Jen Gotch wants you to feel better.
That’s the title of a chapter in Gotch’s new memoir, The Upside of Being Down (Gallery Books, out now) – actually, the complete chapter title is "Jen Gotch Wants You To Feel Better (Just Like She Does!)." And beyond that, Jen Gotch wants you to know that you’re not alone.
Years before Gotch founded the beloved lifestyle brand ban.do, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As she writes in her book, the diagnosis wasn’t scary: everything leading up to it was. Having a name for her lifelong struggles, as well as starting therapy and finding the right medication, changed Gotch’s life for the better. And over time, as she transformed ban.do from a small hair accessories company to a multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand, Gotch has consistently used her platform to raise awareness about mental illness, advocate for therapy and self-care, and make others feel good.
On ban.do’s website, you can find cute planners, socks, and more, but you can also find resources, playlists, and Gotch’s podcast all about mental health and self-care. In 2017, Gotch had the idea to start selling nameplate necklaces that read “Depression,” “Anxiety,” and more—and to donate all the proceeds to the mental health nonprofit Bring Change to Mind. “Honestly, up until the necklaces,” Gotch told me, “I didn’t realize the internal struggle people had with accepting [their diagnoses].” With ban.do, her candid Instagram captions, and now her no-holds-barred memoir, Gotch is fighting the stigma around mental illness and encouraging others to seek inspiration and surround themselves with joy.
At lunch in Brooklyn, Gotch and I talked about the importance of balancing work and self-care, the taboos around neurodivergence, and how to take care of yourself in the wake of—well, everything going on in the world right now.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
You initially wanted to write a self-help book. How did you come to the idea of writing a memoir instead?
That was my editor’s choice, and not in a bad way at all, but I felt like, why would I write a memoir? Who am I to write a memoir? I was really resistant, and because the types of books that I read are quite didactic, that is just what I had always imagined. But [my editor] was very reassuring that with my voice, this might resonate more. I’m really glad that I listened.
I wanted to specifically ask about the emotional rating system – that’s something you’ve talked about on your podcast, on Instagram, and even on ban.do’s website. Did you always know you wanted to include it at the end of your book?
When I was envisioning the book, I was thinking there would be all of this weird stuff interspersed because I like to make simple things very complex. I wasn’t seeing it as an appendix, and that was also a suggestion from my editor. I definitely knew I wanted it to be in the book because I was actually surprised by how much that helped people. It’s helped me so much. I don’t rely on it as much right now because I feel okay, but in times where I wasn’t, it was just so much easier to assign a number and not have to go any further than that.
When you started outlining and writing, was there anything else that you immediately knew you wanted to include?
I think, more than anything, probably just the learnings. Especially when it came to therapy and what that experience is like, medication and what that experience is like…I feel like there are things within that that people don’t talk about that readily, and there’s so much information I can give just from experiencing that. So I feel like those were probably most important, but all the ban.do stuff, too, because I get asked that a lot – and I think there’s probably not that many founders that are willing to be as candid as I am. I’m dangerously candid sometimes.
I think, in general, it was just important to me to know that I was answering the questions that I feel like I field a lot. Especially with Instagram and when I had my podcast, I can sort of understand where the curiosity lies.
Sort of on that note, you wrote in an Instagram caption that you didn’t write this book for you, but for us. I’m very interested in your Instagram presence, because you’ve used the app in such a unique way – how do you feel like you turned your account into such a lively community?
I think because I’m the type of person that pays attention and cares what people think – and even from ban.do, being very trained to understand what you’re hearing from your community and not just doing what you want to do, but [seeing] what people are gravitating towards. And then, at the same time, it was so fulfilling for me to be able to go into these areas that maybe aren’t talked about so much and are no problem for me to talk about. I don’t know if you ever look through the comments, but it’s just so supportive. And I feel like I know lots of people that have a large following, many much larger than mine, but are not necessarily as fortunate just to have people feel like they’re behind you. It’s very motivating for me.
And with the book, at first, I was thinking about me. What are my stories and what are the things I wanted to tell? And then it was just very hard to keep that as a motivator, and once I really went through and wrote an intention for each chapter that had to do with the reader, that’s really what pulled me through, even when I was just like, I can’t do this book thing. That’s really how I feel, and it’s helped me to put the focus there, because I did write the book to help.
What meant a lot to me was that, in your book, you never spoke of your mental illness as something you had to recover from or push past, but something you learned to live with and kind of own. How did you get to that place of acceptance? I’m guessing that wasn’t always how you viewed it.
