The Pandemic: Julia’s Story:
About The Author:
Born a fighter, staying a fighter! I’m Julia, I’m 21 years old, and I was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. My life has never been easy. I had a very complicated birth that shaped the obstacles I would face, but also the gifts I would develop later on in life. By the age of five, I had two diagnosed disabilities: encephalopathy and developmental coordination disorder. Starting school presented its own challenges, as I was often bullied by my peers and even some teachers, but I found myself at age ten through a martial arts called “aikido” and through journalism, which led me to do advocacy work in my last two years of high school. I still do aikido and I have other passions such as Zumba, yoga, meditation, reading, writing, art, and making a difference in people’s lives. I am currently attending college and I joined Different Brains in October of 2019. I am part of Different Brains’ speaker’s bureau and leadership program. It is my hope to one day make a big impact on the world and help change it for the better.
A Day in the Life of Julia:
Q: Describe your everyday life before the pandemic and include social activities such as work, school, extracurricular activities, and other social aspects.
A: My everyday life [before the pandemic] was packed! I went to college and had four classes. I also worked, and sometimes, I would barely have enough time to come home from school and eat lunch before I went to my job at a local supermarket. My work hours varied, thus, my overall schedule varied as well. In February, word of the coronavirus entering Florida had already spread, but my college didn’t go remote until March. What made my school experience really weird in terms of the pandemic was, I had just finished spring break, went back to school for a week, and then basically had another spring break because this was when my college was trying to determine whether or not it would be safe for students to remain attending classes in-person and my professors needed this extra time to figure out how they would resume classes online, and for how long. During this week, I barley did a thing. Also, my mom had gotten rotator cuff surgery, so during the first few weeks of quarantine, my brother and I took care of her. On top of being a college student and having a part-time job, I train in a Japanese type of martial arts called, “aikido”. I’ve been practicing aikido for ten years now, and the master instructor of my school wanted me to test for my next belt rank in May, but I haven’t been able to train from March to June due to the coronavirus situation, so my test is going to have to be postponed until further notice. Because of my job and hobby as a martial artist, I interacted with numerous people in a day: many of which who could be sick. Whenever I had the chance, I would hang out with my best friend as well. I also am an intern for Different Brains. Before, I was able to go there every Friday from 11:00-4:00 and during that time, I would write and edit articles, and every now and then, I’d do things like write down transcripts, be the camerawoman for episodes of “Week in Neurodiversity,” and right before the coronavirus hit, I started editing audio clips of “Exploring Different Brains” and “Spectrumly Speaking”. Now, I can only work on articles and I’m currently working on this coronavirus project.
Reacting to the Coronavirus:
Q: Describe how you initially reacted to COVID-19 and the social distancing.
A: To be honest, at first, I didn’t know HOW to react! It took a lot of time for me to comprehend how serious the coronavirus situation was. Because of this delayed reaction, I was actually indifferent about it for quite some time, and it got to the point where my own mom called me “ignorant”. Put it this way: the first thing I wanted to do upon hearing everything was going to shut down for an unknown period of time due to the coronavirus was go to the beach. I wanted to go to the beach because I could feel the anxiety in my house from other family members about COVID-19, which was draining me of my own energy, and made my ignorance and indifference to this whole entire situation even worse. I needed to escape for a little bit and going to the beach was a way for me to hit the reset button. After a little bit of time, I became more empathetic towards my family, but at the same time, the loneliness hit me like it never did before. Social anxieties that I had developed as a result of bad experiences with failed friendships, and which I thought I had completely gotten rid of, made an epic comeback in the most unpleasant of ways. I started taking everything way too literally and if there was room for misinterpretation of things people said to me, I overreacted. Or, if it was taking friends a little longer than normal to respond back to me, I’d flip out because I was worried I was losing them. This type of behavior is extremely unusual for me, as I’m normally way more calm, mellow, and patient. My social insecurities became stronger than they had ever been before, at least in a REALLY long time. Now that I’m able to grasp the severity of the coronavirus situation, I am taking it way more seriously. I try my hardest to follow the social distancing rules, but because I can’t tell the difference between six and sixteen feet, it’s harder for me to do than most people would think. Thus, I try and stay as far away from people as possible when I’m out in public, I make sure to wear masks, change clothes immediately upon coming home from some place and throw the clothes I was wearing in the washing machine right away, and clean my hands as much as possible. If I was too close to anyone from a stranger in a store to a close friend, I would refrain from physical contact with my family members for two whole weeks.
A Drastic Change:
Q: In what ways did your life and schedule change as a result of the coronavirus?
A: My life and schedule changed drastically! I went from being frequently on the move to being home-bound 24/7. School was to resume online for the rest of the year, and my martial arts school and Different Brains had to close down in order to keep people safe. My mom didn’t want me working either (and I don’t blame her). She has an autoimmune disease, so if I were to get the virus and give to her, the consequences could be devastating, and I didn’t want to risk that. Thus, I only went to work a couple of times since the pandemic started and probably won’t feel safe going back until 2021. Trying to adapt to school online is a story of its own. 2/3 of my professors resumed classes, and only one of my professors taught the entire time. The other one only had us for fifteen minutes sometimes, and the professor that taught the entire two hours relied on me heavily, as I was one of two students to actually pay attention and respond to him. I certainly did not mind the (almost) private class aspect, but I felt really bad for this professor because of the overall lack of student participation for his class. It was a challenge, but I did my best to adapt.
Adapting to the Coronavirus:
Q: What have you had to do in order to adapt to these circumstances?
