How Ignoring My Crohn’s Disease Led Me to Summer Camp
Until recently I made it my business to 100 percent ignore the fact that I have Crohn’s disease. With the exception of major surgery in 2011, I have experienced relatively good health, or, as I call it, “the new normal” of living with Crohn’s.
My health has been far from perfect, but for the most part, it hasn’t interfered my goals and day-to-day experiences. I eat fairly normally, work (a lot), spend plenty of time socializing with friends, traveling, playing sports and pursue a career in an industry that I care about immensely. But there has always been a shadow lingering in the back of my mind: The knowledge of the disease I do my best to hide from the rest of the world is still there, and the fear that someday it will rear its head more vicious than ever, refusing to be ignored.
A little over a year ago, I decided to confront my fear and lean into it rather than letting it fester in the dark corners of my mind. So I took the biggest leap possible and after years of deleting the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) email newsletter from my inbox without ever reading it, I opened it up and skimmed it. I was surprised to discover the organization has its own summer camp for kids with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. What? Initially, I was skeptical. If I had been a pediatric IBD patient, the last thing in the world I would ever have wanted to do was go to camp with a bunch of other bowel-challenged juveniles.
Luckily, this turned into a passing judgment when I realized, wait, I love outdoors activities, s’mores and sleeping in cabins. I ended up submitting my application to be a counselor at Camp Oasis, and the rest is history!
Last June, I spent the most amazing week bonding with kids and counselors alike in the mountains of Southern California. And not to be cheesy, but I think I benefitted more from the experience than any of my campers.
The first two days were training for staff, and I probably cried more during those 48 hours than I had in the previous 48 months. I was a fountain of emotion. That supportive environment brought up every feeling of anger, self-doubt and shame my disease had planted in me and pushed it to the surface where I could finally acknowledge it, not only without judgment, but with understanding from people who have been in the same situation. Then I’d let it go, move on and act as a role model for the kids who hadn’t even arrived at camp yet. Oh, my God! The kids hadn’t even come to camp yet! At least they wouldn’t see my cry because I’d used all the tears I had stored up for future events like weddings, funerals and videos of different animals being best friends. Notttt!
Watching my little campers learn and grow each and everyday forced me to drink extra water to create some more tears. We tackled every activity from the camp classics like archery and swimming to the big challenges like the adventure course and horseback riding. It was such a privilege to watch these kids embrace life with the excitement and curiosity that every child should on top of grappling with diseases that deal them a rough blow in life in their early years.
I’m so excited to head back up the mountain to camp again this year. I can’t wait to see how familiar faces have grown over the past year and to welcome new campers and counselors. I’m so grateful I was able to let go of my bitterness at the unfairness of having Crohn’s even just for the 10 minutes it took for me to apply to be a counselor.
If I had held onto my negative feelings, I never would have opened myself up to participate in the most positive and supportive community experience.
Follow this journey on Cool With Crohn’s.
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