What's Wrong With Me?
I was standing alongside a large covered tent at Omega Teen Camp (OTC), when I heard a plaintive voice repeating the question, "What's wrong with me?"
As camp director, it is disconcerting to hear one of our teens saying anything negative about themselves. I was relieved to look up and see that it wasn’t a teenager uttering those words, it was my friend and coworker, Steve Erickson, on stage in front of the entire camp introducing a weeklong class he would be leading called Psych 101.
Steve was trying to recruit teens for his class and was verbalizing a feeling I think most of us live with at least some of the time, a feeling that something is wrong with us. We all have quirks, insecurities, and weaknesses, but for teenagers, these feelings can be magnified.
Over the past 11 years, several thousand teenagers have come to OTC feeling that something is wrong with them. I began the camp because the wave of physiological and psychological changes teenagers experience when they reach puberty can feel overwhelming. Without assistance in processing those changes, teens can end up giving up or shutting down big parts of themselves, and it can take a lifetime to get those parts back.
I know what that’s like. I was bullied in junior high school and I remember making the conscious decision to act smaller, weaker, and meeker so I wouldn’t be picked on. I have spent much of my life struggling to regain some of the gifts I gave up because of that decision—my self-confidence, self-expression, and the freedom to follow my heart’s desire.
Two OTC campers, Ian and Nick, also know what that’s like. Kind, sensitive, chubby, and funny, they both came to camp for the first time at age 13. Within the first few days, they came to me for help because they were being picked on. I told them my experience of being intimidated by some older boys when I was their age and I how I let it affect me and what it cost me. I made certain they knew they were totally safe and how very important I thought it was for them to stay at camp and deal with whoever and whatever was bothering them.
Ian and Nick did stay at camp that summer and they came back every summer until they were 17. They both became absolute camp stars. Ian would lead everyone in ridiculous songs, which I am sorry to say campers who never met Ian still sing. He even formed a boy band at camp and made a great video. What can I tell you about Nick? Well, he got incredibly strong, and the idea of anyone at camp, or anywhere for that matter, picking on him would be comical. Not only did he grow into a confident young man, but he’s also chosen to return as a counselor.
With Nick and many talented camp counselors, I continue to follow my heart’s desire by working hard to make OTC a place where teens can have a great time and learn how to overcome feelings of inadequacy and instances of bullying. In the relaxed, nonjudgmental environment we create, teens learn to see that there is nothing wrong with them. Instead, through a variety of activities and deep bonds formed with other teenagers, they discover they can grow to become much more of who they are.