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Last Friday I flew to Seattle with my husband, met my nephew and his wife and we all drove to Eastern Washington. We stayed in a house called the Nat Washington House in Ephrata Washington.

On Saturday morning, we prepared food and decorations at the house for my dad’s surprise 80th birthday party.

I saw a friend I have known for 45 years. I saw my dad, stepmom, stepbrothers, nieces, nephews, two of my brothers, my former sister-in-law, and many other people.

The great thing about being with people who have known you most of your life (or in the case of nieces and nephews they have known me all of their lives) is that they treat you like anyone else. I was expected to step up and help with the party preparations. I was expected to make decisions, go shopping, put together platters of food, and clean up. Because of all the excitement I had to take some extra medication (I had to do this on the flight to Seattle and the day of the party, but overall, I did well). I wasn’t treated as someone who was fragile, different, or incapable.

I am a part of a family. I am a respected member of that family. I am an important person in a web of people who are important to me.

When I am with family, it is the only time I can truly be myself and feel as if I am valued 100%. I’m not the woman with schizophrenia. I am a daughter, an aunt, a sister, wife, etc. Everyone at the party with the exception of the younger kids knew me long before I had the diagnosis of schizophrenia.

I wanted to fast from social media and technology for the 40 days before Easter (Lent). I wasn’t successful in doing that, but I was successful in fasting from technology for the whole time I was on vacation and celebrating my dad’s life with family and friends.

I have to tell you that having conversations face to face with people is more rewarding than a message on Facebook. Laughing at people’s jokes or things that happen is so much more meaningful than clicking the like button on Facebook, or sending a smiley face.

As someone who normally isolates socially, I sure enjoyed talking, laughing and participating in all the festivities. It was a joy to give up technology for a short time, and it was priceless to be a member of a family that doesn’t consider my illness as the thing that defines me.

Giving up technology taught me to be more present with the people around me and to listen to them and enjoy them more. But better than that was being all the things that make me feel like a whole person, a regular person, a person who is so much more than schizophrenia. Sure, I have to take a little more medication to deal with stress, but no one notices, and the benefits to me are tremendous. I am occasionally the cool aunt, the best friend, the only daughter, the only sister, and the one who is married to that nice guy (who everyone loves).

The most important part of the weekend is that you could hear our laughter ring out in every room of that historic house, and my laughter may have been the loudest of all.