by Mariagrazia Buttitta
With a blink of an eye, I watched as my 14-year-old dreams vanished.
For the first time in my life, I felt that I was in a nosedive toward rock bottom—with no parachute. No reason to live. And suddenly… I became a person I was allowed to hate for a lifetime.
As a teenager, I watched as my peers found joy from talking about boys, dating, showing off their high heels (which they could barely walk in—not jealous), applying excessive makeup, bragging over who was the fashionista of them all, and lastly, betting on who would have received their driver’s license first. I, on the other hand, had to deal with bullies, solitude, panic attacks, depression, poor self-esteem and had no confidence in myself whatsoever as I had to face one of my biggest fears of all times—an eye diagnosis of Cone Dystrophy that would change the way I saw life (no pun intended) for good.
I had to live with being Legally Blind for the rest of my life whether I liked it or not.
Talk about fairness… But how could anyone understand what I was going through, and how could they?
For fear of being judged, being looked upon as weak, awkward, a freak, useless, and to avoid hurting my family (or so I thought)—I remained silent. Too frightened and embarrassed to show the pain I tried so hard to bury underneath a hypothetically “band-aid”. I became unwilling to communicate my agony with anyone around me.
Well… maybe there was still a sliver of hope.
I began to find solace in writing as it became both a daily habit and a good friend I could rely on. That piece of paper would never reveal my deepest secrets, nor would it ever judge me, or see me as a creepy alien landing from outer space.
As I got older, things only became harder and more complicated. Starting college is an exciting time for many, as students may begin to look forward to the many adventures they will encounter as well as gain Freedom. But I felt anything but free, I felt trapped in my own head—a prisoner in my own body.
My panic attacks and my suicidal thoughts only got louder and stalkier.
And even though, moving to the US, getting in contact with the Commission for the Blind, finally going to college and proving everyone wrong back at home — I still felt empty. I lived a lifetime of being laughed at, growing up in a different country, teachers not believing in me, and all this started to gain a strong power over me.
I knew then and there that It was time I poured my heart to my lovely mother, and from there — miracles happened.
Besides facing my recovery with a combination of therapy, medication, self-care and a strong support system of my mother, a few good friends, my therapist, and my two four-legged furry friends Lucky & Happy — writing was my gift and would help me manage my pain.
And from there, it just happened. Once sentence led to another, one chapter led to more chapters and about five years later, I knew I had created, in my eyes, a little masterpiece. One that would help heal me as well as help heal others.
Three Quick Lessons I Learned From Writing and Sharing My Memoir (Now I See: How I Battled Blindness, Mental Illness, an Espresso Habit and Lived to Tell the Tale, foreword by Kevin Hines)
1. Enjoy the Process—Don’t Be in A Rush
They say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and I don’t think your book should be written in a day either. If you begin to lose focus on the purpose of the book, then perhaps, you need to take a break. Writing this memoir was an exhausting process for me, emotionally too, since I had to face some old memories, so it often took the ones who loved me to remind me that I needed to step back and breathe. So take your time with the book, I can assure you I had over 20 + drafts before I got it to where I wanted it to be. Write, write, and write some more, don’t worry about getting it right on your first draft –– you are not supposed to. Be patient with yourself and with the process. Also, allow time for people to give you feedback and be willing to receive feedback from your editors with an open heart and mind. If you find yourself writing with your head and not with your heart ––take a break. Writing is a process and a beautiful journey, so make it count.
2. Quiet Down the Chatter Inside Your Head
During the writing process, I spent so much time in my head about if being vulnerable was something I was ready to do. Excess thoughts led to feelings of guilt. I felt this need to compare my life with someone else’s journey. Somehow, my life didn’t seem like it deserved a platform. How dare of me to even share my story when I know there is worse in the world? And one thought, similar to this one, led to more thoughts. Until I started to spiral down out of control. What if people think I am crazy? What if they judge my writing? My life? What if they hate the book? And if no one buys it? As much as I can say that these feeling seemed reasonable for a first published author, I still needed someone to process these feelings with me. In therapy, I found myself talking through these feelings and irrational thoughts and assess them for accuracy. With therapy, I learned that this book wasn’t about ranking my story on the severity scale, it was about letting people know that no matter what you may go through in life, there is always hope and healing that comes out of it. I finally felt I had enough balance between what I was comfortable with sharing. Best of all, I had a chance to reflect on the love of my family, friends, and professionals who loved me as I am.
3. You Are Not Alone in Your Struggles:
This caught me by surprise the most–– as more people read my memoir, I took note of the fact that people were actually more open and accepting than I ever expected. Till this day, I am filled with gratitude as I continue to receive numerous e-mails, private messages, or in person feedback, on how sharing my story helped them feel less lonely and “crazy”. Most importantly, I discovered that I was not alone in my struggles as many individuals began to also open up about similar struggles or their own battles they were fighting. In a huge way –– it’s helped me heal, too.
Today, I am nowhere “cured” but through writing, therapy, medication, self-care, espresso, and a great support system—today not only am I living, but I am thriving. And any insecurities about my blindness, anxiety or depression symptoms that come my way, I can manage them.
I am stronger than I have ever been and my blindness and my mental illness is my pride and I am no longer ashamed of the person I have become.
Through my writing, my speaking engagements—people have called me an inspiration and their hero. Don’t ever be afraid nor ashamed to share your story, you never know whose hero you will become.
And finally, for the longest time of my life, I found vision and purpose in my life which is to inspire and help others, too. I used to be the person no one wanted to be like, now I am the person everyone aspires to be.
Don’t be a worrier be the warrior! #YouGotThis
A native Sicilian-Italian speaker, Mariagrazia Buttitta is an author, a motivational speaker and a mental health & disability advocate who is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from The College of New Jersey. Mariagrazia –– the author of, Now I See: How I Battled Blindness, Mental Illness, an Espresso Habit and Lived to Tell the Tale, has also been featured on the Huffington Post and speaks to college students and organizations about her blindness, along with her long-term battle with depression and anxiety. Mariagrazia can be reached through her website, www.embracingyourdifferences.com