From Self-Harm to Superbands: How I’m Saving Lives Through Music
My name is Jessica Villa and I’m the Founder/CEO of a nonprofit organization called Superbands. Having been known as the ‘quiet girl’ for most of my life, never did I envision taking on something that is so beyond my comfort zone, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision to jump into pushing Superbands forward, which has undoubtedly been the most rewarding experience of my life.
At age 13, I moved from a small town to a bustling new community where I struggled to fit in and make friends. Afraid to speak up in class and too anxious to approach my peers, I found myself slipping into a dark place, soon suffering from depression, self-harm, and anxiety. I refused to speak out about my mental illness out of fear of being bullied, judged, or mistreated. This soon escalated to suicide attempts at the young age of 17. I felt so lost, helpless, alone, and I didn’t know what I could do to ‘make myself better’. The only thing that truly helped me cope with my inner demons was music. All I needed was my CD player, a (Jonas Brothers) CD, and my headphones and, instantly, I felt at ease. I looked forward to the days ahead because it was another day closer to going to a concert, or to the release of a new album of one of my favorite artists. My notebooks were scrawled with song lyrics and the walls of my bedroom were decorated with posters of my favorite singers and bands smiling down at me, as if reminding me that everything was going to be okay. Music helped me cope with my depression and anxiety all throughout high school and college, and despite its challenges, my mental illness and being able to overcome it, without a doubt, made me a stronger person to shape me into who I am today.
After college, I moved back home with my parents and siblings, who I have always been very close with. My brother was just wrapping up his senior year of high school preparing for his college adventures, while my sister, age 13, was in her middle school years. She truly reminded me of myself at that age: Struggling to figure out her identity, wanting to make friends and fit in, and of course, so madly in love with her favorite singers and bands. Their music wafted through the house vents from her room into mine, their collectible merchandise was scattered everywhere throughout the house, and she was always excitedly marking down days on her calendar until the next concert she had tickets to attend. Her passion for music during her early teenage years mirrored mine and, for the first time, I thought to myself that there HAS to be more people out there. People like her, like me—who found comfort in music, who believed in the power music has to heal. I spent hours scouring the Internet, posting on forums, looking up organizations and businesses. At 22, I had no idea what I was doing—all I knew was that this idea that music can save had so much power to help youth all across the world. In August 2014, four months after graduating college, I ventured off into a new world and Superbands was born.
Superbands is a global non-profit whose mission is to raise awareness for mental illness in teens and to empower those struggling through music. Through a shared passion for music, we aim to remind people worldwide that they are not alone in their struggles. For me to say that starting Superbands (and growing it) has been easy, would be a complete lie. I struggled with backlash from people around town, skepticism from family and friends, judgement from friends and strangers alike about finally being public about my own mental illness, and endless days without sleep to research new ideas in a field I practically knew nothing about. Despite some negativity and minor setbacks, the floods of emails I received since starting Superbands from young people sharing their own personal stories, thanking me for creating such a nonprofit to encourage them to stay strong through music –Well, that has been more than enough to remind me daily why I do what I do.
If I could just pick a single thing that I have learned from starting Superbands, it would be to never be afraid to be 100% yourself. Having struggled with mental illness (depression, self-harm) for most of my life, I kept this a secret out of fear of being judged or stigmatized. After college, I took the plunge and started Superbands. In doing so, I shared my personal story. It was scary at first, sure, but I was authentic and honest – and the responses I got from around the world blew my mind! People of all ages could relate to my story—my struggles with mental health, my passion for music, my love for my favorite singers and bands—and I was curating a community of people who no longer needed to feel like they were alone. Together, we were a community of music-lovers who finally felt like it was okay to speak up, share their stories, blast their music with no shame. All because I was authentic, honest, and open. All of this is happening (and growing) thanks to no longer being afraid!
Today, Superbands has grown more than I could have ever imagined and it continues to grow with each passing day. I could not be more thankful for the mentors I have had along the way, the supporters (turned friends) I have met, and for the inspiration to follow my passions and dreams. I cannot wait to see what the future has in-store for Superbands, and I hope that you’ll come along for the journey!
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