with disability.

I know I am determined, but the lightbulb did not click until June 26, 2021. That I was capable of having a release where I would not hurt myself I could heal myself.

It was a change I had to make 100 percent on my own, with support and cooperation.

However, those six words saved me. The call came from inside the house if you will. The push from the online community and how excited they are to see me thrive and try. 

I learned that I could run for myself. It was going to hurt, look different, and take time, but I could. Now I run every day to get that feeling out of my body, I didn’t successfully do so until March 2022.

I’ve since come off medication and I haven’t harmed myself in close to 800 days.

Those conversations gave me peace to know that I came from a place where things had to be okay, all the time because I have so much good in my life that there only needs to be five minutes of space for the sad times.

My life isn’t bad. It’s just different. In moments where I didn’t have a concrete plan of attack for anything I did, the first time around. I felt like I couldn’t admit to myself or others that I wasn’t ok. If you are not, that is completely okay and the situation will eventually change. “It’s okay to not be okay.”

I feel like I need to give credit to where that came from so here it is. Tiktok, those guys, and the ladies I met along the way. I can act like my true self because my needs are considered, I’m included, even from miles away, and I’m rallied for and prayed for.

They make it so things feel normal even if it is through a phone. We rarely are together in person. However, across the country, they’re all eating dinner, at night and just want a sense of community themselves.

When they’re flying to different cities and in different places it’s something that keeps us connected, so the app is just a way we all keep and touch and get to laugh with each other. The group of them is solid. 

In closing, they are people that I have the pleasure to stand behind. Unwavering support not only as the Whole USA on a track listening to the national anthem. I will always choose to rally for them, I am still here because of that pivotal moment. As far as Australia. From places such as South Carolina & where ever they end up professionally.

So to Nick, because of you, I am motivated to stay up and running and give myself peace when many others simply can’t comprehend how this feels every day, you will forever be someone that I wish nothing but success and have my respect. I hope I get the chance to run beside you one day.

To Jimmy, out in Maryland, there’s no better guy to slice a watermelon than you. Noah Pilato, I will forever be grateful for that very first barricade hop. I’ve never had someone run towards me so fast.

Noah Franke, thanks for staying awake from streaming video games and teaching me how to play even if I struggle to hold a controller. Lachlan, you went vegan. I’m sure you love that I share all my recipes with you!

Greenville Triumph Soccer Club, USL1, Thank you for your continued love and support from all your players and staff. It makes me delighted to know I have a place to have a safe, fun time.

Thank you because those experiences pushed me to change and heal and laugh and smile again, to breathe and know someone is a text away. 

Below I’ll discuss how I have been able to be 15 weeks clean, walk a mile, and work on sprinting the 200 meter. Not for anyone else but for me and for my brain.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

There are at least 10 consistent things that help me. Everything I know I learned from my family. Mom, Dad, Erin, Matt, Matty, Maeve, Erica, Dennis, Logan and Landon, Mike Gina, and Brinley. Thank you for making me home safe and keeping me grounded. Loving me where I was every day.

Second, I take vitamins. A multivitamin but in specific, B6, 12, Vitamin C, Zinc, including getting outside with real vitamin D. Personal shoutout to magnesium for relaxation and muscle recovery.

Third, the gym, my gym!!!!! To Nate and Tonya for taking the chance. Even though Nate has known me forever. It’s a huge undertaking. My trainers Caleb and Christian, that learned everything they could about CP and walking and spent time with me and the equipment, and made it a safe social environment. Thank you Max Level Fitness and Althetics.

The fourth step, my therapist, Brandi who provides stretch and circulation to my body for some sense of relief thank you. 

Fifth, to Carly, my business mentor who helped me create YHDB, I owe you one! For giving me the space to learn and trust my intuition.

Six. Dr. Rhonda, thank you for providing the medical care I need to safely taper and be a voice of reason for my feelings, all of them. Also having that exact same statement in your office.

Seven, my personal assistant Mariah, who takes me everywhere, for the goal of an independent life ahead- you push me to be a better friend and human every day, I love you.

Eight, My service dog, Dewey. I love you more than words can quantify. Without you, I wouldn’t get out of bed.

Nine, God, for this I know was my destiny. Romans 5 3:5.

And lastly, ten: Hope that one day, become day one with the love of my life, the empire I build, and the wishes I have to be a wife and a mom. I have so much hope for the future. I can see what happiness looks like now.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

In truth, I hesitate to talk about this with anyone other than my family and Dr. Rhonda Fein because of the nature of the subject matter. I want to be respectful, that some people need more help than others, or that someone knows the right thing to do for each person.

I think I have gotten more comfortable over the years with owning it. I was on a separate podcast about it before. Mental well-being is a heavy topic.

I had access to help, people saw signs but also medical professionals gave me clearance to taper to see if everything would calm down and it did. In truth, change comes from within. You have to do it for yourself. You have to want to try and see where you’re at.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

That you’re the only person that can change your thoughts about how you feel. Happiness is a choice. You can still be desired, disabled, and someone’s friend. I thrive off of steadfast friendship.

People will leave you and people change. It’s bound to happen. If you can be that person for someone else because you’re secure in your discernment. Then, be that for others. I can say now, that I know every part of me. I am successful because I trust myself.

I know that those people mentioned in this interview are there to communicate, cooperate, be a source of motivation, bring peace, promote laughter, and garner hope. The goal to help boils down to feeling safe communicating what you need and evolving into your best self.

The biggest takeaway is I needed help until my brain chemistry matured. I very well might need medicine again. At another point in my life, all of that is ok, I will be ok. What wasn’t okay was when I wasn’t getting relief from what was supposed to help.

Resulting in, harming other body systems. I hope that doctors communicate with patients they see fit to change or limit the use of medicine. what I needed at 14 was not the same as what I needed at 28. Or the future. 

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can read more about me here on my LinkedIn or find me @yourhotdisabledbestie on Instagram.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.