The State of Our Mental Health: Jen Gotch, ban.do

Jen Gotch Interview

During Mental Health Awareness Month we’re diving into “The State of Our Mental Health” by profiling mental health leaders and discussing how they’re coping with the coronavirus outbreak. In this video, Talkspace contributor Ashley Laderer speaks with Jen Gotch, Founder and CCO of band.do and author of The Upside of Being Down. Check back each week in May as we continue the conversation and share your own videos @talkspace using #TheStateofMyMentalHealth.

Talkspace:

So welcome Jen and welcome everybody who is watching — May is Mental Health Awareness Month and at Talkspace we’re doing the State of Our Mental Health. We’re here today with Jen Gotch, who is the founder of ban.do and the author of The Upside of Being Down, which is a New York Times bestseller now, right?

Jen Gotch:

Yes. Can’t believe it. That that happened.

Talkspace:

Amazing! So Jen does so much stuff regarding mental health, she’s been very public about her own mental health struggles, which is super inspiring to people who, like me, also have anxiety and their own things going on. So, thank you for being here. I was wondering, could you just give some background information on your company and yourself for people who aren’t familiar?

Jen Gotch:

Sure. This is the thing that takes two hours for me to do, but I will give you the abridged version. Like you said, I am the founder of ban.do. ban.do is, it’s always hard for me to explain because I think of it as a state of mind more than anything else. But out in the real world, it’s a women’s lifestyle company. We use our products and our platforms to help people to be their best, and we encourage joy in the everyday. Which seems to be coming in handy at the moment! 

And myself, I feel like my identity has been so wrapped up in ban.do for the last 12 years that, even to hear you describe me as a mental health advocate, is sometimes jarring for me. Even though that’s absolutely what I am. Or even thinking of myself as an author, there’s been sort of a transition to that. So I’m a 48 year old who’s still trying to figure it out. That’s probably the best way to describe me.

Talkspace:

I love that. I have come to the realization, or at least this is what I tell myself to feel better, that I don’t think anybody knows what they’re doing fully. Ever.

Jen Gotch:

The times I have felt I knew what I was doing, I was very quickly shown that I didn’t know. So it’s best to just appreciate the part where we don’t know and it’s okay.

Talkspace:

But what you’ve done is absolutely incredible. And when I heard you were writing a book, I wanted to know how you balanced your full time job, with writing a book, and with taking care of your own mental health, while not going off the deep end?

Jen Gotch:

I went off the deep end. Like, 100% did not balance. I’m one of those people that, because I can be a visionary in a lot of ways, I can see things at the end of their journey, as a product for example. And thinking of how it gets there sometimes it gets really compressed in my mind. I can think of the idea — at the end. I also had my podcast at the time. So I thought about running ban.do, at least on the creative side, writing the book, having a weekly podcast. I was like, this’ll be fine. I can absolutely do all of that at once. And very slowly it started to kind of unravel. And so by the end of it, I had stopped doing the podcast. 

I left working day to day at ban.do to go out to the desert to be in complete solitude and have only one focus, which was the book. Which was amazing! But also that whole process of failing and feeling very uncomfortable and doing all of this emotional excavation did really take a toll on me. 

I was feeling a lot of anxiety and all of my perfectionist ways were sort of rearing their ugly heads. So it, it was not great. But I think I’ve been in that not great place mentally so many times before that, it was like, “I know there’s going to be a gift, a lesson, or a reward at the end of this.” So if I can just survive, which at times all I was doing was surviving, I was not thriving. I knew that it would end up meaning something for me. And it absolutely did.

Talkspace:

That’s amazing. I love that. Obviously, as a writer, for me being on the New York Times bestseller list is like, you have made it, so that’s amazing. I’m so excited to read it. My friend Melissa sent me a picture, because I don’t have the book yet, of a part where you said that your therapist had predicted that you were going to be a mental health advocate.

Jen Gotch:

So strange, you know, it’s interesting, one of the bonuses of getting older is you can look back and you can start to make sense of those comments, those things that people said to you sometimes in passing. It was nothing. But, you know how there’s just certain things in your life that have imprinted and you’ve never forgotten? That was one of those. 

