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March 7, 2023

A Mental Health Hero's Journey with Johnny Crowder, Founder of Cope Notes

A Mental Health Hero's Journey with Johnny Crowder, Founder of Cope Notes

This episode is brought to you by Primal Trust Academy & Community by Dr Cathleen King. Sign up for one year today & receive 2 months FREE, or use the special code: OPIW to get 5% off your monthly membership fee.

"It's so funny looking back. I think everyone's like this as a teenager, and then we all just pretend like we weren't when we grow up. But when I was a teenager, I had this very much, like, you can't tell me nothing attitude. So I had it in my head there's nothing that some clinician is going to be able to tell me about my own brain that I don't already know. So my mentality was, I'll just take psychology courses." 

As a suicide/abuse survivor, Johnny Crowder spent his formative years searching for resources to help him cope with his mental health conditions, ranging from OCD and bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. After studying psychology at UCF and volunteering with NAMI, he wanted to combine the neuroscience principles he learned about in school with the power of peer support that changed his life in treatment.

In 2017, he began sending unsolicited psychology facts, journaling prompts, and exercises to friends via text message. The response was so positive that he opened it up to the public, and the rest is history. Today, Crowder is a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist (CRPS-Y|A) and mental health advocate who relies on the simple strategies he shares through Cope Notes to live a happier, healthier life than ever before.

In today's episode you will learn: 

1.  How did Johnny Crowder go from being an obstinate client with clinicians to being willing to take medication and seek therapy?

2. What are some of Johnny's recommendations for the most practical tools to implement today to improve mental health?  

3. How did Johnny Crowder's passion for music and creativity help him feel understood and accepted?

You can follow Jonny on IG @johnnycrowderlovesyou or learn more about cope notes

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Disclaimer: The Content provided on this podcast is for informational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on this podcast. Individual results may vary.

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00:00:00 Chazmith: Hi, welcome to Our Power Is Within Podcast. I'm your host Chazmith, and my mission for this podcast is to inspire you to take your power back and realize that you are the healer that you have been looking for all along. We are capable of healing in mind, body and soul.

00:00:26 Chazmith: Today's episode is brought to you by Primal Trust Academy and Community created by Dr. Kathleen King, a dear friend of mine who has been featured on this podcast three times already. Primal Trust is more than just a program that you are left to do all on your own. It's a whole community with many different avenues of support  Within the community, you will find form support moderated by coaches and other graduates of the Mentorship program. You'll have access to study groups and integration groups to help you navigate the Regulate Program, which is the foundational program that you would first begin, designed to help you find freedom from chronic illness and trauma by teaching, brain retraining, somatics, breath work and more. This program really focuses on combining both top down and bottom up modalities for a comprehensive approach. In addition to all the above, there is an ongoing calendar of daily live classes. To learn more, check out the links in the show notes and use the code OPIW for our Power Is Within to save 5% off your monthly membership costs, or sign up for a whole year and get two months free. 

00:01:33 Chazmith: Our guest today is Johnny Crowder. Johnny is a suicide abuse survivor, a TEDx speaker, billboard charting heavy metal musician, certified recovery peer specialist, and the founder and CEO of Cope Notes, a text based mental health platform that provides daily support to users in nearly 100 countries around the world. If you haven't heard of Cope Notes yet, but it sounds like something you might want to try, there will be a link in the show notes. Today, Johnny is here to share his story and background that led him to where he is today. It's a truly inspiring story and I had such a pleasure chatting with him and learning more about him and I believe you will enjoy this, too. So please enjoy. 

00:02:15 Chazmith: Johnny, thanks so much for being here with me today and being willing to share your story with everybody who will be tuned in.

00:02:21 Johnny: Yeah, buddy.

00:02:23 Chazmith: Generally, I think what makes most sense is to start out with your story. So what I'd like to do is give you the floor and just have you start out with sharing a little bit about your background and what you've been through and what has kind of led you up to today. And then we'll get into some other stuff.

00:02:42 Johnny: Yeah, I always struggle with questions like this because how it sounds to me is like can you sum up 30 years and 30 seconds? So I'll do my very best to give an overarching story arc of my life, which is basically and it's going to be super high level, and then we can dive in in more detail. But basically, I grew up in an abusive environment with severe mental illness, so not a great start. And then I didn't start treatment until high school. And in high school I started taking psychology courses and learning more about how the brain works. And then I got really curious and went to college to major in psychology, learning about neuroscience and specifically how the brain works and how we can get it to work for us. 

00:03:36 Johnny: And then from there, I started volunteering with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, doing peer support and public advocacy. So my story shifted from, "Oh, no, I don't want to talk about mental health because it's my whole life," to then, "Oh, yes, please, I want to talk about mental health because it's my whole life." And then about five years ago, I started a company called Cope Notes, and we help people improve their mental and emotional health every day. So it's been really cool to say that mental health has been the main character of my life, but it went from being the villain to being the hero.

