Today we’d like to introduce you to Aja Carmona.
Hi Aja, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
Hi. I’m Aja. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder approximately four years ago. I always knew I was a little “off” when I’d have these uncontrollable meltdowns and adult tantrums over seemingly insignificant things. At the time, I’d been seeing my therapist for a year when she mentioned I may want to consult a psychiatrist about a possible bipolar diagnosis. I sobbed in my car outside of her office after that session. I can’t have bipolar. I’m normal! At the time, I only had the stereotypical idea of what bipolar disorder was and there’s no way that could be me.
After months of encouragement from my therapist, I finally saw a psychiatrist to give me an answer. Well, he gave me a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and I didn’t know what that meant for my future self. Who’s going to want to associate with a bipolar person? Am I going to lose my friends and loved ones? What are they going to think? It took time and a lot of therapy to understand what my bipolar diagnosis meant for me. Years prior I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and I finally understood how they were all connected, how to identify my episodes, know my triggers, etc. I wasn’t a terrible person just because I have manic episodes or have panic attacks when I drive into new parking structures for work. I began to fully accept myself, my meltdowns and all. That’s when I really started to love and understand who Aja is.
Since my diagnosis, I knew I wasn’t alone in my mental health struggles so I created Anxiety and Friends, formerly branded as Sage Hand Co. I wanted to build a community and fight the stigma of mental illness. Normies (people without a mental illness) and even those of us with a mental illness can be so cruel and clueless about mental health/mental illness. I knew I had to help change this idea that mental illness equates to weakness, because I knew firsthand that some of the strongest people were those fighting a daily battle with themselves that no one else could see. I decided to take a blunt, humorous approach to my brand. I designed some of our logos on our shirts in the shape of a badge so that it can be worn with pride. Be proud of how far you’ve come in your mental health journey. Be proud that you got through another episode. Let’s embrace it. I’ve always wanted someone wearing one of our Anxiety Club tees, for example, to walk down the street and have a fellow Anxiety Club member see it and say, “Hey! I have anxiety too!” and then they become best friends forever…or at least they could feel less alone.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I would say this has been a bumpy road so far. I started my business right before the pandemic, which threw me into a six-month-long severe depression episode. Having ”Clinny D” (as my boy John Moe calls clinical depression) causes me to fall into episodes where it’s an hour-to-hour battle of just surviving the day. Navigating the road while having a mental illness is not easy. In addition to owning this business, I am a mom of two amazing, wild kids, a grand jury court reporter in downtown Los Angeles and a soon-to-be wife. This juggling act is no easy feat. Some days I’m killing it and others I’m drowning in my own thoughts all while surviving the pandemic. During this time, my business was not thriving. Like my bipolar diagnosis, it went up and down all the time depending on my moods. I didn’t know how to run a business while offering meaningful support to those who I want to serve. I was still learning how to host events, what to charge people and how to price my products. I had no clue how to be profitable while still staying true to my mission. Meanwhile, making phone calls, working with product vendors, and “putting myself out there” to secure meeting spaces or goods and services for our events still triggers my anxiety every single time.
But as the owner of Anxiety and Friends, I am always unapologetically me. As a woman who has struggled with mental illnesses for more than 10 years, I get it and I need my community to know that I am always there for them. Together, I want us all to “Embrace the Crazy.”
Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Anxiety and Friends?
The main thing you should know about Anxiety and Friends is that we are more than a brand. We are a community I like to call the Mental Health Club. The goal is to challenge and help our members embrace their life with a mental illness. Mental illness does not define a person, but it is a piece of you. Learning to love yourself when society wants to make you feel bad for having a chemical imbalance is beyond difficult. We want our Mental Health Club members to fully accept themselves while understanding their disorder/illness(es). I always want our community to know that Anxiety and Friends is a safe place: a place to feel accepted, loved, heard, and understood.
In addition to our products (tees, sweatshirts, mugs, stickers, pins, etc.), we host day retreats and workshops focused on mental health. I want to give others some of the tools I’ve acquired through years of therapy and reading and listening to other’s stories. We do this at our events through yoga, hiking, journaling, sharing our personal stories and so much more. It’s like a big celebration for our mental health journeys.
Something I love about this company is the fact that people all over California and other states contact me to say thank you for putting myself out there and for being true, for fighting the stigma of mental illness. I feel honored when these people share their stories of depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, bipolar, etc., because they trust me enough to tell me these intimate details. I’ve experienced being terrified to talk about my mental illness because it is still somewhat taboo. So when I get that message asking for support or saying thank you, it just confirms in my soul that I’m supposed to be doing this.
Currently, we do everything on a small scale since we are still growing and getting exposure. I want your readers to know that when they purchase one of our Anxiety Club tees, Self Love Club sweatshirts, Anxiety Society sweatshirts, or the Cryin’ & Tryin’ mug, you are not only helping to change the mental health game, but you are also making dreams come true. This isn’t about me anymore. This is about us and how we’re going to affect the world.
What’s next? Probably a good cry sesh. Kidding. Sort of. My current plans are to create a memorable experience for our Self Love workshop later this year. I want it to be an unforgettable experience that brings the community together and helps everyone love themselves that much more.
I’d love to host workshops and retreats on a larger scale with other mental health advocates (cue anxiety). I’d love to participate in speaking engagements for our youth and young adults. I know a book is in the works, which I’m excited and nervous and terrified for all at the same time. I know Anxiety and Friends will continue to grow and help others and I cannot wait to be a part of changing people’s lives.
- Tees $25
- Sweaters $45
- Retreats/Workshops $100-$200
- Mugs $15
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: anxietyandfriends.com
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/anxietyandfriendsss
Kim Magers, Nicole Botten, Michelle Rodriguez