My Camp Counselor Experience
Growing up in a small town, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of different types of people. Everyone looked the same, had a similar culture, religion, identity and all were able-bodied; except me.
Having been born with a limb difference and having a mixed ethnic background. I never felt I belonged. I spent my entire childhood and most of my young life feeling very isolated and alone. I struggled with the word “disability” and the stigma of what a person with a disability was compared to the “normal” people around me. Because I could not accept the definition of disability, I was in denial for almost all of my adolescent life. This denial led to anger and depression. What I didn’t realize was that self-acceptance was the key to my happiness. It took me a long time to realize that being different is okay.
I am bringing this up for a few reasons. The first, is to bring awareness. If you are feeling like I’ve described above, you are not alone! It took me a long time to accept myself, so don’t beat yourself up about it. There are people like you and I who are going through similar and sometimes, more difficult situations. And it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I really understood this to be true.
I recently volunteered as a camp counselor for Amputee Coalitions annual Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp - a place for kids to learn more about living with limb loss and limb difference. Here I was surrounded by children who had limb differences just like me! It was overwhelming at first because I had always been the only “different” person in my group. But after awhile it became extremely comforting. It was amazing to watch these children have a safe place to play and feel normal! Here they could share their stories with one another without fearing judgment or sympathy. They could be themselves free of feeling “special,” less-than, or “othered.” Part of me was jealous that I never experienced camp as a child. It could have helped me get through my own struggles. I wouldn’t have been alone. That said, being there with them at my age now, I still felt a feeling of true acceptance, I’ve never before experienced. No one stared at me or took a double-glance, I wasn’t bombarded with questions, no, I was Shaholly. It was beautiful, freeing and strangely wonderful.
If there is a way to sum up my experience and share it with you, I’d tell you to find a support group. I always thought that I didn’t need that, but I was wrong. And if possible, I recommend giving back or volunteering your time at one of these organizations. It will not only help form their lives, but your life as well!