00:04:11 Chazmith: Exactly. They say so often that some of the harder things that we go through in life, it's hard in the moment to see how it could be for us, but there's always this opportunity to really turn it around and transform it into something positive if and when we can get there.

00:04:26 Johnny: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

00:04:28 Chazmith: Okay, so that's a really great brief synopsis. Now, let's go deeper because yes, obviously people who are listening will know that I bring on a lot of people who share their healing and or recovery testimonial stories to inspire hope so that if they're someplace in their life, whether they're sick or they're ill or they are in pain or they're challenged right now with feeling like there's no hope in life and they don't know how to continue going forward. My hope is that people who come onto this show and have survived through those challenging times and who have risen above, are able to inspire hope and give these people listening that same hope, if that makes sense.

00:05:09 Johnny: Yeah, it's a license, basically. I'm picturing my younger self to…  let's say someone came into my high school when I was in high school and said, "Oh, I'm going to talk to you about depression and anxiety and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia." I'm not diagnosed with anything, but I'll tell you what I read in all my textbooks, and I would go for better, worse, definitely worse. My attitude at the time was screw you. You're not going to sit there and tell me I had this righteous indignant inside of me that was basically, if you don't understand what I'm going through, then I don't want to hear from you. 

00:05:47 Johnny: And fortunately, over the time that I went to school for psych, that definitely changed. But I think there is something unique about sitting down with someone and saying, "Hey, the reason that I'm saying this to you is, yes, I may have read these things in textbooks, but also I've experienced them firsthand." And it was hearing that when I was younger was something that allowed me to let my guard down. And I think people forget that when they experience hardship, they're also being handed a license to communicate with people like my teenage self.

00:06:15 Chazmith: Exactly. Yeah. So you, in your brief synopsis, kind of explained that you grew up in a rather traumatic experience, and then you said that you got help in high school.

00:06:28 Johnny: Yeah.

00:06:29 Chazmith: Can you kind of share a little bit  more for people listening, what you mean by that and what kind of help you got and how you were supported in your journey?



00:06:38 Johnny: Well, I'm surprised that any clinician was willing to meet with me twice because I was really obstinate as a client. I was not an easy client, I'll say that because really I didn't want to go. It was after a pretty severe behavioral outburst that my mom basically gave me an ultimatum. She said either I can drive you to the doctors or I can call the police and they can drive you to the doctors, but either way, you are going to take a trip and they're going to sit down with you and learn about what's going on and see if they can potentially diagnose whatever you're experiencing. 


00:07:21 Johnny: And for me at a young age, that was kind of a no brainer. It's like, "Well, I'd rather have my mom drive me than the police." So I went and I met with a bunch of different therapists that I did not like, had a lot of issues with different clinicians and providers. And then eventually, I found a magical woman who just simply treated me like a human being and not like a basket case and started taking medication. And it wasn't like my first session. I started making huge progress, but definitely gradually as I was in treatment for years and years. And I think probably around year four, I look back and I'm like, "Wow, I guess I've been becoming a different person this whole time," and almost didn't even realize it because the changes seemed so small and imperceptible in the moment.

00:08:08 Chazmith: Oh, interesting. Okay, and this was all through high school, so you were like a teenager at the time?

00:08:13 Johnny: Yeah, I started, I think when I was probably 15 or 16 is when I started treatment. And even now I'm in therapy today, so you could argue that I'm still in treatment. But I was medicated for eleven years, and for a lot of that I was in mandatory counseling to stay in school or had to meet with a psychiatrist every other week and a psychologist once a week. It was pretty intense for a lot of that decade.

00:08:42 Chazmith: Is it safe to ask what you were medicated for?

00:08:45 Johnny: Yeah, at one point, I took five different medications, which was admittedly, kind of that's pretty intense, but I was primarily medicated, for I had really severe schizophrenia, so I was hallucinating very regularly, pretty much throughout the day, every day. Well, I guess I still am living with bipolar one, and except at the time, it was very unmanaged and severely depressed, very anxious, and some pretty debilitating OCD as well. So all of those things were standing in the way of me living a, quote, "normal life," as in being able to drive or prepare food for myself or bathe, things like that.

00:09:32 Chazmith: Oh, wow. That's a lot for a child to go through.

00:09:37 Johnny: Yeah. To think that I didn't even get actual treatment until high school. You gotta ask yourself like what the heck was middle school like? Going through puberty with schizophrenia is a whole different challenge.

00:09:50 Chazmith: I can't even imagine. And was this brought on from trauma or life circumstances, or was this something that they believe that you were born with?

