Twenty-one years ago, a young musician in Athens, Georgia, took his own life. His parents began a charity aimed at ensuring that their son’s story did not repeat itself. For 17 years, Nuçi's Space has provided mental-health care, and for the last 10, it has taught life skills to young people in Athens through a program called Camp Amped. Learning how to live life, it seems, is a lot like learning how to play in a band.
Story by Mamie Davis | Photographs and video by Jason Thrasher
Editor’s Note: Last year, The Bitter Southerner began what we like to call our Better South Initiative — something we hope will be a long-term effort to generate awareness and money for nonprofit organizations that do vital work in our region. We began Better South last year through a partnership with one of our favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers, and we created a T-shirt to raise money for DBT’s favorite charity: Nuçi’s Space in Athens, Georgia. The money our readers spent on those T-shirts produced more than $11,000 for Nuçi’s. Many of the people who bought those shirts already knew about Nuçi’s and what it accomplishes; many others knew very little. This story will show you what your money went to. The Better South Initiative will continue this Friday with a St. Paul & the Broken Bones: Original Bitter Southerners T-shirt to help the marching bands of St. Amant, Louisiana, replace the instruments and other equipment they lost when floods inundated 20 parishes around Baton Rouge last August. Watch our Southern Music column this Friday for our interview with St. Paul bassist and songwriter Jesse Phillips — and your first look at the next Better South T-shirt. — C.R.
A 148-year-old steeple stands alone, without a church attached, on Oconee Street in Athens, Georgia. The spire is a singular remnant of the church where R.E.M. played its legendary first show on April 5, 1980.
Today, the steeple looks down on an institution that stands in memorial to the lifesaving power of rock and roll. A few weeks each year, a remarkable scene unfolds just beneath it, at a place called Nuçi’s Space. The vibrations of the overdriven guitars, crashing cymbals, and vocal lines of various songs bounce within a hallway of practice rooms.
Behind each door, prominent Athens musicians stand, their instructions being drowned out by the adolescent rock music enveloping the small, windowless rooms. Depending on the week, you’ll find different instructors behind each door: the drummer of the Glands and Pylon Reenactment Society, a member of the Drive-By Truckers, touring members of MGMT, Kishi Bashi, and Dead Confederate, to name just a few. Four times a year, a group of nine such instructors lead 20 middle and high school kids through Camp Amped. During rehearsals, the young musicians listen intently, a tangible sense of dedication emitting from their focused stares. It resembles a professional workplace, not a classroom.
Outside the practice spaces, the cacophony floods the rest of Nuçi’s Space. Campers stand taking a water break or learning a harmony, surrounded by signed posters and plaques commemorating contributions to Nuçi’s Space from the likes of R.E.M., The B-52’s, The Whigs, Widespread Panic, and Vic Chesnutt. Overlooking the commotion is a sepia portrait of a calm young man. He stands at the forefront of an empty rural scene, tall grass swallowing his ankles. He gazes upward, brow furrowed, as though he’s trying to figure out the sky. A superimposed message reads:
We are born
We return to star stuff
This space —
And all that fills it
Is lovingly dedicated
To the memory
Of such a one…
July 21, 1974 — November 27, 1996
Nuçi Phillips was a promising musician studying at the University of Georgia. He had a loving family and a multitude of friends. All his life, he struggled with clinical depression, only to be disrespected and belittled throughout the circuitous, difficult path of attempting to get mental-health care. The stigma around brain illness and suicide ran deeply and kept him from the conversations, support, and professional assistance he tried so hard to get. Nuçi Phillips took his own life at the age of 22. Three years later, his parents created Nuçi’s Space to prevent their son’s death from repeating itself. It’s a nonprofit musician’s resource center that aims to end the epidemic of suicide and the stigma surrounding brain illness by removing the obstacles that prevent musicians from obtaining health care and creating a community that thoroughly supports its musicians.
Nuçi’s spirit still lives inside the walls of his Space. Between rehearsals and workshops, young musicians sit in practice rooms. They make music. But they also discuss what to do if they begin believing they don’t want to live anymore. They have conversations about identifying signs of suicide and the resources that could help. They hear the experiences of their peers and instructors, who themselves have fought depression in the music industry. These young people are taught their emotions are valid and deserve respect. They talk about being treated with respect for their emotions, depression, and anxiety. They learn what to do when a friend exhibits signs of suicide.
