I was not a camp kid. All I wanted to do in the summer was rollerblade, eat off the grill, and sleep in. However, because my parents wanted us kids to have the normal number of childhood experiences, we did go to a few campy (ha ha) things.
The most “camp” experience we probably had was doing one of Concordia’s Language Camps. It was an overnight, lakeside, week-long excursion where we would learn German. I think they found out about it because two of our friends were doing it and my parents decided it would be less traumatic if we knew people. Evan and I were not pleased. The camp was for beginners, but the staff only spoke to us in German and if we stared at them long enough, obviously not understanding, they would dramatically act out whatever they were trying to tell us. We had to sing loudly (in German, of course) before they would let us into the cafeteria. Every day was full of small group activities, singing, crafts, etc. We woke up every day at the crack of dawn (or so it felt like). It was, to this day, the longest week of my life. All I wanted to do was go home. I actually attempted to dehydrate myself so I would get sick and be sent home, but that didn’t work out. Being at camp may suck, but being sick at camp is worse.
It wasn’t all bad. The high school girls who served as “counselors” were really nice. One of them would sing us to sleep with Jewel songs she played on her guitar and they would talk to us in English at the end of the day so we didn’t feel completely disconnected from everything. The other girls in the cabin were friendly, I just didn’t have any of them in my small group I spent all day with, so that was a bummer. At the end of the week, they set up a dance for us with German techno music, and it was not as awkward as one might expect. Still, there was nothing quite like the euphoric joy of driving away and heading back home to cats and homemade hamburgers and reading.
My other two camp-like experiences were not actually in the summer (one was in the fall, and I think one was like right at the beginning of summer, maybe) and were both church-related. The first was with a big church and was a weekend with a zombie theme, because Christians are supposed to die to the old self, and live in the new. Pretty clever, I know, and that’s not totally sarcastic. The stage where all the sermons were was set up with tombstones and cut-outs of people in the various stages of life and death. The talks were all pretty interesting and I wished I could have just done the worship and message part of the weekend. The parts where we were supposed to “fellowship” were what spiked my anxiety to its peak. I felt so awkward that it physically hurt. I knew most of the girls in my group decently well (one of whom actually just married my cousin, I hadn’t seen her since that weekend probably so when I met her, we kind of stared at each other with that, “I know you, but I don’t know how…” look) but not well enough to actually feel comfortable with anyone. I knew their names, but literally nothing else about them. I felt like they were all best friends and I was just on the outside. When everyone who came to the event had this huge game that involved running around and catching people (I literally have no idea what it was, this is what I assume it was based on the war paint boys were painting on themselves), I wandered around the woods until I found another girl sitting in a swing so we just swung in silence until order was restored. Spiritually, it was a good experience. The last night the main speaker did an exercise where we would walk through a coffin that was set up vertically, representing coming back to life in Christ, and I started weeping, something that had never happened before during a church event. Socially, it was horrendous.
The next church event was part of a much smaller church and with a youth group I felt more comfortable with. I don’t remember much except that my group leader who I adored had to have emergency dental surgery because she got dry socket, and that I was almost always covered with ticks. We were in the woods. There was canoeing and some hiking and such. Socially, there was a huge outbreak of late middle-school hormones and most of the kids were obsessed with each other. There was one girl in particular who was the object of desire, probably because she was tall and blonde and was the only girl who was wearing makeup (during camping, really?), and one boy who basked in the attention of the girls from other churches. At night for one of my cabin’s bonding sessions, we had to go around and say who we liked, which I was thought was immensely stupid. Me and a couple of the other girls who I knew better literally had to say, “We don’t like anyone, but I guess if we had to say who we thought was the cutest…” It was awkward. I remember one of the girls said she chose my brother, which was a proud moment for me. On the ride back, we went through these boxes we had set up during the weekend where people could put letters or whatever, and that was an exercise in humiliation. I got like three letters, one of which was from my leader so that doesn’t count, and had to sit and listen to Tall Blonde Makeup Girl brag about all the letters she got from BfOCs (Boys From Other Churches) saying how hot she was. I was totally judging her. This weekend was supposed to be about GOD. Judge judge judge.
I’ve always thought I didn’t have anxiety until that halfway point my junior year of college where I started having panic attacks, but looking back, it’s pretty clear I’ve always had social anxiety. People called it “being shy,” but there’s a line between “being shy” and “wanting to die and feeling like you’re going to throw up when you’re around people.” I don’t feel like that anymore, so that’s a huge step. I’m able to manage my anxiety and have made a lot of good friends, something I was never able to do easily as a kid. That’s progress.