I’ll confess, I’m willfully ignorant about a lot of things on the internet.
Probably not something to make public when my entire career post-college has involved the internet in some way. I surf (are we still saying surf?) the web, sure. I exist on Twitter and Instagram just like every other human being my age (which is 26, not 68 in case you were confused). But still, there’s a lot I miss. A lot of sites, a lot of trends, a lot of things that miss my radar. I think I’m too consumed in re-watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes to catch up. Maybe, more likely, my fun combination of depression and narcissism keep me centered on, well, me. I’m somehow always late to the party. Or I don’t even show up.
But when an old co-worker suggested I follow Jen Gotch on Instagram, I listened because duh, I’m a great friend and a fantastic listener. Clearly. But more than that, I hit that follow button faster than Angelenos make brunch reservations after seeing what Jen was all about. I learned this incredible, successful, GirlBoss in every definition was brutally transparent in her mental health struggles. She posted the kind of IG stories I felt I did. She ran the gamut of dancing in parking garages to tearful confessions of what she was going through. I was finally seeing exactly what I had always wanted to see growing up and what I, in my first year writing for a major online publication, had vowed to be. Honest. Real. And always vying for human connection.
For those unfamiliar, Jen Gotch is the Founder and CCO of ban.do, the lifestyle brand that designs clothes, accessories, gifts, stationery, and more. Think color, whimsy, not taking life too seriously. I gotta say, the brand’s social media manager absolutely kills the game with an Instagram full of pinks and reds and ~*~aesthetic goals~*. It’s exactly the kind of inspiration you want, beautiful but grounded in something tangible. It’s fun. It’s relatable. It, again, never takes itself too seriously.
Jen’s personal Instagram is much of the same with Jen sporting flamboyant outfits and seemingly having fun at every turn. She’s vivacious, a palette of the brightest colors you can imagine. But when you open up a photo, you discover there’s much more than a woman on Instagram living her best life. Jen shares her journey with mental health in captions, in stories, in ways that feel so intimate, we start thinking she’s a friend. Because to those of us also navigating our mental health issues, she is. She’s our successful big sister. I don’t mean that to put pressure or place Jen on any kind of pedestal. But there she is, documenting what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder without a filter. She shows us the highs, explains what manic episodes feel like and even assigns a number to them. She also doesn’t shy away from the lows, from mascara stained cheeks and not wanting much of anything. There doesn’t seem to be shame in anything. And that, in itself, is a breath of sparkling, fresh air to those of us who have felt strangled by the stigma for most of our lives. She is a badass woman with a career to envy. She also has a mental illness. She tells us you can be both.
I moved to Los Angeles for a job in August of 2017. I said goodbye to my family, to the comfort of a job I’d had (and was fortunate enough to work from home) for 3 years. I said goodbye to security and safety and a lot of things that, as someone who battles with major depression and generalized anxiety, were terrifying to go off without. But it was more money. It was a city I had always claimed I’d go back to. That made it the right move. I thought.
Pretty soon it’ll be a year since that move and I’ve learned a lot of things I didn’t want to learn. Including that the job I moved for was not forever. A discovery that left me reeling. Left me with rent I couldn’t afford. With a credit card that suddenly was used more than ever before. Left me feeling like I had no talent, no use, nothing to contribute and I might as well just drink this bottle of wine because feeling is too much. So one night, I did drink a bottle of wine and cried because I missed my family and hated that I took a risk that seemed to only ruin everything I had previously built. So wine drunk and incredibly sad, I emailed Jen. I emailed Jen thanking her, sharing a bit of my own story, and asking if ban.do happened to be hiring. It was, looking back, a bit intrusive and obnoxious. You know, as wine drunk emails tend to go. Never a fantastic look. But Jen replied.
The entire next day, I couldn’t stop talking about Jen’s kindness. I’ve worked in PR. I’ve handled emails for big accounts. I know her inbox had to be flooded, that her day was filled with a thousand other things she had to do. And still, she took the couple minutes to read and respond. Perhaps small in the larger scope, but huge to the person receiving it. It made me love her more. It made me more sure that I picked the right “big sister” to look up to. Also, she’s Jewish and I am too so like, we literally are the chosen people. We are a TRIBE, Jen.
I began to pick myself back up, despite the difficulty. I hurt and I cried and often, I looked at Jen and remembered your level of success has nothing to do with how often you cry. I planted my feet back on solid ground and still, I was sad. Still, I was not sure I could continue. But I continued. And there are times I think Jen may have contributed to that. Jen may have been that figure in the distance telling me I was still smart and funny and full of so much more to give.
So, here’s to the bipolar fashionista, the gal with the best sex hair in the game, the innovator, the new podcast legend, the dancing queen, the lady who rocks huge ass earrings that would look ridiculous on anyone else, the boss that everyone wants, thank you for all you’ve done. I appreciate you. And listen, it might be too soon to say, but I love you.
And if you’re ever hiring, I’m still your girl.