The Pandemic: Debbi’s Story:
About the Author:
Debbi Siegel is from Parkland, Florida. She is the Executive Director and and on the Board of Directors of Different Brains. Debbi has brother who is learning disabled she helps take care of. She is passionate about helping others with different brains.
Role as a Board Member:
Q: Describe your role as a board member for Different Brains.
A: As board members, we help approve the everyday things that go on at Different Brains and the direction it’s going in. It’s kind of a group effort. I’m also a volunteer for Different Brains so I’m more hands-on than a lot of the other people. I’m in the everyday life of Different Brains… I’m part of committees. I will help, mentor, and join forces with things that are going on in the trenches, let’s say. By “in the trenches”, I mean if there’s an event, I’m helping plan that event… I help when things get overloaded and listen in on what’s going on… I also help people make connections. For example, if I know someone who is good at research and you’re interested in research, I’ll hook you up with them.
Life Before The Pandemic:
Q: Describe your everyday life before the pandemic hit. Include aspects of your life such as work, extracurricular activities, or anything else that was social.
A: I have a brother who is learning disabled and he is married, who I helped take care of. I help my mom out and spend a lot of time with her. She’s very close to our family. I do have a social life and I’d go out a lot with friends. I do have my two amazing daughters and right before the pandemic hit, we had just become empty nesters, so both girls were away at college for the first time. It was a little strange, so I was keeping busy between Different Brains and our own family business. I do help out a little bit there. I would work out, I would see my friends, and then the other aspects of my life would play a big role in it. Every weekend, we’d usually get together with my second brother, who lives with my sister-in-law and nieces. We do a family event, whether it’s dinner or swimming. We try to do something with the family at least once a week.
My kids also ended up having the same spring break, which rarely ever happens when your kids are in two different colleges, so we planned this trip to Costa Rica. I was going to cancel it because things just started happening here with the coronavirus. The women in Costa Rica said, “We have no cases here, we’re not cancelling any trips, we’re not going to give you any money back”, and I was like, “Oh my goodness.” It was an expensive trip, it was a big family trip, and we were like, “You know what? Let’s just go.” So we ended up going and there weren’t any cases there, but they had started using the sanitizer, and when we flew, we were the only people wearing masks. Everyone else was laughing at us and looked at us funny, but to me, not wearing a mask seemed ridiculous. All the medical people were saying, “Don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask”, and I’m like, “That just doesn’t make sense!” When we got there, we took our masks off, we had this great trip, and we even stayed an extra two days. We got back on the 14th of March, they closed down the US on the 16th of March. We got back just in time! I’m so glad we went because we were then in the house for six months… I just remember the president saying at Easter, everyone will be fine, they’ll be celebrating with their families, no big deal… and now here we are in September (laughs). We’re still not back to normal and I feel like we’re living in a movie.
Reacting to the Coronavirus:
Q: Describe how you initially reacted to COVID-19 and the social distancing.
A: For me, it got a little scary because I have an autoimmune disease and I have really bad asthma and breathing problems. My doctor called me and she said, “I want you on full lock down. I don’t want you going near anybody, I don’t want you going out,” and she SCARED me.. My doctor is a big immunologist and she’s been part of all these [coronavirus] studies, so she kind of freaked me out and got me very paranoid. You hear about all the breathing problems people are getting from it. I was in the house, locked down, didn’t want to see anybody, missing my friends, and missing regular life. My kids were here. Thank God! The things I felt horrible about, like my mom would go out and do silly things and she couldn’t come here. She didn’t understand that. She didn’t grasp that at the beginning. Then once she saw she was alone and people were staying home and not going out, she started understanding more. She started staying home and then she could come over and hang out with us, but I hated her being alone and not being able to see her… That was a very hard part of it, but then you start acclimating to it. The other side of it is… now I have my whole family home again, which I really appreciated. We always had quality time, (laughs) now it’s long quality time, but I love it and I’m so happy to have it because I didn’t know if I’d ever have this time again… with all the horrible stuff of the coronavirus, there’s also the good part of it.