They talk about the things that Nuçi Phillips never had a place to.
Seven years after Nuçi’s Space’s opened in 2000, it launched Camp Amped to reach kids even younger. Over the past decade, 34 sessions of Camp Amped have been held. Within them, there have been over 1,850 hours of programming, 120 hours of recording, 200 bands, and $90,000 in scholarships. The community involved in Camp Amped is hard to quantify. Local recording studios, restaurants, light and sound technicians, photographers, and a few dozen other businesses all donate to the program each year. That network along with guest performers like Patterson Hood, about a dozen instructors, and over 100 current and alumni participants, makes a large impression on the town. Yet, Camp Amped is unlike any of the typical forces that unify a town. Camp Amped is so focused on genuine human interaction and relationships that every single individual who touches the program seems to have some domino effect on its shape. It is, to borrow Nuci’s words, where billions of flecks of star stuff truly come together into something larger.
That sense of total community washed over me when I was broken, lost, and alone. It was my 15th birthday when I walked into Camp Amped for the first time. I had moved to Georgia less than two weeks before, and I spent every moment aching to return to my hometown of Columbia, Missouri. My anxiety, present in my life since early childhood, swallowed me up. I'd begun to fear there was nothing left to live for. Aside from my family, whom I resented for making me pack up my life and head down South, I had no one around who would notice if I was gone. I was set to attend a high school in the rural exurbs of Athens, surrounded by cow pastures. I was sure I'd never find a place to call home there.
Then came Camp Amped. I knew little about Athens’ legendary music scene, aside from R.E.M and “Rock Lobster.” But it wasn't the prominent musicians or wild performances that saved my life. Looking back, I think it began with a girl a year younger than me named Violet. She was my first friend. She was my push into a domino effect of friendships that led me to find a sense of family in my new surroundings. It was that simple. Nuçi’s was a space where I felt welcomed enough to tell someone my name.
No longer alone, I began to work through the anxiety. I regained my lust for life. I learned about music. I learned about my own mental health. I built a vast network of people who support me and keep me in line.
Opportunities continue to come toward me through Camp Amped and the connections it’s offered me. I released an album of my own songs when I was only 17. I opened for the Drive-By Truckers at a sold-out 40 Watt Club. Camp Amped has provided those opportunities for me and nurtured me into who I am today. The community remains at my side through my failures and pain, just as it does during my successes. It is an unwavering, pure love that has been felt by many.
The best way I could imagine shedding light upon it is to tell the stories of those who, like me, have felt it.
Shauna Greeson breathes deeply and looks past me at the practice room’s windowless wall. For a second, it looks as though she is staring into her past. Her typically contagious smile and fiery eyes fade for a moment, and Greeson seems to close off as if she is watching a film of her adolescent self that only she can see.
“I think about what my life might have been like if I had Camp Amped as a teenager,” Greeson says. “I mean, I love my life, and I’m grateful my journey has brought me where it has. But I can’t help but wonder how much easier my teens and 20s would’ve been if I didn’t feel so alone and lost and hopeless.”
Along with each story, we asked every subject to perform the one song — original or not — they most associate with Camp Amped and Nuçi’s Space.
“I wrote that song for a girl who was on the edge and ready to quit. That song has popped up a few times through Nuci’s Space. So, I met Ansley Stewart (another Camp Amped instructor). She spent two weeks of camp here just observing. We became very good friends. We started singing together, and at one of the Nuci’s birthday parties, we sang that song, and she sang this amazing harmony. So, that song always makes me think of Nuci’s Space and the mission here, and that we’re not alone. It’s also just a pretty little ukelele song.”
In a sense, Greeson is mourning. Nearly a decade of life, stolen by untreated depression.
“It was eighth grade,” Greeson says. “It surfaced with dark, suicidal thoughts and sadness that wouldn’t budge.” But her parents were not receptive to her requests for help. Their lack of response, she says, was not a product of a lack of concern for her.