It actually was! It’s really strange. I think, before I was diagnosed with anything, there was probably more resistance than acceptance, because I was really confused as to what was going on in my brain and my body. I feel like the moment someone put a name to it, I felt so much relief. And although for me it was debilitating at times, I think perspective is a huge point of difference. Is mental illness going to be the thing that helps you or hurts you? It’s probably going to be both, but I feel like there was never a pivot. I think that’s why it’s easy for me to talk about, even well before I had a platform.
Do you think we’ve come a long way in general, and also in the workplace, with talking about mental health and trying to break down the stigma?
I feel like I’m in kind of a bubble. I never worked in business—ban.do is the first office I’ve ever worked in, and it’s modeled after a lot of my behaviors. There’s a ton of emotion in our office, there’s no stigma, if you’re comfortable, you can say, “I’m having an anxiety attack right now—I need to go home.” I think I was assuming that lots of places were going in that direction, but even just talking about the book and understanding that most businesses are not small-to-medium female-founded businesses…sometimes male-oriented spaces have just a completely different relationship with emotion, so I would imagine that there’s quite a ways to go.
What I feel good about is that I was asked to write a book, and I feel like there are lots of people that are doing what I’m doing, that are being asked to write books or talk about it, and I think that’s where it has to start. And the fact that people of much higher celebrity than mine are also doing that—I feel like that’s the fastest way to make something a little bit more acceptable.
With ban.do, you really emphasize the importance of surrounding yourself with colors and cheer and mantras that work for you. Do you have any items or songs or pieces of clothing that really cheer you up when you’re having bad days?
It’s interesting—it’s probably the converse of that, where I just do not have anything around me that would not do that for me. I’ve been going through my closet a lot and giving away a lot of clothes that I actually love a lot but that remind me of either a time in my life that I don’t want to be reminded of, or someone gave it to me and I don’t like that person anymore or they hurt me.
It’s like emotional Marie Kondo.
It totally is! When I saw [her Netflix show], I was like, man, I am doing that. I am holding onto things that absolutely do not bring me joy.
I love what you wrote in your book about the ban.do planners—how you want to turn this stressful idea of staying on top of everything into a form self-care.
I think it’s really…the idea of busyness, and what that means in tandem with success, has come up so much. I think there’s a real curiosity about that. Operating like that and always feeling like there’s more to do than I can ever get to made me so sick and mentally unwell to a really, really bad extreme, and I didn’t do any better at work. I didn’t make any progress.
I pay attention now to see how often people say they’re busy, and also how often people start a sentence with, “I know you’re really busy.” It’s not a bad thing, but I think it’s just such an interesting thing—how we’ve been conditioned. Certainly I had a little bit of guilt around the fact that I was promoting that for many years, not knowing it was a detriment. (Ed. note: ban.do sells a line of planners that read “I Am Very Busy.”)
It’s both detrimental and sometimes empowering, I think.
I think balance is the key. It’s not like, don’t do anything, you’re winning if you’re not doing anything, but I think to understand personal, physical, and emotional boundaries, and honor them. Also, some people have the capacity to be much busier than other people.
What’s next for ban.do?
I feel like the path that we’ve been on internally for the past couple years is to get us to a place where we’re more than just fun. We’re still honoring that as a very important part of joy and feeling good, but we really want to represent something more meaningful for people. I kind of see [us], the next couple years, really sinking into that, and putting everything we do through the lens of holistic betterment—personal betterment, physical betterment, emotional betterment, mental betterment. Not just this one piece of it.
And back to your book, what do you hope readers take away from it—about mental illness, starting a business, or something else?
I think with business, especially, really understanding the intricacies and the complexities. I feel like especially within business and within female entrepreneur stuff, you get this pre-digested version of what that is, and you don’t realize all of the stuff that goes into it. I think I tried to dig into some of the nuance of what that looks like, and to lean into how hard it is.
It’s been an incredibly terrible time for people living with mental illness. (Note: since our interview, it has gotten much, much worse.) Do you have any self-care tips?
I think we have such a need to actually do the things that are the worst for us, like watching the news, and I think if you want to stay abreast of things, find one news source that you trust, check in with that, and then get off of your phone and turn your TV off.
Everything is so fear-driven that it’s causing even more anxiety than you’re already dealing with. When your body is in that state, you’re actually more susceptible to other physical things happening to you, because the stress response leaves you open. It’s not helping. And then I just think there’s a level of letting go. There’s very few things that are going on right now that we’re in control of, big picture-wise. Certainly there are things you can do, you can wash your hands…but in the end, sort of accepting and letting go a little bit is probably the most powerful thing you can do.
Top photo by Kerry Crawford
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Lydia Wang is a writer, a Pisces, and one of BUST's digital editors. Find her on Twitter or say hi: firstname.lastname@example.org.