Episode 57: You Are Loved & You Never Deserved It with Johnny Crowder
Episode 57: You Are Loved & You Never Deserved It with Johnny Crowder
In this week’s episode, Alyssa sits down with suicide and abuse survivor, Johnny Crowder, to talk about the seemingly “small things” that are hugely important to have in trauma recovery. Johnny opens up about his own journey from abuse survivor to now hosting his own podcast and being the CEO and founder of an app designed to help mitigate trauma symptoms. Johnny is an amazing warrior with so much love to give!
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hello, hello Friends. How are we doing today? I am trying to get back into the podcast swing of things. I have had a couple of weeks break from recording. We went on vacation. We bought a house. We have been packing and getting ready to move and all those good things and it’s been really busy but all good stuff. Really, really excited. Of course, the moving process is like triggering trauma symptoms out of the wazoo but that’s a conversation for another podcast because today, we have very special guest. I am looking forward to this episode. We have with us Johnny Crowder. Now, Johnny is amazing. He is a 28 year old suicide and abuse survivor. He is a TEDx speaker, a touring musician, mental health and sobriety advocate and the founder and CEO of Cope Notes.
Cope Notes is a text based mental health platform that provides daily support to users in nearly 100 countries around the world, which is awesome. I love that. I can’t wait to talk more about that. Armed with 10 years of clinical treatment, a psychology degree from the University of Central Florida and a decade of peer support and public advocacy through the National Alliance of Mental Illness, Johnny’s youthful vigor for mental health has impacted millions of lives across the globe. Since his first keynote in 2011, Johnny’s refreshingly candid perspective has attracted praise from hundreds of outlets, including Upworthy, CNN, and Forbes.
Even when commanding a virtual stage or touring with his metal band, Prison, his infectious positivity and firsthand experience with multiple mental illnesses, ranging from bipolar disorder and OCD to schizophrenia, uniquely equipped him to provide realistic yet hopeful insight into the pains of hardship with authenticity, levity, and unconventional wit. So that was quite a bio. So hello, Johnny, welcome.
Johnny Crowder [02:48]:
Alyssa Scolari [02:50]:
You’re a rock star. I mean, holy smokes, everything that you’ve been through … I’ve really been looking forward to this conversation, even though it’s taken us a little while to schedule and to get here, just because of the things that you’re doing and the resiliency that you have. So can you take us back, how did you get to be the person that you are today?
Johnny Crowder [03:17]:
Alyssa Scolari [03:19]:
That’s a loaded question, I know.
Johnny Crowder [03:20]:
Yeah. I’m trying to think lots of music. Lots of exercise, I’m looking back and I just think like, we all like to … we all wish life was simple enough and binary enough to point to one thing and be like, “Oh, that was the thing that defined me,” but I’m a pretty outspoken proponent of the fact that all of the little things make a big difference too, so it’s interesting when I do interviews, and people want to talk about like the few big things, like tell us about your suicide attempts or tell us about being raped. I’m like, there were thousands of little moments in between, that shaped me, that I don’t always get to talk about. So whenever someone is like, “How did you become who you are?” My brain runs like an infinite inventory of all of these tiny little decisions that I’ve made, but ultimately, an easy way to describe it is every time I experienced some kind of pain, I stubbornly decided there had to be a way to justify it.
I had to use the pain or else the pain would have been for nothing, so that’s why I think my life has progressed in the way that it has, is every time I hurt myself like I stubbed my toe and I think, man, I’m going to start a committee that’s going to look at every corner in my house so that people don’t stub their toes anymore. I just think that way.
Alyssa Scolari [04:42]:
Yeah. So basically, what you do is you have chosen to find meaning from the pain, take it and do something with it.
Johnny Crowder [04:56]:
Yeah, and there’s a blurry line there too. When I was growing up, if someone would have said like, “Search for purpose and your pain,” I’d be like, “Shove off. I don’t want to talk about that,” because I was caught up on the fact that it wasn’t fair that I was experiencing pain, but once you can get past that hurdle, which is much easier said than done, you’ve kind of realize you do have a choice. Either I experienced that pain for no reason, and it will benefit no one and I learned nothing or I can leverage that so that there’s some type of fruits, so that when I look back on my life, I don’t wish I was hurt more so that I could have learned more, produce more good things. It’s a way of like retroactively justifying the pain that you’ve experienced. I think anybody can do it, it just takes some pretty heavy mental lifting.
Alyssa Scolari [05:44]:
Absolutely and I think there’s a lot in what you said, I think you’re right. It’s one of those things where would we prefer to live without our abuse?
