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S.A.I.L Profiles: Alex Antuna — A Healing Journey

S.A.I.L Profiles: Alex Antuna --  A Healing Journey

Alex Antuna is a 22-year-old Westfield State University senior Business Major from Chicopee who struggled to face his own emotions. On his twentieth birthday, March 15, 2020, that had to change.

March 15, 2020, was the day two years ago that what was supposed to be a two-week shutdown turned into two years. What Alex thought would be an extended spring vacation turned into a journey that changed his life and his perspective.

Prior to that day, Alex lived his life at 120 miles per hour; never stopping to relax. That wasn’t an option for him. He spent time with his friends playing basketball and getting into trouble with his friends. All of his time went toward drowning out the chaotic background noise that never quieted.

Anytime he did manage to let himself show what he was struggling with he was met with some type of resistance. One moment he remembered, in particular, was a time when he had opened up to a close man in his life. This man turned around to make fun of Alex for displaying emotion and “not being manly enough.”

The shutdown forced him to face this loneliness. He had to learn how to deal with the emotions that he had spent so long running away from. But, learning this was no easy feat. Emotions don’t just dissipate when they are ignored. They built up and became a monster that Alex knew he could not face alone.

Without realizing it this fast-paced lifestyle was harming the people Alex cared about. He kept people at a distance and was often irritable. A cycle was born of pushing people away via snippiness. This short-temper was making people distance themselves, thus making him feel worse. It was a vicious cycle that often left him feeling alone.

“If you internalize your feelings, what it does is it doesn’t make you stronger. It just makes you feel like shit every day.”

Where do you go when you need help? The biggest benefit to being on a college campus is the availability of free counseling. That’s where Alex went. He scheduled three appointments in the fall semester of 2021, but he never went to them. Mental health is not a conversation that men have, so who would care? Why go? Would it work? Would it be worth it?

Eventually, he decided the pain that he was feeling outweighed his concerns about getting help. It was bad enough that he didn’t care who he spoke to; he just needed someone to listen to him. Someone to hear him. So starting in January of this year, 2022, Alex decided to go to the counseling appointment he scheduled. Through his appointments, he started journaling in a stream of consciousness style. A style that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else would help him understand his own chaotic thoughts and emotions. His journaling was soon directed toward writing down the positives about his life: people, things, events, etc.

“If you can write how you feel, it doesn’t stay stuck in your head. Or if you write what you’re grateful for you realize how many things you can be appreciative for or thankful for.” Alex also found that having someone to let him sit in his thoughts for a few minutes was extremely helpful. It allowed him a moment to process the chaos that so often drowned him.

He stopped fixating on the superficial things of life and started to focus on little accomplishments. Sometimes those small accomplishments were simply getting out of bed. Sometimes it was taking a shower. These tiny accomplishments slowly turned into larger accomplishments; taking on a leadership role in S.A.I.L. He began to take more pride in his work of coordinating and hosting events, contacting vendors, and producing advertisements.

Alex is certainly not the only one who has experienced this and knowing that helped him on his path to bettering himself. He found that social media had been helpful in terms of lessening his loneliness because he found a community that felt similarly. Whether or not he directly spoke to them it was comforting to hear them voice a similar experience.

Within a few short months, Alex had shifted his perspective and his outlook on his life was much brighter. Alex never would have found his peace if the pandemic had never happened.

“It was like a rock being pushed off my chest.”

He wouldn’t have found a way to cope with life’s challenges. The sudden stop forced him to face everything within his own mind. He realized that there was so much more to his life than just dwelling on what sucked.

“I have so much to live for.”

*The Counseling Center is in the Lammers Hall Annex (same as the Career Center)

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