My therapist, I saw her on and off for 20 years. She told me so many things. I’ve always remembered this one thing. And I remember thinking: how would I ever do that? This was mid-nineties, so there was no social media then. I didn’t even have a profession then, or even an idea of a profession. I think my therapist said that because she saw my curiosity around the subject, but I remember thinking, “well, that could never happen.” And then last year I was speaking at a mental health event and I was like, “Oh, my God, she got it right.”

Talkspace:

I think that, for me at least, writing about mental health, I feel like helping others and being a mental health advocate makes the struggle of what we go through almost worth it. I used to always feel like, “Why? Why God? Why universe? Why am I plagued with issues?” And then you do something with it and it makes it a little bit worth it.

Jen Gotch:

For sure. I think the “why” — I think there is a positive to that “why.” I think a lot of us are like, “why me?” But I think having some curiosity about, really, “why?” Why is this happening? The way to the answers is from asking that question. We learn a lot from our experiences, if we let ourselves.

Talkspace:

That being said, what have you been learning about yourself during this quarantine and how has the quarantine been affecting your mental health?

Jen Gotch:

Been learning a lot. I will say my mental health has actually, I have felt very steady from the beginning and I really think that’s a testament to what the book-writing process brought up for me. It was a lot of anxiety. I have a thing with — I don’t anymore — but with catastrophic thoughts. All the time. I’m going to be murdered, I’m going to be run over by a car, my house is burning down. All day long, every day. And I got to a point where I was like, I need to eradicate these thoughts. This fear-based thinking, this constant worry. I really committed to that and that was about two years ago. And it somehow just prepared me for this. 

You know, I think about the old me being faced with the cancellation of a book tour, I was so excited about that. Also, the idea of going it alone, because I’m single, having this whole experience alone. Then the absolute fear for my personal, physical, mental, financial health and that of my family and friends. I would have turned to dust before. 

And now I realized, I did that work, I kept waiting for something to come. I was saying to this healer I go to, “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I feel like, why isn’t it coming?” And she was like, “that’s what doing the work leads to.” I think what it readies me to do is to be that stillness for other people. I really started to understand what heartbreak felt like. I typically want to equate everything to anxiety, depression. But there are all of these other emotions that don’t need to be categorized in big mental illness buckets. I was like, “what am I feeling?” 

And so I think learning about the subtleties of those emotions. And, like a lot of us, I’ve just had a lot of time to myself and working to understand: what do I want from life? Why am I being triggered by certain things? Haven’t I worked out all my mommy issues? Why are they still here? I see this situation as a huge opportunity for growth. And I’ve just tried to approach it as such. And just try not to get too down, you know?

Talkspace:

It’s amazing when you can tell that your work in therapy has paid off. Those moments when you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m not freaking out right now.” Just like you’re saying. And it’s like, “Oh my God. Whoa, my work has paid off.” And that’s awesome. 

So since you’ve managed your catastrophic thinking, what advice do you have for people struggling with anxiety who are dealing with catastrophic thinking? Especially right now?

Jen Gotch:

Of course. The first thing I would say is that’s a completely natural place for your brain to go. And I think, now more than ever, there are people experiencing those types of thoughts and even just the physical experience of anxiety for the first time in their life. So I think it’s an interesting thing that’s happening. 

But here’s what I will say. This is what helped me the most. Gaining an awareness of the voice in your head and understanding that that’s not necessarily you. Of course, we use our minds to problem solve and function as human beings, but there’s a huge part of our thoughts that are a very old mechanism that used to keep us alive when we were being chased by lions and tigers. There was a worry factory that was like, “watch out!” You know, we don’t have that danger anymore. No one flipped the switch and said, “you can go now to those worries.” 

So what I was taught was you just, you build a relationship with that. You can personify it. The voice can be your roommate or a monster, whatever. I think of it as a roommate sometimes. In doing that you’re creating a space where you have the choice whether or not you’re going to react, because basically we have: thought, reaction; thought, reaction. It becomes very physical, very fast, and emotional. And nothing has actually happened. You’re just sitting still and you’ve gone through it. 

So you start to kind of build those muscles and then you have the opportunity to say, “thank you, but I’m safe right now.” Or, you know what, I’m just going to stay here in my mind. I don’t need to worry about what’s going to happen next month, or worry about things that are completely out of my control. It’s a lot of coming to terms with debunking these ideas we have in our head that we can predict outcomes, that we’re actually in control of any situation, and that things stay the same forever. 

