This past week I volunteered at the teenage camp for DA VIC.
BEST EXPERIENCE EVER!
What blew me away about this camp is the feeling of ‘normality’ it gave the kids. Throughout the entire camp diabetes was in the background, but it wasn’t shoved in their faces. It was normal to feel low, normal to sit away from an activity for a minute and treat a low. They said things like ‘Ugh I have ketones!’ and everyone would go ‘ugh that sucks’ and would actually know how it felt! Being a teenager is hard enough, all you want to do is fit in and diabetes makes that impossible. Hell it was hard enough being 18 and getting diagnosed, my heart broke for some of these kids. People had bullied them for being diabetic, they’d had pump sites ripped out and felt that they couldn’t tell their friends that they were diabetic. This camp was such a fantastic opportunity for these kids to feel like any other teenager.
As you can probably tell I thrived on this as much as the kids. I’ve been diabetic for three years, and for half of those years I’d been in a sort of denial and pretending I was still ‘normal’. It’s only been in 2012 and this first bit of 2013 that I’ve really accepted my diabetes, and this camp not only helped the kids that were going through this stage, but me as well. Sitting with leader friends after the kids had gone to bed and laughing at how hilarious someone was when they were hypo-ing was such a surreal experience. I wasn’t the odd one out!
It was beyond rewarding to see the kids make friends and grow more confident throughout the week. Lots of them said to me that they felt like they were the only person in the world with type 1 diabetes, and how ‘awesome’ it was to meet other people their age with it. Lots of us (myself included), before discovering online diabetes communities, get introduced to 65 year old type 2 diabetic neighbours, because ‘they know how you feel.’ The kids here did know how each other felt – I overheard and took part in many conversations about diabetes and school, diabetes and friends…diabetes wasn’t always the centre of conversation , but it certainly made it’s presence known!
There was a question and answer session on Wednesday night, which involved the campers writing out questions anonymously and putting them into a box, which we then picked out and read. This was such a fantastic idea, which I hope the camp keeps, because navigating teenager-dom with diabetes must be an absolute bitch. There are questions that these kids are too embarrassed to ask their parents, endos or educators, so the leaders act as a sort of older sibling to bounce off embarrassing questions. The campers can also share experiences, but with the leaders as sort of conversation instigators. It really was invaluable, hopefully some of the stuff that was discussed will make a difference!
On the last day I was chatting with some of the campers, and every one of them were glad that they came. Some were forced into it by parents, some came of their own accord, but all of them were happy they had come and were running around exchanging contact details. Even the quietest campers got something out of it, which I think is a real success.
Basically, I adored camp. Teenagers are such an awesome age group to work with. (on a personal career note, it’s kind of cemented the choice between primary and secondary teaching for me). I’d love to try out all the other camps, volunteer on all the different ones, but this was a great introduction to diabetes camp. It not only helps the kids immensely, it’s helped me too! Hopefully, see you guys next year.