"This disorder can be a gift": Q&A with Julia Riede (part I)

As I mentioned at the time, when Julia interviewed me for her blog, I became quite taken with the idea of interviewing other crafty people for my own site – largely because I was so intensely curious about Julia herself, one of those people who seem to have at least 50% more lives on the go at one time than the rest of us. So as promised, only slightly late (story of my life), here is the first of those Q&As.

There will certainly be more – in fact the very next one will be with my friend and Ravelry group partner, Emily. This series being very much a product of my personal curiosities and concerns, I'm asking a lot of, well, personal questions. Trying to find out more about how people, specifically mothers, deal with time and energy and creative frustrations, plus investigating how people handle the business side of their work. I hope this stuff interests you as much as it does me.

Julia's designs run heavily to shawls and socks from the Austrian tradition, and she offers one free every Friday. Voting for which one happens on her blog, and the freebie is announced on Instagram and Twitter. She also pins a lot of great inspirational finds on her Pinterest boards. She had so much to say, I've split her interview up into two parts to do it justice (as well as editing very slightly for length) – it's juicy stuff. 

Julia, I was really intrigued to read about your career history and new medical school plans. (Other relevant “in-” words include “intimidated” and “inadequate”.) If I have this right, you were working as a nuclear physicist while also getting your PhD and having/raising kids. Then you quit full-time employment and started a clothing business. And throughout all this, of course you were also publishing knitting patterns. So many questions…

  1. How did you get into design? It doesn’t seem like you had a lot of time on your hands!
    I learnt to knit as a child but kind of forgot about knitting until I was pregnant with my baby girl Josie (she’s turning 8 in October, time flies). Around this time I discovered Ravelry and started to knit again. Soon I was convinced that creating my own designs would be possible and started right away. Two days later I published my first (free) pattern, my Salis Socks
    As a physicist, I like to find out how things work. I was curious how creating knitting patterns might work, so I just tried. And did it. And enjoyed it!

  2. What motivates you? And how do you find the energy to tackle all these challenges at the same time?
    What motivates me most is my passion for teaching and learning. I really like to show people how things work, this has been the main motivation for the creation of my article series on Shawl Design and the Sock Heel Week. Besides that, I just really like to create things and share them with others. Creating patterns is just one logical consequence.
    Personally, I am deeply convinced that continuous development and self improvement is my way to go. I just love to learn!
    I tend to have phases of great productivity followed by more quiet times and try to focus on whatever is important for me at this moment. Like, working on a pattern today after having focused on my blog yesterday and learning for my exams in between. Sometimes I even take work with me when having a hot bath – time for updating my Instagram, for example. Or reading emails.
    To be honest, I have no idea where the energy comes to tackle all these things – it does not seem to be an issue for me. One possible explanation could be the fact that I suffer from bipolar disorder. I don’t know full-blown mania (thank god) but I had a few hypomanic episodes for sure, besides lots of depressive episodes, before I finally got my diagnosis a few years ago and started to take meds. Since then, I see my life from a different perspective: surely, this disorder is a hard handicap, especially if it’s not treated well. On the other hand it also enables me to be creative and successful in a way normal people would never ever be able to.
    Like another lovely anecdote from my early adulthood: I started to play the cello at age 16, after being pushed by my parents to learn to play the violin from age 8 to 10. (The violin and I never became friends, by the way.) I really enjoyed it and practised lots, much more than any other student in my music school. At age 19, I took the entry exam to Vienna Conservatory to become a professional musician.

    And I passed this exam.
    Usually, people start early (before school) to play an instrument if they want to become professional classical musicians. The story didn’t end with me being a professional musician, though: after two years I discovered that my talent was not big enough to become the famous solo artist I intended to become, so I just stopped. Instantly. I had totally lost my interest.
    There’s a book on the subject of creativity and BPD really worth reading: Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison, an American psychologist (who suffers from BPD herself, by the way). The book examines the relationship between bipolar disorder and artistic creativity and contains a number of case histories of dead people who are described as probably having suffered from bipolar disorder (Winston Churchill, for example).
    If treated properly, this disorder can be a gift, too. And I hope this confession serves both as statement against discrimination of psychological health issues as well as a living example that no matter how big your handicap might be, there’s always a way to achieve a successful career and life, have a family, and being happy.

  3. What did your life look like when your kids were small (before kindergarten)? How did that affect your creative drive in that life phase? How did you manage your time?
    My kids are aged 7 and 16, so you could say I got two single kids – I don’t really know how it is to have two small children, I just had one at a time.
    When my elder son was nine months old I started to work full-time again. I did not really have a choice but it was okay for us. When he entered kindergarten I started to study physics and often took him with me to classes. He quite liked it, especially when we did experimenting, and he was welcome there. (He tended to pester everybody with questions, his most famous one being “Does light always travel at the same speed?” – if you’re a physicist you know this is a question one could talk for DAYS to answer. He’s a smart boy.)
    With Josie, my younger daughter, it was quite different. I spent her first year at home (knitting!) and my now ex-husband took care of her during her second year. Whenever she was asleep I grabbed my knitting needles and worked on my patterns. This was about the time I started to design seriously.

  4. You asked me this question and I found it really hard to answer: where do you see your designs in five years' time? (I mean. Med school!)
    To quote Anja Belle from my last interview: in a museum! ;)
    I’m seriously considering starting a blog, knittinginmedschool.com, to deal with my second attempt at education, how I got there, how I manage it all. And documenting my life through this second chance I get. I’m really grateful for this.
    I will continue to design patterns but guess I’ll move my focus towards more books on teaching knitting and design skills. Improving my “brand” is something I’d like to have achieved by then. I would LOVE to create an online video course to teach proper lace shawl design, for example! And one about creating knitting patterns for aspiring designers.

Come back on Friday for Part II.