Those are just concepts that, the faster you can let go of them, the better. I would say the last thing is, as I worked to create that space and really quiet my mind, it gave me a place to put some gratitude or optimism. Even if it felt a little like, why am I going to do that right now? Or like, there’s nothing to be grateful for. I would just force myself because you’re building new neural pathways. And then you end up like me, where that’s just where my brain goes. My brain goes to the positive now. Someone has to remind me sometimes how awful things can be. 

So I would say now it’s such a great time to start practicing that. And even if you can achieve it for 30 seconds a day, the idea is not that you can be like, “okay, I’m done listening to that.” But you build the muscle. It’s like any other exercise and then by 2021, fall of 2021, when predictably things start to get back to normal, you’ll be like, “I got this.”

Talkspace:

I love that that’s your tip! Because that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Or watching YouTube videos about lately. Thinking about the fact that you can’t control the thoughts you have. You literally can’t control the thoughts that pop into your head, but you can control how you react to them. I think that’s a concept that some people don’t know about. So I am glad that you brought it up. Especially when it comes to catastrophic thinking or intrusive thoughts, which suck.

Jen Gotch:

It had to get to a point where there was screaming in my head for me to work on this. And we’re always trained that our internal voice is a reliable resource. And, for as much as it is, it also isn’t. So having that curiosity to be like, “do I need that thought right now?” You can be gentle with it. You don’t have to go to war with it. You’re absolutely not supposed to do that with those thoughts, but instead just be like: “Hmm, okay. Interesting.” It’s interesting that I think my brother’s going to murder me today. He doesn’t seem to hate me or have a violent streak!

Talkspace:

I love intrusive thoughts. So what made you decide to be so open about your own mental health on social media and even within the brand? Because, it’s one thing to deal with it, but another to talk about it. But it’s not even that you just did one post like, “Hey guys. Yeah, I have problems with anxiety and depression.” You leaned into it and it became a thing. So how did you decide that  was something that you wanted to do?

Jen Gotch:

Zero decision-making. I’m not really a planner or a decider. I actually chalk it up to incredibly poor boundaries and the desire to be heard, and listened to, and have engagement. People say, “Oh, it’s so brave that you did that.” And, and I’m like, “Oh, it’s absolutely not bravery. It’s my personality.” 

The thought of it being embarrassing or shameful just didn’t cross my radar. And then, after the first few times of, even if it was a minor thing that I shared — or when I got to the point where I was showing myself having a panic attack — it sort of slipped from me just being me and probably saying too much, to me understanding that I could use that part of my personality to positively affect other people. Show people this is what it looks like, this is what it feels like, and let other people feel seen and heard, you know? And then, as that grew from me, you know, ban.do is a true extension of me. We’re not the same, but my ideals are ban.dos ideals. And so it started to feel like, man, I just want it to mean more. 

There’s so much potential for our company to mean more. It’s wonderful to be this fun, colorful brand that people really love. But as a group of people, we want to put more meaningful things out into the world. I talk about it a little bit in the book, about how that sort of came about, and what it meant for us moving forward. I’m so grateful that we have the type of company that we were able to go from talking about pool floats, to necklaces that say anxiety on them.

Talkspace:

I have my notes in my “I don’t work here” notebook.

Jen Gotch:

I’ll tell you that “I don’t work here” was something I came up with after I’d seen a vintage pin that said that. I was like, “Oh my God, that would be so funny for people to be at work and have a mug that said that, or a shirt that said ‘I don’t work here.'” And then at some point, people started using it here and I was like, wait…you’re not allowed to use that here! It was kind of a funny thing. I had never thought that anyone here would feel that way.

Talkspace:

So obviously this May, it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, but it’s way different. Usually there’ll be in-person events. So what do you think are the positives about Mental Health Awareness Month happening during a very, very weird time.

Jen Gotch:

It’s sort of like what I was saying earlier, we sort of have a lot of newcomers to the mental health community by way of their experiences right now. And so, I think there is a heightened curiosity and engagement with the issues and an understanding that maybe I should talk about this. Maybe I should come to terms with this. I feel like the conversation just sped up five years. Better understanding was the course we were on, but everything since has built upon it. And, yes, it’s a shame that we won’t be able to be doing all of these things together in real life as a group, but virtually we’re going to be able to reach a lot of people, and they’re going to be in the privacy of their own home, which maybe allows them to be moved in a way that they wouldn’t be if they were just sitting in an audience at an event. 

