Raela Marie Villanueva – her beautiful soul and positive energy are so contagious and her story of survival is incredibly inspiring. Raela is a dear friend of ours and we are honored to share her story with you all!
Again – we asked Raela how she has been effected by suicide and/or mental illness, what has helped her cope and what she would like to tell other individuals currently battling something similar. Here is Raela’s story.
My younger brother Jr. took his own life in 1997 at the age of 22. I was 24 years old and my whole world got turned upside down. I had just graduated college while he was still in school. It was a difficult tragedy for any of us to accept. I felt I had to do something about it, not let him be remembered for how he died but how he lived. So we started the DREAM Athletic Scholarship for Catholic High School because he was an all-around athlete. DREAM is an acronym for Dare to Reach Every Achievable Moment.
I also had a dream about him the year he died, he came to me to say goodbye. I wrote a poem called The Dream which got turned into a song 12 years later after meeting a musician named Glenn Burnett at an open mic night. We got into a studio and recorded two songs and The DREAM Project Compilation CD was released in 2011 with original songs donated by different artists. Each volume benefits a different mental health organization because there are so many and when it comes to saving lives, there is no competition. I’m currently working on a 3rd volume to be released by year’s end.
The first time our family dealt with mental health was when my mom had her first mental break from her Bipolar 1 disorder in the 80’s when I was 12 years old. I was told she was “sick” and that I had to become mom when she got sent away to a state hospital for five months. We never talked about it and I resented her for being sent away and leaving me with my dad, four brothers and grandmother who didn’t speak English.
I finally understood the disorder more when I took Psychology courses in College. She had a few setbacks, but was able to maintain her mental wellness after he died, I’m not quite sure how. But then my father, her husband of almost 50 years, passed away three years ago. Due to a change in her meds, she’s had two more manic episodes the past two years. I’ve also been labeled as Bipolar 2 and have had my share of meltdowns as I like to call them.
We’ve been balancing our bipolar together and I’m grateful that we are both doing well under the care of physicians and naturopaths, nutrition and exercise. I have another brother who deals with depression and drug addiction. Since my dad’s passing, it has brought us to talk about it more openly the past few years.
What has helped me? I felt like I needed to do something right away, so I became an activist as there were barely any resources for survivors. I started going to therapy and got on medications and have been on and off of them ever since. My way of dealing was to pour all my energy into helping others and getting the resources out there. I helped start what is now Active Minds on UWF campus, I continue with the DREAM Project CD as my passion project, I participate in local and national walks and fundraisers, and host events during awareness month.
Eventually all the energy I was expending caused me to have my first meltdown in 2004. You can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself. I’ve learned this lesson over and over through the years but my recent set back early this year has forced me to slow down and take care of myself. A lot of emotional healing from PTSD needed to take place and now I feel guided by the universe to continue on the path of awareness by sharing our family’s story and bring healing through music, art and awareness. In addition, I have utilized several in-person and online support groups along with therapy, meds, and especially having a strong support network. I’ve utilized services from Lakeview Center, with different therapists and most recently found healing through EMDR Therapy with Ashley Pennewill, A Clean Mind Counseling. All the PTSD from several traumatic events in my life was released, making room for my light to really flow through.
As a survivor, I would tell others that everyone heals in their own time, in their own way, but you will go through the five stages of grief. The anger stage was a difficult one for me, I couldn’t be angry at him for leaving, he was in so much pain. But a lot of anger came out during my first meltdown in the hospital. Find support and check in – do what works for you – there are no rules when it comes to grieving this type of grief. The most important thing is to find forgiveness if you can, knowing our loved ones were in so much pain and they didn’t know how to reach out for help. Know that you are not alone, there are resources available in-person and online including the 800-273-TALK National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention community and national walks, and organizations like Active Minds, Inc., TWLOHA (To Write Love on Her Arms), and more to get involved with or support.
Keep up with Raela on her Instagram accounts @dreamprojectcd and
@raela.marie <3 <3 We love you Raela – never stop inspiring us! Use codeword RAELA for $5 off all pieces this week!!
DREAM Project CD
I had a dream of you the other night,
And in that dream everything was alright.
I dreamt that you were alive and well,
Was this dream really real? I just couldn’t tell.
We hugged and laughed and we talked for awhile,
I saw your face and your beautiful smile.
We were together just like before,
It it’s a dream and it’s real, I want to dream more.
Please don’t go yet, I have so much to say,
I want you to know before you go on your way,
Even though it’s a dream, it’s so real to me,
Your beauty is all that I can see.
Your energy feels so pure and strong,
I feel as if I don’t belong.
You radiate your light so true,
As the dream ends, I grab onto you.
I don’t want to wake for the end is near,
Your voice is all that I can hear.
I wake from my slumber, the dream is gone,
I rise to meet the early dawn.
Dedicated to Leopoldo M. Villanueva, “Jr.”
08/07/74 – 03/30/97
By Raela Marie Villanueva, big sister