“We all need second or even third chances in life” – a Conversation with Joey Wilson

An interview with Joey Wilson, graduate of Bellevue College’s OLS program and star of mental health biographical documentary “The Voice Inside”.

By Nathanial Stotler, Rupesh Bayalkoti, and Zhi Xuan Jiang University of Washington Bothell School of Business.

Featured image: Model: Joey Wilson | Photo Credit: Rupesh Bayalkoti | Photo location: Professor Umetsu’s classroom UWB

It was a cold, chilly dark winter evening. The sounds of students scurrying and rushing last minute to their classes were filling the halls. Our classroom on this night was a lucky one. The bright overhead fluorescent lights were keeping everyone reluctantly awake while the alluring scent of pizza that had engulfed the room was keeping everyone attentive. Joey sat himself at the head of a table surrounded by pizza boxes, reminiscent of a king ready for his royal dinner. Joey had donned a silky white crewneck, comfortable blue jeans, and unblemished white Nikes. Joey was freshly shaven with a buzzcut enjoying a slice of everyone’s favorite food, pizza. Joey has a gentle soft voice that is immensely welcoming as he encourages others to grab a slice. Once everyone was comfortable, the projector screen quickly flashes and the documentary about Joey’s journey finally begins to play. 


Through the documentary “The Voice Inside” produced by Bright Eyed Entertainment, it is easy to see the strain living with schizophrenia can cause in everyday life. Schizophrenia affects neurotransmitters in the brain, which can cause confusion, delusion, illusions, disordered thinking and behavior. For the majority of his life, Joey has lived with schizophrenia, but found ways to manage his symptoms, and went on to graduate from college, become a board member for multiple different nonprofits, and has been recognized by the Seattle Kraken and Seahawks as a community hero. After we watched the documentary, Joey was gracious enough to answer some questions we had for him about his life. 


So walk me through it, how did you first learn that you had schizophrenia and how old were you? How did that make you feel and how did that change the way you perceive yourself?

JW: I first learned I had schizophrenia when I was 12 years old. I felt very lost and alone at first. I felt mistreated, as if someone took everything from me and pushed a restart button on my life. Today, I am thankful to have schizophrenia, it has really shaped me as the adult and person I am now. 


Compared to the early stages of your schizophrenia to now, what are some skills you have developed or enhanced as a result of living with schizophrenia? 

JW: I was just a kid when diagnosed with schizophrenia. Now, in life I have to think one step ahead whether that’s taking my medication or taking my medication wherever I go. That could be going to work or just out with me in my daily life. I have matured and become responsible, a lot of pressure comes with living with a mental health condition. I am a very honest person and have incredible insight. That’s one of the reasons I made it to where I am today, always be honest with your doctor. Being honest with my support team, my doctor, family, and friends has helped me avoid certain triggers and events.


You found the right medication and treatment, can you tell me more about just how crucial that is on the road of recovery? How long did it take for you to find the right medication and treatment? 

JW: It took 3 years to find the right medication. Finding the right medication opened a whole new world of possibilities for me. The medication is life saving. I wouldn’t be able to survive without it. It is truly life saving finding the right medication.


What made you decide to seek help? What or who has been the most influential for you to keep going and to persevere?

JW: What made me seek help was my family, my mom, friends, mentors and community. My mom has been there every step of the way, she is the backbone to my success and is truly my life. I love my mom more than anything else in this world, she has sacrificed a lot for me growing up and I am very blessed to have her in my life.


When did things start to feel as if they were finally coming together for you? 

I felt things were coming together when I was 22. I was getting ready to move out of the group home, around the same time I found the right medication, and I reached out to my dad. I haven’t spoken to my dad in many years. I learned a lot by being at his side when he needed me the most. There’s so many different things in life my dad has taught me and so much I have learned from him that I will never forget and will always carry with me everyday […]no days go by where my dad does not cross my mind or I don’t think about him.


You have been recognized and honored by not just the Seahawks but also the Kraken as well. What does that mean to you? Are the Sounders and Mariners up next on the list?

JW: Being honored by the Kraken and Seahawks is something I’m very proud of. Since I was a little kid I have loved sports, and being honored by them was very special to me. I hope to be honored by the Seattle Sounders and Mariners. I hope one day to throw out the first pitch at a postseason game and be able to meet Ken Griffey Jr. That would be a dream come true when the mariners return to the playoffs, possibly next season. I’m a huge Mariners fan and Ken Griffey Jr is my favorite player that’s ever played baseball.  


If you could have your own billboard with a message to the world, what would it be?

JW: On a billboard, if there’s one message I could express to the world is that to the families and individuals who are having a hard time getting a loved one help who may be experiencing a mental health episode, crisis, or treatment, I would tell the families and friends of the loved one to never give up on them. We all need second and even third chances in life. Life is not easy for anyone, I would also tell those out there struggling from past situations, to make peace with your past. As humans we all have a past, no one is better than anyone else. Life can be extremely stressful, make peace with your past and always check in on people you care about to make sure they’re doing ok.


Joey Wilson is a remarkable individual whose journey through the complexities of schizophrenia has been both challenging and inspiring. From a tumultuous childhood marked by developmental struggles and the perplexing search for answers alongside his devoted mother, to the daunting onset of symptoms during early development, Joey’s story is a testament to resilience and the unwavering pursuit of personal growth. Schizophrenia, a chronic illness affecting approximately 0.32% of the global population, manifests in Joey through confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, and mood swings, presenting formidable obstacles to his daily life absent of continued treatment and medication. 


Despite the hurdles imposed by his condition, Joey’s resilience shines through in his determination to navigate the difficult path of schizophrenia with grace and perseverance. His journey is not one of despair but rather of unwavering tenacity and a profound commitment to self-improvement. Through the unwavering support of his family, including his father’s enduring presence before his passing, and the guidance of mentors from Bellevue College’s OLS program, Joey finds solace and strength to confront the adversities that accompany his diagnosis.


No fight is won alone, together we are always stronger. We encourage you to offer your support to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in any way you can. Through both NAMI Seattle and NAMI Eastside, you can find ways to donate, volunteer, attend support group meetings, and get involved in programs for family and friends. 


This article is a collaborative piece created by a group of University of Washington Bothell School of Business students from Professor Laura Umetsu’s Business Writing course. Our group would like to send a special thank you to Erika Cho from the University of Washington Bothell Writing Center for her peer review assistance.