Note: Today’s blog is a guest post by my 22-year-old daughter, Kelsey Diamantis. Kelsey’s experience at Camp Twitch and Shout was invaluable to her, and has made her even more dedicated to getting The Kelsey B. Diamantis TS Scholarship Family Foundation, Inc., dba Dollars 4 Tic Scholars, underway to provide college scholarships to kids with Tourette’s Syndrome, and camp attendance sponsorships to Camp Twitch and Shout. Read on!
My Time at Camp Twitch and Shout
When my mom first told me about Camp Twitch and Shout, the idea was awesome. I was excited at first. I get to meet new people- people just like me, who have Tourette’s syndrome. For those of you who do not know what Tourette’s syndrome is, it is a neurological disorder for uncontrollable movements or sound. I started showing sign of Tourette’s when I was about 5 and was diagnosed at age 11. Growing up, Tourette’s was not a very common thing, so my parents weren’t sure how to go about it. When I was younger, my parents would mock my vocal tics or my physical tics and ask me “Why can’t you just stop?” The thing was, I couldn’t. I could try holding a tic in for a period of time, but that was not wise because then I would have an outburst and no one – including myself- would understand what or why I was doing some of the things I did.
Point of the story is, the movements are involuntary and uncontrollable, but mine were never extremely bad. I was lucky to have such a mild case. I learned how to control my tics as I got older and so they just blended in with my “bubbly personality”. Even now when I tell people that I have Tourette’s, they are surprised. SO going to a camp where I was with people just like me thrilled me yet scared me at the same time. As it grew closer to departing for Georgia (where the camp was located) I became anxious. Now I’ve always had anxiety, but could never determine exactly what was happening when I got anxious (newly understood characteristic of my Tourette’s). So, I started feeling very scared. I saw a video on the camp site where the kids at camp were in a circle and they were catching tics from one another (yes, this is a real thing, by the way) and I got nervous. “What if I catch a tic? What if I go home worse than when I arrived? My tics are controlled. What if I can’t control them? Will people judge me?” These fears grew in my mind.
Then, it was time to go to camp. WOW. That was a big step for me. I haven’t told many people- let alone family members- about my Tourette’s. My mom and I had a girl’s road trip, and drove up to Winder, Georgia (my new favorite place, ever). We drove up a day early and stayed the night with my cousin who lives in Winder. I was very nervous all night and dreaded going early to meet with the director the next morning.
When my mom and I arrived at the meeting grounds the next day, I was still feeling very nervous and anxious. We met with Tricia Kardon, the director of Camp Twitch and Shout and Caleb Harrill, who worked alongside Tricia. We met with them to discuss something my mom and I were doing- starting up a scholarship program for freshman year students going into college and continue for their 4 years throughout schooling. We wanted to offer scholarships for the kids who attend Camp Twitch and Shout and therefore opened this idea to Tricia and she loved it.
After our meeting, I said good-bye to my mom and was left alone (or so I felt) to meet all of the incoming counselors for the 2014 camp week. Tricia was extremely nice and introduced me to everyone she could. Everyone was just-nice. But a genuine nice, not a fake I-know-you-don’t-really-care-nice. It was refreshing. I met a lot of wonderful people. Once all of the counselors arrived, we started our training. This occurred on Saturday, July 12th. That afternoon, we moved over to the Yargo National Park where the camp was held and got ourselves situated.
I neglected to mention what age group of children I had! Well, I had 10-12 year old BOYS. Now, I’ve been a summer camp counselor for many years, all of which watching over children between the ages of 4-6. Girls and boys. Not 10-12. That was a scary age for me to deal with. I interned at an Elementary school for my schooling and had 8 and 9 year olds, and they were crazy, so working with the older kids was something I was not fond of.
Anyways, the kids arrived on Sunday and I met my group of boys. I also had all-guy counselors in my group. They were all very nice and we made friends fast. I was still very shy the first and second day, even when the kids arrived. So, my boys arrived and they were as cute as could be. They seemed much older than 10-12. Once the boys said good-bye to their parents, they were all ours- all 11 of them. I was starting to open up to the fact of having boys. They weren’t so bad.
We had opening ceremonies the first night and everyone got comfortable with each other. As the days went by, I became more and more comfortable, to the point of ticking and not even knowing it. My boys (and everyone else) were very open and curious about my tics, along with the other counselors in my group. I had never talked to a kid about my Tourette’s before. I had never been exposed to anyone else with it either, so it was all a new ball game for me. It was nice opening up about my tics, and on the rare occasion where I did tic, my boys were more than happy to point it out and let me know; which I didn’t mind by day 3 because I was comfortable with myself and those around me by then.