A: I’ve had to do a lot to adapt. Once I was able to fully comprehend and accept the coronavirus situation, the first productive thing I did was create a new schedule to keep myself on track. Then, after realizing I was feeling very lonely, I tried to incorporate talking to at least one person a day into my schedule, which was good, because not only did it help me, but it helped all the people I was talking to too. I also needed to keep myself moving because I have a lot of energy, so I incorporated Zumba for 45 minutes to an hour a day as well as daily yoga to stretch myself out afterwards and maintain my flexibility for aikido. I’m also someone who needs to be productive to be happy, so when I’m not working on things for Different Brains, I’m outside helping my mom around the house.
“Coordinating” Around Her Neurodiversity & The Coronavirus:
Q: If you are neurodiverse, how has this pandemic affected your condition(s) and or how have your conditions affected the way you are dealing with it?
A: So, before I answer this question, I think I should take a little bit of time to explain my disabilities. I have something called, “developmental coordination disorder”, which is a form of dyspraxia: a physical and developmental disorder that causes people to perform less well than others of their age in expected daily activities. I already mentioned a couple of the symptoms that affected how I initially responded to the coronavirus: a delayed response and ignorance due to not being able to fully comprehend it as well as being very literal. Another thing I have that kind of ties into why I have developmental coordination disorder is, my primitive reflexes haven’t fully integrated. Because of this, I seldom ever truly feel “grounded” and I am frequently on edge. The retained primitive reflexes is also where my hyperactivity comes into play. I have tons of energy, but a huge factor of my hyperactivity is caused by anxiety, so moving around for me is crucial. It rids this excess energy off. When I had nothing to do and had way too much anxious energy during the first week, I lost sleep, I was all over the place, and I wasn’t able to think clearly or act appropriately to these circumstances. The other reason I need a lot of movement in my life is because, when you have developmental coordination disorder, it’s almost a necessity to undergo life-long physical therapy if you want to be as efficient and successful as possible, and all the activities I do acts as my physical therapy.
Coping With Change:
Q: What coping mechanisms are you using to deal with these strange times?
A: Making myself a schedule and talking to people were honestly some of the best things I did in order to help myself cope with these unusual times. Other things I’ve been doing to keep myself grounded and back down to earth are mindful meditation, walking my dog and spending time outside, keeping a positive mindset, exercising, keeping myself busy, and focusing on spirituality. Eating healthy and keeping myself hydrated helped significantly too. I also remind myself that even though the world is facing much chaos and difficult things, there’s still beauty in it. I wake up every morning happy because it means I’m still alive and it’s another day I get to spend time with my family members. The sky looks more blue and the sun shines brighter now. It’s probably due to there being less pollution in the air. I look and think of the little things and remember I have much to be grateful for. I think beforehand, I took a lot for granted, but being grateful and seeing beauty in life gives me hope and keeps me going every day.
Learning More About Herself:
Q: What have you learned about yourself and the world around you from these circumstances?
A: One of the greatest things I’ve realized is, with dark, comes the light. Everyone is facing difficult times right now, and it’s forcing a lot of us to change (for the better) to ensure we will all survive. It’s a curse, but it’s a blessing in disguise too. Personally, I’ve changed quite a bit as result from this. I realized I still have a few of my own demons that I need to learn to work with, but I also realized that I’m the one in control of my own life, and I don’t need to suffer from this. Instead, by embracing all these changes, I can continue to work on myself and come out of this defeating the coronavirus instead of it defeating me.
Go With the Flow:
Q: What advice would you give to someone like yourself that’s dealing with the same situations?
A: Oh boy… there’s a lot of things I’d like to say, but I’ll try and keep it as brief as possible. To anyone who comes upon my message, I want you to know that it’s okay if you are having a hard time accepting, comprehending, and adapting to the way things are in life right now. It takes time for EVERYONE to adapt to ANY new circumstance, so you are not alone. We are living in strange times, but all things will eventually pass.
Another thing I’d like for you to know is, if you are facing a lot of negative emotions right now, that is perfectly normal. We are living in such unusual circumstances, and a lot of the things we love to do, we can’t do right now, and we don’t know when we’ll even be able to do them again. This has caused the world a lot of anxiety. Feel and accept all the negative emotions you are having and let them pass. Then you can start working on developing a positive mindset, but never try and rush or ignore your own emotions.
Working With Demons Instead of Against Them:
Speaking of negative emotions, your demons may come out during these times. Again, this is perfectly normal, and you are not alone in this. Instead of trying to fight those demons off though, work with them. Spend some time getting to know your demons a little better, find out how and why they came into your existence, accept them for who they are, ask them to give you wisdom, and learn from them. It sounds crazy, right? Demons can be a good thing?!?! The answer to that is YES! But the secret is, you need to learn how to utilize them in order to help yourself become a better person. Really dig deep into yourself and into your own well-being.
Taking Advantage of the Time & Not Being Hard on Yourself:
I’d also encourage you to take advantage of all this extra free time you have. Create a schedule for yourself, learn a new skill, catch up with all of your friends, spend time with family, move around, laugh, and be productive, but whatever you do, don’t be stagnant all day long. Being stagnant blocks negative and destructive energy in, and it blocks positive energy out from coming into your body. This is exactly what we want to avoid during these times. However, don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes some time and a little effort. Being too hard on yourself will only create more stress and pressure. Remember to take care of yourself and accept the pace you function best at. In time, you will find what works best for you, so remember to be patient with yourself and those around you—they’re trying to adapt to everything too. Lastly, if you look hard, you can find beauty in life. It may be a little difficult but counting your blessings and practicing gratitude goes a real long way. You know, life is like clay: cracks may form in it, it may get bumpy, or it may even collapse, but it never truly is broken. Like clay, you can always mend and mold your life into something new and beautiful, ignite it, and give it color. You are the ceramist and your life is the clay.
Story by: Julia Futo
Written on: June 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.