In The Upside of Being Down, the entrepreneur and mental health advocate shares her story of misdiagnosis, diagnosis, and how a problem became her solution

By Jason Sheeler
March 18, 2020 03:13 PM
Kerry Crawford

After college, Jen Gotch found herself living back home with her parents. One day she looked in the mirror and thought her skin was green. The story, as it’s told in her new memoir, ended with a candlelit manicure and Gotch accidentally setting her fingernails on fire.

“So, after the nervous breakdown, flame fingers, all of that, I was diagnosed with depression,” Gotch tells PEOPLE. “The first diagnosis I was ever given.”

She started Prozac. Over the next eight years, Gotch would go on to be diagnosed with ADD, anxiety, and try 15 different medications before arriving at the proper diagnosis of bipolar II in 2002.

  • For more from Jen Gotch, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Properly diagnosed and medicated, Gotch, now 48, remembers finally having “the brain space and the brain function to, like, figure [life] out … and find joy.”

Kerry Crawford
The Upside of Being Down
Peter Zambouros
Jen Gotch and her parents in 1984

She was able to harness her creativity. In 2008 Gotch moved beyond disconnected jobs ranging from waitress to food stylist and founded her company,

A twist on the French word bandeau (meaning “headband”), she started by selling flower headbands that fan Taylor Swift helped make famous.

RELATED: Mariel Hemingway: ‘I Want to Break the Stigma of Mental Illness’

Taylor Swift in a headband
Fred Duval/FilmMagic

Today, now sells an array of feel-good merchandise including polka-dot jumpsuits, heart-shaped pool floats and cheery-sloganed notebooks.

Perhaps closest to Gotch’s heart is the line of cursive nameplate necklaces heralding “anxiety,” “depression,” and, yes, “bipolar,” with 100 percent of proceeds benefiting Bring Change to Mind.

Gotch credits much of her success to her mental health struggles.

“Those seemingly negative experiences gave me a deeper understanding,” she says. “Not just of myself but of other people.”

Gotch’s The Upside of Being Down is out March 24.