00:10:01 Johnny: Yeah, that's like the 'Gillian' dollar question is how the heck did all of this stuff find its way inside of my brain? I think having gone to school for psych and studied a lot of nature versus nurture arguments, I think the cop out answer that is most likely to be correct is a little bit of everything. It's very unlikely that someone could live through the childhood that I lived through and not carry with them some sort of PTSD or symptoms of auxiliary mental health condition. So I definitely credit my environment with some of that. But also, I can't help but think there's a biological component. But then also, I don't even know what explains the third thing because I have brothers, and they're not perfect by any means, but they did not experience the level of severity of symptoms that I did. So there's sort of that third wild card factor that I can't account for. And maybe one day through research or maybe it's my 10,000th therapy session that will unlock that answer, and then I'll let you know.

00:11:07 Chazmith:  Yeah. Well, I mean, it's a very normal thing that so many people experience. You see two kids, you can even say twins, that by all standards have the same upbringing and the same type of discipline, the same experience of their parents and the environment, but they have a completely different perception, and therefore that can lead to totally different physical challenges or mental challenges or emotional challenges. Did you ever heard the story of the conjoined twins?

00:11:35 Johnny: I don't.

00:11:36 Chazmith: It's crazy. They literally...

00:11:37 Johnny: Now you've intrigued me.

00:11:39 Chazmith: Yeah. Somebody else on my podcast shared this a while, and they were sharing how these conjoined twins shared. I mean, they were conjoined, so they shared the same bloodstream, and there was all this stuff. Everything was so connected, right? But yet one of them would be sick, and one wouldn't be sick or one would have one desire or the other would have something different or a different perception of an event. So even though they were literally joined and connected living essentially the same life, they weren't living the same life because at some deeper level, they were experiencing life through still a different lens and having different perspectives and experiences because of that perspective.

00:12:20 Johnny: That's that wild card thing. What the heck is that? You know what? I need to go back to school.

00:12:27 Chazmith: Well, we're forever students. Yeah, okay. So you went through a lot. You go into high school. You're 15. You're getting help. You said fast forward four years. That's when you started looking back and being, "Oh, gosh, I'm becoming a different person."

00:12:43 Johnny: Yeah.

00:12:44 Chazmith: At what point did you find yourself intrigued to then pursue psychology and learning about the brain? When did you find that becoming an interest? When were you like, "Oh, man, this is actually what I want to go study."

00:12:59 Johnny: Dude, it's the opposite of what you think. So actually, it wasn't treatment that made me want to study psychology, it was studying psychology that made me open to treatment. It's so funny looking back. I think everyone's like this as a teenager, and then we all just pretend like we weren't when we grow up. But when I was a teenager, I had this very much, like, you can't tell me nothing attitude. So I had it in my head there's nothing that some clinician is going to be able to tell me about my own brain that I don't already know. So my mentality was I'll just take psychology courses, and then I'll learn everything I need to know about my brain so that I don't have to rely on some clinician to tell me.

00:13:44 Johnny: And then here I am. You got to picture this. I'm sitting in high school in a psychology class, textbook open in front of me, and the textbook is like, "Oh, yes. If you take medication and you couple that with regular cognitive behavioral therapy, you experience three times the rate of recovery, as if you just do one of them by itself." And I was just like, oh, shoot, there's data right in front of me that's really hard to refute. So it was interesting how they each fed each other. So studying about psychology made me open to treatment, which then made me interested to study more psychology, which then made me more open to deeper levels of treatment. So they both have fed each other for basically my entire life since then.

00:14:31 Chazmith: Interesting. And it's almost like you started it as a way to say, "I don't need you. I'm going to figure this out on my own."



00:14:39 Johnny: And the idea that a 15 year old could be like there's nothing that a doctor doesn't know that I, as a 15 year old, don't know . And it's like, "Dude, what a bad take."

00:14:51 Chazmith: Well, in your defense, you also were going through a lot.

00:14:54 Johnny: Oh, yeah.

00:14:55 Chazmith: Yeah. I think it's fair. I know I remember thinking I knew everything. And then the older you get, the more you realize you know nothing.

00:15:04 Johnny: It was also a defense mechanism, too. I kind of felt like if I never sit down with it's kind of like how people have said like, "Oh, I don't have COVID because I didn't take a COVID test, so I'm not 100% sure if I have it or not." So it's kind of in this gray area and it almost feels safer to live there. And for me, I was like, "Well, if I sit down with a clinician, they're obviously going to diagnose me with something. So how long can I postpone meeting with a clinician?" Because it's so funny. If you were to ask me in high school, "Johnny, do you experience any OCD symptoms?" I would say no. I mean, I don't step on cracks and I don't touch doorknobs and I count my Cheerios and I haven't touched a person in six years. But that's just because I'm clean and careful and it's like, "Dude, what?" I was so dedicated to avoiding the diagnosis that the idea that I could help myself was really just trying to prevent the inevitable of a clinician saying, "Hey, buddy, I think I know what you're experiencing and there is something we can do about it."

