Disclaimer: This is a guest post written by Bianca Brinner, a freelance interior designer. She speaks about her journey in this industry and dealing with mental health and finding her way back. This post in no way means to offer any medical advice. It is simply the point of view of an individual.
My general dream in life was to live the life of a creative individual. I admired movie characters like Don Draper or Andy Warhol. Then, I found my passion for designing interior spaces – more specifically – I wanted to design exhibitions. That was my dream and the journey ended up being something completely unexpected.
I started studying interior design at a very normal university in Germany. The first skill I had to learn was how to work all day long. But this wasn’t studying in the traditional method with books, it was learning how to design and construct projects. What I didn’t expect to find in this whole process was the huge amount of pressure. In university, I was competing with the other students around me, some who were 10 years older, or had studied other courses previously. I didn’t have great experience in design software either. Eventually, none of my projects gave me any satisfaction.
And with all that came the time pressure. Sometimes, I was working through the night and sometimes, I didn’t sleep for two days. I thought it might get better in the real world. At my work experience I was working in a high-pressure environment, being the youngest and the most unexperienced person in the team.
Don’t get me wrong, the project was incredible, and I am proud to have been a part of it. But the pressure in the team as well as my anxiety just wasn’t good for my health. The worst time I can remember was when I had to work over 80 hours a week for almost no money which is somehow normal in this industry being a novice. No one even cares about the fact that this is exploitation.
The next year, I was working on my thesis which is the most important project of the whole program. I can’t even remember what was worse; having no idea what to present or the pressure of wanting to deliver it perfectly. Let’s just say I somehow survived my own mess. At that point I should’ve stopped and thought ‘Where do I really want to go?’ But as my time finished in university, I was offered an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. I was hired right at my bachelor’s celebration and two months later, I was designing like crazy. I had to do things I didn’t even know existed because I didn’t learn about it in university.
You could say I was thrown into the deep end with no warning whatsoever. So, after 18 months of being in a totally stressed out team, I reached my breaking point, broke down and had to leave. I couldn’t handle the pressure, or even myself in this state. I moved back to live my parents and started going to therapy. If your parents tell you to stay home, just do it. It saved me from drowning in that cold-hearted city.
Being in therapy is hard. You can only help yourself and in my case I opened up after a huge fight with my parents. This fight was my breaking point, because for the first time ever I was honest. I was honest about hating my life and about wanting to do something totally different with it. For the first time ever, I told people about being bullied and depressed at school. I never really told anyone about this, partly because I was too afraid of myself and the bullies.
You must be thinking, what’s the point of reading this? Well, I want to help people in a similar situation of my own by sharing my story and even providing some advice on a small level.
The first major tip I can offer is to listen to your heart. If it isn’t right, think about changing it. You don’t have to be in a job you secretly despise. This is the most important part for your health. If your mental health is starting to get hurt, stop immediately. If your head tells you every morning to stop working, listen to it. Listen to your gut. Most of the time, he is right. Yes, there will be certain responsibilities and limitations you need to uphold but if you look at the bigger picture, if you’re not happy doing the work you’re doing, eventually the amount of money you get won’t even matter.
Secondly, stop romanticising working in the design industry. It’s f****** hard to survive in – excuse the language. It’s not always going to be about designing pretty things or furniture, it’s hard work with as much overtime as you allow yourself. But that is something nobody will tell you. Realistically, it should be a very conscious decision. If you are struggling, stop for a moment and think. This industry is very demanding. Do you really want to invest that much time in a job you are not passionate about? I had to learn that the hard way.
I found my way through all that, so it is possible. Yes, I am still struggling to stop myself from running all day long ridiculously however you can’t get anywhere without any pain, but it shouldn’t reach a point where there is too much pain. This industry has a problem with too much workload and the lack of talking about mental health in the offices, but it also has a lot of very passionate people who love their jobs. There are so many great ways of working in your own conditions.
I know I’ve been focused on the negatives, but I do love my job and being creative/using my creativity in every way is just what I wanted to do for so long. But it can be dangerous. I want to encourage people to stop for a minute and think; Am I in the right situation? And if not, how can I change it?
You can easily get caught in someone else’s shadow but stepping out of that just for a bit, is breath-taking and helps you to focus. In my journey it was the decision to change what I wanted to do. I know there is a huge responsibility in this field, but I enjoyed that. There is also a high demand of thinking and new ideas that can overwhelm you. But to change all that, I decided to be self-employed and to have control over my invested time in projects. I know, that can be hard as well, it comes with it’s own advantages and disadvantages and you have to stand up for your own opinions and be in charge of making your own money. The constant worry can eat you up, if you are not conscious about it.
Coming out of university and being exposed to that high demand and the pressure can seem like there is no room for development and mistakes. I‘ve learnt to embrace mistakes because of the fact that I was called out for so many mistakes I made previously. It just gave me the feeling of being worthless. But I learned to embrace them because that means you can learn from them. I am still trying to embrace my own mistakes, but I try to be open about where I come from and why I do certain things. I like to ask a lot of questions, because I want to know the smallest detail of a project. Initially, I thought this was bad, but I learnt that this is my way of learning.
Nowadays, people get annoyed by this, but don‘t be afraid! You can‘t know everything and you can‘t be everywhere. The best tip is to take notes each time there is something you are unclear on. If you ask a bunch of questions and take down the answers you have something to look at if it comes up again. Try to educate yourself as best as you can. If you know what you are talking about, it’s easier to find the way you want to go and communicate that to your boss. He/she will realize your strengths and maybe rethink your position.
That can help if you want to change yourself. Before studying for interior design, I had brief training in Economics. I am still afraid of doing certain tasks like calculation, price points, organisation of projects and being a leader. But I knew how to handle buying furniture or how to negotiate prices, dates and other stuff. Try to find a way to educate or ask colleges who can help.
To conclude, I decided to stay an interior designer, but I also focused on my mental health. I can’t even express how thankful I am for the help I’ve gotten from all my friends and family. I found my passion in drawing. To me, taking the time to draw every day is essential. It’s my way of coping with the anxiety and expressing my feelings. Anxiety is a serious problem and I have suffered from this my whole life. So be aware of the decisions you make in this kind of job. Never lose yourself. Ask yourself every day: Is this the right decision? Is that my life or someone else?
The last and most important thing I’ve learned from this experience is to be open about your struggles and problems. Because face it, life isn’t always good. There are so many bad days, break ups, job cancellations and maybe even illnesses. But if you are open with people, you will be surprised how many others will tell you their true stories and struggles. It happens to me all the time. And I really enjoy these moments, because they make us human.
At the moment I am looking to find my own way in the business, but with a more healthy and sustainable work ethic. I don’t know what the future will bring for me and if I will be able to hold up my principles. I don’t know if I will be a freelancer forever, but at the moment I really enjoy being my own boss.
Read more about Bianca on our Guest Authors page.