Woman Wednesday: Jennifer

Q and A with Jennifer from Peoria, Illinois

“Isolation doesn’t support growth.”

Q: What are you passionate about? 

A: For many years, I struggled with confidence, crippling anxiety, sensory sensitivities, problems focusing, and overall not seeming to really fit in anywhere. 

After discovering my love of art and practicing creativity, my friends stated that it was like I suddenly “came alive.” I found something that allowed me to express everything I was going through in a way that I couldn’t with words. This “ah-ha” moment sparked a desire to help others discover how to use their creativity as a means of healing, improving well-being, and using their unique voice through visual language. 

Over the years, so many people have shared their desire to create, but are held back by the assumption that a person must be born with talent in order to practice creativity. They let the fear of failure of a “horrible end result” keep them from even trying. Sometimes they may give creativity a try, but then feel so overwhelmed with no guidance that the supplies just end up collecting dust on shelves. 

To help with overcoming the limiting mindset that they can’t create, I decided to curate craft kits that included supplies and instructions to alleviate not knowing where to start. This is how DIYvinci was born. Today, we also carry individual art supplies, online courses for more in-depth support, and a free online community to connect with creatives of every skill level.

The name for DIYvinci was created with the intention of being a unique business name that would focus on art and creativity. It is inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most influential painters in Western art history. The name DIYvinci represents the idea that anyone can be creative and express themselves through various media, just like Leonardo da Vinci did through painting, sculpting, architecture, and science. 

The following quotes by Leonardo da Vinci highlight the embodiment of the vision for DIYvinci in that art and creativity aren’t only skills to be mastered but are a reflection, connection, and understanding of ourselves:

“The painter who draws merely by practice and by eye, without any reason, is like a mirror which copies everything placed in front of it without being conscious of their existence.” —Leonardo da Vinci

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” —Leonardo da Vinci

Our future goals include developing sensory crafting kits for neurodivergent adults, producing courses that are created by artists with different disabilities to teach how art and crafting are still possible using different methods, and developing a therapeutic interactive art journal. 

6/8/22 – Peoria, Illinois: DIYvinci. © Chris McGuire Photography.

Q: What were your younger years like?

A: I grew up in a small rural town surrounded by corn fields in central Illinois. The house that I lived in with my parents had been in my family for over 150+ years. I am a middle child with an older sister and a younger brother. I was always a very quiet and overall reserved kid who had trouble making and keeping friends on my own and often relied on my older sister or parents to make introductions. The most common question I was asked growing up was, “Why are you so quiet?” My typical answer usually included a nervous giggle paired with a shrug and a simple response of “I don’t know. I just am.” This was usually met with disappointment as if the asker had been expecting an in-depth revelation of past trauma that would explain why I wasn’t like everyone else. How could I answer what I didn’t understand? How could I explain that what seemed so odd to everyone else was what came naturally to me? That it was a defense mechanism used to function in a society not designed for me. My lack of an answer made it all too easy for others to insert answers of their own. “Jennifer is just shy. Jennifer is too nice. Jennifer is a suck-up. Jennifer is controlling. Jennifer is just stuck up. Jennifer is a goody-two-shoes. Jennifer doesn’t care. Jennifer is boring. Jennifer is lazy. Jennifer is awkward. Jennifer is a nobody.”

Between my lack of confidence, learning, and social difficulties, and not fully understand myself, I found myself believing these answers and withdrew further into myself as a means of survival. Over the years, anxiety continued to build leading to full-out panic attacks, but I was still left without words to express what I was truly feeling inside. I believe my faith in God, my family, and my friends kept my head above water in my high school and college years. In college, I studied Web Systems with the intention of becoming a web designer. However, after graduation, I was met with nothing but silence from potential job opportunities. At this point, I was earning only around $500 a month in my part-time library job and was quickly becoming desperate to become more financially stable. I eventually landed a data entry job that I would remain at for the next 8 years. This opportunity taught me so much, opened me up to meet so many awesome people, and helped get me into a much better financial situation. 

About 4 years into this job, I started to hit burnout. I didn’t recognize the signs at first, but they continued to build to a point where it was nearly impossible to function yet I still pushed through, day in and day out. In the last year of my job, I finally began to realize what was going on. I discovered I was autistic and was in a huge autistic burnout. My primary doctor referred me to a psychiatrist and during this appointment, it quickly became apparent that this NP didn’t have a lot of knowledge about autism in females or adults in general. I was told that because I was able to have a conversation and appeared intelligent that it wasn’t worth pursuing a diagnosis. I became frozen. For what felt like the millionth time in my life, I was once again left with more questions than answers. My emotions flooded over me and it was a struggle to even continue with the appointment. I did what I normally do and shut down, hiding everything, and simply went along with the conversation. It’s like being shoved in the backseat of a car that is way too small for an adult while the driver goes where they please, not seeming to notice your discomfort. Afterward, I cried. I had spent so much energy deciding to take this step just to be abruptly shut down and made to feel like I wasn’t even worth someone’s time. I began to wonder why I was putting myself through all this discomfort. Maybe I should just accept the answer that I was just an anxious person and give up.

6/8/22 – Peoria, Illinois: DIYvinci. © Chris McGuire Photography.

However, giving up isn’t in my DNA. Not only am I curious, but I’m also stubborn. I refused to just leave this as it was. I started this year making changes, and I wasn’t about to stop until I had the answers I needed. That is when I discovered Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht from Embrace ASD. Not only did Dr. Engelbrecht offer assessments and diagnoses for adults with autism, but she is autistic herself. It didn’t take me long at all to decide to go forward with the assessment with her. Less than a week later, I got my report back. The first few lines read: Suspected Diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder. While I did cry after reading this report, it wasn’t like before. This time, I was heard. This time, someone took the time to read through my struggles and validate that I’m not weird, crazy, or another forgotten statistic. For the first time, I felt like I could say, “I am autistic and I no longer have to pretend to be anything I’m not.”

I eventually was diagnosed officially as autistic, ADHD, dyspraxic, and dyslexic. These labels finally gave me words for my lifelong struggles and opened the door to begin to accept myself for who I am. At close to 8 years, I left my data entry job in pursuit of being a full-time entrepreneur. I had already been operating DIYvinci for over 4 years by this point and was determined to see it flourish. 

While my business still isn’t earning enough to support me, I was recently given a huge opportunity through Synergies Work with both a business grant and an 8-week entrepreneurship learning program. For the first time in a long time, I felt like someone finally saw value in what I was doing and was willing to go to bat for me. Aarti, Shlok, and the whole Synergies Work team brought back a spark I feared I was losing.

Q: What is something valuable you’d like others to know?

A: One thing I have learned over the years is that isolation doesn’t support growth. While I often retreated to isolation as a kid as a means of self-protection, I don’t allow myself to stay in that state for long anymore. I’ve learned that it is okay to ask for help and that I don’t have to do everything on my own. Connection with a community provides support, accountability, and an exchange of ideas that push you outside of your comfort zone. I highly recommend everyone seek out a community they relate with, that is encouraging, and that can help them see things from a new perspective.

Q: What does feminism mean to you?

To me, feminism means opportunity. Many cultures can easily stereotype women into certain categories and when a woman attempts to do something outside those categories she’s often seen as weird. Feminism is when we shift this perspective and view women as valuable, and human, and are celebrated for our differences. As someone who entered the technology field and entrepreneurship – both of which are primarily dominated by men–I’ve witnessed firsthand how women can be overlooked and discriminated against simply because of being a woman. I believe respecting others equally as fellow human beings is the essence of feminism.

Thank you for reading!

Website: DIYvinci


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