00:16:13 Chazmith: Yeah. And now you can correct me if I'm wrong because you're going to be way more adverse in this body of knowledge. But it can be challenging in and of itself because from what I've understood, sometimes when we are experiencing some of these more severe mental health challenges like schizophrenia or bipolar, isn't it often because there's times that your brain essentially is not working in a normal realm that somebody else's brain might work? And so there's times where people sometimes struggle to do something like take their medication because they're not thinking in the same way that somebody else might think.

00:16:53 Johnny: Yeah. One of the simplest definitions of schizophrenia that I've ever used, I remember when I was talking to fairly young audience, so I do a lot of keynotes and training and primarily that's for adults, but then I also will do colleges and universities and then sometimes I'll do high schools. Every once in a while I'll do middle school. And then I remember one time I was talking to an elementary school, so it was 3rd, fourth and fifth grade, and I'm like, "Whoa, I need to really figure out how I'm going to explain some of this stuff." And the definition that I used was something like schizophrenia is not being able to tell, not being 100% sure whether something is real to everybody or just real to you.

00:17:41 Johnny: And that made it very difficult to if I had it in my head, I actually remember this, I wouldn't want to go inside of my therapist office because there was a window in the office, and I was convinced that if someone could see me through the window, that someone had a sniper rifle that was trained on me to execute me. And so whenever I would tell someone, I don't want to go to treatment, they might hear, well, he's just being rebellious. But actually, to me, I had these very real to me reasons why I thought treatment was unsafe. And I've also had that happen with medication and all these other things that I think we forget that sometimes if people aren't adhering with treatment, maybe it's because they're being rebellious, or maybe it's because they're living with self stigma, but maybe it's some deeper fear that feels ridiculous to us, but feels very real to that person.

00:18:47 Chazmith: Right. Yeah, that's what I was thinking. And so it's like you have to have a high level of compassion then, for anybody going through something like that. And it's like, yeah, sure, typical teenager might be rebellious, but if you're going through these other challenges, your idea of reality and perception is going to be so different that I would say what you need is compassion, not to be looked at if you're just this rebellious teenager that's just trying to not listen. Yeah. And this has to be really hard and challenging on another level like emotionally, how did you feel? Did you feel alone or did you ever feel understood? Or what was the emotional component as you were going through all this and trying to navigate living a life with these conditions?

00:19:33 Johnny: I definitely felt alone. Even when I was around people, I felt very misunderstood because not only was I pretty sure that the people around me didn't have any clue what was happening with me, but then also, I lacked the ability to communicate what was happening to me. So it wasn't even fully. It's not like, how come these people don't know that I'm hallucinating wolves in their kitchen? I wasn't necessarily frustrated that they didn't get it. There was a level of alienation there that I think was partially informed by my inability to clearly say, "Hey, I'm hallucinating wolves in your kitchen." Like there was something that was either mentally or socially preventing me from doing that.

00:20:23 Johnny: And the one thing that made me feel really understood was creativity. So writing poems or playing guitar, painting pretty much any creative endeavor for whatever reason, made me feel like I have a tattoo on my arm that says, my paper and pen have been with me through thick and thin. And it is kind of a reminder that creativity, writing, that act of making something from the challenge that you're facing, is something that's always helped me feel more understood than anything social, for whatever reason, that's always provided me solace.

00:21:05 Chazmith: Yeah, well, absolutely. I'm so glad you brought that up because creativity in itself has so much healing potential and healing power. And I mean, generally speaking, that is art is an expression of emotion. It is a way to express and release our true emotions. I think it's an outlet that people can tap into, especially even when they struggle with being able to convey it in other ways, if that makes sense.

00:21:33 Johnny: Art is really magical and underutilized.

00:21:39 Chazmith: Yes. And it's funny, and I don't know if it's cultural conditioning or a stigma or what it is, but like so many people, you'll just hear people always say, "Oh, I'm not an artist. Oh, I'm not an artist." And I feel like we've conditioned people to think that you need to be a Picasso to be an artist, or you need to be a published author to be an artist or a famous musician. It's like but you don't need to create for it to be some Picasso's, some masterpiece. It's about the act of creating. It's the act of it that is the power, not necessarily the finished result. And you don't need to be a natural painter to paint or a natural writer to write. And I feel like if we took the pressure off of ourselves and didn't put so much pressure or weight on the outcome and more just engaged in the experience of it, we would see the power behind it. And I think that my personal belief is that by being human, we are absolutely creative, we are absolutely artists, because it's just part of the human experience. We are creative beings. We are literally here to create in infinite capacities.

00:22:48 Johnny: Yeah. I remember when my first band got signed to a record label, and I almost wouldn't allow myself to own the identity of being a musician. There was some part of me that said, "Well, you just got signed. You're not really a musician. You're kind of like the baby version of a musician." And then, 20 full US tours later, if someone's like, "What do you do?" I'm like, "Oh." And I kind of fumble around because I'm like, "Well, really, I've never done a tour in Asia, so really, I'm not a musician yet."