“They were doing the best they could at the time with what they had,” says Greeson. “Stigma around mental illness in their generation is still thick with ignorance.”
In years since she says her parents have become her “biggest advocates for mental wellness.”
Still, the lack of response to Greeson’s pleas for help led her to begin “self-harming and self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.” Her depression and addiction remained untreated for eight more years.
It was around 2:30 in a summer 2002 morning when a crumpled napkin led her to the help she needed.
“I was really scared. I didn’t know if I should call 911 or what I should do, but I was planning on harming myself,” Greeson says. It was then she remembered the Nuçi’s Space phone number etched on a napkin by a friend. She pulled it from her wallet, dialed, and left a message. Ten minutes later, Linda Phillips, the founder of Nuçi’s Space, called back.
“We talked for a very long time,” Greeson says. “We talked until she was comfortable getting off the phone, until she felt like I was OK to make it through to the morning.”
The next morning, she went directly to Nuçi’s Space, where she got the financial and emotional guidance she needed to receive professional help. The counseling program at Nuçi’s Space aims to break down the barriers preventing musicians from getting the help they need. Greeson is one of almost 2,000 who the program has served.
“It was made so easy,” she says. “I just had to show up. Getting paired up with a counselor was easy. It being affordable was the only reason I received mental-health care.”
In 2010, Greeson became a Camp Amped instructor. Now, after instructing about 20 sessions, she’s grown to understand her role far from a run-of-the-mill camp counselor. Each morning, she leads campers and instructors in mindfulness exercises. It’s a practice, Greeson says, she wishes she’d started earlier.
“That is a huge honor,” she says. “I love introducing the idea of meditation to the kids. It’s one of the healthiest things I’ve done for my mental and emotional stability.”
With each lesson Greeson teaches, she hopes to teach participants one lesson above all else: “that they are worthy of love.”
Nuçi Phillips took his own life at 22 years old. Shauna Greeson was 22 years old when she nearly took hers. Now, Greeson is using her story to inform campers that there are resources to prevent them from reaching that point.
“I have no doubt that I would not be alive if I hadn’t talked to Linda that night,” Greeson says. “Getting the help that I got from Nuçi’s … led to me getting sober … led to me finding myself and who I am and who I want to be. The woman you’re sitting across from is here because of Nuçi, because he lived. I used to think about it, being sad because Nuçi had to die for me to get the help — because that was the price. But as the years have gone by, I think about it differently. It’s not because he died. It’s because he lived. Because he existed.”
July 2011: 10-year-old Jordan Rhym sits in her mother’s car, drumsticks in hand, arguing that she can walk into her first day of Camp Amped alone. She did. That determination remains embedded in her identity today. Yet, she was still a child when her time at Camp Amped began. She describes that child as a “kid that constantly bottled shit up” and pretended to be all right.
“I was always intimidated and wasn't able to value what I can do, or evaluate where I stood among other people's talents,” says Rhym.
“It's probably one of the first songs I wrote, after being pushed by the camp to do songwriting, and is one of the first songs I deemed, you know, good enough and acceptable. And it's one of the first songs I've ever performed in front of people, seriously. I had never been so proud of something, and it was so beautiful. It was the first time I was proud to be a songwriter, proud of the skills that I have grown.”
Camp Amped offered Rhym a space unlike any other she’s encountered. She stuck around as long as she could, just now graduating from the program this June.
“They’re not like a school family,” says Rhym. “They're not like people I have to back-sass about, talk about them in my spare time. There's nothing childish or petty about it. It's just a pure, family, loving, relationship. Everyone in this community is trying their hardest to be loved and have a home, and it’s evident because we all trust each other. It’s what we are, a family.”
Inevitably, the family Rhym describes played a role in her emotional development. However, the real emphasis of her time at Camp Amped was on the music.
“There’s nothing better than being locked in a room and told that you have to create something with a group of people,” says Rhym. “It doesn’t happen easily without that. Being able to be in a room with, like, four people and just have an open time — an open Nuçi’s Space — to just create whatever nonsense we can think of. It’s just beautiful.”
Rhym now plays seven instruments and writes songs. With this undeniable natural talent, she found herself struggling to focus her creative energy. A few years into Camp Amped, she’d left drums behind to write songs.
