Today we meet the courageous Kate Morell from Wagga Wagga, Australia. Kate is a talented graphic designer, and a mother-of-two. She also has Usher Syndrome, the most common genetic cause of combined deafness and blindness, which affects over 400,000 people worldwide. She took the Do What You Love course last October, and we were so touched and inspired by her story that we asked her to share it…
A true inspiration… the lovely Kate Morell
I have two fantastic children, Angelina (10) and Marquez (7), and I’m married to a wonderful man, Adolfo. Prior to having children I worked in Sydney and London in design studios for the corporate sector. I was diagnosed with deafness when I was two and Retinitis Pigmentosa, which causes gradual sight loss, when I was 15. It was then when I was told about Usher Syndrome that I should expect to lose my sight by the time I was 40. I’m 45 now and not at that stage yet, so winning!
And yet, as I lose my sight, travelling from light to dark, I am still finding this journey is harder than I ever thought it would be. Yes, I took the long path first, and experienced many breakdowns, rest stops and detours along the way. And at times I even found myself heading in completely the wrong direction. But finally I feel that I am beginning to walk the right path. The path which leads me to where I stand now.
Once I finished my degree, I worked for a couple of years, then, as most Australians do, I took off on a working holiday. I travelled extensively around the UK, Western Europe, the Mediterranean and Scandinavia and returned home after two and a half years, only to book another working holiday in Dublin. Here I was offered a job and asked to commit long term, but I decided I’d rather see the world and headed off to Eastern Europe and the Balkans before returning home. A year later, back in Sydney, I couldn’t shake the travel bug. I desperately wanted to go to Cuba before it changed so I packed my bags once again. One week into my trip, I met my Cuban husband, and over the next two years I made four trips to Cuba, each time for eight weeks, before he was finally able to migrate to Australia.
With Adolfo in Havana, Cuba, a couple of weeks after we first met
I guess my ‘story’ really began when…
I turned to writing during periods of depression in my life. The first was when I was newly diagnosed with Usher Syndrome as a teenager. I wouldn’t share my feelings with anyone, but every couple of months I would have a low period and the only way out of it was to stay up late into the night and write it out, furiously. Then I would throw away the angry words and start over again in the morning as if everything was fine.
My sixteenth birthday, with my older brother and father, around the time of my Usher diagnosis
I didn’t regularly write a journal or a travel journal, until my second trip abroad aged 28. I realise now that I was actually running away from my life and, well, myself. Following a bad experience with a cataract surgery, suffered post traumatic shock, was depressed and suicidal. Instead of working in Dublin, I went travelling alone. I camped or stayed in private homes in Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Croatia, and Bosnia and purposely sought out places where people were worse off than me. I spent days at a time not speaking with anyone, just writing for hours at a time, always about my travels, and never about me. I visited Anne Frank’s house, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sarajevo, Dubrovnik. It put my suffering in prespective. I had nothing to complain about.
And then I fell in love. I didn’t write on my Cuban trips – I was too busy falling in love – but I began writing for therapy again when I approached 40, the age I was told to expect to be totally blind. By this time I had two children and the prospect made me so distraught I became suicidal. I attended a couple of counselling sessions but they seemed pointless. The psychologist would ask me ‘what’s been happening?’ and there was just too much in my head to even begin to explain. At this time I was also trying to deal with my adoption since the issue of ‘forced adoptions’ from my era were making headlines.
Our children Angelina and Marquez waiting for the sun to set in Uluru, Australia
I gave up on counselling and started a blog
Each day I would take my daughter to school, and my son to childcare, and return home to write through tears. My first blog post was raw and brutally honest: about the moment I told my husband I would rather be dead than blind.
I wrote throughout the long healing process and slowly my depression lifted. Meanwhile, I sought out a community, a place to belong. After much research I found the Usher Syndrome Coalition blog and I was invited to write for them. This writing is now the basis of the memoir I’m currently working on.