00:23:33 Johnny: And it's so interesting how a lot of people I know who really are, how we define a violinist is someone who plays violin, period. It's not someone who earns their living playing violin. It's not someone who has played in Carnegie Hall. It's a violin. It's someone who plays violin. So the question is, am I a musician? The answer is yes, I play music, period. And for whatever reason, I think you brought up a good point where culturally, we say, well, if you don't have a number one single ten years in a row, or if you've never played on SNL, then you're not really a musician. It's like that's not definitionally true.

00:24:19 Chazmith: Yeah. And even if you're not naturally good at any of the traditional arts, it doesn't mean you're not an artist. It just means that you haven't tapped into this creative energy that is probably ready to burst at the seams.

00:24:32 Johnny: Yeah. All of the forms of art that don't feel as traditional like interior design, or people who do graphic design or design merchandise, or I know people who do floor plans for stores like retail stores. And I'm like, "That's art." But so much of this stuff is art, and we just pretend like it's only if you're holding a paintbrush that you're an artist.

00:24:58 Chazmith: Yes, absolutely. And again, you don't even have to be good at anything, but to just pick up a pen and paper and write for the sake of writing doesn't have to be good. It's just about again, it can be a huge gateway into our emotions and into an emotional expression and emotional release. So it's definitely a powerful tool. But yeah, there's infinite ways to be an artist. Chefs are artists with food. Okay, so I'm going to kind of just continue on your little journey here. You went to school, started school in college. You're studying psychology at this point. What was your kind of plan? Where did you think you were going from there?

00:25:41 Johnny: Well, to be 100% honest, I tried to go to school for music, and my parents were like, no, you are not  wasting a scholarship on a music degree. You have to get a real degree. And I was like, fine, I will get a degree in psychology because I'm interested in it. And then I will become kind of the good therapist, because in my head, I'm like, "Oh, there are all these crappy therapists out there, and all these crappy counselors. I'm going to become one of the good ones." Which is so funny because I think everybody thinks that when they pursue anything, they're like, "Well, there are so many crappy restaurants out there, I'm going to make one that's great."

00:26:25 Johnny: And it's this thing that when I went into school, I thought all these therapists are crappy. And then as I learned more, I was like, "Oh, I just didn't understand therapy," like the medium of therapy. So the more I learned, the more I was like, "Oh, you know what? I'm going to give credit to this counselor that I saw six years ago, because they were totally right and I was wrong." So it was a pretty humbling experience.

00:26:49 Johnny: But the whole time I was in school, I remember meeting with my academic advisor, and he was like, "What is your plan for next semester?" And I was like, "My plan is for my band to get signed and for me to tour." And he was like, "Yeah, okay. But anyway, what's your plan?" And so there were like three semesters like that, and then the fourth semester that I met with him, he was like, "What's your plan?" I said, "Oh, my band got signed, and now I'm going to tour." And he was like, "What?" So I was like the guy who was learning about psychology as almost like a backup plan. And then music became my plan A, and it's interesting to see that I work full time in behavioral health now because when I left school, I actually was finishing my degree on tour, and I was like, I can't believe I'm finishing this. I'm never going to use it. And then here I am.

00:27:40 Chazmith: That's so funny. That's why I wanted to ask, because I was like, I already know fast forward that whenever people go through really challenging experiences in life and they come out the other side, we always look back and go, "Well, I never thought that this is the way I'd be." Because the universe always has a bigger plan for us than we can fathom in our tiny little brains. So sounds like music was always kind of like a passion then for you, even as you were growing up?

00:28:06 Johnny: Oh, yeah, ever since I was a kid, I started being obsessed with music when I was like three, probably or four, my mom had a tape player and I would just play literally the same. She had like five tapes, and I would play them over and over again. And then eventually I got a CD player. We had one in the house. And then I got a little Walmart guitar, like a child's guitar when I was eight years old. And I started playing, and then I started playing more and more, and eventually it became such a cornerstone of my life that now, even today, I'm in a band now called Prison, and we just released a single like a month ago. So I'm still very much active in music, and it's a privilege to be able to exercise that creativity. And it's so important for me to have something outside of running the company that allows me to exercise that degree of creativity. It literally makes me better at my job to have something outside of it that makes me passionate.

00:29:12 Chazmith: Absolutely. That makes so much sense. And I mean, it's probably, in a sense, a form of therapy for you. It's probably very therapeutic, right?

00:29:21 Johnny: Oh, yeah.



00:29:23 Chazmith: Okay, so you got this degree, but you already got signed, you were touring or doing music, and then somehow you ended up back in mental health, running in a company, and it's called Cope Notes. Correct?

00:29:37 Johnny: Correct.

00:29:37 Chazmith: How did you get there? How did this come about ? How did this get birthed?

00:29:40 Johnny: Well, it doesn't make any sense looking back, but it also makes perfect sense. So originally, I was volunteering with NAMI, like I said the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and I was helping them with peer support and public advocacy. And then when I was touring in my band, I would go to a new city every night, like literally back to back to back. And I started trying to hold these informal peer support meetups in every city I was in, which then I was like, "Well, this is not really scaling because I'm in a city." And then I leave. And then what? Do I just expect these people to continue meeting while I'm not there?