Johnny Crowder [05:55]:
Alyssa Scolari [05:56]:
Yeah, that would be pretty fucking awesome. Please, I’ll take that. I think so many people struggle, myself included at times with the mentality of it’s not fair. It’s not fair. This isn’t fair. How did you … and this is also a loaded question, so I understand that it’s more complex than just a simple question, but how did you get into that mindset, because I think so many of us stay stuck in, “Well, this isn’t fair.” Especially living in a world where there’s no justice.
Johnny Crowder [06:39]:
Yeah. I’m trying to think it wasn’t like …. I think the way people envision people who are resilient is like, they wake up every day and they’re like, “Oh, I’m just going to climb this mountain every day.” I was talking to a buddy of mine, who I really admire, her name is Kristen. She’s been doing this like advocacy for a lot longer than I have, so I asked her a lot of questions and she mentioned something like … something along the lines of you can’t be courageous, if you don’t experience fear. Courage is overcoming fear. So if you’re not afraid, then there’s like a synapse, not firing in your brain. You should experience fear at some point, some things are scary and I kind of view my story so far that way like, it wasn’t about training myself to think it is fair and I do deserve this.
That would have been really unhealthy, right? Much like not experiencing fear is really unhealthy. So, the first thing you have to do is kind of either speak with someone who has been through something that you have, like talk to a peer about it and kind of validate that it’s not your fault, and you didn’t attract … you didn’t like law of attraction your way into being abused or something like that. There’s a lot of that nonsense going around. So once you get past that piece, where you can just look straight at it, and you say, “That’s not fair,” then it’s almost like that issue is put to rest. You’re not wrestling with whether or not you deserved it anymore. Once you can lay that down, you can use all of that energy you were using on that problem for something more productive.
Alyssa Scolari [08:30]:
Right, it’s about overcoming like it’s not fair, but all the energy that you’re taking, sitting in this almost … I almost see it as a sense of denial, right? Because the more we sit in that spot of, “This is unfair, how could this have happened? I didn’t deserve this.” It’s like, yes, yes, yes to all of it but we get stuck there, and when we get stuck there, then we’re not using the energy that we have to push forward and create light for ourselves.
Johnny Crowder [09:05]:
We’re also … In talking about it, we’re like skipping the step that is most crucial, which is like understanding that … some people might not agree, but for me, it was understanding that I was right about not deserving the abuse.
Alyssa Scolari [09:23]:
Johnny Crowder [09:23]:
Think about it … most people never actually hear that they’re right in feeling that they were hurt. A lot of it is like, “Well, what exactly happened and what did you do and what were you wearing and how long did you know that person,” and if you let them in, maybe they didn’t mean it like that. There’s lots of like, it’s whatever the opposite of victim blaming is. It’s like, aggressor excusing. So, people experience a lot of that where they say, “Well think about it from his perspective,” and even, these friends are trying to help too, so don’t get it twisted, like they’re trying to comfort you and help it not sting as much. Without someone who’s experienced trauma, just hearing, “You know what, you’re right.”
No, it’s not fair at all and nobody deserves that. Without actually hearing that, it’s so tough to get to the point where you can do something with it because you’re too busy wrestling with the idea that it could have been your fault or maybe it was fair and maybe that pain was justified. You can only lay that down once you realize like, “Wow, I am right,” and you feel validated in that frustration.
Alyssa Scolari [10:38]:
Yeah, you’re 1,000% correct and I think back to the one time in my life that I reported one of my abusers, there was a full investigation, multiple victims and at the end, of course, there was not enough to try this man and the police officer said to me … and I laugh about it, because that’s just what I do, that’s how I cope, but the police officer said to me, “Well, you kind of have to see it from his perspective.” If you … would you want your entire career ruined by people accusing you of this when there’s no evidence? I mean, you’re right, if it’s not blaming you directly, right, then we’re saying, “Well, you have to look at things from his perspective and not necessarily always a he,” right? I want to be clear, there are women and non-binary folks who also can be abusers.
We spend a lot of time doing that and we also spend a lot of time where I get a lot of … and I don’t know if you’ve had an experience with us, like, well, you have to just move on with your life.
Johnny Crowder [12:03]:
Alyssa Scolari [12:04]:
That comes before the, “You’re justified in feeling what you feel,” right? We don’t get that.
Johnny Crowder [12:04]:
Alyssa Scolari [12:09]:
People skip right to like, “Well, you got to move on with your life.”
Johnny Crowder [12:12]:
Dude, I love you describing it that way because I’m … Do you remember PEMDAS from school?
Alyssa Scolari [12:19]:
Yeah, Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.
Johnny Crowder [12:21]:
Parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, addition, subtraction.
