Post-camp depression is a very real experience that I have undergo every fall. Leaving the woods and my best friends and having to remember to brush my hair and shower every day can be a real struggle.
This past summer I returned to my camp as the assistant camp director. It was a role in which I marinated on before deciding to ultimately apply. It was a good decision, but definitely came with it’s challenges.
I love camp. I get the opportunity to be outside everyday, spend time swimming and doing crafts, building campfires, laughing with kids, hanging out with great people and being able to call it work. Being a counselor and later unit leader was one of the greatest professional and maturing experiences I’ve had; I was able to learn a lot about my work ethic and push myself out of my comfort zone in multiple different ways.
As the Assistant Camp Director I felt pressed and challenged in a zillion different ways. I was lucky enough to get to camp a week before the other staff and two weeks before campers, but one of the unique things about being a staff member at a summer camp is that you really have to learn on the job. This is great because hands-on experiences are (in my opinion) the best kinds of learning experiences, but it also means the first two weeks or so are kind of sloppy.
This summer we had a lot of challenges that were outside of our control. We were short staffed in a way that wasn’t impossible, just uncomfortable and difficult. This ended up working out in my benefit, because I really had to create a schedule to make sure I was getting all my own work done, so I was able to cover for another staff member while they went on break. I learned quickly how to manage my time and prioritize my daily assignments, and I was also able to get to spend a few hours with campers.
Not being with campers all the time was a difficult adjustment. For the first month it was fabulous; I was at my favorite place on earth and I wasn’t responsible for molding any young minds. I didn’t have to watch my language or appearance as much as other counselors did.
The second month was much harder. I missed feeling like I was part of a group, I missed having bonding moments with campers, and it was much harder to connect with them when they only saw you at meals. The Assistant Camp Director position is similar to a Vice Principal position at a school, so I think kids were kind of put off by me.
For the past three summers, it was super easy for me to be friends with the other staff members. I always got along with the other staff in my unit, and I always felt like I had friends across camp and easily got along with everyone. Camp friends also felt like some of my most natural friendships.
This summer was cool because I got to bring one of my best “real-world” friends to camp while also working closely with some of my best friends (and I guess I can say I’m sorta friends with my boss now???) but it was also a lot harder for me to make new friends. I put a lot of emphasis on creating a boundary between myself and the staff because one of my fears of taking on this position was that people were going to walk all over me because I’m too nice and sometimes am afraid of being tough. I might have overshot that boundary, but I guess it worked out in a professional sense. I didn’t have any more difficulty being disrespected from staff than I anticipated; people treated me almost exactly as I expected.
Coming into the summer I was expecting to hit a meltdown point somewhere along week five but I can proudly say I never hit a point where I felt unqualified. Overwhelmed, exhausted, confused: yes.
I came into my new role with a lot of changes I had in mind, and I’m not sure how well I put those into action. I wanted to make the core team more approachable from staff (there’s this culture of complaining about problems but no one actually says anything?), I wanted to staff to take their jobs more seriously, I wanted campers to bully less, etc.
I hit a point around week six where something just clicked and I thought on numerous occasions “I should’ve been doing it like this all along!” I reached a level where I wasn’t just moving about my day completely my tasks but was finding better was to complete them instead.
Although these were some of my more abstract challenges, I’m already feeling the post-camp blues.
Summer camp has this magical string that hooks onto your wrist when you first arrive and loosens as you jump through hurdles of sleepless night, troublesome campers, conflicts with staff, and rainy days. But no matter how hard your summer is and how loose your string gets, there’s a gentle (or sometimes rough) tug that nudges you back to camp