Talk about fearless. As a former professional gymnast, Jennifer Postorino is strong and determined. And as a largely self-taught designer, Jen has continually pushed herself to improve her craft, combining hand-drawn sketches with design technology. But perhaps the most fearless thing she’s done is to help herself overcome the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and resulting anxiety she didn’t realize she suffered from for years.
And talk about passionate. Jen’s on a mission to design with her whole heart, wide-eyed excitement, and clear purpose. “I have adopted the philosophy of laying things out on the table — the good, the bad, and the ugly,” she says. “If you put your whole heart into whatever you’re doing, regardless of the outcome, you will come away with a sense of accomplishment. You will be able to take something away from that experience and apply it to whatever lies ahead. I try to be grateful for my failures and my successes, because you can’t have one without the other.”
In this interview, the Ohio graphic designer and parent of two talks about about building her career as an artist, her incredible work ethic, and surviving the scariest day of her life that ultimately led to a new chapter.
MINTED: Did you go to school for graphic design or art?
JENNIFER POSTORINO: I went to school for graphic design at Ball State University, but had no clue what I wanted to do. I was a student-athlete, and after I received my degree, I had to make a decision. Either move home to Dayton, Ohio, where I had an offer to be a head gymnastics coach at a private club, or train with Cirque De Soleil with the hopes of maybe making it into one of their shows. My body was incredibly beat up from years of intense training — I’ve had 12 orthopedic surgeries due to gymnastics. Though the decision was hard, it made more sense to take time off to let my body heal and accept the coaching position. I figured it was a good way to be part of the sport I loved since age 4, and I could always find a “day job” doing something related to design.
Your Minted Artist Store bio says, “I truly believe that if you are kind and work hard, amazing things will happen.” Do you think of yourself as an optimist?
I don’t think of myself as an optimist; although, I would love to be! I try to do the “right” thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way. I’m the type of person who dwells on things, especially if I feel like I’ve hurt someone. It eats me up inside. I’m very self-conscience and at the end of the day, I just want to be considered a good person who works hard for what she has and who would help anyone.
I tend to put others’ needs ahead of my own, which crushed my spirit for a few years. I was so drained, mentally and physically from my everyday life, that I couldn’t keep up with the pace of Minted Challenges, so my dream was put on hold. My husband was going after his dreams and it seemed as though I had to sacrifice my own for our family. After a few years, my husband and I realized things just weren’t working. He was unhappy with what he was doing and going down a terrible path. I was unhappy because I was doing everything for everyone except for myself. We came together and made drastic changes. He switched professions, and we moved for the fifth time in 10 years. We landed in Ohio and have now been here for four years. During that time, I made the conscious decision to work relentlessly on my design skills. Before, I didn’t have the time to commit to it because I had young children to take care of. Once my youngest was able to start a two-hour preschool program, I put everything I could into design and have come a long way! I’m very proud of my journey and can’t wait to see what the future holds.
You try to be flexible and fearless — how so?
This comes from my days as an elite gymnast. I’ve always had the mentality of “Never give up,” which is why gymnastics was the perfect sport for me. I was constantly challenged, always wanting to achieve more. There was not a skill I was intimidated by — the harder the better, in my mind. I wanted to be the girl who was known for putting it all out there and not playing it safe. A lot of that thought process has carried over into my adult life. I don’t give up on things easily. I will keep trying until I get it right, and then I’ll move onto the next challenge. I take a similar approach when designing, and so far it’s worked for me.
Jennifer’s Creative Process
You draw everything with your mouse, instead of using an iPad or iPencil—a tedious and time-consuming process. What’s your design process like?
When I first started, I used InDesign for everything, but as the stationery world evolved, I realized that I needed to learn Illustrator and taught myself as much as I could. Now, when I have an idea, I sketch things out. Once I have a good pencil drawing, I scan it into my computer. Then I redraw everything using my mouse. All of my details are anchor points that I have placed and adjusted. IT. TAKES. FOREVER. But some of my best work has come from this process. One day I will get an iPad and iPencil, and I think it will open up a whole new world for me, but for now, I’m good.
Of all your Minted designs, which one are you proudest of?
There are certain designs I definitely feel very attached to for one reason or another, but the one that gave me the most confidence was my wedding invitation “Adorned Ampersand.” Wedding stationery was never a strength of mine, and it is a very competitive category. I was incredibly intimidated by the challenge every year — and still am to this very day — some things will never change! For a number of years, I would only submit a few designs because I didn’t feel worthy of taking up space in the challenge. As I began to focus in and devote more time to developing my skills, I noticed that my eye was changing, and my style was evolving. I was gaining new techniques that allowed me to push my designs further. In the 2016 Wedding Bells Are Ringing Challenge, I submitted more designs than ever. Partly because I was now spending 40-plus hours a week completely devoted to design. My little ones were now in school full time, and I was determined to make this whole “working from home thing” a reality. I also wanted to show my children that working hard for something and going after things that seem out of reach are worth it. Life doesn’t always hand you success on a silver platter. I tell my kids that hard work will always pay off, but I wanted to show them—not just say the words. That was a breakthrough year for me, and “Adorned Ampersand” led the way. It was like the little engine that could! I was shocked at how beautiful the finished suite turned out and humbled by the couples who chose it as their wedding invitation.