Alyssa Scolari [12:21]:
Johnny Crowder [12:29]:
I didn’t use the correct form of each of those words, but yeah, PEMDAS. So if you wind up doing the addition part of the equation first, it screws up the whole answer, you get the wrong answer every time unless you go in the order of operations and I’m viewing this like healing and coping process as exactly that. If you jump straight to, “Hey, buddy, you got a job to do. You got a life to live. Get back out there and experience it without the validation part,” or without even feeling like you were justified in bringing it up to somebody. That’s another step that I think a lot of people skip, is they don’t … like friends and family who try to help, someone who has been through something traumatic.
We don’t often like applaud people for saying something about it in the first place and that’s almost always like, in the top three hardest parts of experiencing something traumatic is like mentioning it to someone and we forget to congratulate that person, which sounds like a weird word but to commend them for the strength that took to bring it up because we’re too busy trying to help them get out of the mud, I do this all the time too, even with little innocuous stuff, like my buddy is like, “Dude, my boss is such a jerk,” and I’m like, “Well, the job market is really fluid right now and you might be able to find something great.” I’m like, “What did I say that? Why did I skip straight past my friend’s pain point into a potential solution that they didn’t ask for?”
I do that all the time and I think it’s … in a weird way, it’s how we care for each other. I don’t want to hear that you’re hurting, I want to fast forward to when you’re not hurting anymore because I love you, and we forget that a lot of steps are being neglected when we do that.
Alyssa Scolari [14:14]:
Yeah. Yes. I feel like that is part of what makes trauma, right, because not everybody who experience this abuse can develop PTSD and not everybody becomes traumatized, but sometimes I feel when the support system doesn’t kind of slow down and be with people in that pain and rushes people to recover or, what’s the word that I’m looking for? Negates its significance and negates the importance of even speaking about it, which really has been my entire life growing up, right? I would say … I remember the first time I told somebody in my family I had an eating disorder and the response was like, “No you don’t.”
Johnny Crowder [14:59]:
Alyssa Scolari [14:59]:
I was like, “Okay, all right. Here we go.” So I think that that just continues to traumatize people. That’s how people end up even more traumatized.
Johnny Crowder [15:12]:
Dude and think about it too, you just made me realize something, the opposite of validating someone and being like, “Wow, that is … you are experiencing disordered eating.” I’m like, “Man, what’s been going on and tell me about it, and I want to understand it.” The opposite of validating it is like gaslighting you into saying that it’s not happening, and I picture like all of this … I mean, I don’t know your story, but I picture all of the courage and effort and mentally weighing the pros and cons of bringing it up in the first place and what does this mean and do I have to … Am I going to have to go to treatment or are people going to look at me differently? Then is my behavior even going to change or is my disordered … is my eating even that disordered, other people have much more disordered eating than me?
So all these thoughts raced through your head for … and Lord knows how long you struggle with this and then you finally bring it up, and it’s kind of like a fireworks finale or whatever, where it just like … and then like, doesn’t even shoot, like the mortar doesn’t even shoot off the ground. You’re like, “What the heck?”
Alyssa Scolari [16:21]:
Those just happens.
Johnny Crowder [16:23]:
I think people forget the lead up to saying something like that, like it’s not just someone casually mentioning it like at least in my personal experience, before I mentioned stuff like this to people. There’s like a whole … I mean, I’m writing like a mental dissertation about … it’s like a term paper in my mind, where I’m like, weighing out all of the potential … and I’m so anxious about the outcome I’m bringing up, that it’s exacerbating what I’m experiencing in the first place. So to mention it and have someone go, “Well, I mean, other people will have a lot more disordered eating than you.” You just are like, “Oh, did I just waste five semesters on a paper that no one is going to read?”
Alyssa Scolari [17:12]:
I may just go burn this paper.
Johnny Crowder [17:14]:
Yeah. That’s tough.
Alyssa Scolari [17:16]:
Right, figuratively speaking. So, for you, did you have that support from your family? I know that you had mentioned that you’re a sexual abuse survivor and a suicide attempt survivor. So did you have that support growing up with your family, friends?
Johnny Crowder [17:41]:
So all my family is still alive, so I do my very best to speak kindly of everybody.
Alyssa Scolari [17:48]:
Johnny Crowder [17:49]:
I grew up in a family that was not necessarily conducive to healthy mental and emotional patterns.
