For so long I did not discuss in detail something that really traumatized me as a child and I decided to finally write about it because it is something that has had an effect on my life for so long, & still remains very much a part of my adult life.
Psychological trauma is described as a type of damage to the mind that occurs as a result of a distressing event.
When I was young I wanted to go to summer camp during the summer between graduating grade five before I went to grade six.
I went to a summer camp called Camp Sheldrake which still is in operation today in Bartibog, NB which is roughly twenty minutes outside of Miramichi, NB my hometown.
Their website says, “150 acres overlooking the beautiful Miramichi River, Camp Sheldrake boasts two waterfronts and several kilometres of woodland trails. We are a residential outdoor adventure summer camp for youth and teens.”
My parents had no issue paying for me to go to camp & this would be the first time I stayed away from them for this length of time. I believe the program was around 5-6 days long.
The first day I arrived I did not mind being dropped off and away from my parents, but after the daily activities that night I did not want to stay. I wasn’t comfortable with being away from my family or my home.
I asked to go home that evening but I was told no. I immediately felt like a prisoner at this camp. It set the tone for the remainder of my time there.
According to the rules of the camp, you are not allowed to leave. Even on their website today it says:
For some children, homesickness can be as painful as a stomachache. Consequently, our staff will be trained to detect its early symptoms and deal with the issue. We do know that a large percentage of campers need a day or two to work themselves through the process. We also know that getting through it successfully can be a significant factor in helping children attain the degree of independence necessary to make them self-reliant individuals. For these reasons, we strongly discourage visits during the sessions. For these same reasons we ask that you not promise your child that they may go home or call if they experience homesickness.
The following morning I woke up for breakfast I did not eat, I kept asking to go home and they stopped saying no and kept saying things like “after this activity” & I would complete the activity to then ask to go home again to be met with another “after this” kind of scenario.
Eventually, I started to not eat or drink at all and I remember when they tried to make me eat something I ended up puking all over one of the camp workers because my body was in a state of such high anxiety I couldn’t eat. They gave me Advil and had me rest because I started getting a fever, but I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted to leave.
I told them again and again and again that I wanted to leave, but they would not let me call my parents, I had to write a letter home which was useless but I did. In the letter, I asked my parents to please come get me because I missed them and wanted to leave.
I became more and more lethargic and did not want to move. I just wanted to go home, I wanted to see my parents, I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I didn’t want to be around these people who were strangers to me or participate in another activity (which I had no energy to do).
I even remember going for a shower and the water being cold because the hot water was used by all of the previous people.
At one point, I was left in my cabin alone to sleep during the day because I had no energy. Another time I had to go to the beach as it was on the to-do list that day and instead of enjoying summer and being happy I was lethargic laying on my towel on the beach alone looking at the Bartibog bridge wishing that I would see my parents van drive by.
The entire thing felt like torture. I was not enjoying myself, I was full of anxiety, I missed my parents, & I just wanted to leave. Nobody was listening to me and I was fighting to have the energy to move.
Eventually, on the third day, I really put pressure on to let me call my parents. I could not sleep at night, I was far from enjoying the summer camp experience.
They still declined to let me call, but a member of the team did call my house and they got no answer. I don’t believe they left a message but their number did display as a missed call on my parent’s phone.
That evening they had a campfire and I don’t really remember what was happening with it because I couldn’t concentrate on anything but wanting to leave.
I was laying on the ground lethargic and no energy to participate or acknowledge anyone when I remember out of the corner of my eye I saw my parents walking up towards the campfire.
Honestly, it was one of the happiest moments of my life because I was in such a state of homesickness that I don’t think I would have lasted many more days as I was not eating or drinking and barely sleeping.
My mother noticed the missed call from the camp and when she tried to call back nobody would answer. So she asked my father to come down with her for the drive to make sure everything was okay.
I instantly jumped up and ran to them and immediately asked them to take me home right away. I told them I asked to go home a million times and I wanted to leave but they wouldn’t let me, and one of the camp employees tried to talk them into forcing me to stay.
Thank god my mother had more brains than them and said that she would never force a child to stay if they were homesick.
When I returned home I thought that it was the end and I was finally free, but in reality that was just the beginning of the battle of anxiety.
To this day I whole heartily believe that as a child and dealing with that kind of trauma it still has an effect on me today.
After returning home I would not leave or go anywhere unless I knew for a fact I was going to be back home in my own bed and in the same house as my parents that night. This went on for years and years. I could not stay as far as the house across the road without feeling major panic attacks and anxiety.
Fact: Homesickness may lead to or exacerbate certain mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
What I went through at Camp Sheldrake was and still is having an effect on my daily life.
I could not sleepover anywhere for years and then seven years later at the age of seventeen, I was finally able to stay over at a friend’s house without any issues. It took me seven years to fight the trauma that was inside me telling me that I would never see my family again, that I was going to be held without my will, that something bad was going to happen to me.
Now at the age of twenty-four years old, I still have anxiety, I am able to be away from my family but the trauma from back then still has me thinking horrible thoughts that something bad could happen to me.
When I travel I stay in hotels and as embarrassing as it feels to admit this, if I am alone at night during my travels I sleep with all the lights and tv on, and most nights I still end up tossing and turning until I become so tired I finally pass out. The fear of being harmed, kidnapped, or being murdered runs through my mind.
I think the real reason that the camp sets it rules to no visits and not allowed to go or call home is that the people they train to be camp counsellors are only teenagers themselves and have no real training in mental health, anxiety, depression, etc.
I am sure many kids have had great experiences at the camp, but for the ones like me who wanted to leave but were treated like a prisoner I decided to open up about my experience with how a simple summer camp experience turned into a life of anxiety and fear when being alone and not around people I know.
If you are a parent or guardian, I ask you to please never practice “tough love” in the form of forcing your child to ever stay in a place they do not feel safe, comfortable, or happy. You may think you are trying to show them everything will be okay, but in turn, it could cause anxiety, depression, etc that will stick with them for long periods because of what they experienced.
Instead, tell your kids its okay to call you if they are afraid, upset, not comfortable. You are not making them soft, you are showing them that everything will be okay because you are there for them.
Camp Sheldrake still has this rule in place today.