00:30:26 Johnny: And then I started something called Not A Therapist, which was actually I didn't know it at the time, but that was kind of the beta version of Cope Notes. It was an online peer support resource that was totally it was name your price, but everyone named the price $0, which made it very difficult to maintain. And as I was working on that, I was working 40, 50, 60 hours a week as an ad agency for my day job, and I was touring, and then I was supposed to work an extra 40 hours a week on Not A Therapist, and it was just totally unsustainable. And I was like I need to find a version.

00:31:07 Johnny: Now, keep in mind, this is previous telehealth boom. So it was kind of a weird idea for me to say, like, "Oh, yeah, mental health support online." And people are like, "What? That is kind of sketchy." Then I eventually transitioned into the Cope Notes model which was just much more scalable. So I went from real messages written by real people delivered by real people, which was not scalable, to real messages written by real people delivered through technology, like by an algorithm and that made it infinitely scalable. So that was a big shift that allowed us to go from there were a few big shifts. We went from sharing of personal info to completely anonymous. We went from messages delivered by real people to messages delivered by tech so we could serve millions and millions of people at the same time. And then we went from you come to us when you need help and book an appointment to now we come to you and there are no appointments.

00:32:12 Chazmith: Interesting. As you were doing all of this, did you have any clue it would become what it is today?

00:32:19 Johnny: No. And looking back, it would have been nice to know that so that I could prepare myself. I'm very open about the fact that I think a lot of successful tech entrepreneurs fit this archetype that like, "Yeah, ever since I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to build this billion dollar company. And I've been in you know, I've always wanted to be a Fortune 500 CEO," or whatever. I'm just not that dude. I had no idea this would become a company, much less reach as many lives as it has and win the awards that we've won, my focus has never been on building a company. It's always been on solving a problem. And the company part kind of took shape around me until one day I looked up and I was like, "Oh, shoot, I'm a CEO." And that was not my plan.

00:33:10 Chazmith: That's awesome. But I think that's the magic sauce. You said it. You were so focused on solving a problem, and that's how we create great organizations and businesses is when we solve problems that really need to be solved. Yeah, that's really cool. Okay, so for anybody who's listening and who's not familiar with Cope Notes, can you give them a quick little synopsis on what it is and what it offers?

00:33:33 Johnny: Yes. So the short version is that we send one text per day at a random time to your phone. And when we text you, you're the only person in the world to receive that text message at that time. And the message is written by a real person with lived experience with mental health conditions and symptoms. So they're writing you a message about what helped them when they were going through whatever they went through. And the message will contain a psychology fact or journaling prompt or an exercise, some kind of health education content or encouragement. And what's really cool is, over time, as you receive these messages, all you have to do is read them. Read a couple of sentences once a day, no appointments . You have to set reminders there's nothing to download because it's all via text. All you have to do is read a couple of sentences every day. And literally I'm not making this up. Your brain physically changes to form new neural pathways associated with positive thought, coping skills, resilience. So we jokingly say that Cope Notes is like brain surgery without the scalpel and way cheaper.

00:34:48 Chazmith: Yeah, it's just it's that little by little by little by little over time yielding bigger results. That's awesome. Now, you're not saying, however, that this is a substitute to still having like a therapy or a coach or somebody to help you as needed depending on your situation.

00:35:05 Johnny: Yeah, I always try to be clear that if you picture Cope Notes as taking an iron supplement, like a pill, like a vitamin and iron supplement, you can't also not eat vegetables because you will explode like you have to. It's a supplement. So I know people who use cope notes with therapy. I know people who use Cope Notes as a warm up for therapy or people who use Cope Notes after they've completed treatment. I, myself, use Cope Notes in conjunction with therapy and it helps a lot. But really, we serve a lot of people. This is especially cool for me.

00:35:46 Johnny: We serve literally tens of thousands of people all over the world, and a lot of them don't have any mental health diagnoses whatsoever. We are literally driving positive health outcomes not just for people who are experiencing anxiety or depression or stress, but also we're driving positive health outcomes for people who literally feel fine already. And that to me is so cool because we're getting there for those people. We're getting there before the challenge, before the tragedy, before the crisis, before the newspaper headline. We're getting there early and equipping them with the skills and tools that they can use if and when life gets complicated.

00:36:26 Chazmith: Yeah, I love that so much because that actually leads me to this question that I was thinking about which was just acknowledging that we do actually indeed have a very large percent of the population who is dealing with and or suffering from mental health challenges right now. I'm wondering what your thoughts are regarding this. What do you think is the cause of this rise in numbers and what culturally do you feel like needs to shift or change in order for us to change that trajectory that we're on right now?



00:37:03 Johnny: So the first part of the question is why is there an uptick in.