I’m also an eternal optimist, so I’m always like, “This is going to be good!” I never even thought of why it wouldn’t be good. But if we let it, there’s just a lot of opportunity across the board for growth, and awareness, you know?

Talkspace:

And talking more about mental health in general. That really is a possibly beneficial outcome that this could have. I’ve had probably three friends, text me since all of this has begun, saying they had their first panic attack or saying, does my throat closing up when you’re having a panic attack. And I’m like, “Oh yes, welcome to my world.” This is mine. This is my life. Yeah. So it, you know, it sucks that people are experiencing this anxiety, but I love the way that you’re looking at it as an opportunity for more people to learn. For more people to be inspired to reach out for help if they need it. 

Last question, are there any organizations or brands or anything that you think are doing amazing things during this pandemic that you would like to shout out, or mental health resources that you recommend?

Jen Gotch:

I think ban.do’s actually doing a pretty good job. I’m actually not one to ever toot my own horn, but thankfully it’s really other people doing it. But they’re probably the brand I pay attention to the most. But I think being able to pivot from just being a consumer products company, and really leaning into community support, and creating resources. It’s a lot, trying to balance what it’s like to be a business, and wanting to think about your business during this time, but also really show up for the community in the ways we have always promised that we would. So, my guess is that there are lots of other companies doing that.

Talkspace:

You guys are, you are doing amazing things. So the shout out is valid.

Jen Gotch:

Thank you. I’m getting to a point where I can identify self-worth or value to myself or things that I’ve created, though it’s really hard for me. So thank you for reaffirming that. I think I live in too tight of a world. Where I go most is to books. I think bookshop.org is doing a great job. If you buy books on there, they’re giving money to support all of the independent bookstores throughout the country, which are really in jeopardy in such a big way right now. And I think for those of us who love to read, and love the tactile experience of books, the personal curation of independent bookstores is something we really don’t want to lose. 

I find a lot of comfort in books. They’re more like textbooks. I was saying to my friend last night, “am I really reading about quantum physics and epigenetics right now, instead of some trashy romance novel?” But that’s where I find solace. So I feel like maybe you can kind of kill two birds with one stone.

Talkspace:

And is your book available on that website?

Jen Gotch:

I actually set up a shop. I don’t know how you would find it. Maybe if you looked for Jen Gotch reading room? You can, as a person, just set up your own curated thing. So I went in and just added in all of the books that I think have helped me the most. A lot of mine is thinking stuff and life in general. But they pretty much sell most books.

Talkspace:

That’s good to know. And this was such a great chat. Thank you for taking the time out. I know you’re so busy with —

Jen Gotch:

— I’m not that busy! I’m not that busy. My friend texted me and I was like, “man, if I had a dollar for any texts or conversation that started with, I know you’re really busy.” But I’m not that busy in the traditional sense, you know? I think I’m busy up in my head trying to figure life out. But I love when people and audiences and communities are curious about these subjects. And I recognize that has not always been the case and has not always been the case. So I’ll always make time.

Talkspace:

Well, I know that a lot of people will be really inspired by you and what you have to say and be able to see a little bit of themselves in you. And know that you can deal with mental health struggles and you can still really do incredible things. So thanks so much for chatting. Thank you for coming to this virtual interview for Talkspace.

Jen Gotch:

My pleasure. I can’t wait for you to read the book. I think just given what little I’velearned about you in this conversation, I actually think you’ll like it. I’m told it’s a very quick read, so not a huge commitment.

Talkspace:

I’m so excited for this to go out into the world and for everybody to see it.

Jen Gotch:

Have a good rest of the day.

Talkspace:

You too, and have a good rest of your, of your quarantine!

Jen Gotch:

Of our lives!


In 2008 Jen Gotch founded ban.do with a friend, and with no prior business experience, was able to transform it from a small hair accessories company into a beloved multimillion-dollar brand that’s all about encouraging joy and helping its community be their best. She remains as the Chief Creative Officer and fearless leader of the ban.do team. She also uses her authentic voice on Instagram and her podcast Jen Gotch is Ok…Sometimes to deglamorize success, remove the stigmas associated with mental illness, and build emotional intelligence—all while working to help her audience feel less alone. Her memoir The Upside of Being Down, published by Simon & Schuster, is available for pre-order and purchase where books are sold on March 24, 2020.

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