Camper blog: for one of the first times in my life, I felt like a normal person

At Over The Wall, we are always eager to hear about the experiences of our campers, so when budding writer Christopher agreed to provide us with a first person account of his time at camp, we were thrilled. Christopher, (a camper in 2017, 2018 and 2019), has won awards for his short story writing, so it is a great pleasure for us to present this fantastic insight into an Over The Wall Health Challenge camp.

Hi. My name is Christopher and I’ve been a camper at Over The Wall for the past three years. This is my story of how I came into contact with such a wonderful charity.

First off, let me tell you about me. For as long as I can remember, I have been deaf in my right ear. It may seem minor, but it comes with a lot of setbacks. You have teachers having to move you to the front because you can’t hear anything, wearing people out by making them repeat everything they say six times, playing Chinese Whispers and the person whispers into your deaf ear, then you have to speak gibberish to the other person and you ruin the game. Those sorts of things, y’know?

When I was 8, I was diagnosed with Epilepsy. My first seizure was kind of frightening: I had heard of the condition and seen somebody have a seizure on TV, but I couldn’t have imagined that I would have to go through it. I mean, I was Year 3, I had nothing to worry about. I guess the only thing bothering me at the time was how I was going to spend my Golden Time on Friday. So I wondered, what could’ve caused them?

My first seizure may have been 6 years ago, but I still remember every bit of it as if it were yesterday. It was an assembly and there was a commotion. Then it happens. Sounds of my frenzied friends are replaced with this beeping sound and I start to feel this paralysis in my face: it was as if all my teeth were falling out. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream, I was trapped. It may have lasted for less than a minute, but truly, it felt like an eternity. Then I return back to reality.

Although the experience left me shaken, I deemed it to be a one-off thing, therefore I kept it to myself. But within weeks I was having 3-4 seizures a day, to the point where I was unable to suppress them; inevitably my parents found out, and seven months later after many scans and tests, we found out I had Epilepsy.

My seizures occurred throughout my formative years, especially Year 7. It was already hard enough having to start a new school, getting good grades and making friends. I haven’t always been great with people, I lacked confidence and my social skills weren’t the best; I was considered to be weird, like ‘the odd one out’. On top of that, my determination to keep my seizures to myself only amplified these problems and had a detrimental impact on my social life. If I was invited to a birthday party, I’d make up an excuse to not go. School weekend trips, I’d throw away the consent forms, being invited to the local park to maybe get an ice cream, I’d say no. Inevitably, people stopped bothering with me, because they knew that whatever happened, I’d just say no. It devastated me how my condition was able to control such vital aspects in my life.

I expressed my social troubles during a hospital appointment and this is how I came to find Over The Wall. My nurse recommended it to my Mum and I, explaining to us that it was a camp for children who suffer from chronic or serious illnesses like I do. I reluctantly agreed to apply and a month later I found out I got in. If I’m honest, at first I was extremely apprehensive. I really did not want to go, I was hoping I didn’t get in. I had never been on a residential camp before, nor away from home on my own, as a result, you can understand the prospect was extremely daunting for me.

The day came to meet.

As other campers arrived at the meeting point, I began to feel more and more like an outsider, as it was obvious that they all knew each other from previous camps. On the way there, despite numerous invitations to sit with other campers, I chose to sit on my own for the journey. Listening to all the voices of those reminiscing on last year, I became even more trepidatious. What if I won’t fit in with them? Will they like me? I should have never come. My mind was plagued with all these pessimistic thoughts. I was so caught up by them, that I hardly realised that we arrived.

I remember being navigated around the gargantuan building, heaving around a suitcase that weighed four times more than me! I was directed into a common room, clad in purple bunting and various decorations. Several adults greeted me with such enthusiasm, and I was led to my room. On the door of where I’d be staying was my name…with three other names. I was instantly filled with fear; I had only ever shared a room with my brother. I loathed to think if we’d not get along well and how hard it would be having to share a room with them for five days. My roommates came in and we exchanged greetings; whilst I appreciated their amiability, I still was incredibly anxious.

These nerves lingered all through the day, and the day after and it was apparent to those who interacted with me. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my roommate on the second day, and I found out that he was epileptic, like me. I was instantly put at ease and felt reassured that I knew someone who also faced the struggles that Epilepsy brought like I did. To see him enjoying himself… that completely changed my outlook on camp. He wasn’t moping around like me, he was so positive about everything, throwing himself into every activity: I realised I should do the same. I was so privileged to be given an opportunity to come to camp and it would’ve been selfish just to waste it. From then on I was determined to make the most of the week. I wasn’t going to let myself wallow in self-pity, I was going to take chances, make friends, have fun.

For children and parents considering applying for camp, you must be wondering: “Would I/my child’s needs be cared for properly?”

100% YES. The nursing team is second to none. They’d make the what seems to be monotonous act of taking your medicine exciting! I could say the same for the volunteers: they were EXCEPTIONAL. They didn’t force me to do anything that I didn’t want to do, yet they were extremely encouraging and supportive. There were perpetual acts of kindness, whether it be cheering me on the climbing wall, or saying something nice during cabin chat. Everybody at camp, adult or camper, had a part to play and whether big or small, which strengthened the love within the community.

It never ceases to amaze me how much I grew and achieved in the space of five days. I accomplished so much that I previously thought I could never have, I reached the top of the climbing wall, I did Zip Lining, I performed in front of a huge crowd and I made friends, long lasting friendships, friendships worth so much.

I think OTW is the only place that I’ve been able to express myself freely without the worry of judgement.

Many have described the magicality of camp and I could only reiterate them: for one of the first times in my life, I felt like a normal person again. No longer did I have to feel like the weird kid. No longer did I feel that I was the guy with Epilepsy. OTW allowed me to be myself: the guy who loves playing Sims, a Billie Eilish fan who also likes ASMR ! Overall I can truly say, without a doubt, that Over the Wall has changed my life for the better. It has given me an abundance of self belief, helped me to relax and embrace myself, and the quirks that make me, and the unique aspects that I bring to the world and those around me. Not only did camp help me, but it helped my family as well. I’m forever appreciative for all that camp has done for me.

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