00:37:08 Chazmith: Yeah, why do you think that there's just such a huge rise in people who are experiencing anxiety and depression and just mental challenges like that? When you look at statistics these days it's a very high percentage, especially in our country.

00:37:27 Johnny: Yeah, part of it is I want to go macro and then micro. So my macro answer is all of us have access to way more information than is useful. And I went over to my sister's house recently and she was like "Oh, did you hear about... I can't remember what it was, but it was like "Did you hear about this new viral video that's like a meme or whatever?" And I was like, "No." And she was like, "What, do you live under a rock?" And I was like, "Yes." Pretty much all I know is like brain stuff and music and I still don't know 99% of both of those things. So I almost purposely insulate myself because I think, if all of us have access to like I don't know, you rewind 2000 years. Do I know if someone dies of typhus in Vietnam? No, not that it's good that that happens, but that I'm not even aware of it. I have no clue that that's happening. But now we are all informed all the time.

00:38:36 Johnny: I remember I was in the car with my mom and her phone dinged and she checked it and it was like a news update, push notification that a bus drove off a cliff or something and it was like why the heck do you need to know that? We have so much access to so much information that is really overwhelming and a lot of it isn't great news. It's just yes, it's technically news because it's a development. But I think we're fed a lot of things that promote fear and anxiety. So that's kind of the macro thing. It's just access to way too much information.

00:39:15 Johnny: And then on a micro level, I think, over the last couple of years there's been somewhat of a shift which is actually what I think is part of the solution. The answer to your second question. I think there's been a shift from, "Oh, mental health is an other people thing," to "Oh shoot, now that life has gotten this complicated and messy, now that the last three years have affected me the way that they have, that I can't keep pretending that mental health only applies to my coworkers or my nephew. I need to recognize that it also applies to me." So I think ultimately, that's the way that we make huge strides in mental health as a country is getting away from this other's mentality where everyone is kind of pointing the finger at everyone else, saying, you guys are the ones who need to learn about mental health, not me.

00:40:07 Chazmith: Yeah, I love that you bring that up. It's so true. It makes me think about I've learned a lot, like say that people who experience sometimes chronic pain or certain chronic conditions, there's a lot of research that shows that a lot of times there can be an emotional component to this pain. And the thought that what happens is up until recently, it has been like a stigma. It has been something that is hush hush or it's somebody else or it's not me, or I'm not going to talk about it. And it's almost interesting how if you were to call your job to call in, quote, unquote, "sick" because you needed a mental health day, that's like in the past, maybe not as widely accepted, but if you said, I have a migraine, it's okay, you can stay home. We can talk about our physical pain and that's okay, but we can't talk about how we feel really sad or alone or misunderstood. It's interesting how in the past it was almost easier to be able to feel more relatable to something physical or something emotional or mental.

00:41:18 Johnny: Yeah. And almost we have a greater degree of not even almost. I think this is actually true. We have a greater degree of respect for people who say that. When people say, "Oh, I'm taking a mental health day," I think the sentiment is kind of shifting from, "Oh, give me a break, get over it," to like, "Oh, whoa, respect." Actually standing up for yourself and not coming into work and trying to force your way through it's so weird. I think that narrative is shifting from acknowledging your mental health and working on it as a sign of weakness to now we see it as more of a sign of strength . Almost impressively so. When we see somebody like, "Yeah, I started going to therapy," and we're like, "Word, get in there, do your thing." It's almost like now we're slowly but surely switching to a cultural narrative that actually champions those people and sees it as really responsible. It's like someone saying, "I'm going to start getting in shape." And we're all like, "Yeah, go work out and eat right." And then if people are like, "I'm going to start therapy," we're like, "Oh, weird."

00:42:20 Yeah like what's wrong with you? Probably the same thing that's wrong with you. You just don't want to admit it. Yeah, it's definitely awesome to see a shift and to see it being something that is more acknowledged, respected and more talked about, where people can feel more open and they can use their voice and not feel like they're going to be judged or ridiculed or anything like that. Yeah, absolutely. I'm wondering if you would be willing to share with my audience. Say there's anybody out there right now who's listening and they're struggling with whatever challenge they have. Maybe it's severe anxiety, maybe it's panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts. What would be some practical tools and techniques that somebody listening could implement today to yield results over time?

00:43:13 Johnny: Okay, great question. I could literally spend an entire hour on this, but I'll give you a really short list. So first things first. So many freaking people ask me, like when I do a training or Q and A, they'll be like what are some things I can do to immediately improve my mental and emotional health on a regular basis? And I was like, and this is going to sound like such a lame answer, I know that it will, but I will say do you drink water every day? Do you exercise multiple times per week? Are you getting seven to 8 hours of sleep a night? And almost universally the answer is no to those basic, basic things. And I think a lot of us are looking to it's kind of like my guitarist lost something like £150 and everyone was like, what's the secret? What's the hack? And he was like, 'Dude, I stopped eating so much junk food. I stopped eating so much food like such a high volume of food. And then I started exercising more." And we forget how important those basics are to our health.

