Joy – One Tough Mother

Joy – One Tough Mother

Teen Mental Health and Substance Misuse

What Joy McCay Wishes Providers Knew

Joy McCay 
Ascending to Health Respite Care

Joy McCay talks a lot about choices. The times she chose drugs and alcohol over treatment. The times she chose to refuse her mom’s support. She takes accountability. But she also understands that getting misdiagnosed and taking the wrong medications didn’t help.

Drinking at age 14 quickly led to pain pills. Then to Xanax. She’d lose entire days, and she stopped going to school. Eventually, she dropped out.

Joy went to work, but she’d show up drunk. By age 18, she’d had four jobs. She couldn’t get on the right track.

Eventually, she found herself in a violent circumstance.

“Even as drunk as I was and as high as I was, I really didn’t think I’d make it out of the situation,” she says.

She was assaulted, and that’s when Joy asked her mom for help.

“She just dropped the phone and she was like, I've been trying to get you to do this for so many years,” Joy says.

Beginning Again

Joy went to Withdrawal Management (“detox”) and then into a 30-day rehabilitation program. It’s there she connected with Brian, a peer recovery coach who helped her work with the police, which led to her perpetrator receiving a life sentence.

Brian also connected Joy with a sober living facility, where she met a group of women who supported each other through the early days of recovery.

After getting sober, Joy gave birth to a baby girl. She’s 18 months old now, and is Joy’s motivation for staying sober.

Joy also has meaningful work at Ascending to Health Respite Care, which offers people experiencing homelessness a safe place to recover after hospitalization.

What Joy Wishes Providers Knew

Looking back, Joy knows she wasn’t completely honest with her care providers as a teen. She’s received a correct diagnosis of bipolar disorder and PTSD since that time.  And she understands the medications she received as a teenager made things worse, including a psychotic episode.

“Once I got the actual diagnosis and started taking the right meds, I did so much better. But it was just scary to try to go through the steps and go through the motions of switching medications. The whole medication part was really hard.”

Joy shares her experience to help providers who work with teens better understand what she was going through at the time, and offers this advice:

“Do not be sympathetic, but be empathetic. Do not try to put yourself in somebody's shoes. Be someone to tie the shoes, just understand at a certain level and come to our level. Don’t talk down to us,” she says.

Feeling belittled by some providers was also difficult for Joy as a teen.

“Have empathy and take the time. If you have five extra minutes, take those five extra minutes and just talk about things a little more in-depth, explain medications and side effects, because I didn't know that there were side effects to medications until I was 18 years old and realized that my outbursts and behaviors were because of certain medications.”

Joy credits her continued sobriety to her willingness to work with supportive mental health providers and her friends and family. She’s learning how to be successful in relationships and knows healthy relationships are crucial to her recovery.

Offering Peer Support

Joy’s journey has inspired her to help others. She’s connected people to Brian for peer support and offers her own help when she can.

“I always tell them, I am here. I will be your peer,” she says.

She’s even working to become a recovery coach.

“It's a big deal for me to see those people prosper because I know they can if they just put in the effort.”

Joy continues to choose recovery, especially seeing what happens to people when they are not following their programs.

“Seeing what people do when they're not sober or not following the program reminds me … that could literally be you. And so that keeps me off that edge. It kind of brings me back to where I can look at the view and not fall over.”

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