“I neglected the drums so much, but I was like, I have to stick with guitar, because they want me to song-write and this has to be passion, to be able to do things and perform on my own and all of this crap,” says Rhym.
Rhym’s real passion came to light during a Camp Amped band practice led by Peter Alvanos of the longstanding Athens band Elf Power.
“He was trying to describe to me … what he wanted for the drumbeat, and it was one of the most beautiful moments,” Rhym says. “Because, this thing about drummers is, I don’t know why we don't use words. It’s purely sounds when we’re speaking to each other, and I realized: He’s not having this conversation with anyone else. Even if he has to come behind a kit to show me, I just have to watch him, and I can pick it up from there … I can add my own variation. Like, I’m a drummer because I can finesse his system.”
From that moment on, Rhym’s musical path and journey at Camp Amped, she says, has focused on becoming a better drummer. She began to put more effort into absorbing the knowledge of instructors like Alvanos, Seth Hendershot, who is now playing with Kishi Bashi, and Joe Rowe, drummer for the much beloved Athens band the Glands and now with the Pylon Reenactment Society. Through these lessons, she says, she began to define her idea of “real drumming.”
“A fake drummer, they can carry on the bare bones,” says Rhym, “but being a real drummer means making it special and being able to find pockets and truly hold the band together and make sure everyone is able to find their own little transitions and places within the song.”
Rhym is preparing to spend her senior year of high school participating in the University of Georgia’s Young Dawgs Program, interning under Jean Kidula, the area chair of ethnomusicology. Encouragement and affirmation of her musical capabilities from instructors and other professional musicians, she says, have led her to think that having a career in music is feasible. Though she’s graduated now from Camp Amped, its supportive network, she says, remains a home base for her.
“It’s a home. It's a place for anyone to come in and feel loved and accepted,” says Rhym. “And, to have this open to kids who are, you know, growing, changing, and voice-cracking, it's something every kid needs but not something that every kid has found.”
Eleven years ago, Dan Nettles was already a frequent volunteer at Nuçi’s Space when Executive Director Bob Sleppy came to him with the idea of working on a new program to reach young musicians — the program that a year later would debut as Camp Amped.
Nettles speaks carefully, taking his time, delicately placing each word as though he is composing a song. Before we begin, he warns me not to expect him to get too personal.
“I was very reluctant to be involved, actually,” says Nettles. “I had just stopped teaching kids guitar and moved into teaching adults. I think I was kind of scarred from doing half hour lessons at various music stores.” But Sleppy eventually won Nettles over, and he became one of Camp Amped’s lead instructors. Nettles says two goals drove the new program: to spread the reach of Nuçi’s Space to younger people and to demand great musical things from them.
In the decade since, Camp Amped has become a well-oiled machine. Though the program is firmly established in Athens, Nettles tries continually to improve it.
“Everyone loves camp and they have a great time, and I’m probably one of the only people that notices how it can be better,” he says. “So, at the end of each summer, that’s what I think about. Trying to make it even better.”
Each session, Nettles leads a team of eight instructors. The team is purposely designed to provide an array of personalities, ensuring that young campers can find an instructor they can relate to.
“This program that we’ve put together with working musicians, I don’t think any of the instructors holds a music education degree or anything like that,” he says. “So, it’s sort of unusual that we have professional musicians who play in bands working with young people.”
These atypical interactions have taught Nettles plenty. The most complex lessons, he says, come from managing a horde of teenagers, hormones and angst included.
“I think that, not being a parent, it’s just a weird experience raising teenagers for two weeks every summer,” he says.
But Nettles takes on the fathering role well. He’s known to crack a dad-joke and constantly scolds his campers for “teenage face,” the bored expressions campers get when their attention spans wane. And within the confusing role of makeshift parent, Nettles sees opportunity.
“We’re not their parents, and we’re also not their peers, and we can maybe reach the participants in a slightly different way,” he says.
Nettles and the instructors build the curriculum around life lessons they wish they’d learned earlier. Similar to a parent hiding vegetables on a dinner plate, they use musical concepts to disguise bigger ideas.