Alyssa Scolari [17:59]:
Johnny Crowder [17:59]:
When I was … I’ll just say this, but you can kind of extrapolate out the type of family that I grew up in, when I was younger. So I had really debilitating OCD and it was getting to the point where I couldn’t function normally. I couldn’t get dressed, I couldn’t make food, I couldn’t leave my house sometimes. I couldn’t touch doorknobs or people or step on cracks. There were like, hundreds of things that I couldn’t do. It was really interfering with my daily life to the point where I couldn’t function. My brothers, while, we didn’t really talk about this, they knew that something was up with me and they knew what bothered me. So there was this one time we went to subway and they took my sandwich and licked it.
The entire sandwich, like a foot long sandwich, they licked it because they knew that I couldn’t eat it. To them, it was hilarious. They’re like, “Oh, look, he just got this sandwich and now, he can’t have it,” and there were kids in school who would lick their hands and put it on me or spin on me and because they knew it would bother me so much to the point where I would have a behavioral outburst and be sent to the principal’s office and I would get in trouble every time, because I was the one who had a behavioral outburst. So, it was tough with my family because I think there was a level of denial from my parents where they were like no son of mine, whatever. My mom just told me recently that my dad didn’t believe that I had asthma.
When I was a kid I had to use like the nebulizer like the huge thing. I use preventative medicine. I had to use like a Diskus every day and take medication and albuterol like it was really, really debilitating asthma. My dad was like, “No, he doesn’t.” So the family that I grew up in was kind of like a rub some dirt in it kind of family and my mom … What’s really cool is my mom in recent years, so she does, like stenography for students like for live events and stuff. So like if a student, a deaf student is attending classes at a college, my mom will attend the class and type on a stenograph everything that’s being spoken. So it’s like closed captioning for students.
Alyssa Scolari [20:19]:
Johnny Crowder [20:19]:
We wound up having to take psychology courses, because students were taking those courses. So now she’s learning about like social work and about abnormal psychology. In this point in my life, I think she’s like, “Oh, crap, we got to do something about this.” So my mom has been kind of like the success story of beginning to … especially in my teens and 20s, wrapping her head around, or at least making a conscious effort to ditch that denial pattern and try to understand what I was going through.
Alyssa Scolari [20:53]:
Yeah, which is awesome.
Johnny Crowder [20:53]:
Alyssa Scolari [20:54]:
I mean, right. It can’t change the past, but that certainly is like, awesome, moving forward for you.
Johnny Crowder [21:02]:
Yeah. In my opinion, she’s like the Most Improved Player, like how you get that trophy or whatever.
Alyssa Scolari [21:09]:
Johnny Crowder [21:11]:
She’ll come to my band’s shows now and she tells her friends like, “Oh, my son runs a mental health technology company.” So it’s cool to see like the growth and change. She literally texted me today, and growing up, I never thought that I would really talk to my family, like moving forward after I moved out and it’s cool to like … I literally saw her this weekend and it’s cool that we can maintain contact now in a way that we couldn’t before.
Alyssa Scolari [21:38]:
Yeah, huge improvements.
Johnny Crowder [21:41]:
Alyssa Scolari [21:42]:
Does that also help you through the recovery process?
Johnny Crowder [21:47]:
I think yes, because I know a lot of people in my life, very close friends and family members who have kind of kept me at arm’s length, because especially when you’re younger, everything is viewed as like, you’re a freak-
Alyssa Scolari [22:05]:
Johnny Crowder [22:06]:
If you’re experiencing these mental health issues, and people don’t really dig any deeper, they don’t take seriously what you are saying to them. I had lost hope in a lot of interpersonal relationships. I figured, I’m a lot healthier now than I was 10, 15 years ago but there are people who will never talk to me again, maybe because of my behavior when I was really sick and for the rest of my life, I will feel somewhat penalized for behavior that I was not … I wasn’t even sentient through some of that. I was in like, full blown psychosis and it’s a challenge to know that I’ve lost some very close friends because of behavior patterns that I had no control over.
Seeing my relationship with my mom slowly repair itself over the course of several years, it gives me hope that maybe some of the people who I lost through my psychosis I might wind up reconnecting with in the future, because now I’m capable of maintaining relationship in a way that I wasn’t when I was younger.
Alyssa Scolari [23:17]:
Yeah, yeah. The things that you’re saying are really speaking to me. I think part of the place where I’m at in my recovery is, I think acknowledging that I will forever feel penalized for things that I did 10 years ago and I was very, very sick. There are people and family members who still like exactly like you said, keep me at arm’s length, right? I’m the freak of the family. I don’t get invited to things. People don’t ask me anything about the work that I do. People don’t really know.
Johnny Crowder [23:59]:
Yeah, really, I don’t want to open up a can of worms.
Alyssa Scolari [24:01]:
Yeah. You don’t want to know.
