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Love Changed My Insecurities About Religion & Cerebral Palsy

For much of my life, I found it hard to fit in. Born a triplet with Cerebral Palsy (CP), and raised in an interfaith family with a Jewish mother and Catholic father, I felt like an anomaly. As I grew into a teenager, my life felt disjointed. I struggled to figure out my religious beliefs and lacked any sort of community. I could never have imagined that I would end up in a loving marriage, raising two beautiful children and rediscovering my Jewish heritage.  

I’ve always had a significant limp, a stutter and I can’t be too physically active because of lower-than-normal motor function. Feeling different than everyone around me in a large public school was hard. I took the elevator a lot, left school for physical therapy several times a week and got a pass to leave class early when the hallways were less full.

Home wasn’t much different. I was primarily raised Catholic, and celebrated Jewish holidays with my grandparents. I always struggled to figure out my religious beliefs. As hard as I tried to believe what I was being taught in church, none of it grabbed me or felt like the truth.

There was one place I managed to forget about all of my internal struggles, and that was wherever I played music. My brothers and I started a band, and we were quickly thrust into a life of travel. I built a community and in those circles I never felt as if I didn’t belong. No one asked me about religion, and I never felt like my disability marked me as different from everybody else.

But I felt out of place in every other social situation. I had no idea who I was or where I belonged.

I struggled with all of this for a long time, and tried to accept myself but I never really could. I felt alone and alienated from anyone my own age.

When I was 18, I rejected Catholicism, and religion entirely. I made an effort to understand, but it just never spoke to me. My political beliefs felt directly at odds with many of the church’s beliefs. I soon identified as an atheist and felt like I was getting a grasp on some part of my identity.

While I embraced atheism, my brother left Catholicism and connected with Judaism. My mom also began to connect with Judaism more deeply. But while they shared belief systems, I began to feel guilty. When my mom passed away from cancer in 2017, after eight long years of fighting, I wished I had understood what Judaism brought to her life.  

A few years later, everything changed when I met Kennedy, who is a Christian with a large family from the South. I was a 23-year-old New Yorker with a visible disability and, at the time, was very transparent in my atheism and trying to project enough self-confidence to enter the dating world. But something about us just immediately clicked.

Dating before Kennedy never really worked, as most people couldn’t see past my disability and insecurities. I was actually ready to give up, tired of feeling like I had to pretend I wasn’t insecure and tired of worrying that someone wouldn’t accept me because of the way I walked or talked.

On our first date at a coffee shop in Savannah, where we both were and are still living, Kennedy and I talked for hours. She didn’t care about my limp and the things I was insecure about, which felt seriously refreshing and even reassuring. As we continued to get to know each other, most of our conversations actually centered around faith and religion. We bonded over going against our family’s beliefs.

Sean and Kennedy’s kids

For the first time in my life—aside from my small music circles—I felt like I belonged. I had found the one person who, for whatever cosmic reason, understood me on levels nobody else ever had. With a shared respect for one another and the way we saw the world, we decided to spend our lives together.

Six years later, we’re married with two children and still very much in love. Our beliefs have wavered a bit, and since having kids we’ve been on an endless journey of discovery.

The way she looks at me—both literally and figuratively—has shown me that it’s OK to be who I am, even though I’m always changing. And I am madly in love with her for the way she looks at the world, her beauty, her optimism and her ability to embrace everyone.

I’ve finally found the place I always longed for, the one I searched for as I walked down empty hallways as a teenager and spent weekend after weekend on the road. I have a family who loves and embraces me for my Cerebral Palsy, for my beliefs and for the ever-evolving person I am.

I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that eventually, you’ll learn to embrace who you are and become someone with a well-rounded perspective on life. I’d tell him that one day, you’ll meet that person you so desperately want to meet, who sees you for who you are and loves you because of it. You won’t feel so alone because you’ll surround yourself with people who love you and embrace you for the journey you’re on.

It only took 30 years, but better late than never I suppose.

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly brings a passion for engaging content to 18Doors, joining the team as Social Media Manager. A career content creator, Sean also comes from a Jewish-interfaith family and now has one of his own. Outside of his work at 18Doors, Sean has had the good fortune of traveling the world as a touring musician. When not enjoying time with his wife and two children, he produces music for artists and writes music for films, podcasts and commercial projects.


Author: Sean Kelly