I spent the summer in the wilderness— at least that’s what I’ve been telling people. This summer from June 16 to Aug. 13 I worked at Camp Nejeda; a sleepaway summer camp for children with type one diabetes. After attending as a camper for the past six or so years, I missed my first year where I could finally be a counselor due to COVID-19. I had essentially been waiting for my camp counselor summer for years. What started as me only having to work for three weeks quickly snowballed into nine. I had no plans on leaving, no yearning to go home. Camp has always been my home, a place where everyone has the same disease as me and where every single person is welcomed with open arms. Where I can tell someone my blood sugar is low and they hand me food, where I can walk around with my insulin pump on my arm and not be stopped with hundreds of questions. It might be the only place in the entire world where I can truly be me.
At the end of the day, Camp Nejeda is located in the middle of the woods in New Jersey. I am from New York City, and because of COVID-19, I had not left the confines of my 33rd-floor apartment in Manhattan in quite a long time.
People questioned my mental and physical abilities to survive said wilderness seeing that I would scream at the sight of a fly and hadn’t faced a large group of people in over a year. I was seemingly very unfit for the three weeks I had taken on. Little do those same people know that one night five weeks in I did have a very close encounter with a spider about the size of my fist. I was on my way to brush my teeth and I did not make a sound, I simply walked away. So yes, maybe we had showers, toilets and wifi (occasionally) and sometimes we ordered Dunkin’ Donuts and Applebees.
But we also slept in cabins where our survival depended on how many fans we could fit in the outlets. Each cabin consisted of eight beds and one bathroom. While the bathrooms were equipped with a sink and a toilet, they were lacking in walls and ceilings. One could hear just about everything, and I’m not talking about cicadas. To shower we would walk up a hill and through almost the entirety of the campground perfect for all bystanders to see us walking in our towels. Once we finally arrived at the bathhouse each kid was allowed three to four minutes to shower depending on how much you liked the camper. Something that as a camper graduate gave me immense joy in enforcing. There were three showers each a different size and level of cleanliness, and yes there was one specific shower stall that was the best.
Also, one small and maybe insignificant addition to my definition of wilderness is that I had also deleted three of my four social media apps. While this is not a big deal at all, for someone with a self-diagnosed phone addiction and also a media management major it felt like I was mourning a loss. Regardless of whether or not what I have described passes your definition of the wilderness, it was as wild and woodsy and secluded as it has and most likely will ever get for me.
All of this leads me to the point of this little piece: everything I learned during my summer in the wilderness. I don’t want to sound like some advice column or one of those annoying people that go away for a little and think they’ve found themselves and that they’re better than everyone else, but in my nine weeks, I learned things that I think I can only process if they’re written out. So no this is not advice, this is not an expert opinion, this is one confused teenager’s attempt at unpacking and repacking all the things she’s learned and or realized thanks to this amazing place called Camp Nejeda.
Bugs are really not that bad. They are gross and look weird and I definitely don’t want to befriend any, but at the end of the day they are just living their lives and you are living yours. Coexisting should not be difficult. Unless they are massive or super furry or have like seven eyes. Adding an addendum here because my friend reminded me that on our first night there she got bit by a tick, and I did in fact do nightly tick checks (and hourly tick sprays) so ticks don’t count in any of this.
Don’t be ashamed of the things that made you happy. Happiness is so hard to come by and on the off chance that you are able to grab on to the feeling, it’s fleeting. If something makes you happy and you aren’t harming yourself or anyone else then do it. No hesitation, no looking back. Life is too short and happiness is too hard to come by to not do the things you want or that give you joy. Why it took me nine weeks in the wilderness to come to this conclusion is beyond me. It seems so simple and obvious yet I think it is one of the most challenging things to accomplish.
Next, and this one I think is the most important: the relationships you have are important for the time that you have them. People come into your life when you need them and leave when they’ve helped you all they can. Each person that you meet happens for a reason, the universe is saying this person can offer you something right now that you need. Now, I’m not sure yet if this is some subconscious cynicism or if this is some healthy emotional growth but each person is placed into your life with some kind of expiration date. You meet a person, you grow with them, you heal with them, you learn from them and you experience things with them that may be negative or positive. But regardless of what they were put into your life for, it doesn’t need to be forever.
I used to believe that if a friendship ends there’s something wrong with your ability to maintain relationships, but now I don’t think that’s the case. At camp, we ordered crystal jibbitz to put on our crocs but within a week each one of us had at least one fall off and get lost. My friend explained to me that it meant we simply did not need whatever properties the crystal had anymore, and I truly believe that sentiment applies to relationships as well.
Communication is so incredibly important even though confrontation is terrifying. Keeping things that bother you to yourself is going to be unnecessarily tolling. And on top of that, if something bothers you and you tell other people instead of going straight to the root of the problem, you will get nowhere. Life would be so much easier if people were honest about the things that bothered them, and if communication in general was prioritized more.
I found it impossible to bring this little piece to a close because it’s like wrapping up a whole chapter of my life. But after typing and deleting and telling myself I would just come back to it later I realized that it’s important to find an ending that I am comfortable with, not just because I have a deadline and this needs to be finished, but also for myself.
This summer was one for the books, I had the most fun I’ve had in probably my entire life and genuinely couldn’t have asked for anything else. While it put me through the wringer mentally in ways I didn’t know it was capable of, I am beyond grateful for Camp Nejeda, this summer and the people who made this summer special. My little peewee brain can’t really understand why this camp season had such an impact on me or what events or people led me to be here, but I don’t think that’s important anymore. What’s important is that my summer in the wilderness taught me things that I will carry forever.