Post Title: Mariagrazia Buttitta
Author. Motivational Speaker. Advocate.
Mariagrazia is a new peer at VisionAware.org. As peers, we review various sight loss memoirs. I volunteered to do that this time. If you missed my review on the site or my newsletter, you can find it here. It is my pleasure to feature Mariagrazia in my Friday Friends column. Please welcome her!
Image Description: A profile shot of Mariagrazia with her hand cupping her chin.
Without further ado, let’s start the interview!
Can you briefly tell us about your sight loss journey and some of the obstacles you have overcome?
Growing up in Sicily, Italy, teachers, and peers told me I was clumsy, not smart enough, and slow and that I would never accomplish anything good in my life. I was constantly misdiagnosed. But my parents fought for answers, and in the United States, when I was fourteen years old, I received an accurate diagnosis of cone dystrophy.
Cone dystrophy affects the cone cells in my retina, which is the portion of the eyes that helps us see in bright conditions. I experience the following symptoms:
- photophobia (abnormal sensitivity to light—I wear sunglasses all the time.)
- color deficiency (I can distinguish dark colors from light colors, but don’t ever put me in charge of throwing a gender reveal party.)
- nystagmus (quick eye movements)
- I am considered legally blind (I have 20/200 or less vision in dim light; when I am exposed to bright light, I cannot see anything.)
- Eye floaters (I am not sure if this is caused by cone dystrophy.)
Cone dystrophy is complicated. It forces me to wear sunglasses. My eyes never seem to see something or someone the same way. Things that influence my vision are light, new environments, and new details.
Despite this challenging condition, the hardest part of living with it isn’t the lack of sight, it’s the lack of understanding and stigma that exists surrounding blindness and low vision. I have been accused of faking my eye condition because I can see some things and not others. However, be an advocate and surround yourself with people who love and accept you as you are.
Every day, through resources and support, I learn how to better manage my sight-loss journey.
“One thing I have learned is to embrace my challenges and accept my condition. Cone dystrophy doesn’t define me—it refines me”
What type of work do you do?
I am a National Certified Counselor, an author, a motivational speaker, and an advocate. I love sharing my journey and expertise through my work, writing, presentations, and advocacy efforts.
As of December 2020, I joined the Rutgers Eye2Eye Peer Support Program for vision loss as a peer support, outreach, and promotion specialist. Eye2Eye is a free phone-based peer support program designed to assist individuals who are blind or visually impaired. The program offers emotional support, goal setting, assessment of needs and well-being, referrals, services for families and loved ones, and virtual peer support groups. You may contact the organization by calling (833) 932-3931 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also find me at the VisionAware peer advisor program.
Most important, I am a daughter, a sister, a doggy mom, a friend, and a proud aunt.
Can you tell us about your book, when it was released?
In 2017, I published my book—a memoir: Now I See: How I Battled Blindness, Mental Illness, an Espresso Habit and Lived to Tell the Tale. In the book, I discuss the many struggles I experienced growing up in Sicily, being misdiagnosed, and hitting rock bottom with my anxiety and depression. With the turn of each page, you get to go on a journey with little Maria, who conquers many challenges.
What motivated you to write it?
Early in my life, I began using writing as an outlet to express my feelings; writing always came naturally to me. But what truly inspired me to write a memoir was hearing and reading many powerful and touching memoirs. After witnessing the impact writing and storytelling had on me, I wanted to influence others with my words. I want my readers to know that although we all experience challenges, with hard work, a good mindset, a strong support system, and persistence, we can learn to live a meaningful life—not a perfect life or an easy life but one worth living and fighting for.
What languages do you speak, other than English?
I was born and raised in Sicily and am fluent in Italian. And you better believe I love all things cannoli, tiramisù, espresso, and Limoncello!
What has been your greatest challenge to date?
Cone dystrophy has been a blessing, but it comes with challenges. With time, I have learned new ways to get things done. Even if they take longer some days, they still get done.
Another big challenge for me is constantly finding a good work-life balance. I tend to be a workaholic, so I have to be careful I don’t burn out easily, and I make time to care for my mental health, enjoy quiet days, and have as much fun as I can. Cherish the people you care about. Life is too short and too precious.
What do you feel the proudest of achieving?
I take pride in my achievements. I am not only proud of the hard work that went into obtaining a master’s degree, a counseling certification, and a book, but I am also proud of the person I have become because of cone dystrophy. I believe cone dystrophy has shaped the person I am today: a grateful daughter, a good sister, a cool aunt, a loyal friend, a pleasant colleague, and all around just a better person.
How do you stay positive in the world today?
I recently came upon a post on LinkedIn stating that according to a study conducted by the National Science Foundation, we have negative thoughts about 80 percent of the time. So, we know our mind can be our greatest gift and yet our worst enemy. Nonetheless, I work incredibly hard each day to ensure I stay positive. I practice self-care by incorporating therapy sessions; meditation; exercise; healthy eating; playing with my dog, Happy; and my favorite, spending quality time with my mother, family, and friends.
Image description: Mariagrazia meditating on the beach in New Jersey with houses in the background.
What message would you like to leave with my readers?
We all have a story to tell. I choose to share mine in the hopes of inspiring and encouraging you too. Neither my past nor my struggles define me. I am much more than my diagnosis of cone dystrophy or mental health.
So, no matter what you are going through, don’t ever let anyone bring you down or tell you that you can’t achieve things because of your differences or circumstances.
Rather than learning to “overcome” my differences, each day I learn to manage and accept them. So, the mantra I live by is to embrace my differences!
Where can my readers find out more information?
My memoir, Now I See: How I Battled Blindness, Mental Illness, an Espresso Habit and Lived to Tell the Tale— is available on Amazon in audiobook, e-book, and paperback format. To purchase a signed copy of my book, visit my website: www.embracingyourdifferences.com.
Always eager to collaborate, jump on a podcast, present, and connect. You can e-mail me at: email@example.com and let’s also connect on social media and LinkedIn.
Bio / Trailer
You have just read “Mariagrazia Buttitta Author. Motivational Speaker. Advocate.” by Amy L. Bovaird. © November 28, 2021. All rights Reserved.
Amy and Mariagrazia – thank you for sharing this interview, and I am so pleased I can get your book on audible. Marigrazia, I love when you said, the hardest thing is not the sight loss but the misunderstanding around it – bravo! Let’s all keep working towards greater understanding, one story at a time…Maribel x
Wonderful and inspiring blog post. I really enjoyed her story and can identify with the mental health aspect. What a powerful story!!!