Why I wear my Sunglasses at Night and Indoors; Your Sunglass Selfie Project – #eye4acure


I have heard it all, from trying to act like a movie star, hiding, or just being too cool to care. But unfortunately, life can be cruel and unfair, I am no movie star. I am not trying to hide my gorgeous ocean blue eyes, and no doubt, I look great in my sunglasses…but let’s face it–– I am not trying to act cool either. So then––why do I wear my sunglasses at night and indoors?

It’s called cone dystrophy, and one out of 30,000 people in the U.S. are affected by this eye disorder. The cones are the part of the eye that receives light–in other words, that’s the part of the eye that people use to see things in daylight or artificial light. My cones do not have that ability, so when my eyes are exposed to light, it’s like seeing the world from underwater.

For years, I have educated thousands of people about my eye disorder, but it is still frustrating. I want to speak up and do something that would help me further explain my eye condition. I want to use this amazing platform, called, the web, to educate the world.

So about a few months ago, I decided to launch a web-based advocacy campaign that educates the public about my eye disorder.  I ask people to: 1) follow me on Instagram at embracingdifferenceseyeonacure, 2) take a selfie wearing sunglasses using the hashtag #eye4acure, and lastly, 3) upload your beautiful pictures. You have the option to e-mail your selife(s) to: embracingdiffrences01@gmail.com (if you do not have an Instagram account) or (if you have an Instagram account) you can post it yourself and tag me.

You can also visit my campaign tab to learn more. My Instagram is also linked to my website, so you can also take a look at the amazing pictures people have already posted of themselves wearing sunglasses.

The goal is for people to learn about my eye disorder. In the long run, I hope to reach out to sunglass companies and work with them to further expand this campaign.

I have never seen my blindness as a limitation, and I hope I can teach others to see me for what I have to offer to this world.  My story is a powerful one, and I hope that by setting as example, I can inspire others who face challenges or disabilities to do the same.

I really want to educate the world, but I’ll need your help!

Time to take a selfie! 🙂

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision” ––Helen Keller


Copyright © 2016 Embracing Your Differences, All rights reserved. 

It’s Really Not An Everyday Conversation Starter… by: Laurel King


Guest Blogger: Laurel King

It’s really not an everyday conversation starter. I can still even count the times it’s been mentioned and where. First, in a hallway at work. Next, at a summer pool party. Lastly, on the last day of Abnormal Psychology class. These three conversations wound up being about my Fanconi’s Anemia (F.A.).

I possess a genetic disease in which both parents need to have the recessive gene for in order for this disease to exist. Out of four siblings, I won the Punnett Square roulette when I was born. Since it affects everything in the bone marrow (white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, etc.), I had sleep marathons due to exhaustion, neighbors who were concerned with child abuse because of how I bruised easily and healed slowly, and I had chicken pox twice (which isn’t supposed to happen if you have a functioning immune system). I was not a normal, energetic, healthy kid in any sense.

I got lucky again, though. By ten years old, my parents and hometown raised enough money and found out that a man from Texas was a perfect match for me for a bone marrow transplant (that in and of itself is it’s own story). Having my own hospital room in Minneapolis, Minnesota made my childish world so isolated. I had no one to talk to about chemotherapy, radiation, the tube that led to the needle attached to an artery in my chest, the vomiting, the chronic nerve pain in my legs from being in bed for six months, the hair loss, and other “kid stuff.” Instead, I watched the sun rise every morning. I wanted to enjoy the moment, even if it stemmed from the development of insomnia. I may no longer wake up at dawn, but I still wake up, and that’s special.

There’s one symptom I never thought about with a life-threatening disease. One day, my younger sister decided to write a research paper on F.A. She wanted me to proofread it because her heart is big and her writing is atrocious. The first symptom she wrote was: failure to live. That brought me back to the mailing list my parents subscribed to, the one that listed the people who died from F.A. I knew the faces to some of those names (may they all always rest in peace).

