Camp Twitch and Shout. How in the world do I begin to write about this place and express even a fraction of the way I feel about camp? All week I saw my campers growing into themselves, stepping out of their comfort zones, accepting who they are, and for some of them being able to be free of judgement for the first time. I loved so much that every single person at camp saw them as so much more than just a person with Tourette's. The week of camp is such an incredible gift for these kids and I feel that I am a part of that. Every time I saw one of them stepping out of their comfort zone, making new friends, relating to the others campers, or opening up I felt so proud.
At the same time I found it difficult to watch them have a hard time with their tics, anxiety, OCD, sensory issues, or other associated conditions because I know exactly how it feels. I'm so much better at managing my tics and associated symptoms than I used to be. At 15 and 16, my tics, OCD, and anxiety were at their worse and seeing my campers go through what I had to go through was difficult at times. Because I know exactly what it was like to be in their shoes and because I have moved past and conquered many of the issues I dealt with at their age, I felt like I was able to comfort them and help them through their issues in a special way. I was able to say to them the things I wish someone had said to me when I was going though the same thing at their age.
So many of my campers and the things they said to me brought me right back to when I was right in "the heat" of my disorders. They brought me back to the time when at 15 I spent time away from my parents and became so distressed by my tics and OCD that I had to go home early. They brought me back to when my swallowing tic was so bad that I couldn't sleep for days because of the pain and obsessing it caused and when my OCD made it so difficult to do simple things such as walking down stairs, drinking out of a water bottle that accidentally touched the ground, letting other people use my lap top, and touching door knobs and other people's hands because of the worries and obsessions my OCD would put in my head. It was difficult to be brought back to this time, but at the same time it helped me to share my story with my campers and motivate them to keep pushing forward through the hard times in such a personal way.
My campers really appreciated hearing my story, and hearing the things I went through at their age. First of all it made them feel less alone, but also it gave them someone older to look up to who has gone through the same things they have. Seeing that I have Tourette's and the associated conditions that come along with it and am a successful college student moving towards a degree in neuroscience gave them hope that Tourette's really is not a stop sign. They also really liked hearing that I research Tourette's. A lot of kids with TS have the strong desire to either become a neurologist or somehow work with kids who have TS when they grow up so they can help others who deal with the same things that they dealt with as a kid, so I think they could really relate to the research I do and my desire to continue to research TS in my future.
I absolutely loved the opportunity to get to know all these wonderful girls! As much as I might have inspired them, they inspired me just as much if not more! I feel like I have said this so many times, but I will say it again and again and again: these kids are so strong, beautiful, and brave and I feel so lucky to have been able to spend the week with them! As one of the camp nurses said, "people with Tourettes are not the ones that are disabled in our society, it is the “normal” people that are handicapped in the depth and beauty of life." What she said is beyond true, and it is something I witnessed again and again throughout the incredible week of camp :)