Alex Marro is a Youth Care Coordinator with us at ICAN and he also is a professional Mixed Martial Arts Fighter! He is one of our amazing Mental Health Ambassadors in our campaign to help reduce the stigma of mental health by sharing their stories, how they care for their own mental health and they are inspiring others to speak up when they need help.
Here is Alex’s story…
Fighting Mental Health Starting at Eight Years Old
From a young age, Alex dealt with the daily challenges of mental health. It started when he was around eight years old, while his mother was struggling with a prescription pill addiction and his father was constantly traveling for work. Alex was left to work through his struggles alone with no outlet. At school, he faced bullying and constantly being in and out of the principal’s office. He describes himself as an angry kid who didn’t know how to express his emotions or talk to people. He was diagnosed with clinical depression and eventually bipolar disorder, but all around him was pressure to sweep his emotions and feelings under the rug, so he hid and bottled up his emotions for a very long time.
Alex tried medication to assist with his mental health and depression, ultimately making the decision to no longer take them. He says, “once you put a face to the monster you’re able to keep it under the bed.”
Finding His Outlet, Finding Permission to Talk About Mental Health
Alex found combat sports, and from about ages 12-18, he got the opportunity to really face off with his mental health – addressing it, overcoming it and not working against it. He shares that “the more you put it away, the more dangerous it becomes for you. Not caring for your mental health is like you’re literally beating yourself up.”
He found that when he was in the ring, he could begin to transfer his feelings, but was still hard on himself and still struggled. When he lost a fight, he was angry. The first person he remembers saying something out loud ever concerning his feelings and mental health was his boxing coach. After a losing match and being incredibly upset about it, his coach simply told him, “it’s ok, you can let it out.” That permission from a respected person in his life changed it all. After bottling everything up for so long, he could now let it all out with a more controlled approach.
Full Circle to a Career of Helping Others
Alex went on to study music industry with a focus in copyright law and acoustic engineering at Schenectady Community College, continued Mixed Martial Arts Fighting and became an All American Wrestler. He describes this time as a period of truly understanding and mastering himself in so many ways.
Working at ICAN in human services is something that he kind of fell into. Alex had a worker when he was younger and now in a twist of fate, he has become that in others’ lives. He sees himself in his clients and does things for them that he wishes his workers would have done back in the day with him. “I count my blessings every day that I can do this work,” he shares.
He strives to be a positive influence in their lives and show them that they are not alone.
Paying it Forward to Other Fighters
Coaching young fighters is rewarding every day for Alex, as well as mentoring other upcoming and professional fighters. "You are supposed to have a bulletproof mind in boxing.” That obviously cannot always be the case and can be extremely dangerous, so Alex advocates for fighters' mental health, and checks in with them by asking if they are talking to anyone or if they need help. He has become that adult figure in so many lives that younger fighters can lean on and confide in while learning more about managing their own mental health through Alex.
Mental Health is with you Every. Day.
Alex is the embodiment of the campaign slogan “Everyone Has It. Every Day.” He continues to take it day-by-day and leans into the positive outlets that work for him – physical sports, creating content for his YouTube channel and occasional video games. He loves coming home to his fiance who is someone he shares his struggles with and he can openly talk with. And he loves work! It keeps him level and grounded and allows him to help the kids he works with better.
His parting words?
“Don’t be afraid to be open about things. You’re not alone and there are always people in your corner whether you want to believe it or not.” Finding those people he could confide in and depend on changed his life around. And he hopes it happens for many others as well.