I never thought of myself as a survivor until then. Just a small, feisty tomboy who is quiet, (sometimes) observant, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and was born close to the edge of something I cannot control. At the same time, I truly want to get over trauma, social and personal anxiety, and continue to live life.

Now, I am working harder to be a healthy, helpful, and hopeful person. I am still around, alive, and holding on to myself and others, regardless of any other “family dynamics.” For that, I want to be grateful.


About: Laurel King

Laurel King: Licensed massage therapist by day and professional humanities tutor by night, living in New Jersey’s Bergen County, and who is also planning on a bachelors in education and masters degree in occupational therapy.

Copyright © 2016 Embracing Your Differences, All rights reserved.

Resolutions for Better Communication, By: Gary C. Woodward


Guest Blogger: Gary C. Woodward

It’s time for the annual ritual of making promises to ourselves about what we will change in the coming year.  In that spirit, consider six resolutions that would make us better partners in a wide range of communication settings. 

  • Resolve to be a better listener.

Becoming an engaged listener is like losing weight: it’s harder than it sounds.  It requires momentarily giving ourselves over to what another is saying.  That must include minimizing other distractions, turning off the far too loquacious chatterbox camped out in our brains, and accepting the challenge of bringing our full attention to another. We can’t do this with everyone all the time.  Listening for nuance is work.  Start with the people that matter most.

  • Protect your soul by deciding to be a more thoughtful gatekeeper.

We allow a lot of worthless messages into our lives:  junk journalism, junk advertising, aimless web-browsing, mean-spirited trolls and the self-obsessed. As tech writer Farhad Manjoo recently noted in the New York Times, the Internet is “loud, shrill, reflexive and ugly.”  It “now seems to be on constant boil.”   So it takes far more personal discipline to keep this stuff at bay and to hold on to our social equilibrium.

  • Work to put a reasonable limit on the time your children spend with all kinds of screens.

Virtual reality is a desert compared to the natural world.  Rediscover local parks or just the simple pleasures of a walk around the block.  Remember that even young children are naturally weatherized.  Most love to be out and active in the cold.

  • Resolve to save important feelings and information for face to face discussion.

Proximity with others usually brings out the best in us.  Media that act as surrogates for ourselves (even “social” media) offer only selected approximations of the real deal.

  • Listen to more music.

Because it’s almost exclusively the language of feeling, music unites us in ways that ordinary rhetoric can’t.

  • With the possible exception of those strange relatives up in Duluth, resist dividing the world into “us” and “them.”

Human complexities always trump simple binaries.  We just need the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that simple fact.

      Happy Holidays.

Comments: Woodward@tcnj.edu

About: Gary C. Woodward

A Coloradan by birth and a resident of Stockton, New Jersey, Woodward is a Professor, rhetorician, and former Chairperson of the Department of Communication Studies at The College of New Jersey.

He has degrees in communication and rhetorical theory from California State University at Sacramento and the University of Pittsburgh (Ph.D. 1972). A native of Colorado, he has taught in England as well as in the United States, and has undertaken research supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and The College of New Jersey at the LBJ Library, the JFK Library, Britain’s House of Commons, CBS News and C-SPAN. His comments on political topics have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Dallas Morning News, CNN.com, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and other news outlets.

Read more: http://theperfectresponse.pages.tcnj.edu/gary-woodward/

Copyright © 2015 Embracing Your Differences, All rights reserved.


Tis The Season To Be . . . (SAD?)

My favorite holiday is finally around the corner—Christmas.  My Christmas tree and decorations are up, my dogs have their Santa suits ready, and shopping is almost done with. Phew!

For Christmas Eve, I enjoy baking butter cookies, and then my mother and I go to Christmas mass at midnight. When we return, we see if Santa left any presents under the tree.  (Santa always finds out if you have been naughty or nice—just saying!).

My family and I gather around the Christmas tree and fireplace, we watch a holiday movie, sing to some Christmas carols, and enjoy some delicious foods and drink wine.  Then we play Truth or Dare.

The next day, things get a little sad for me again.