“This is how you stay in a band together, and this is how a band breaks up,” he says. “So, that’s a concept that extends into other relationships in your life. Basically, just trying to put everything in the perspective of a musician’s life, and then let those lessons grow from there.”
The lessons range from preparing a tour to turning instruments and everything in between. The knowledge and networks campers gain, Nettles says, is raising the bar of professionalism in the Athens music scene.
“There have been Camp bands that are way more together and way more organized than typical Athens bands,” he says. “This town is known for its sort of slacker, indie, rock-band scene, and that’s great. And it should stay that way. It’s just interesting planting the seeds with young musicians.”
Nettles adheres to his warning that he won’t get personal until, for a brief moment, he reveals a big piece of own story. It’s the part of his life that has kept his soul anchored at Nuçi’s Space for 10 years.
“My ties here to Nuçi’s Space are pretty deep,” he says. “I never met Nuçi, but he [would have been] my age, and his older brother K.P. would be my brother’s age. I lost my brother Casey to suicide when I was 15 and he was 18. So, a place that is built for musicians and also helps prevent suicide is a pretty close match for me.”
Jacob Conley had doomed himself to insanity before he turned 11. Now, he sits across from me, one hand tugging at his scraggly beard and the other at the rips in his jeans. He’s 20 years old: a barista, baker, musician, builder of skateboards, boyfriend, and luthier. He is not insane.
“I’d always grown up with depression, not really knowing what it was, and music helped me feel understood in that sense and helped me kind of relate to my surroundings and emotions in a way that I couldn’t just talking to people,” Conley says. “I could never form any sort of words that described what I would feel growing up. So, when I listened to music, it just helped me feel understood.”
“I chose this song because it, I think, kind of puts together a lot of what I felt growing up. It's really simplistic and all over the place at the same time. It's probably kind of hard to understand just reading it. I don't know, it's just a lot about feeling defeated, and not really knowing what to do about it, which is what was constantly on my mind throughout camp, when I was trying to find tools to cope with all of this.”
Conley lists Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith as two of his favorite musicians in his early adolescence. The melodies that he found comfort in, he says, were written by musicians who ended up killing themselves.
“I’d grown up having suicidal thoughts at single-digit ages and never really understanding why, not really knowing what to do about it,” says Conley.
Conley says his first session of Camp Amped in 2010 was when he learned he was not insane. A survival skills lesson on mental illness, which occurs each session, is where Conley says he had his first “rational” introduction to the concept of brain illness. That knowledge altered the fate he’d determined for himself.
“If I hadn’t actually figured out what anxiety was and that other people experienced it, I would still think I’m just fucking insane,” he says. “To know that it’s a chemical thing a lot of times and being able to pinpoint what can cause it and what can help … is so important. It’s so much more terrifying when something is happening to you and you have no idea what it is.”
As Conley emerged from emotional isolation, he began to find his own voice. As he learned that his peers were having experiences similar to his own, he says, songwriting became a tool he used to communicate with others.
“Rather than relating to someone else’s voice, I started to be able to find my own voice in music and write my own songs,” says Conley. “Camp gave me those techniques — to be able to write my music and find my own voice, and also to be able to relate to other artists and musicians and see that they are struggling with a lot of similar things.”
Camp Amped taught Conley to expand his understanding of his experiences a supportive, open community. Not only does Camp Amped validate the emotions of young people, he says, it provides tools to comprehend and convey them. That aspect of Camp Amped is what Conley believes makes the program indispensable.
“We’re all born into the world having no idea what’s going on, and as you go through life, you still don’t understand what’s going on,” Conley says. “But, when you’re a kid, it’s even more scary and confusing because you just don’t have the words and the vocabulary to be able to express them.”
The impact that Camp Amped had on Conley over seven years extends far past his last day of Camp, far past Nuçi’s Space, far past himself. It extends, to him, into a sign of hope for the greater world that Conley, at times, fears has lost all empathy.
“Being able to come to Camp and be with so many people who actually give a shit: Even if they can’t understand the person that they’re looking at and talking to, they’ll try their hardest to understand,” he says. “Even if they can’t understand, they’ll want to care. Just being able to see so many people caring about each other, not to sound cheesy as shit, but it’s really comforting. It’s something I always look back at. If we can get a group of people in small Athens to come together and realize that we all really do care about each other, then there have to be more people like that out there. They just don’t have a voice, or I’m just not hearing their voice. But they’re there.”