Johnny Crowder [24:03]:
Don’t even ask for how she is. I don’t want to …
Alyssa Scolari [24:05]:
No, I don’t even want to know, right?
Johnny Crowder [24:06]:
Alyssa Scolari [24:07]:
They don’t ask they don’t call and for me, it’s been one of those like coming to terms of like this also, the way other people choose to react and I think that a lot of trauma survivors need to hear this, is also not our fault and it’s not fair. That too is not fair. It’s not fair that we were traumatized but it’s also not fair, the way other people reacted,
Johnny Crowder [24:33]:
Dude, this is real. It’s tough like I-
Alyssa Scolari [24:37]:
This is the hard stuff.
Johnny Crowder [24:38]:
I look back and I know I had some very close friends that when I was hallucinating very severely, I was essentially living in just a completely different reality than my friends were. Those friends that I was very close with, especially in high school, I’ve tried reaching out to, talking to mutual friends to see if I could like try to see them again. They’re just not willing to see me because in their mind, they have a very distinct vision of how I behave and I remember not too long ago, this is several years ago, but still pretty recent, I met up with a friend from high school who had that opinion of me still. It was just by chance, we both wound up being at our mutual friend’s house at the same time.
Alyssa Scolari [25:26]:
So this was not planned.
Johnny Crowder [25:27]:
Yeah, and we spoke, and at the end, she was saying goodbye to everybody and stuff. She gave me a hug and she was like crying a little bit and I was like, “What’s going on?” She was like, “I know, people who didn’t come, because you’re here, because they thought that you are today, like you were in high school and they didn’t get to see the version of you that exists today. They have to live with that old version, and that’s sad, to me.” That’s what she said and when she left, I was like, not only was it incredibly kind of her to acknowledge the work that I’ve done, and that I am different now, but for her to view it like that, not like, “Oh, you need to get out there and prove to them that you’re different, like giving me a task.”
She said, “It’s sad for them, that they don’t get to see the progress you’ve made,” and there was something so sweet and genuine about that, that I try to cling to whenever I feel left out or excluded. I think, I’m sad that those people don’t get to know the version of me that exists today. The true version of me.
Alyssa Scolari [26:50]:
There absolutely, I think is a level of grief there. Also, even just hearing, right, I don’t know this person who said that to you. I will probably never know this person, but even just knowing too, that there are people out there that will say things like that is hugely comforting.
Johnny Crowder [27:10]:
Yeah, we were never close too, me and this person, we just always ran in similar circles and had mutual friends, but we never were like close enough for her to be that heartfelt with me. I think it made it mean so much more because she wasn’t doing it to be nice or to blow smoke or because she was my friend. It was like her genuine-
Alyssa Scolari [27:30]:
It was her genuine reaction. So, today, right, because I want to go back to something that we were talking about earlier, just so we can clarify, right, because we were talking about getting to a certain point in our recovery, where we can say like, this wasn’t my fault and I didn’t deserve it and I’m justified in feeling the way that I feel. I am justified in all of these emotions. Once you get to that point like today, where you’re at today, right, hugely successful human being doing incredible things affecting millions of people for the better, changing lives. Do you still have moments where you struggle with that or is that like something you’ve completely like, come to terms with and are at peace with?
Johnny Crowder [28:25]:
Dude, I am … Maybe it’s because I’m cynical or skeptical or whatever word you want to use, but every time I hear someone say that they’re fully past everything, it’s not that I doubt the human minds ability to overcome, right? I doubt a perfect record. I doubt anyone having 100%. If you’re at 99, you’re a superhero but 100, you’re a robot. So at least for me, personally, I shouldn’t be speaking about other people’s records. I’ll say for me, it is not 100%. It is not a 90%. It’s a pretty common … I mean, it brings me back to what my buddy Kristen said about fear. It’s like to be courageous, you face fear on a daily basis and I do that regularly and there’s … I mean, even people who have experienced trauma, like when you go out, you meet someone with your abuser’s name or something. Keep in mind, what are they supposed to do about it, right?
It’s not their responsibility to address that. There’s so many little individual things that you have to carry on a personal level, like you hear a song come on the radio and you’re like, “That song was playing when we were driving to …” It throws you back into something and you just build the rock climbing muscles you need over time to like climb out of that hole and I heard this really cool phrase, I’m going to butcher it but it’s something along the lines of building the ability to bridge the gap between being thrown into that head space and recovering. So, let’s say you hear a song and it triggers you and then, you spend 18 hours in this place where you’re just overwhelmed by emotion.
