5 Misconceptions About Mental Health Recovery

by Johnny Crowder, founder of Cope Notes

As a suicide/abuse survivor, I’ve had my fair share of misunderstandings about my own mental health struggles. From thinking that an outside force could do all the work (like my therapist or my medication) to haphazardly fast-forwarding through crucial stages of my recovery, I’ve learned a few lessons… enough to give a TEDx Talk about why we can’t always change overnight, and why that’s totally fine.

A few common problems I kept running into were related to my own misconceptions about what my recovery process should look like. The only reason I wrote this article, and gave that TEDx Talk, is to fight back against the unfounded self-talk traps that keep us from living a happier, healthier life.

1. “Why don’t I feel better yet?”

Let’s face it: We live in a generation where most things are pretty snappy. We can order sneakers to our doorstep, zap burritos in the microwave, and stream movies anytime our Wi-Fi decides to cooperate. Although we like to frame these conveniences as modern ills and pretend we’re not dependent on them, we all know the truth: When some things feel quick and easy, we begin to expect that from everything else.

By contrast, this makes the timeline for mental, emotional, and physical change pretty unpalatable. I mean, if my phone can beam a meme to a friend on the other side of the planet in a matter of milliseconds, then why the heck does it feel like it takes a lifetime to kick an old habit or kick-start a new one?

This “Why don’t I feel better yet?” fallacy is simply tricking us into thinking that we’re failing if our progress doesn’t line up with the arbitrary schedule we invented for it.

The day after you plant a seed, you see nothing but the dirt the seed was planted in. For anything to grow, you can’t just give it soil, water, and sunlight and tell Siri to set a timer for 15 minutes. Unfortunately for impatient folks like me, you also need to give it time – probably quite a bit of it. Recovery, unique as it may be, has one characteristic in common with all other important processes: it isn’t the type of thing you can rush.

2. “Shouldn’t I have learned my lesson by now?”

Humans are selectively adept learners. I only had to sprain my wrist one time to quit skateboarding altogether. However, when it comes to relationships, I’ll forgive the same person 13 times in a row without batting an eye. Everyone around me can spot the destructive pattern from a mile away, but that’s probably because their heads and hearts aren’t all wrapped up in everything like mine are.

And when heads and hearts start pushing and pulling, it makes change a bumpy ride. There’s plenty of science behind why this is the case, so rest assured that if it’s taking you a few tries to make that positive stride in the right direction, you’re not alone.

The idea that we haven’t learned anything from our recent “false starts” is completely bogus. We’re learning new things every second of every day! Primarily, we’re learning what hurts and what works, which means that every “failure” propels us one step closer to our next victory. This is a phenomenon known as failing forward, which is a favorite among some of the most iconic and noteworthy figures in human history. At the end of the day, whether or not we actually apply what we learn from these missteps is up to us.

3. “My friend didn’t struggle this much when they went through this.”

Maybe not. At least, not judging by what I can see from the outside. And, of course, operating under the assumption that they went through the same exact situation I’m experiencing right now with the same exact people. Oh, and that they’re dealing with the same exact feelings, frustrations, hopes, worries, childhood experiences, family dynamics, friend groups, financial situations, employment arrangements, personal triggers, traumas, motivations, and habits (both good and bad)…

That seems pretty likely, right?


Comparing ourselves to other people, especially when it comes to health and recovery, is an act of good intentions based on a false premise. If no two fingerprints are the same, what makes us think our brains (the most complex pieces of machinery known to mankind) are so uniform?

4. “It’s all in my head.”

Technically, that’s true. It is in my head. In fact, that’s precisely what makes it so hard for me. It’s kind of like telling myself: “Relax! You’re not drowning. The water is only in your lungs.”

The more we minimize topics like mental and emotional health, the more we set ourselves and our loved ones up for failure. Whether other people believe it or not, the things in my head are very real to me. We can’t trivialize our thoughts and feelings by disconnecting the concepts of mental and emotional from the concept of health. They’re inseparable. You can’t magically wish away an unhealthy habit or an unwanted feeling any more than you can wish away a sprained ankle. That sucker needs to heal, just like you and I do.

Yes, it’s all in my head. And yes, it’s probably going to require some serious time, effort, and attention to make some serious progress. But if you can name a better investment opportunity than the quality of my own everyday life, I’m all ears.

5. “Now isn’t a good time for me to work on myself.”

Have you ever stopped to think that there may never be a convenient time to heal?

Some people wait their entire lives to “wake up,” only to realize that they could have chosen to take initiative and make a change at any point in the past — with or without a catalyst. The longer we wait for someone (or something) to snatch us up out of our mess and plop us down into greener pastures, the harder it will be to make healthier choices and start doing the most important work we’ll ever do: self-work.

While there’s always a chance you’ll fall backwards into that “Eureka!” moment you’ve been dreaming of, when you can, I think it’s probably better to start that process as soon as possible. If my experience is any indication, recovery really is a process. It takes a while. A long while. And that’s OK.

I always wanted my own “Eureka!” moment, but looking back, I realize that I never needed one. I never needed permission. I never needed a certification, a wake-up call, a turning point, a letter of approval… And neither do you.

If you have the opportunity to start today (and you do), start today.

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