Monica: Thanks so much for sharing your story with us today, Joy! In the last several years, you’ve done such incredible work advocating for maternal mental health all across the U.S. What first inspired you to get involved?
Joy: Most notably, my little brother’s suicide drew me towards being an advocate for mental health. He was in his early 20s when it happened, and he had struggled with sadness and anxiety his entire life. There were times of joy, but much more struggle inside than most of us could ever imagine. Though it was gut-wrenching when we lost him, I also felt relief in knowing he was at peace.
Monica: How were you able to find strength from such a tragic loss to push forward, and work towards helping others in their mental health?
Joy: I’ve had an incredible 20+ year career working for a Fortune 50 healthcare company, where I now work part-time. I was working here when my little brother wasn’t doing well, and I was sickened that even someone in the system couldn’t figure out how to navigate it and get him more help. When he passed away, I knew I would do something to help fix the system. It was a year later that I had my first baby, all while volunteering for the Junior League. That was the period when I learned how to create and pass legislation in mental health.
Monica: I love how you took that initiative to create change at the highest levels of influence! How did your own motherhood experiences influence the work you are doing now with 2020 Mom and Mom Congress?
Joy: Though I experience challenges like every mother, wife, and career woman does (even in just one of those lanes), I have found so much joy in using the strengths and knowledge I’ve been given to do good for a cause. I think it boils down to getting involved, being open to what doors might be cracked, and walking through them to explore causes that you find intriguing. Then it’s letting the ideas come to you, and taking time to let them come whether that be in the shower, on a walk, or in the middle of the night. That’s how I found my path.
Mothers need a village, and because we don’t live in them anymore, they must make your own. Regardless of income level or status, we all need a village. A village to me is now defined as 3-5 people that you aren’t afraid to ask for help from, and that you are able to help as well. With villagers, it’s a win-win relationship where we can all support one another.
Monica: It’s so wonderful when you can maximize your unique gifts in a meaningful, impactful way! Was there anything from your past that really shaped and cultivated your drive and purpose?
Joy: My mom was a working single mom when we grew up. We had a nice little house, but not much spending money. Luckily for all of us, we were able to lean on her parents, my grandparents, for help and we spent a lot of time with them each weekend. My grandmother was born in Alabama and my grandfather in Kentucky, and I savored their stories, our meals together, and their grace. We were loved more than you can imagine with consistency.
One thing that sticks out in my mind: my grandparents never raised their voices, ever. As a mom who often struggles to maintain composure with my kids (and husband!), this grace they possessed will still cause me to pause when I think of them now. I think this calming love really impacted me, and has somehow translated into a deep sense of empathy for those less fortunate. I can’t help but feel love for them, and hope for them to feel love and security.
Monica: That’s such a beautiful story, and I really appreciate how much that influenced you to spread more love and compassion by supporting mental health. I’m curious, how does the work you do keep your own health and life in perspective?
Joy: Working in mental health has made me more acutely aware of how fragile life can be and just how easily our personal biological ecosystem can be tipped out of balance. Though I can tend to overwork myself, not get enough exercise, and drink a little too much chardonnay, so far I’ve found that this ’cause joy’ has brought me good health. I hope to find just a bit more balance in the coming years as my team expands and I try to hone our team to focus on our niche and talents.
I am aware I haven’t always put my own health and life first. Luckily, I haven’t run into any trouble yet because what has felt most important is to close the gaps in our mental health system, so it’s there to catch others when they may fall. Now that we have started that work in a very meaningful way, my personal goal as I head into the last 5 years of my 40s is to find more balance. I know that this is a critical time to build a foundation and protective factors as I head into the last half of my life. My kids are 10 and 9, and the current research says that having a mother who exercises is one of most influential means of impacting our kids’ adult behaviors around exercise. That’s also very motivating for me to do more for my own health.
Monica: Taking care of yourself first is so key to continue doing the good work you are doing. What has been the most helpful for you to thrive in your happiest life?
Joy: I have two secrets: 1) Find one cause and get involved in whatever way you can in that cause; and 2) Simplify. I am still learning to do this myself, to try to do fewer things in all other areas of life.
For example, with my kids: we allow them to have one organized activity a week, and that’s it. We moved to public school from private school for more balance and less pressure because our public school only sends homework that wasn’t completed in class. I appreciate that they emphasize the importance of kids play after school as a means for learning and developing, and I hope this will help them learn the skills to find balance at a young age.