Then, after a couple of years of hearing that song every once in a while and being triggered another ways, then that gap goes from 18 hours to 45 minutes. Then, a couple of years later, you experience some other stuff and then, maybe that goes to three hours and seven minutes. It’s not going to be linear but over time, there will be a general trend, if you consciously work at it where you can bridge that gap so I’m constantly experiencing stimulus that is extremely mentally and emotionally taxing and I don’t task myself with avoiding that stimulus or with immediately overcoming every time that pops up. I do task myself with improving my recovery time.
Alyssa Scolari [31:13]:
Yeah. Yeah. I love that. I love the way you put it and importantly, very importantly it’s not linear, right? Sometimes it is going to be that you’re lost for 18 hours after you get triggered. Sometimes, it’s going to be 45 minutes. It really is sometimes about muscle, building up … like you would be building up a muscle, like your training muscles at the gym but also life is hard and even after we are abused, there are still things that can leave us triggered and traumatized, right? Just because we’ve experienced childhood abuse does not exempt us from the other painful things that life brings.
Johnny Crowder [31:54]:
Yeah, dude, I picture it a lot like a sunburn. If you’ve ever had a real bad sunburn and then someone comes and gives you a hug and pats you on the back and you’re like … I think there’s a misconception around trauma where it’s like, well, only things related to your trauma are really going to be harder for you, everything else is going to be normal. That’s like saying, well, only the sun can hurt your sunburn. No, lots of different stuff. I mean, my shirt rubbing against my back hurts my sunburn.
Alyssa Scolari [32:26]:
Everything. Right, when you have sunburn, everything hurts it.
Johnny Crowder [32:29]:
Yeah. So it’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced that, it’s not just things in that specific category, that might exacerbate what I’m feeling. Basically, anything that touches that thing, I’m just already sore. I’m pre-sore. So if you go out into the world, and you wear a shirt or you lean against a chair or something, and it doesn’t hurt your back, probably because you don’t have a sunburn. I have a sunburn, so you might not be able to see it because it’s covered by my shirt, but I might not be able to wear a backpack, even though you can and I will be able to later, because I won’t be as sunburned and it won’t hurt as bad, but right now, it’s tough to explain to someone that something as seemingly innocuous and not related to your pain as a backpack could exacerbate the pain that they can’t even see.
Alyssa Scolari [33:28]:
Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful way of putting it. A really, really beautiful way of putting it and it really drives home exactly what it feels like. It’s brilliant. I’m going to have to marinate on that, actually because I think it’s …
Johnny Crowder [33:44]:
Me too. I just said it right now and I’m like, “Dang, that kind of works.” So, I immediately thought it too.
Alyssa Scolari [33:48]:
You just came up with that.
Johnny Crowder [33:49]:
Alyssa Scolari [33:51]:
I have been here to witness this brilliance, because it is an incredible way of putting it. It really truly is and even for non-trauma survivors, I think it’s a wonderful way to help people to understand what it can be like, so thank you for that. So, I want to ask you about what you’re doing now, tell me what you’re doing? So I read about it in your bio. Tell me more about Cope Notes because I love this idea.
Johnny Crowder [34:18]:
I appreciate the kind words. They are not lost on me and I don’t want to fast forward into this part without saying thank you for being so supportive. Cope Notes is, in just a sentence or two, we use daily text messages to improve mental and emotional health. Then every text that we send is written by a peer with lived experience. It’s reviewed by mental health professionals and then, delivered at random times to train your brain to think in healthier patterns. So, you’re going through your day and you’re sitting at a stoplight or your boss is yelling at you or whatever, and your phone buzzes and it’s an interruption to a negative thought pattern, so an exercise or adrenaline pump or a psychology fact and it breaks that pattern of negative thought, negative emotion.
Provides a catalyst for positive thoughts so that as the weeks and months and years pass, with that consistent positive stimulus, your brain starts to prioritize new neural pathways associated with those coping strategies. So that might have sounded a little tech and psychology heavy but really, we just use text messages to help you cope with anxiety, loneliness, stress, fear, depression, you name it.
Alyssa Scolari [35:32]:
Right, you’re rewiring the brain, which all the listeners out there … you all know this is my candy. I love talking about this stuff.
Johnny Crowder [35:43]:
Alyssa Scolari [35:45]:
Because right, what you’re doing is A, you’re providing support in the moment for people who often feel very, very alone but I think on a long term goal, what you’re doing is you’re rewiring that brain, you’re forming new neural pathways, which helps hugely in trauma recovery, because as we know, trauma literally changes the brain.