My memoir covers many themes: adoption, angels, blind cane, Bono, counselling, Cuba, depression, faith, healing, hearing impairment, invisible disability, miscarriages, miracles, post natal depression, post traumatic shock, Retinitis Pigmentosa, travels, Usher Syndrome, vision impairment, writing for therapy, the Girl in the Blue Dress, and more. I wore a blue dress at my Cuban wedding and ‘The Girl in the Blue Dress’ refers to my ongoing search to find her – the girl my husband married. I am happy to report, I have NEARLY found her.
My wedding day in Cuba – ‘The girl in the blue dress’
Community gave me courage
I have always tried to hide my two disabilities, but with my eyes deteriorating, and me needing to use a blind cane, I realise that I can no longer hide. I decided to use the Usher Syndrome Coalition campaign, in the lead up to Usher Syndrome Awareness Day, to ‘come out’ and let the world know about my disabilities. I know that my happy ending involves using my cane. To me, that will be going from invisible to visible. Like, hey world, look at me, see I have a cane! Yet, using a cane feels like I am wearing an invisibility mask. My self, my identity, my story, completely erased, replaced with the mask of that of a blind girl and nothing more. Is it just me who wonders about people and their stories, especially those with visible differences? I often wonder if anyone else ever wonders about their story beyond their differences.
With my blind cane: coming out about my disabilities through my ‘Ushering Kate’ campaign
I sent out a press release, said yes to being interviewed on the local news, set up a Facebook group called ‘Ushering Kate’ and invited people to assist me as I used my cane when I walked down the high street. I wasn’t inundated by people wanting to walk with me, but it did let everyone know my story. I ended the campaign by giving my first speech at the Australian event for Usher Kids Australia. Mark Dunning, founder of the Usher Syndrome Coalition, was there and I was delighted that he’d asked me to be their spokesperson.
Mark told everyone: “Kate Morell is a hero to a disenfranchised community of several hundred thousand desperate and frightened people. Usher Syndrome is a genetic disorder. People with the disease, like Kate, are born with hearing loss and eventually lose their sight. Kate’s honest and deeply personal writing for the Usher Syndrome blog, her willingness to lay open her soul and give voice to her fears, has given countless people the courage to face their condition and hope for the future. Many use her words as a talisman to get through their day and her blog posts are the common language that holds the community together. It is hard to overstate the positive impact she has had.”
I was inspired to take the Do What You Love course because…
After doing my Usher Kate campaign I felt ready to make my next move – whatever that was! I signed up for the course last August and it felt like the perfect time to figure out what I would love to do.
I began the course in October feeling a little bit depressed, but as I worked through it my mood lifted. I got a little carried away listening to many of the suggested books while tidying and de-cluttering my house, making time to be off-line, and spend more time doing things that light me up. By the end I was a changed person, so much so that I went back to the beginning to start all over again.
Writing my Real Wild Bio and sharing it on week four was one of my proudest ever moments.
It is who I am and who I want to be. It made me see that everything I have been through matters. I found myself through it. This is it…
I am resilient, determined, (and can be stubborn and fiercely independent) in the way I don’t let others deter me from what I know I can do. Told ‘you can’t’, I will show you ‘I can’. I strive on exceeding expectations and preconceptions.
I aspire to live my life with joy and laughter, love and compassion, appreciation and contentment. Nothing is taken for granted. I look for the rainbow in every storm, light in the darkness. the positive in every negative.
I attempt to better understand myself in order to know how low I can fall, and too, how high I can soar. I am learning to have faith and trust in myself, to listen to my intuition and allow myself to be daring, powerful and strong.
Travel has enabled me to witness the bond that extends with a smile, across cultures, borders, classes and religion. It has opened my eyes to both how big and how small the world can be, my ears to the common language of kindness, and my heart to the dreams shared by all across the globe.
On my travels… I’d always find peaceful spots like this to sit and write in my journal
Wealth, for me, is not money or possessions, but adventures, experiences and stories. Through my childhood, my career, my travels, and my adulthood, I am blessedly rich with adventures, experiences and stories.
I am motivated to be brave and courageous in order to inspire, to use my impending blindness to open the eyes of others. Through my creativity and writing, I seek to share my adventures, my experiences, and stories, not only to be a voice for me, but a voice for children like me, all over the world.
