It’s hard put into words, but what I experienced at Camp JoinTogether in Nova Scotia helped drastically change how I perceive my own chronic condition. It also re-energized my passion for working to eliminate the stigmas surrounding childhood arthritis. I’ve lived with juvenile idiopathic arthritis for over 18 years, and when I heard about The Arthritis Society’s camp, I leapt at the opportunity to volunteer as a camp counsellor.
I didn’t know what to expect. Not only was it filled with young lives affected by arthritis, the camp was an opportunity to learn more about my own complex chronic condition. I left that first camp as a changed individual.
Now in my 20s and a university student, I often look back on my life with arthritis. From the stigmas of having a disease that wasn’t well known in children, to managing flares to changing medications, I’ve learned how to adapt. It has given me insight and the ability to empathize with others. It’s also shaped my career choices, and impacted my decision to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work. I want to help youth who face disabilities.
At Camp JoinTogether everyone was open and respectful, a level of empathy born from our personal journeys with childhood arthritis. In one activity I relayed my own experiences, life events, and challenges to a group of teenagers – prompting them to completely open up about their own arthritis. To hear their stories and provide encouragement and support was both humbling and empowering.
I’ve now volunteered for three consecutive Arthritis Society camps. Watching campers interact, sharing their experiences, never fails to stir my emotions because they are interactions that I never had at their age. And I have a new passion: to create and support programs, events, and opportunities for youth living with arthritis. Volunteering has enabled me to become an advocate for support for the childhood arthritis community, helping boost access to much-needed resources.
The Arthritis Society has helped forge a new dynamic in my life: to share my story and connect with youth who are going through similar experiences as I had.
You can never really outgrow your disability, yet I’ve done my best to live well with childhood arthritis. I hope that I can continue to use my story and my perspective to help others share the details of their lives that are too easily kept inside.
Nikolas Harris, Dartmouth