A few weeks ago, we kicked off a new blog series about patients who have started (or are working on launching) their own businesses. We’ll be featuring some enterprising members and learning more about how they manage their health and their career goals at the same time.
Today, we’d like introduce Jenny, (jhound), a member of the bipolar community who recently opened an online shop on Etsy called OldSchoolJenny. Jenny designs cards, scrapbooks, printable journal kits and other paper crafts with a vintage flair.
When we caught up with her, she shared about her diagnosis experience, her creative process and the health benefits of working with a passion: “Having my Etsy business gives me reason to keep going. It gives me a sense of purpose and it also brings me a lot of joy. “
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your diagnosis experience?
I grew up in Southern California in a foster home. I joined the military when I was 23 and met my husband who was also in the Navy in 2002. We lived in San Diego for the first five years of our marriage and moved to Michigan when we both got out of the service in 2006.
My first breakdown occurred in 2004 a year after we got married. I had a severe depression that involved some serious paranoid delusions (psychosis). I was hospitalized for over six weeks and then medically discharged. My initial diagnosis was major depressive disorder with psychotic features. Although I believe I had my first mania in 2005 while my husband was deployed, it wasn’t until I had a severe mania that included religious delusions in 2008 that I received my diagnosis of bipolar I with psychotic features.
I finished college after we moved to Michigan. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in library and information science. At various points in my life I thought that I either wanted to be a counselor or a librarian but right now I am happy working on my Etsy business. My husband just graduated from Central Michigan University in May. We have recently relocated to Adrian, Michigan for his first engineering job.
We do not to have children at this point although it is possible that we may adopt in the future (you never know). However, we treat our dogs like our children. We have two basset hounds that we adore and who keep us very busy.
How did you first get into crafting and digital design?
I have loved crafting all of my life. My favorite activities in school were always the artistic ones. I still look back with fondness on finger painting in preschool. As an adult I continued crafting when designing and constructing cards, especially for my husband, Chris.
I started a wedding scrapbook shortly after we got married but it took me several years to complete because I was such a perfectionist. It wasn’t until I bought a complete scrapbooking kit at a yard sale last summer that I was able to let go of the perfectionism and just let my creativity flow.
As for digital design, I had a copy of Photoshop that I used extensively while Chris was on deployment. Creating digital collages was one of my favorite ways to escape the loneliness I felt while he was away. Now I just love creating digital art journal pages for people to use in their crafts.
What are some of your favorite things you’ve made?
One of my most favorite things that I have made is a framed scrapbook page that I created for Chris’s graduation. It includes some of his graduation photos and some quotes from his family members about how proud of him they are. I think it came out very nice.
I also really like the Halloween junk journal that I made for my Etsy shop. It includes lots of vintage images that I found that all include black cats. I am attached to it because it is the first of hopefully many junk journals that I will be making.
Something else I made that I really like is a scrapbook that is “all about me.” I enjoyed documenting my life in this manner and I feel that it has become a keepsake for me.
What’s your creative process? What (or who) inspires you?
Inspiration strikes in different ways. Sometimes I am inspired by other people’s creations that I find on Etsy or on Pinterest. Other times I am inspired by positive affirmations and quotes. Sometimes I can just look through my materials and find a scrap of paper that inspires me. I am also inspired by vintage images.
What has been the most challenging part of starting your own business while living with bipolar?
I think it may be having my level of commitment waiver with my mood fluctuations. Having bad days when I feel uninspired and some days when I fear that having a personal business may be a mistake even though most days I feel grateful for the opportunity that it provides.
On your Etsy profile you say that your “biggest desire is to bring art into other peoples lives and to inspire others to live their best possible life.” Can you talk a little more about this?
My initial projects involved positive affirmations because they inspire me/help me to think more positively. I was hoping they would help others as well. One of my goals is to make a mental health journal and other tools to help people with mental illness. I have seen some examples of mood journals, etc. on Etsy, but I plan on making mine not only functional but artistic at the same time.
How does your art affect your own life and your condition?
I feel that my art really helps me and helps my condition. First it helps me to stay positive and gives me something productive to do. Having my Etsy business gives me a reason to keep going. It gives me a sense of purpose and it also brings me a lot of joy. So far I have been very lucky in that I haven’t had to deal with a serious depression since opening my shop. I am hoping that when it happens I will be able to rise above and keep operating my shop. If not, it is very simple to put my shop on vacation and take a break if needed.
Do you have any advice for others with chronic illnesses who want to start their own creative businesses?
My only advice is to go for it. Don’t put it off until everything is perfect. It will never be the perfect time to start a business. Etsy is very inexpensive and it’s OK to make mistakes. I made some mistakes when I first started but it was all easily remedied.
If you do decide to go for it, my other advice is to use social media for marketing. Don’t just share information about your product but share information about yourself, too. People want to know about the creator almost as much as they want to know about the product, especially when it comes to creative work.
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