Winter always gives me the blues. I am home from college, I have excessively much time in my hands, and I dislike the cold weather.

I used to think something was wrong with me, until I read and learned about (SAD) seasonal affect disorder.

Therefore, here is what I do to beat the winter blues:

  1. I write a lot: I find that writing and tracking my mood really helps. Try the Action for Happiness, science have illustrated that writing three positives a day is linked with, “overall satisfaction with life and helps us have an overall positive outlook.”
  2. I surround myself with positive people: my mom, my friends, and my four-legged friends.  I plan some quality time with people I care about…that always puts a smile on my sad face.
  3. I exercise or plan my days with something that will keep me busy: I set my alarm and plan the day with things that will keep me occupied, even something as simple as re-organizing my desk or my closets. However, if things get too bored, I plan my own karaoke party. Hello? Says, Adele.
  4. I make self-care a priority: Therapy and support groups always seem to help me. However, I always try to never go out of style–– I love wearing my green cotton frog patterned socks and my chic fluffy long-sleeved pink flannel pajamas and watch the show friends.
  5. I try to have some fun: a good hike, ice-skating, and shopping can light up a smile. Alternatively, you can always sing in the shower and dance like no one is watching!

Here are more tips from experts: Help Guide.

I wish it was easier to snap out of the blue phase, but with supportive people, even this lousy season shall pass!

In the meantime, live, love, and laugh!

“Don’t let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest; Don’t judge life by one difficult season.”

– Mariagrazia Buttitta

Copyright © 2016 Embracing Your Differences, All rights reserved. 

Storytelling will Save the World… Yes, Even Yours, by: Joshua Rivedal


Guest Blogger: Josh Rivedal

Captain’s log, Stardate January 2011. Where unfortunately many have gone before. I’m twenty-six years old and thinking about dying… actually I’m not being entirely truthful. I’m dangling halfway out the fourth floor window of my bedroom in New York City. I don’t really want to die. I just want the emotional pain to stop… and I don’t know how to do that. Hell, two guys in my life—my father and grandfather—each didn’t know how to make their own terrible personal pain stop and now both are…dead.

My grandfather, Haakon—a Norwegian guy who served in the Royal Air Force (35th Squadron as a tail gunner) in World War II—killed himself in 1966 because of the overwhelming post traumatic stress he suffered after the war.

My father, Douglas—an American guy who was a chronically unhappy and abusive man—killed himself in 2009, the catalysts being a divorce with my mother along with some long-term depression and other mental health issues.

How did I get to such a dismal place in my own life so quickly, just a month shy of my twenty-seventh birthday? Coming out of secondary school and high on optimism, I thought by the time I reached my mid-twenties I’d have it all together. I pictured myself singing on Broadway, scoring a few bit parts on Law & Order, and transitioning seamlessly to being cast with Will Smith in the summer’s biggest blockbuster – after which, my getaway home in the Hamptons would be featured in Better Homes & Gardens, and my face would grace the cover of National Enquirer as Bigfoot’s not-so-secret lover. Not to mention, I’d have my perfect wife and perfect family by my side to share in my success.

But instead, “perfect” was unattainable (it always is). I only managed to perform in some small professional theatre gigs and on one embarrassing reality television show; and over the course of the previous eighteen months my father killed himself, my mother betrayed me and sued me for my father’s inheritance, and my girlfriend of six years broke up with me.

This storm of calamity and crisis had ravaged my life… and I wasn’t talking about it to anyone. My silence led to crisis and poor decisions—to the extent that I was clinging to a fourth story window.

Both my grandfather Haakon and father Douglas suffered their pain in silence because of the stigma surrounding talking about mental illness and getting help. I too felt that same stigma—like I’d be seen as “crazy” or “less of a man” if I talked about what I was going through. But I didn’t want to die and so I had to take a chance.

I started talking. I pulled myself back inside and first called my mom. She helped me through that initial crisis and we became friends again. She never called me “crazy.” I then started reaching out to the positive friends I had in my life. They hugged me and helped me with open arms. They never told me I was “less than a man.” Soon I got more help by seeing a professional counselor, and by writing down what I was going through in a journal.

