A Q&A with Lindsay & Emily, Founders of Presently
Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Emily: We are sisters from Long Island, New York. Lindsay is 33 and I'm 28. We have an older brother, Justin, who is 35. We had lots of quality family time growing up — dinners every night, and watching shows or movies on the couch. Our parents were always incredibly loving and supportive, especially with our mental health journeys.
Lindsay: Growing up, my dad had OCD, so when I started to show very common signs, my parents knew I had it as well. I would perform compulsions like flipping the light switch or tapping something a certain number of times so nothing bad would happen. It wasn’t as disruptive until I got older. My anxieties started to become way more intense and unexplainable. I would obsess about whether life was real or not, or if I was actually alive or dead. At the time, we didn’t realize this was a form of OCD until I was formally diagnosed by a psychologist in 2005.
Emily: I had always been an anxious kid. I refused to go to school because I didn't want to be away from my parents. I felt an insane amount of guilt from watching an R-rated movie when I wasn’t allowed to. And I would worry about things that no one could possibly have the answers to, like being afraid I would smoke cigarettes when I got older. And as I got older, anxieties morphed into new things based on my surroundings. In college, I was anxious that I might be confused about which gender I was attracted to. It was always a part of my life. I always just assumed I had BAD anxiety. Period. It was much to my surprise when I finally decided to go to therapy in 2016, I learned that I, too, was experiencing symptoms of OCD. Turns out, this disorder comes in many shapes and sizes.
You are currently leading an initiative that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit more specifically about what you are trying to address?
We were lucky enough to have had the support of our family to get us the help we needed. But, there are so many people out there who know absolutely nothing about what they are dealing with internally and how to manage it.
And, because of the stigma that still exists around mental health disorders, we are not properly taught how our mind works, how it breaks, and how it heals.
But the more we share about ourselves, the struggles we go through and the ways we’ve learned to overcome them, the more we can help to inform someone else’s experience.
We want to empower those who suffer silently to discover real, effective ways to feel less overwhelmed by anxiety and find the space in their mind to live in the present moment.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
We were living at home during the summer of 2020. I had just begun a long distance relationship and Lindsay was in between jobs. When you’re in a rabbit hole of anxious thinking, it’s extremely hard to focus on anything but those thoughts. So, in order to dig ourselves out of that hole, we need a whole lot of mental strength and willpower to remember techniques our therapists had taught us. We both were in moments of our lives where we could use an extra reminder of those tools.
Bracelets were the perfect vehicle for these reminders, because it's always within arms reach. But after searching online for bracelets specifically for anxiety and ocd, we hit a wall. All of the mantra style bracelets had phrases on them that our therapists would definitely not approve of. Things like “good vibes only” and “be happy,” are examples of things we are taught not to rely on. In therapy, we learn that it’s okay to feel anxious, or sad, or angry, and we shouldn't try to mask those feelings with false positive ones. Instead, we need to work through it.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don't get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
After realizing this was something new that we hadn't seen before in the retail space, I sort of joked to Lindsay that we could actually make these bracelets ourselves and start a company together. With my background in graphic design, I whipped up a logo, signed up for a squarespace free trial, and showed a website mock-up to Lindsay. After seeing it come to life, on the screen, we knew this was something we had to pursue.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Last year, we were having trouble with a previous manufacturer. They were constantly delayed and awful at communicating. We were waiting on a big order to replenish our stock, which wasn't a big deal at the time because we were just starting out and orders were placed infrequently.
A few weeks later, we were featured in Forbes, unaware that it would be published this soon. We had about 200 orders in one day and no inventory. This was a lesson learned. After about 2 months of customers waiting for their order, we still weren’t getting answers from our manufacturer.
When the owner finally answered our call, he had expressed his desire to “melt down the work,” because that would be more profitable for him. It was safe to say we needed a new manufacturer. On top of that, as first-time business owners, we had to learn how to navigate customer grievances, without taking them personally. It was a very stressful time but we have learned a lot and I’m happy to say we’ve come a long way since then.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
We absolutely could not have done this alone. We started Presently while living at home with our parents during the covid lockdown, which means they played a huge part in developing the business. Our dad is the one who encourages us to think big. He constantly pushes us to reach for things we would typically shy away from, tending to write them off as something that would “never happen.”