Johnny Crowder [36:09]:
Yup. That’s the coolest part that I don’t think a lot of people know. You’ve done your readings. So you know this stuff, but I bet maybe half the listeners have, and they already know this and half of this is going to be new information. We don’t say change your brain as in this like ephemeral metaphorical thing. It’s like literally, physical parts of your brain are moving and rearranging themselves physically, like you can observe it and that’s what’s always fascinates … so, I went to school for psych. It’s always fascinated me that the brain doesn’t metaphorically change or figuratively change, like literally the folds and the synapses and stuff, it’s like this living breathing organism and that’s me.
Alyssa Scolari [36:55]:
Yeah. I think that’s one of the first things that I teach my clients who step into my office for help with trauma is like, “Okay, well, first, let’s validate this and let’s talk about what’s happening in your brain,” because this isn’t like … right, because then it becomes, if not, people then go into like, “Well, what’s wrong with me? Why am I acting like this?” It’s like, “Well, this is what’s happening in your brain right now.”
Johnny Crowder [37:17]:
Alyssa Scolari [37:17]:
It gets a real thing. Your brain has literally changed itself.
Johnny Crowder [37:22]:
That’s so awesome.
Alyssa Scolari [37:23]:
Yes. I love all brain stuff. So then, Cope Notes is also a podcast, right?
Johnny Crowder [37:31]:
Yeah, so there’s the Cope Notes podcast and we are between seasons at this current moment at the time of recording, but there’s like 40 episodes that are already up, that listeners can go check out and basically, we created the podcast to give people who don’t commonly have a voice in the mental health conversation and opportunity to speak. So if like every … and trust me, I work with a lot of clinicians, I love clinicians. Clinicians have changed my life but pretty much every podcast, mental health podcast I listened to is like doctor this and doctor that and researcher this and researcher that. I’m like, let’s hear from the tattoo artists and the barbers, and the janitors-
Alyssa Scolari [38:12]:
The people who have been in it. Yes.
Johnny Crowder [38:13]:
Yeah, what are their experiences with mental health, because the longer we relegate mental health to be this, like clinical phenomenon and not like very much a lifestyle conversation, the longer stigma will prevail?
Alyssa Scolari [38:28]:
Absolutely, because it’s not … mental health doesn’t just stop at Dr. John Smith, right, who has this PhD. Again, not that that’s not a wonderful thing, right? I’m a therapist. Great, we like clinicians, but we normalize mental health and when we start hearing from people who are typically … sent messages that they’re not allowed to talk about this stuff, so when we start asking them to use their voice, that’s affecting real change and real fight against stigma.
Johnny Crowder [39:03]:
Dude, and think about this too, how many people have experienced something related to mental health, which is literally everybody who then feel like, “Well, my opinion isn’t really valid, like, I’m only a nanny or I’m only a graphic designer,” and that’s what we’re trying to really attack is you don’t need a doctorate to share your opinions and thoughts and experiences and your coping strategies with people. Your voice is valid in the mental health conversation, regardless of whether or not you think it’s valid.
Alyssa Scolari [39:37]:
Yes, and nobody … right, regardless of who is speaking and whatever degree they may have, nobody can tell you how to navigate your journey better than you.
Johnny Crowder [39:52]:
That’s honestly … to speak candidly, that is such annoying advice. I’m picturing myself when I was younger. So, I saw a number of different care providers and I was seeing therapists and psychiatrists and stuff, that was like a common theme where it was like, I had to take responsibility and I was like, “No, no, make it someone else’s job.” I so didn’t want to hear it, but it’s kind of like what we were talking about earlier, there is this very bizarre sense of freedom in that too, where if you can shift it from … there’s lots of this like, obligation talk like, “Well, no one else is going to do it for you, you got to do it,” and it feels very drill-sergeanty.
That doesn’t really resonate with me. I know, it works for some people, but the way that … the framing that helps me is I don’t have an obligation to help myself, I have an opportunity to help myself and that feels to me so much more hopeful and positive and less like incriminating. It’s not making it my fault. It’s like, “Hey, dude, you don’t have to wait for somebody else to do this. You can start doing stuff today.” I’m like, “Oh, for real?” There’s like an empowering sentiment to it, that it took me maybe a decade to wrap my head around.
Alyssa Scolari [41:13]:
Yeah, I think that it’s much more empowering to phrase it like that and I think, I like changing the wording of that kind of stuff. I’m a big fan of that, but also in like, every day, right? The people who will like come into my office and be like, “I have to go to work.” It’s like, you don’t have to do anything. You actually don’t, right? I work with teenagers, right?