As a work-from-home parent, what does “balancing everything the best you can” mean to you?
My kids are very involved in sports, so our evenings and weekends are usually packed with running from one game or meet to the next. I work a typical business day with an hour “lunch” that I make myself take. Most days I leave the house and go work out at Orange Theory Fitness, a gym that is heart rate–based and combines cardio and weights for a great overall workout. OTF is my one place where I can escape for an hour each day knowing I’m becoming physically and mentally stronger. I always feel better after the workout—well, maybe not right after because some of those workouts are killer—but mentally, I feel reset and ready to tackle the rest of the day. I think balancing life is difficult for everybody. I don’t know one person who has everything perfectly together! I know plenty of people who pretend they do, but those are usually the people who are falling apart behind closed doors and don’t know how to reach out for help. We all have our “stuff.” We have so many things going on—some stuff is good, some is just always there and some situations are awful—but we have to keep going as best as we can. In the past year, I have had to take some time and focus on myself. There are days where I have to take certain things off my plate. I can’t do it all, and I’m learning that’s OK.
The experience that changed everything
You experienced some issues with anxiety last year. Your work, along with exercise and a few other tricks, helped you deal with everything. What was that experience like for you?
In November 2017, I had a full-blown anxiety attack and it sent me to the ER. At first I really didn’t know what was going on. Everyday life was happening, but nothing that I considered too much. I went into the doctor for a yearly physical (a week prior to my ER visit), and when the nurse took my blood pressure it was slightly elevated. That was really odd since my blood pressure usually runs low. I didn’t think about it much, but they told me to take it again in about a week to see if it was back to normal. I waited about five days, and then checked my blood pressure at a drugstore. This time it was higher than when I was in the doctor’s office, so I immediately called them. They said not to worry and that I should buy a portable blood pressure machine to track my blood pressure for the next two weeks. They didn’t explain to me how often to check it or at what times of the day would be best, and I became intently focused on it. So much so, that the more I took it, the higher my blood pressure would go.
The doctors — along with myself — didn’t realize that I had PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from when my dad passed in 2000. He died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 49. I was 20 at the time and home for a few weeks of summer break because I was recovering from reconstructive ankle surgery. He collapsed upstairs in my parents’ bedroom. I tried to give him CPR, but it didn’t work. My mind was reverting back to that event every time I saw my blood pressure reading. I became convinced that I was going to be the 37-year-old who died suddenly of a heart attack. That’s what my mind kept telling me, and the mind is a very powerful thing. When my blood pressure reached 159/110, I called my husband to tell him I was going to the ER. The whole way there I thought I was going to die. When I got to the ER, they ran some tests; the doctor said everything checked out OK, and he believed it was an anxiety attack. I’ve never had any problems with anxiety, so I didn’t believe him. He wanted me to take a small dose of meds to see if it helped. I was reluctant but my husband convinced me it was worth a shot. Within 30 minutes of taking the medicine, I felt better and my blood pressure came down.
I was discharged and went home very confused. Over the next few weeks, I went through more ups and downs. I couldn’t believe the hold this thing had on me. I decided that I needed to talk to a counselor, and she was a tremendous help. We came up with a plan, and since my anxiety was triggered by actually seeing higher blood pressure readings, there was some valid concerns that required further medical testing. When all of those tests came back normal, we decided to then focus on my mental wellbeing. I had stopped doing a lot of the things that had always been a part of my life in the months leading up to my attack. I’d stopped working out, and my eating was off because we were in the middle of a partial kitchen renovation. I was working non-stop at my computer and had basically stopped taking care of myself.
I decided then to start a new chapter. I joined a gym, limited my caffeine, began eating cleaner, and set actual “work times” for my days. Overall, it worked. There are still days where I can feel my breathing is off or my mind is racing, but now I am able to recognize those signs and be proactive. I still talk with a counselor every few weeks and am not ashamed to share what I’ve been through. I think if people took the time to take care of their mental health, as well as their physical health, the world would be a much different place.
I wish people would realize that it’s OK to ask for help — it doesn’t make you weak. Talking through our fears and struggles may bring out emotions that are extremely difficult to deal with, but you will be so thankful you took the time to take care of yourself. You are SO worth it.
MORE ABOUT JENNIFER POSTORINO
Jennifer Postorino’s Minted Artist Store
About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Senior Manager of Community Content, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, NYLON, and Pitchfork. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.
Published December 4, 2018No comments