It was sunny in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and that’s all Jen Gotch needed to have a good day. More than a month into the state’s stay-at-home order, the Ban.do founder had on a head-to-toe plaid outfit that she’d worn two days in a row. She had whisked and drank her matcha-coconut milk latte in the morning. Everything, she told herself, was going to be okay.
You may recognize Gotch as an “embodiment” (as she puts it) of Ban.do, the lifestyle brand she launched in 2008. Like the brand, Gotch is all about spreading joy. She does that daily through Instagram, where she details, in startling honesty, her life: the joys, but also her struggle with mental health.
Gotch, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety and attention-deficit disorder, has also detailed that struggle on her podcast, “Jen Gotch Is OK…Sometimes.”
And now, in even more detail, she has laid out her journey in a memoir: “The Upside of Being Down: How Mental Health Struggles Led to My Greatest Successes in Work and Life.” Mental health factors heavily into the book, which was released last month and focuses on the story of launching her business. It is also simply useful. One chapter, “Jen Gotch Wants You to Feel Better,” is solely dedicated to advice for readers — and much of that advice has become even more relevant now that we’re faced with the pandemic.
Although much of what Gotch details is a harrowing journey — one rife with wrong diagnoses, divorce, darkness — there is, in the end, so much joy. Talking to her on an afternoon during self-quarantine, we discuss everything from “forced introspection” to her favorite Instagram accounts right now. We’re interrupted by a FaceTime from her father, and her cat meowing to be let outside.
Even as a pandemic rages outside our windows, there is so much laughter. There is joy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lena Felton: Hi Jen, it’s Lena from The Lily. How are you doing today?
Jen Gotch: I’m doing okay, Hanging in there. It’s sunny, so I’m going to take that as a win.
LF: Oh, definitely. I wanted to ask how the pandemic has been going for you.
JG: The question of the year. [Laughs] You know, I feel like I’m certainly in a place of privilege in a lot of ways. Generally speaking, I feel good. The strange thing is, when I was writing my book, there was a lot of forced solitude that I was, like, impacting myself with my own thoughts, and I’ve spent the last couple years working to resolve that. So as things started to happen with the pandemic, I found that I was in a much more peaceful state than I had expected and was sort of waiting for that to flip. And it just hasn’t.
But with Ban.do, we’re trying to figure that out. You know, a lot of existential questions, and there are still worries for my family. All that stuff.
LF: So much of your new book is about how you’ve navigated mental health. What are some other concrete things that you’re doing day to day to sort of keep your mental health in check?
JG: Well, again, it’s strange. People tend to joke that I’m like a witch or some sort of clairvoyant or can see the future. So there’s just been this strange series of events in my life that have put me at an optimal place to be for this, which I feel like partially allows me to articulate things and help other people. Like, if I was in a compromised state, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
At the end of last year, looking to my book tour, it was like, I was going to have a very busy first six months that had a ton of travel, like different-city-every-day-type stuff. So I really made a commitment last December to start taking better care of myself.
So I cut out drinking. I cut out a lot of inflammatory foods, because that tends to really impair my brain. And generally just tried to stay on the same sleep schedule. And I added in some very intense vitamin C. Throughout that, I’ve still had pizza and smoked some weed and had champagne when my book got on the New York Times best-selling list. I don’t think there’s any health in absolutism at all. But it was just a conscious effort that I was doing it for myself to feel like my best self physically and mentally in order to face what I thought I was facing. It just turns out I’m facing something different.
I was like, thank god I took all that vitamin C. [Laughs] But I would say I sort of inadvertently set myself up for success — sorry, my dad’s trying to FaceTime me. I tell my dad every day, “These are the times I have interviews. Don’t call me.” And I think he flips it in his mind. And let me tell you, it’s not going to happen just once. He’ll do it again in a second.
I think the other thing that I’m still learning, but I think is really important, is to just give yourself grace during this time. None of us knows what to do or how to react. Some days I don’t want to do anything and some days I want to do everything. It’s just giving myself permission to do either at any time.
LF: There’s a lot of talk about having to make this time productive. It’s like, you don’t have to do that, but you can use it to try to work on, like you said, how you deal emotionally with things. There’s never going to be the time to do that in your own space like there is now.
JG: I agree. I mean, we’re in a period of forced introspection. Some of us do that naturally. Like, I’m definitely an introspective person. But many of us actually actively avoid any of this type of downtime. So what I’ve been telling people is just maybe entertain the fact that this is an opportunity for growth. And you don’t have to be productive, but you can go inside and get some answers.
LF: Definitely. It’s funny that you say that, because clearly, you have this great network of friends and family and they factor in a lot. So what are you all doing to stay in touch and have meaningful connections in this time?
JG: It’s actually a dangerous place for me, because I am such a loner that I will just go full introvert and not talk to anyone. I think at first I was like, let’s all stay connected. And then I realized I could go off the grid. I could do that normally — especially after years of struggling with depression, you’re sort of forced off the grid sometimes.