I believe I am on the cusp of discovering my true life purpose, if I continue to be led by my intuition and my heart follows, there is no limit to what I can achieve. And this both excites and scares me, in a very good way.
During the course I had an amazing ‘a-ha’ moment…
During the course I had an idea for a new passion project called ‘Sunsets for Kate’ which I feel really excited about. Sunsets are what I’ll miss most if I lose my sight and I realised that if I go blind by the time I’m 50, and I’m fortunate enough to live until I’m 90, I’ll miss out on over 16,275 sunsets. I started thinking about how cool would it be to experience a lifetime of sunsets in the lifetime of my sight by asking people to post sunsets for me on social media.
Watching the sun set at a local lake with my family recently
I love the idea because it gets me out there into the world without being all preachy and ‘look at poor me!’ Hopefully instead it will be a reminder that our sight is precious and that life is never too busy to press pause, look around, and appreciate the beauty in all we see. (NB: you can find out how to get involved in the ‘Sunsets for Kate’ campaign at the end of this article.)
My life has changed…
Before doing the Do What You Love course, I didn’t see myself as inspiring at all. I was unsure about who I was and what I have to offer the world. But with each explorer log my purpose became clearer. It was right there in front of me. I realised I can no longer shy away from myself, my life, and my story. I no longer want to be invisible. The course has helped me to think differently. It’s motivated me to stop playing small, and instead play big.
My hopes and dreams for the future
At the moment I’m a stay-at-home mum and I still do some design for myself, but returning to the work I used to do would be too difficult. I have lost most of my peripheral vision, and it takes me forever to locate the cursor on the computer screen.So it’s time for something new. In addition to my memoir, and my Sunsets for Kate project, I’m working on an idea I had when I was just 13, before I knew I’d be vision impaired. The dream was to design and illustrate a book for hearing impaired children to read aloud to their classmates on their first day of school to help everyone understand why they are special. Since then, my idea has expanded to incorporate a whole series of books which include those for vision impaired children, and others with special needs.
My ambition is to publish the books my younger self wanted to write. I hope to use my life experiences and all the lessons I’ve learnt along the way to add value to my stories and then share them to help, inspire and comfort others. And I really hope my sunset campaign takes off. I am looking forward to seeing all these beautiful images.
The sunset view from my tent in Croatia – the trip I took to run away from my life
PLEASE SHARE YOUR PRECIOUS SUNSET PICTURES
As you know, I’m on a mission to see a lifetime of sunsets before I lose my sight and I’d LOVE you to share your precious sunset pictures with me.
If you’d like to take part in my ‘Sunsets for Kate’ campaign, please email a picture of your most inspiring/beautiful/memorable sunset to email@example.com or upload images to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @sunsetsforkate and #sunsetsforkate and include:
- Your name, City, Country
PLUS a sentence about:
- who you are/what you do for a living
- where and when the image was taken
- why you wanted to capture that particular moment
Thank you in advance for sharing and helping me, and others with Usher Syndrome, see as much of the world as possible while we can.
Are you ready to Do What You Love?
IT IS YOUR LIFE – LIVE IT
What is it you really want? The courage to start a new career? The time to pursue passions and hobbies? The freedom to travel and have big adventures? Or simply to “feel differently” about your life, just as it is? All of those wants — and so many others — stem from one big desire… The desire to do what you love.
And if that’s what you want, you’ve arrived in the best possible place you can be. This is your launchpad — and this is your community. And this online course might just change your life.
Do What You Love is an acclaimed course for people who want to spend more time doing what they love and less time doing what they don’t. Simple as that. It’s about finding freedom and building the life you really want. Inside this 5 week online course, our founder Beth Kempton will show you how to:
- Do what you love, more often. Very often. In fact: daily.
- Get paid to do what you love. (If that’s what you want — for some, it’s not. For many, it is!)
- Make your life simpler and sweeter — not busier and more complicated.
Do What You Love is about re-opening doors that you thought were locked shut… re-opening possibilities that you thought were long gone… and illuminating possibilities you never knew existed.
Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime?
The Do What You Love course starts next week – on Monday, January 16. For more information or to register click HERE.