The App Aloe Bud Wants You to Treat Self Care Like a Garden

Amber Discko’s descent into a state of emotional turmoil started as a slow trickle. It began around the time Donald Trump won the presidential election in November 2016 and when Discko’s social media and voter registration work for the Hillary Clinton campaign ended. But then, when Trump was inaugurated in January 2017, the emotional levee broke. The extremes of the campaign—working late into the night just to start again at 4 am, day after day—had drained Discko of all their usual enthusiasm and radiance.

Discko, who uses they/them pronouns, hustled to stay afloat. But their emotional well-being was slipping through the cracks. Discko wasn’t leaving the house, and summoning the effort to do basic things like staying hydrated and eating a full meal felt like a battle. So, they got to work on an app that could help them, and anyone else feeling lost, start to heal.

The creation Discko came up with is called Aloe Bud. The app uses friendly-looking pixel-art icons to set reminders and log basic bits of self-care: meals eaten, glasses of water drank, medications taken. It also offers gentle affirmations and reminds its users to occasionally interact with friends or the outdoors in order to avoid isolating circumstances.

Discko created it for people struggling with mental illness, chronic illness, ADHD, or people who just forget to floss their teeth before calling it a night.

In contrast to other health-minded reminder apps, like the Activity app on the Apple Watch, Aloe Bud’s nudges are especially soft-edged: “You can’t have a rainbow without a little rain. Ready to shine?” Compare this to what an Apple Watch wearer would see on their wrist: “Make it happen. Yesterday, your Move ring didn’t get enough love. Let’s get it closed today.” You can see the contrast; Aloe Bud’s notifications feel more like texts from your Deadhead aunt than shouts from your high school gym teacher commanding you to take another lap.

“I want to show that it’s casual because it has to be,” Discko says, “You’re not going to want something if it’s in your face.”

Aloe Bud user Mars Negrette appreciates the app’s calming reassurance. “I’ve been using Aloe for about a month to help with my daily anxiety, suggested by my habits coach,” says Negrette. “I haven’t forgotten my meditation practice once, and I’ve felt more self-aware and relaxed.”

That’s been especially welcome in the time of Covid-19 and social distancing, which has led to a noteworthy spike in Aloe Bud’s downloads over the last couple months.

“Usually when that spike happens, it’s because we’ve been featured or someone’s written about us,” says Discko. “So obviously at first I didn’t think it had anything to do with what was happening in the world. But as it kept happening it just made sense that as folks are shifting from being in offices to having to find new routines at home, they’re searching for new ways to find these routines through technology.”

Node of an Idea

An app that provides nurturing support for people struggling with mental health challenges could only come from the mind of someone who’s been there themselves.

If you look at Discko’s social media presence, you’ll see they excel at reflecting a rosy personality in their tweets. In fact, ever since reaching adulthood, Discko has used the social web as their primary place of employment, working as a community manager for the online role-playing game Lasuni, and running the social media accounts for the diner chain Denny’s.

Then, in 2014, Discko founded Femsplain, an online publication that catered to trans and cis women, as well as gender nonconforming individuals. Discko felt it was important to provide a safe destination on the web for others like them who may not always feel welcome in the larger communities.

social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/amber-discko-aloe-bud