The kids at Camp Twitch and Shout, I must say, were amazing. I have never met a group of kids who are so talented and misunderstood. I was punched in the arms, spit on, massaged, yelled at, had hands on my face, was poked, and the list goes on and on. At first I was scared to death! Since I controlled my tics so well and hadn’t been exposed to Tourette’s besides myself before, I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect all of the above to happen to me either. By the end of the week, I was used to anything thrown my way. I had been through it all!
A quick overview of what the kids did for the week- They signed up in the beginning of camp for a specified “discovery program” that they would attend for the whole week. Something that they wanted to try, be it cooking, arts and crafts, action adventure, or swimming lessons. Along with those chosen activities, there was swimming every day and then three other activities for each day as well: climbing, fishing, boats, archery, group games, etc. then there was the Whacky- Olympics, Color war, and other fun activities that the kids were able to enjoy. We also held a talent show that gave the children the opportunity to display their uniqueness. It was so interesting to see how when they were focused on their talent, their tics disappeared for the moment. Another fun activity of the week was the camp dance on Thursday night. The theme was “Your Future Self.” All of the kids got dressed up, as did the counselors. It was so much fun and allowed the kids to express themselves in new ways.
The week (Sunday-Friday) honestly went by way too fast. I grew to know and love these kids, and not just my own, but a lot of the other kids at camp too. We had colored teams, breakfast, lunch and dinner rituals (flagpole) and spirit time for each meal. There were fun spirit checks and chants that would happen (dancing with trash cans, shaking your booty, or dancing like a Barbie girl). All in good-nature of course. But the kids loved these little memories that they can hang on to for the rest of their lives. Being around a group of people who are so good-hearted and kind, and loving, and just want to make a difference and make the lives of their campers better was awesome.
One of my favorite memories from camp (along with my whole time at camp) was in my cabin before bed time. One of my kids asked me to read him part of his book that he brought. Now being an Elementary Ed major, I loved the feeling of reading to children (it’s one of my favorite things to do) -he asked me to read to him, and so I did. He loved it. He hung onto every word as if I was going to stop reading at any moment. Some of the other boys heard me reading and snuck over to listen. It turned into a cabin event! I read mostly at night before I had to leave the cabin, but then I started reading to them while we had downtime in-between activities. It was awesome! It brought me so much joy.
As the end of the week neared, it saddened me. I won’t deny crying before camp was even over, because I did. I had a heart to heart with one of my newest closest friends and we just discussed how this camp has touched our hearts and how absolutely amazing these children really are; and how misunderstood they are as well. This was all discussed after-hours of course when the kids went to bed and the counselors hung out. It was an experience I will never forget. I made so many new friends that I will hopefully see next year, as I plan on going back every year for as long as they permit me. So many kids, and counselors touched my heart and I will forever be changed.
The day I left camp was the saddest day I’d had in a long time. We had a closing ceremony for the kids and then it was time to say goodbye. I hugged my kid’s good-bye as they cried into my arm telling me how they were going to miss me and didn’t want to leave camp. I was devastated- for my kids’ sake and my sake as well. Once the kids left, I took pictures for memories with counselors, and waited for my mom to arrive to pick me up.
As I drove away from camp, I had the biggest hole in my heart and my stomach. I so desperately wanted to cry, but I was with my cousins and mom and didn’t want to seem depressed. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. “I won’t see my kids for a whole year” I thought to myself. “And all of my new friends that I cherished. What about them?” I live in Florida so I felt the farthest away. I decided then and there that I would counselor at this camp no matter what that meant. I was going to go back to Camp Twitch and Shout and be, again, with my second family.
To this day, I still think about my kids, the counselors and how they are all doing. I keep in touch on Facebook and texting. But it’s not the same. It’s not good enough. I think a little spark in me died when I left camp. All I can think about is going back to being with my kids and wanting them to have the best experience at camp they could possibly have.
I’ll See You Soon, Camp Twitch and Shout!
To say these kids and counselors made a life changing impact on me would be an understatement. They changed my life. For the better. And I can’t wait to see my kids and friends again next year. And surprisingly, I am going to request to have my boys again. Camp wouldn’t be the same without them! 🙂
The Kelsey B. Diamantis TS Scholarship
Family Foundation, Inc.