00:43:13 Johnny: So the very first thing I would say is if you're asking me what you can do to improve your mental and emotional health, and you're staying up super late at night, you're drinking alcohol or smoking, or you are in a really abusive relationship, or you're in an unsafe living environment, I would say yes. It's important to journal. Yes, it's important to set aside time to focus on your mental and emotional health. But if your life environment, either the body you live in, like that local environment of your actual literal body, or your surroundings like the people you're spending time with, or your home environment, your work environment, if those things are actively working against you, it's really hard to journal away 1 hour of sleep.

00:45:15 Johnny:  So I would say if you're listening to this, focus first on removing those huge things that are staying in the way of your wellness and maybe even do it in conjunction with some of those other self care tactics that you're learning. But just make sure if you're doing yoga and meditating and journaling, but then you're doing it in an environment that's actively working against your health, it's really, really tough to overcome that. So I would just say don't forget your environment .

00:45:46 Chazmith: Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah, that's good because it's the basics, and sometimes we think we need fancy tools and bells and whistles, but I feel like in any discipline, in anything in life, it always comes back to the basics. The fundamentals, they go so far.

00:45:59 Johnny: Yeah. I heard a phrase recently, I was listening to a podcast, and he said something like what I'm about to say is a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason, because it's true. There's so many people have said it so many times that you know it's true. And I think that's, like, I know someone's listening. You go, "Wow. The guy who went to school for mental health comes on and says drink water. Give me a break." And it's like, "Well, are you drinking water dude?"

00:46:24 Chazmith: Yeah, that's funny. Okay, out of respect for time, I'm going to ask you one final question. I ask everybody, if you could only share one message with the world for the rest of your life, what message would you choose to share with the world?

00:46:40 Johnny: I love it. I literally have if this was a video, I would show you. I have a tattoo on the back of my neck that says you matter. That's all it says you matter, period. Not in fancy font or anything. And that's my message for the entire world. I think if everybody knew that and believed it, this world would be unrecognizably better.

00:47:06 Chazmith: Yeah, I agree. I love that it's on your neck because you're saying that message is obviously for you, but you're sharing it with others. And so when it's on your neck, it's actually like a message that you're sending out towards everybody else.

00:47:18 Johnny: Yeah, it's actually because I got it on the back of my neck because I know that there are people who will never talk to me and I still want to say something to them.

00:47:28 Chazmith: I love that. That's fantastic.

00:47:30 Johnny: People who might be behind my back, literally behind my back, for me to still be able to encourage them.



00:47:38 Chazmith: Yeah, that's so wonderful. I know that there's probably so many wonderful things you could continue to share. And what I'll do is I'll drop some links in the show notes for people to learn more about Cope Notes and just you and what you're up to in this world. Because I just know that you have really risen above and you've come through some serious challenges in your life and transformed your life in such beautiful ways. And I know you're doing so much right now for the world, so I will definitely create a space for people to learn more about you. And I just wanted to say thank you so much for being here and sharing a little bit of your journey with anybody who will be tuned in listening to this episode. I appreciate you and I appreciate what you're doing for the world.

00:48:20 Johnny: Yeah, I appreciate you doing a show like this. And if I can just say one last thing to the people listening.

00:48:26 Chazmith: Yeah, of course.

00:48:28 Johnny: It says a lot about you, listener, that you spent 50 minutes listening to a conversation like this. Don't ignore that. The fact that you're the type of person to dedicate an hour of your time and attention, the most valuable commodity known to man, to a conversation like this speaks volumes about the type of person you are, the type of impact and change you are capable of. So please, if nothing else, pat yourself on the back for that and then continue with this momentum. Listen to another piece of content or take an action or talk to a friend. Continue building on this momentum. Because if you're the type of person who would spend an hour doing this, something tells me you're the type of person who would spend another hour doing it. And the only way I've been successful in recovery is making sure I stack those hours up on top of each other. So don't let this momentum stop here. Do something.

00:49:26 Chazmith: Yay. Thank you so much. I love that so much. What a wonderful way to end it.

00:49:32 Chazmith: All right, friends, thank you so much for tuning in today. I sincerely hope that you found new insights and inspiration in today's episode into what is possible for you to. Remember, we are never alone on this journey, even if it might feel that way at times. I love you all. Please know there are always ways to connect. As a matter of fact, I would love to have you join me in the podcast Facebook group where we can connect there on a regular basis. And this coming week on Friday, there will be a new theme for the Friday challenges. So tune in Friday. Or as a matter of fact, just click subscribe or follow today so you have every new episode waiting for you in your podcast library to listen at your own convenience. If you are listening right now on Apple podcast, please consider scrolling all the way down to leave a five star review because your support is always appreciated. And until next time, make this week great.