Our mom, an accountant, is our go-to for all things business and finance. Not only has she been influential in the very early brainstorming process, she has been there every step of the way to turn our dream into a reality. She helped us file all the forms to actually become a legitimate business and she does all of our bookkeeping. She is our product tester, our financial adviser, and our biggest cheerleader, all rolled into one.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention our therapists who, quite literally, taught us everything we know. The reason why we so strongly recommend going to therapy, and why we promote all of these CBT techniques to everyone is because of them. We both would definitely not be where we are today without them.
According to Mental Health America's report over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there's still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
Imagine, in another universe, we were never taught how the stomach is supposed to work. So, when you get this foreign feeling in your stomach, you panic. No one has ever prepared you for this feeling before. You have no idea that everyone experiences them, because no one has ever talked about it. And because no one has ever talked about it, everyone thinks they're the only one who has ever had a stomach ache. So, you continue to do things that make your stomach feel worse, instead of learning the reason behind the pain.
Now, let's go back to our current universe. Yes, it's true that parents and teachers often talk with young children about parts of the body and how they work. But, for some strange reason, they rarely mention this most important organ – the brain. And the brain is not something one can physically observe, so without any knowledge of what goes on in our heads, we're just left to guess. What we don't know scares us. And what scares us, we rarely share with others. If we all feel scared and alone, why not feel this way together? We need to continue normalizing therapy. There are so many people in this world who are silently suffering. The more we share our own experiences, the more we inform the experiences of others.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Therapy — in our opinion — is not as accessible as it should be. There are many mental health disorders, like OCD, where talk therapy isn’t the right kind of treatment. It is much harder to find a therapist — one that is affordable and covered by insurance — who actually provides cognitive behavioral therapy. This leaves a lot of people foregoing treatment because they cannot afford it. Money should not be a barrier when it comes to getting the proper treatment for your mental health.
As individuals, we have a responsibility to provide a space for others to share what they are going through, and we have a responsibility to share what we are going through ourselves. Because the more we share, the more others will want to share as well.. As a society, we need to educate ourselves on the facts and tear down the stigmas once and for all. As a government, we need to figure out how to provide more affordable mental health care to the people of this country.
What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own well-being and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
Taking care of ourselves, physically. For example, getting to bed on time, eating healthy, and exercising.
Helping each other when we become stuck in our own thoughts. As sisters, we have the kind of relationship where we can push each other past our comfort zones, knowing that it will make us stronger in the long run (though in the moment we may feel the urge to pull each other's hair out). When anxiety weighs us down, sometimes we need to remind each other of the tools we’ve learned and the strength we have to pull ourselves back up.
Practicing mindfulness. Taking time out of your day to really hone in on the present moment, no matter what you are doing. Could be eating, walking, reading. Whatever it is, take a second to really pay attention to all of your senses.
Yoga. Yoga is a no-brainer when it comes to grounding yourself and getting out of your own head for a little while.
Beading. We both hand make all the Presently beaded bracelets. Not only is it therapeutic to sit and make something with your own hands, it is also special just knowing that whoever you are making the bracelet for will soon be able to manage their anxiety a little better.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
Emily: The book, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh has been an incredible source of inspiration for me. My therapist had recommended it to me when I first began seeing her. Along with the cognitive-behavioral tools she was teaching me, this resource for all things mindfulness had really helped round out my progress towards OCD recovery. It also inspired me to want to share this information with others, since it was so effective for me.
Lindsay: The book that started my interest in being a mental health champion would have to be Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein. After reading it I realized that I had the ability to help others through my experiences with ocd by sharing my stories and how it could be useful for someone going through something similar.
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
The feeling you get, when someone tells you they’ve heard your story, and that they feel seen because of it, is unparalleled. You don’t need to be famous, have a million followers, or tons of money to make an impact on the world. We all have the power to positively affect the people around us.