Johnny Crowder [41:37]:
Alyssa Scolari [41:38]:
I work with teenagers, and they come in and they’re like, “I have to empty your fucking dishwasher tonight.” I’m like, “You actually don’t. You don’t have to. Just because somebody told you to, doesn’t mean you have to. You get to, you choose to,” right? That doesn’t mean that we’re exempt from consequences but you don’t have to do anything because none of us like being told what to do. So the second we switch that from, “This is your responsibility. This is your obligation,” right? To like, “No, this is what you can do. You can get up and go to work today or you can call out, right? You can do whatever you want to do.”
Johnny Crowder [42:16]:
Dude, that line is so hard to find. I’m looking back on my early days in OCD treatment. There’s a difference … a lot of people say, “You can do it, you can do it,” because I would say like, “Oh, I can’t step on cracks.” If someone says, you can step on cracks, it’s negating what I say but if you say it exactly like you said it, you said, “You can step on cracks. You don’t have to, you can choose not to step on cracks,” but don’t say that you can’t because you and I both know that if you had to, you could step on a crack. So you … like once you remind somebody that they’re making the choice, because like, “Oh, well, my OCD says I can’t step on the cracks,” and my doctor is like, “Well, that’s not you. That’s your OCD.”
Alyssa Scolari [43:02]:
That’s not you, yeah.
Johnny Crowder [43:04]:
So you can choose to say, “Yes, OCD, I will avoid cracks,” or you can say, “You know what, today I’m going to step on a crack because I choose what I do, not you.” It’s a crazy, empowering feeling.
Alyssa Scolari [43:18]:
It is. It’s the best. No, I think that shift, right, it’s subtle but it packs a punch in terms of treatment and recovery and all that good stuff. So I know I have … I’ve kept you on here for a while. Thank you. There’s so many good things for us to talk about. I feel like we have only barely scratched the surface. So, if people want to find you, they can … because you have the Cope Notes app, right? It’s an app that you offer.
Johnny Crowder [43:49]:
No, it’s actually not an app.
Alyssa Scolari [43:50]:
It’s not an app, what is-
Johnny Crowder [43:52]:
It’s just, you go to copenotes.com and you type in your phone number. So nothing to download, no appointments or anything like that. No software updates. You just go to the website, copenotes.com and you type in your number and voila.
Alyssa Scolari [44:05]:
Beautiful and then, people also … your podcast, people can find you basically wherever.
Johnny Crowder [44:12]:
Yeah, the Cope Notes podcast is wherever you listen to podcasts and then also a couple shameless plugs, I did get a head talk about Cope Notes and about some of the neuroscience stuff that we talked about today. So if there are any nerds listening like us right now, definitely go on YouTube and just search Johnny Crowder TED talk and you’ll find. Then also, I do a fair amount of music still. Music has been a part of my life. It’s like my primary coping mechanism. So if anyone enjoys rock or metal, or even if you don’t, please go look up the band, Prison. We have a record called still alive. We talk a lot about suicide prevention. We have literally have a song called mental illness.
Definitely go check out the band, because we talk about a lot of the stuff that we’ve discussed here, but maybe in a little more aggressive package, but it’s still pretty cool.
Alyssa Scolari [45:13]:
I love it. Now, if I … so the link where I read your bio, can I just … if I link that in the show notes, people will be able to find all that, right, because I’m checking it out now and it has a link for Prison. It has the Cope Notes. It has your TED Talk all that good stuff.
Johnny Crowder [45:31]:
Yeah, you share whatever you think makes the most sense.
Alyssa Scolari [45:35]:
Perfect. So for the listeners out there, there will be a link in the show notes, so go check that out and then you will have access all in one page to everything that Johnny is talking about today. Johnny, thank you so much for being on the show. I appreciate it. This is my first episode back after taking a couple weeks off. So it was a good one. Thank you so much for your vulnerability.
Johnny Crowder [46:03]:
Absolutely and thanks for having me, but also for people listening. I just don’t want any listener to overlook the fact that they just spent 45 minutes listening to a conversation like this that speaks about your character, just like my friend who mentioned that thing to me in confidence, that made me feel like, “Wow, I didn’t even know she thought on that level.” The fact that you’ve spent 45 minutes listening to this and engaging with this conversation speaks volumes about the type of person you are and the work that you’re doing in your life. So don’t just turn this off or listen to another podcast straight away, like stew in this for a minute or two after this finishes playing and realize like you’re doing really important work and making a huge difference by spending your time this way and we both applaud you.
Alyssa Scolari [46:53]:
1,000%. I agree with that you, as the listeners are phenomenal human beings fighting every day to make life a little bit lighter, and that is what this podcast is all about. So thank you, we appreciate all of you and take good care. I will be holding everybody in the light, and until next week. Thank you, Johnny. Thanks for listening everyone. For more information please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media, on Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over again, that’s patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support.