That said, I mean as told by my dad FaceTiming in the middle of this interview, I’m definitely talking to my dad even more than I normally do. So like multiple times a day, lots of FaceTimes. I FaceTime with my close friends, a group of my friends from college.
But I’m not doing any over-scheduling. I know people that are like trying to have a Zoom every day. I also have the luxury of having this book and having these opportunities to connect with my community through Instagram Lives or virtual events.
LF: Yeah, I’m figuring that out, too. My co-workers and I have been talking a lot about Zoom exhaustion. What’s the response been like to the book?
JG: Amazing. I’m a huge believer in timing, and I think a lot of times, timing looks really shitty on paper. I think in another phase of my life, I would have looked at the way the book was going to go out into the world and be completely debilitated.
But from Day One of the launch, people read it very quickly, and the response has been so overwhelmingly warm and encouraging. The amount of people that are like, “This book came at the perfect time” — the first day it came out, I was screenshotting it, because it was thousands of people messaging me that.
I feel like it is doing exactly what I had hoped for people, and to know that was really all I needed to feel like I set out what I meant to do. I’m lucky.
LF: Could you put into words what that goal was — what you did set out to do?
JG: I wanted to reflect people back onto themselves by sharing, very honestly sharing, my life experience thus far. Because I think what I found through my podcast, and through Instagram and through open conversations, is that that is helpful.
And I’d like to help people feel less alone in their struggles. The book is not just about mental health, although that’s the throughline, but specifically with the mental health journey, you tend to feel very isolated and alone. In the old days, when we could reach our arms out and touch people, you could do that in any group of 10 and hit someone else who is struggling.
LF: What was the most difficult thing for you personally through the writing process?
JG: The writing process. [Laughs] The whole thing was really difficult for me personally and professionally. I thought I was going to breeze through it. It’s almost like having children, where your brain doesn’t really let you access all of the potential difficulties until you’ve signed on the dotted line.
I ended up just having help. I hired two different editors over the process, because it just became incredibly clear to me that, like, I won’t be able to get it to the finish line. And it was a really hard part of the process because I hadn’t really been bad at something in a while because I have a job that is catered to my strengths.
LF: Well, it’s like, how do you make meaning out of your entire life?
JG: And to know what’s relevant. But really more for me, my brain works very, very specifically. I’m not a linear thinker, and I have horrible ADD and not the best retention. So, like, I couldn’t even remember what I had written two chapters ago.
LF: In the last few minutes, I just wanted to ask you some more fun quarantine questions. First off, you have such a presence on Instagram, but what would you say are the top three accounts that you spend the most time on?
JG: You know what? I’ve been very horrible about scrolling lately. I just can’t believe the rapid decline of my standards and practices on Instagram.
I mean, @busyphilipps, who’s a close friend of mine. It’s a great way to stay in touch, although we tend to FaceTime in order to do that.
Otherwise, I don’t know. My relationship to my phone and Instagram is very strange right now, so I don’t even know what I feel. Honestly, I’ve been spending a lot of time on TikTok. I don’t understand it, but I will get into a two-hour thing and think that just seconds have gone by.
LF: Yeah, I can’t have that on my phone, because the same exact thing would happen to me. What’s your been your favorite work from home outfit that you’ve worn during self-quarantine?
JG: I’m going to tell you multiple and then you can just decide what you want it to be. I’m horrible at picking my favorite. The day my book came out, I wore this dress from Samanta Pleet. It’s this like semiformal dress with giant roses embroidered on it, and I loved that. Even though I was by myself, it just — I think what you’re wearing can send a signal to your brain. So I’m trying not to do a lot of sweatpants and ratty T-shirts, because that tells me that it’s time to not think.
I have a set of Ban.do PJs that I wear a lot that are green with a floral all over it. Because they’re tailored, it feels like I could step outside. I feel cute and they’re comfortable. And then the beauty of those is you could be awake and asleep in the same outfit, which is a real gift.
The last one just came yesterday. It’s from a company called Ace and Jig. And their clothes are ridiculously soft. I don’t know what the material is; I’m assuming it’s some form of cotton. And this is like a head-to-toe plaid outfit that I’ve now worn two days in a row.
LF: I saw that outfit on your Instagram, very cute. And what’s one small thing that you’re doing to find joy every day?
JG: This is a super small thing, but I make a matcha every morning. I kicked coffee when I was kicking everything in December.
LF: Wow, good for you.
JG: I know, wild. And what’s crazy is that I’d just gotten back into, like, making the stove top espresso. So I started this matcha, coconut milk, whisking the matcha — like, it has replaced my morning coffee. I don’t want to say there’s a ceremony, but it’s sort of this thing I can rely on and I know I’m doing something good for myself. It does bring me joy, strangely. I look forward to it. It’s what gets me out of bed.
LF: Maybe that’ll be my next my next endeavor in quarantine.
JG: Oh yeah, you should try it. Certainly, you know, there’s so much opportunity for us to try stuff like that and see what sticks. The thing is admitting defeat when it’s like, you know what, actually, everyone likes this and I don’t like this.