As part of Snapshot Stories. Click here for more stories.
On my 16th birthday, my parents drove me 30 minutes from my house to my aunt’s so I can set up her basement for my sweet sixteen. I had invited about 15ish close friends at that time, with the disclaimer that my aunt’s basement is huge. And we can even use her deck. (I obviously got permission beforehand lol.) I don’t really remember much from the birthday party itself. There were games, cake, more games, rowdy behavior, loud talking, screaming in victory after musical chairs, etc. But there was also a lot of laughter. Especially from my end.
It was a memorable day in a lot of ways. I was finally 16 for one. (Because everyone wants to be 16 when they were younger, for some odd reason. It’s not even an age where you get to do a lot of things. It just sounded mature: Guys I’m 16.) I was spending time with some of my best friends at the time – some of whom became my sisters, and others drifted away. My friends are hilarious – more so than they take credit for sometimes. And it was fun.
My laughter has always been on the loud side, on the weird side, on the unique side. It’s become a defining part of who I am. I’m the one whose laughter can be made out in a restaurant, movie theater, classroom, lecture hall, where ever. I’m the one who claps her hands like a baby seal when I laugh. I’m the one with the A-HAHAHAHAHA-HAHAHA-HAHAHA laugh. With an odd snort thrown here and there. And wheezing and tears if it’s something really funny. I’ve also realized, looking back at this picture, that I squint a lot when I’m laughing, I’m not sure why though. Just another thing, I learned about myself. And I think, there’s a dimple? Meh.
My laughter is also something that keeps me going through tough times. Not the laugh itself, but the act of laughing. Laughing brightens up my mood and helps me stay positive. Which can be hard, especially since I tend to be pessimistic and cynical. Laughing helps me brush things off easily. Because bad things will pass like passing clouds, to paraphrase Tom Hiddleston. Things will eventually turn out good. We just have to keep working at it. And being the older sibling of a special needs brother, this attitude keeps me from falling into depression and frustration. Depression from the overwhelming exhaustion of having to mentally engage my brother every waking moment of his day (basically — when I’m not home or doing work at least. He knows to not bother me when I’m working ^_^). Frustration at the bureaucracy to get simple tasks done to get the benefits we need as a family in order to stay as a family. It took my parents 4 years to get my brother off of the DDD waiting list so he can get at-home aide workers to come and play with him. Four. Freaking. Years. Now just imagine the number of arguments my parents got in, and arguments that I got in with them during that 4 year span regarding or relating to my brother. I bet that’s hard, right? I bet that you’re wondering if we have some sort of super patience gene. Not really. We find ways to amuse ourselves because we as a family learned that happiness, optimism, and laughter keeps us sane.
My family has had to move about 10 times before I started 5th grade, mostly because of my dad’s job. My brother had a brain surgery when he was about 5, to remove half of his hippocampus (the thing that stores memories in your brain), in hopes to reduce/cure his epilepsy. It didn’t work – the weird electrical impulses that defines epilepsy just jumped from one side of the brain to the other. We have no idea why. Or how. And to this day. Then he developed, or at least showed signs of, autism spectrum and ADHD and bipolar disorder. My god, the number of medicines that we tried. The number of drugs we still use for him. It was, and still is, a cocktail of drugs that is still being refined for optimal results. That is how I was exposed to the American health care system, from the doctors, neurologists, pharmacists, and psychiatrists, to the social workers, case managers, DDD and DCF. I was exposed to basically every little detail. And this exposure, and the frustrations and depression that my family and I are constantly fighting off – with varying degrees of success every single day -, is the reason why I’ve become so interested in public health policy and advocacy.
Through all of this, I had to excel as a student, mature as a person, find my interests, and figure out what the heck I want to do with my life. And I still don’t know. But despite the amount of pressure I put on myself, laughter was my defense mechanism so I wouldn’t break. Of course I had moments where I just curled up into a ball and cried. I still have those moments. But it is my laughter that keeps me strong. The weird, loud laughter (and random snorts) with my squinty eyes and the presence of a possible dimple. Laughter is my wings. I fly away to another land of more happiness to recuperate and recharge mentally before returning to reality. Refueling my ambition. Giving me the strength to overcome every damn obstacle thrown in my way.
And as long as I am laughing, I will survive.
I will succeed.