In the second session of Camp Amped, a young Hunter Hulsey mustered up the courage, for the first time, to put down his guitar and try his hand at singing. An instructor, Claire Campbell, heard him and said: “Hunter, I think you might be built to sing.”
Those words have since acted as the driving beat of Hulsey’s life. He’s 23 now, finishing up his music education degree at the University of Georgia. His primary instrument is his crooning, pure voice. The day Camp Amped coaxed that voice out of him was a moment, he says, he’ll never forget.
“The reason I wanted to play this song, my second year in camp, the drummer in our group, his name is Jack, was bound and determined to play a Modern Skirts tune. Our instructor, Claire, sort of worked some magic. She was friends with (Skirts guitarist and keyboardist) Jojo Glidewell and asked them to come in, and they showed up and played this song and sat in with us. I've always had a warm sense of community when I think about this song and Athens musicians.”
The year prior, Hulsey was one of the inaugural participants of Camp Amped. He chuckles, recollecting the newspaper ad that brought him from neighboring Oconee County to Nuçi’s Space.
“The first year, even though it was absolutely terrific, they were still kind of getting off the ground,” says Hulsey. “So, things were a little hectic, not always as planned out or methodical as years later … At the end of the day, I felt super comfortable with everybody.”
Those first years were easy for him: He was young enough to have a simple life without much responsibility. As the years went on and Camp Amped began to work more smoothly, Hulsey’s life seemed to do the opposite. His easygoing childhood was disappearing in the rearview as, he says, he began to fall into the confusion of adolescence.
“I was at a point in my life where I was approaching the tail end of puberty and just kind of finding my corner of life in school,” says Hulsey.
In this transition, Hulsey began to struggle with accepting his forming identity. His upbringing and his reality faced each other head on, leaving him torn in the middle.
“At that time, I was very involved in the church and was a devout Christian, and was slowly coming to terms with my sexuality and realizing and trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that I was gay,” says Hulsey.
In his final year at Camp Amped, the reality of his stumbling soul-searching became unavoidable. In a dimly lit practice room, during a survival-skills session on mental illness, he heard the same concepts he had in years before. But this time, his perspective shifted. He realized that if he didn’t find some happiness and get his “shit together,” he would end up dead.
“That was the first time where the realities of mental-health deficiencies had kind of sat right in front of me,” says Hulsey.
Beneath the fear Hulsey felt was something stronger: the will to keep going. There was a drive to continue, get his shit together and live out his truth. Camp Amped, he says, was where he could do that. He could fumble with his adolescent identity without the fear of judgment and isolation. The Nuçi’s community had proved that to him time and time again. In high school, he’d identified as the farm boy, the church band guy, the marching band guy, and then, that last year, “the guy that was coming to terms with his sexuality,” he says. Regardless of what label was stuck on him, he says, Camp Amped welcomed him. “The lack of judgment was something that was really helpful to see — that there are people in here from all walks of life, all belief systems and various cultural backgrounds and a mix of all of them, sometimes.”
Nuçi’s Space has remained a vital resource in Hulsey’s life, even after graduating from the program. When he began realizing he was showing symptoms of depression, which he’s experienced most of his adult life, he says, Camp Amped and the counseling advocate at Nuçi’s Space helped him gain control of his illness.
“I had the training that Camp provided, and in the back of my mind, I always know that if things get really bad, all it takes is coming around here,” he says.
The incomparable sense of belonging at Nuçi’s Space has stuck around since graduation, too. He’s still welcomed here, as whoever he is.
“But when I walk in the door … there is a sense of relief, of comfort, and I felt that way in Camp, too,” Hulsey says. “And frankly, I didn’t really realize this until later in the game, but we were preparing ourselves … to go out into the world, and to go deal with humans that don’t act like the ones here. But to come back into it — it’s almost — no, it is indescribable. But that sense of community just comes flooding back.”