But this idea of keeping silent continued to bother me. I did some research while in my recovery and found out that each year, suicide kills over one million people worldwide… and that many of those one million never speak up about their emotional pain because of stigma.

I had to figure out a way to reach people like that. So, like any other actor, writer, or comedian living in New York City whose life dealt them a crappy hand, I created a one-man show… and it toured theatres and universities in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia—and people were getting help.

But I had to keep talking because this isn’t just my family’s problem or a United States problem… it’s a world problem.

I had to get other people to tell their stories, so I started The i’Mpossible Project. Why? Because storytelling is one of our oldest traditions. Stories can make us laugh or cry… or both at the same time. They can teach, inspire and even ignite an entire movement.

The stories of The i’Mpossible Project are about overcoming obstacles, reengaging with life, and creating new possibilities—a son’s homicide, a transgender man finding love, and even coming back from the brink of suicide (you can read a couple of the stories HERE)… because it’s okay to be struggling, it’s okay to need help; people have your back… there’s hope.

It’s been four years since my crisis and life is definitely looking up. The acting and writing thing is going well, I have a great girlfriend; but most important I’m able to give and receive help and love, and with hard work I’m able to stay mentally well—all because I took a risk and told my story.

No matter what society says, it’s COOL (as in “okay”) to talk about your feelings. Don’t ever forget that you are important, and your story needs to be heard so we, the human race, can learn how to live and love better. #iampossible #mentalhealth

* * *

About: Josh Rivedal

Josh Rivedal (executive director of The i’Mpossible Project) is an author, actor, and international speaker on suicide prevention, mental health, and diversity. He curated the 50-story inspirational anthology The i’Mpossible Project: Reengaging With Life Creating a New You. He wrote the one-man play, Kicking My Blue Genes in The Butt (KMBB), which has toured extensively throughout the world. He writes for the Huffington Post. His memoir The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, based on KMBB and published by Skookum Hill in 2013, is on The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s recommended reading list.

Copyright © 2015 Embracing Your Differences, All rights reserved.

From Denial to Acceptance–My Daughter’s Disability, by: Francesca Buttitta


Guest Blogger: Francesca Buttitta

I was seventeen years old when I met my Prince Charming, my husband for thirty-one years now. I was twenty-one, my husband, twenty-two, when we tied the knot. The following year, I gave birth to my first child. Three years later, I gave birth to my second child.

I looked at my little girls with love I never knew existed.

Being a mother was something I dreamed of since I was a young girl. My dream had finally come true. I remember that special moment when I wrapped my arms around my children for the first time––what a precious gift. I promised to love them unconditionally and to always protect them. I wanted my girls to be happy, and I would do anything in my power to make sure that it would happen.

I knew motherhood would be something special. I wanted to be there for my girls as they took their first baby step; to proudly witness their first words; to take them to school.  Eventually, I would want my kids to find their true love, just as I had found mine.  And, of course, I want to be a grandmother (Shhhh).

But little did I know that this perfect picture I painted wasn’t as perfect as I wanted it to be.

My second child was diagnosed with an eye disorder called, Cone Dystrophy when she was fourteen years old.  I thought I had failed as a mother and I felt overwhelmed as to how I could help my disabled child.  Fear had washed over me in no time.

I cried when no one was watching because I knew I had to be brave for my family.  I was in denial of her condition.  I started to ask myself on a regular basis: what I had done wrong as a mother to deserve all this?

Nowhere in my perfect picture was there supposed to be a baby who over time became legally blind.  No one had ever taught me to be a mother in the first place, and I certainly was never taught how to accept her eye disorder.

I remember the first time she came home with a cane for the blind, my heart ached to see her like this. I was frightened for her.  What if people stare at her? What if they don’t’ accept her? What if I wasn’t there to help?

