Notes From an Anxious Camper by Bianca Turetsky, Brooklyn Regional Coordinator

Camps are already filling up their early spots for the summer. And the yearly debate between parents hoping their kids will open up to new adventures and kids nervous to leave home has come hot on its heels. I was one of the nervous kids. In fact I had my first panic attack when I was in the 7th grade. I didn’t know what it was at the time, I just assumed I was dying. It wasn’t until I was in college at Tufts and saw my first therapist that I realized these symptoms had a diagnosis and a name, anxiety disorder.

By that point I was already an English major; writing stories in my notebooks during class was the only way I could get through some lectures without feeling like I needed to escape the room. I never shared these stories with anyone at the time–I didn’t have a safe place to do that. Instead I had closets stacked with these secret notebooks, my history, written in tight blue ballpoint pen. Some of these notebooks ultimately turned into my three Time-Traveling Fashionista books, fantasy books, about a girl from CT who wants to escape her life, not so unlike myself. (Unfortunately I never got to time travel my way out of Fairfield Woods Middle School!)

For someone with anxiety disorder camp is a minefield. I went to sleepaway camp one summer when I was ten, and I vowed to never go back. Being outside the safety of my routine made me feel unsettled. Not sleeping made me edgy. Dealing with the overstimulating dining hall made it hard to eat. Group songs, group activities, group meals, it was all too much group for an only child who needed time to recharge alone with a book. Introvert was not a trending term in the 90’s, you were just weird. The daily postcards I wrote home begging my parents to pick me up went unanswered (mainly because they arrived after I had already returned home).

I had kept that promise to never return to camp up until this year when I found myself driving to rural PA to teach a creative writing workshop at my first Wricampia. To put it mildly, I was still a reluctant camper. I still hate sharing bathrooms. I’m still picky about food. I like my own bed. But spending a week by the lake with the Writopia campers, and feeling the support and love they have for each other changed my whole outlook on camp life. The writers in my teen group were struggling with their own anxiety issues: applying to college, dealing with complicated friendships, perfectionists struggling under the pressure to succeed. Particularly these days with social media, more and more kids are suffering with this debilitating issue. Let’s just say I could relate.

The night of the end of camp showcase I sat on the low wooden benches with the other instructors and watched as one by one these brave young writers got on stage and revealed their whole selves, their deepest fears and secret hopes and loves and scars. After each writer finished their piece the cathedral ceilinged room would echo with rowdy applause and the other writers would rush the stage and embrace them in a big group hug. They were literally supported. Someone had their back. They were safe and accepted, and from the back row I realized that this was the safe space I never had in my own adolescent writing life. I wanted to be as bold as these writers.

I am finally at a point in my life where my anxiety is a faint background buzzing and more of a positive energy that keeps me alert and ambitious. But even though I’m no longer using writing to keep my panic attacks at bay, I still write every day because it’s the only way I know how to exist in this world. I write to discover and process how I’m feeling. I saw my kids in workshop typing their blood and guts out on their laptops, and then having the courage to share it with each other. I see how writing saves them. It saved me. And I think I’m finally looking forward to going back to summer camp.  

Bianca is thrilled to be working with Writopia Lab as the Brooklyn Regional Coordinator. She is the author of The Time-Traveling Fashionsta, a historical fiction series published by Little, Brown and Company. The books have been translated into nine languages. After graduating from Tufts University, Bianca began working for artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. She managed his studio for over 11 years and was his assistant on the Academy Award-nominated film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. She is currently at work on a new chapter book series with fellow Writopia Lab instructor Courtney Sheinmel titled Magic Camper, to be published by Rodale in fall 2018.

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