Emily Rose Thorne walked into Camp Amped for the first time dressed in black, antisocial and anxious. Thorne is no longer that person. Wearing floral leggings, dangling earrings, a large smile, and wild curls, her expression is an honest reflection of the woman inside. She looks toward her beginnings at Camp Amped to explain how she got here.
“I was in a relationship. It was very abusive and very toxic, and it was really affecting me super negatively,” she says. “I wasn’t really my own self, and I kind of invested all of who I was in this person. I spent more time pandering to what I thought they wanted from me than being myself.”
“It's the first song that I played on the first day of camp for the ‘meet and play,’ and it helped me understand how camp builds your confidence and how much acceptance that there is among everyone else because of how excited people were when I finished.”
The relationship, she says, was a major contributor to the “lack of self-worth,” anorexia and anxiety that she experienced later.
“I had always thought there was something wrong with me and that it was something I should be able to control,” she says. “And I never wanted to talk about it because I didn’t know that other people felt that way, too.”
It wasn’t until the forthright conversations about identity and mental illness Thorne had at Camp Amped that she understood the legitimacy of her experiences.
“I didn’t know how big of a problem mental illness was,” Thorne says. “I didn’t know how many kinds there are and how it’s different for every person.”
The topics of conversation at Camp Amped were avoided in other aspects of Thorne’s life. Elsewhere, she says, social barrier prevented vulnerability.
“You have to be presentable. You can’t talk about suicide all the time, stuff like that,” she says.
In contrast, Camp Amped was “a group with people who want you to open up like that and want to know who you are, because music is very personal, and so are the other things that we talk about. So, when you're sharing your music and your inner thoughts, you're kind of sharing your soul with other people, and when they're receptive to it, and they love it, and they want more of it, then that makes you feel like, ‘Oh!’ When I bare who I truly am, people really like that a lot more than they do when I'm wearing all black and pretending that I love Metallica, even though I can't stand Metallica.”
With this knowledge and a community offering unconditional acceptance, Thorne grew. She had the tools to recover from abuse and rededicate her life to her own journey. She began making healthy connections, she says, because Camp Amped taught her to.
“I don’t have to pretend like I hate everyone all the time just because I’m scared of them and scared that they’re going to judge me,” Thorne says. “So, it did kind of really help me learn to open up just for conversations, but also for just talking about deep shit and emotions.”
As Thorne stopped fearing the judgments of others, her focus at Camp Amped shifted from self-acceptance to discovering her musical identity.
“I wasn’t tying my self-worth to being in a relationship,” she says. “It was kind of during that year, where I was really able to open up, because each year I was able to talk more and participate more than the year before that, because I had less anxiety, I was a lot more comfortable.”
That year, she found herself actively participating in songwriting for the first time. She mustered up the courage to voice an idea about altering the structure of another camper’s original song, and found that everyone loved her idea. From then on, Thorne says, she shared her contributions without hesitation and didn’t take their occasional rejections personally. She marks that as the moment she learned that her contributions held value.
In every aspect, Camp Amped taught Thorne she is worthy. Now, recovered from abuse, anxiety, and anorexia, Thorne is thriving. She’s just graduated high school with honors and is headed to Mercer University, scholarships in hand, to double-major in Journalism and Political Science. In the meantime, she is publishing a steady stream of her articles in online publications.
“It’s really hard to explain what Camp is and what love is, but if I had to pick anything to describe what love is and what it feels like, it would be Camp,” she says. “It’s not just like a relationship or like the way you love your mom. It’s just so connected. Everyone understands you, and they want to understand you, and everything comes together. It's like: This will teach you how to love yourself and other people in a way that I never that I even knew I needed to learn.”
If you are interested in donating to or volunteering at Nuci’s Space or Camp Amped, visit: http://www.nuci.org/help-us/.
If you need information on the health and wellness resources provided at Nuci’s Space, the counseling advocate, Lesley Cobb, can be reached at (706) 227-1515 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Nuci’s Space is not a suicide hotline. Here are some resources if you or a friend are in need of help:
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-8255
- Georgia Crisis Line: (800) 715-4225
- HopeLine: (800) 442-HOPE
- Crisis Text Line: Text ‘start’ to 741-741
- Online Chat: https://imalive.org/chat