Life Changes & Adaptations:
Q: In what ways did your life and schedule change as a result of the coronavirus?
A: I’m home all the time (laughs). My schedule has completely changed. I don’t really leave. I went out for the first few times these past couple of weeks in five and a half months, which is crazy. I’m doing this virtual stuff from home with Different Brains, but besides that, I speak to my friends online. I’ve done a couple of driveway meetups with my friends. I had a parade for my daughter’s 21st birthday in front of the house. Things are very different. We’ve spent a lot of time in this house. We do go on walks. That’s our big thing so we’re not stuck-stuck. Going on walks takes you away from everything and is healthy.
Q: What have you had to do in order to adapt to these circumstances?
A: I definitely find that the walks, working out, and doing family game nights help. I stopped watching a lot of the news because I was getting addicted to watching the news, which is very unhealthy. Definitely dealing with my brother [who is learning disabled] an helping him and his wife understand this new world we are living in. We’ve had him stay with my mom to keep her company and him not being alone so much… That helps a lot because it takes the weight off my [other] brother and I and it makes them super happy when they’re all together…
In my house, we do family game night and I’ve found some online shows that are performances that are like at the Broward Theater so we’ll watch a performance. We try to find some different things to do that aren’t just TV and news, and shows – think out of the box, you know? I’ve read a bunch of books. That’s definitely helped also.
COVID-19 & ADD:
Q: If you are neurodiverse, how has this pandemic affected your condition(s) and/or vise verse?
A: Well, I’m definitely ADD. And, it’s made it so much worse because I feel like I’m forgetting a lot more. I don’t have a set schedule, so I’m not as structured and I try to be, but even so, my family calls me “Squirrel.” I definitely find myself forgetting more, but I try to put things more tools in place and help myself, where before, I didn’t really, because I’m noticing it more, maybe?
Coping With Change & Life Lessons:
Q: What coping mechanisms are you using to deal with these strange times?
A: Like I said, I think working out, definitely helps. We have been doing these workout classes online. We do some challenges– like a 30-day challenge. That kind of keeps us going. Definitely walking, reading, and talking to my friends and having outlets like that help. Even at Different Brains, our Wednesday group calls and things like that are great. I love having new people join our trainee program and watching them thrive. I love seeing the changes that happen.. We talk about the future. We are excited for it…
Q: What are some of the things you’ve learned about yourself and the world around you from these circumstances?
A: I’ve learned a lot about my family and how important it is to take advantage of the time with them. I’ve learned who my true friends are (laughs). I think that was important. I think we’ve learned a lot about the world, our country, and how sad a lot of things going on in it are, but there’s a lot we can do to change it. I think every little bit we do, and most importantly with Different Brains, helps. That’s why I have my daughters involved in it and that’s why I’m so passionate about it. It’s also taught me to slow down. Everything doesn’t always have to be so fast. You don’t have to rush to do everything.
Q: What advice would you give to someone that’s having a difficult time dealing with the coronavirus?
A: I would say to try as hard as you can to wake up every day and try to accomplish something big or small. These times are definitely hard. See if you can get outside at least once a day and get some form of exercise. My last thing would be to try to keep a schedule even though you are at home and stick to it as best you can. If you are feeling sad reach out to someone for help! I think that is most important. Otherwise, keep a positive attitude and we will all get through this together.
Story by: Debbi Siegel
Interviewed by: Julia Futo
Interviewed on: September 8th, 2020
Julia Futo was born on August 5th, 1999, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She faced difficulties early on in life with trying to perform everyday tasks. Before she was five years old, she was diagnosed with two learning disabilities: Encephalopathy and developmental coordination disorder (DCD). She struggled in school for a long time, but that changed when she took journalism in high school and learned how to become an advocate. She is currently in college and hopes to help others find their voices.