I wanted to hold her tight in my arms like when she was a baby. I wanted to keep my promise of keeping her safe, but I knew I had to learn to let go, accept, and see her for who she really was and is.

With time she helped me see her disability differently, and no, I didn’t fail as a mother—God really wasn’t punishing me!  Soon enough I saw the intelligence, beauty, and strength in my child that was always there.  At first, I was too blinded by her condition that I had almost forgotten to look at her for what she had to offer to this world.

All I needed to do was accept and let go.  Easier said than done.  But with time and education provided by my daughter to me personally—not to mention our connection with the Commission for the Blind—I felt happy again.

My little girl is all grown up now and independent.  She is attending college, writing, and inspiring and helping others. I couldn’t be more proud.

Today I look at my girls with pride and I feel so blessed to have them in my life. You know, I did alright as a mother, and I am proud of my daughters for who they are. Their imperfections have made them perfect! At least, they are to me!


 “In giving birth to our babies, we may find that we give birth to new possibilities within ourselves.” ~Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

Copyright © 2015 Embracing Your Differences, All rights reserved.

Transforming “I CAN’T” to “I CAN”—Is it Really Possible?


For years, the word “can’t” had been engraved into my psyche. As a matter of fact, my childhood and most of my adulthood was spent trapped in an ongoing cycle of poor thinking that led me to believe, in very little time, that I really couldn’t achieve anything in my life.

I was born with an eye disorder called cone dystrophy. However, due to the amount of stigma and a lack of acceptance about my disorder—I found myself sinking into this idea of feeling “limited.” Growing up, teachers and peers kept telling me that (1) I wasn’t going to achieve anything in life, (2) I wasn’t smart enough, and (3) college wasn’t for me.

Things I Learned about Life:

    1. I learned that well-being is my number one priority. Easy on the chocolate, heavy on the asparagus.
    2. I learned that I have the power to let my mind believe what I tell myself, so why not convince my mind how wonderful I am? Meditation helps with this.
    3. I learned that worry never solves my problems. Not much sense staying up all night worrying about whether I should have blueberry pancakes or strawberry waffles.
    4. I learned that friends come and go, the same way pounds accumulate during Thanksgiving and Christmas and then disappear with my New Years’ resolutions.
    5. I learned to surround myself with positive people, especially my four-legged friends.
    6. I learned that things will always get better, so never give up. Even those middle school years shall pass.
    7. I learned to be grateful for the little things in life: my two four-legged children, Lucky and Happy, watching Snoopy on TV with me.
    8. I learned to make time for the people I love. God will need them back someday.
    9. I learned to never let fear hold me back. Just get on that bus, even if I do get lost. Someone will help.
    10. It’s okay to cry. Even if it’s for the smallest things—I still cry when I watch the Notebook.
    11. I learned that asking for help doesn’t mean I am weak. I look forward to my therapy sessions.
    12. I learned that being different isn’t a bad thing. My Cone Dystrophy makes me a better listener.
    13. I learned to smile often, laugh daily, and make time to have fun.
    14. I learned that life is too short. My bucket list includes (but not limited to) Miami, Vegas, Paris, Australia, London—get me a travel agent.
    15. I learned that being “different” isn’t as bad as I thought. I have now learned to embrace my differences and surround myself with those people who appreciate me for who I am.
    16. I learned the importance of quality versus quantity in friendships.
    17. I learned who my real friends are. Those who love and accept me just the way I am.
    18. I learned that there is no need to let anyone talk down at me.
    19. I learned to transform can’t into I can because no one should ever tell me that I am not good enough.
    20. And lastly, I learned to be an advocate for myself and for others in similar situations.

Today, I obtained an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, and currently aiming for a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.

Soto answer the question I posed in this blog: yes! It is possible to transform a can’t to can.  With practice, positive surroundings, and a positive attitude—one can and will achieve great things.


Nothing is impossible. The word itself says “I’m possible!” — Audrey Hepburn

~Mariagrazia Buttitta


Copyright © 2015 Embracing Your Differences, All rights reserved.