young london designer claire barrow on her struggle with anxiety

The bright design star reveals her journey in words and drawings for UK Mental Health Week.

by Claire Barrow
20 May 2016, 4:24pm

The pressure is immense at times. That's lead to anxiety, and my anxiety has caused me to be ill in the past. But is it linked to the industry I work in [as the designer of my eponymous line Claire Barrow]?

I do know that if I hadn't been able to break into the fashion world then I would've been even worse. It's been my dream since childhood to work with art and clothing. I'm driven - I'll not take 'no' and I've always had a clear vision. If I was still stuck in the northeast of England it'd be worse. I can remember feeling very out of place there from around the age of eight - maybe younger. I would have panic attacks at primary school most days and hardly spoke.

Having my own world here in London, with like-minded and inspiring friends really has made me happy. Without them I would feel very alone. A lot of these friends and acquaintances I have met through working in fashion. To quote those posters for this week's Mental Health Awareness Week: "investing in your relationships is as important as healthy eating, exercising and not smoking." But then because of the punishing fashion calendar and stress of it all it's extremely difficult to maintain an active social life or a romantic relationship or find time to exercise or quit smoking.

Writing this short essay has been awkward. I know that I have mental health problems but I've always felt like I shouldn't make a fuss about them as they aren't as bad as other people's, and I don't want to be seen as weak (will I still get sales if I talk about depression?). Then I also tend to trivialize it ("emo Claire with her stretched ears who isn't very funny." It runs through my head).

Now that I'm getting into it, not only is it therapeutic but hopefully my honesty can bring a few people to comfort their own "things." It's just good to talk honestly about yourself isn't it?

Interviews I've done in the past have actually lowered my self-esteem so much. Seeing myself on film and hearing my voice, particularly. I get panicked before I have to be filmed for anything and it takes me hours to write something because I'm dyslexic. I didn't want to admit that for years either, which I know is odd because I could have had a free Macbook from college. It's much easier for me to think visually.

I was diagnosed with anxiety a few years ago. My closest friends know this, but no one else until now. I did not want to leave the house at all at times. I did though, to go to work each day or go to the shops, but if I walked outside I felt my heart speed up so much I would be out of breath and I had to hold back tears. Then, once I arrived back indoors, I would try to block out what had just happened (to keep it in). It was becoming a real problem as it meant I wasn't eating properly as I didn't want to go to the supermarket. I wasn't interacting socially and if I was I would have to get very drunk to feel relaxed, and also I was actually turning down opportunities to meet industry people. I would sleep in my studio every other night partly so that I could get my work done but this was also because I didn't want to go outside. It's quite hard to explain what the fear was of.

The triggers during this phase were some very small but awkward social interactions that went round and round in my head: being single, not dating anyone nice, sleeping with people I didn't fancy and also having a lot less company as I was fresh out of university and didn't know too many like minded people yet. I was quite lonely. If I've learned anything, it's that you must keep active, exercise, move your bod and don't eat badly! It's hard though when you are struggling to go outdoors.

I slipped into another period of anxiety recently and have been finding it very hard to control as so many big changes have happened in my personal and work life… but I'm trying my best! I've been seeing my friend's loads and it's making me really happy! I have so much to look forward to, I'm really trying to fight it.

Just remembering actually, how sad I would get at university when my projects didn't work out. I would say this was more just a lack of sleep, bad microwave meals and struggling with the work load. I wouldn't say it was as extreme as the period described above but it was definitely stressful.

Doing a collection and preparing a fashion presentation is stressful. Not only do you have to get everything sorted, make what's in your head into a reality, but you have to manage a team, and money, and emails, as well as running about. The team around you can really affect your mental state in either a good or bad way. I really love the week leading up to presentation day even though I don't get any sleep and then end up crying frequently. But it's, like, such a rare experience to put that much love into making something happen.

In Paris, I'm ill with the flu, like actually every season because I'm so run down and exhausted from the previous weeks (then also maybe getting to Paris and partying the first few days defs doesn't help).

So what's the difference between working in fashion and making art on your mental health? With art the aim of the game is to express yourself and let it out in song or dance or painting. Fashion is wrapped in mystery and commerciality. If you take the public perception of it fashion is linked negatively to much about mental health; shallowness (depression), skinny models (anorexia), models on cocaine (addiction), creating things too mad for the outside world to wear (I wouldn't be seen dead in that). On the television we have Sex and the City, rich white NYC women basking in their own narcissism and talking about men and fashion constantly (still a good watch though) and Ab Fab; two rich white alcoholic women with neurosis and mental health issues (I love this too).

In the past my collection's themes have been influenced by the way I've been feeling. I did a dystopian story about a super bug taking over for spring/summer 15. I was angry about the political system, so I designed fantasy uniforms that the sexy/awkward post-NHS nurses would wear. Then fall/winter 15 was about flying away from capitalism in an array of colorful light silks. Broken Machines, my spring/summer 16 collection, was in relation to people being on their phones constantly, and featured "nature" drawn in a mechanical style, phones as buildings, because I was looking at my phone constantly and it was becoming a problem for me.

People are always trying to redefine, re-hash, find the "hot new thing" in fashion. I'm maybe a bit bitter (and also arrogant) because I sort of feel like I'm doing it well and it pisses me off when that goes unnoticed by someone. "Why not me?" But I know why really, not everyone's meant to "get it'" anyway. I've designed it that way! You have to learn to let go because that's the shit you'll hold onto. Those who are riding the wave, those who are floating, those who are sinking, it's all goes so quickly.

I'm less sad when I get good opportunities, when I get to create and work with talented people, but that seems about right doesn't it? I'm doing something I love. I realized very recently that I have to create! It keeps me together. It's such a great feeling to see people wearing and enjoying my brain fabricated. What else makes me feel good? Eating and dancing.

Have a happy day! 


Text and drawings Claire Barrow

mental health
mental health week
Claire Barrow