Kristin Sauter was having trouble properly functioning. Sleep was hard to come by, general relief even harder. Sauter was disinterested in parts of life she once deeply cared about, like adventure, travel and her career. Some days, she didn’t show up to work.
This was 2016 — a time Sauter describes as rock bottom. She was living with her husband in London while working with an event marketing company. Sauter was dealing with severe social anxiety almost every hour of every day, sometimes even crippling her ability to get out of bed.
“I just couldn’t care about anything anymore,” Sauter said. “I reached the point where I didn’t turn up at work anymore. I didn’t care about myself anymore. I didn’t care about anything around me anymore. It got to a point where I couldn’t go on with it.”
Sauter had been diagnosed by a therapist with depression a few years earlier in her home country of Germany, but she was unfamiliar with social anxiety — a fear of social situations and being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. Now, as she’s come to understand the mental illness in the years since, she calls herself “basically an extroverted version of a social anxiety person.”
"I try to take it step by step. ... Because for so many years, you learned habits and strategies to survive that are not healthy. You need to give yourself time to heal and develop better habits.”
In 2016, Sauter knew she needed a lifestyle change to work on herself. Her bubbly, outgoing and radiant personality was gone, replaced with constant anxiety. One day at work, Sauter knew what she had to do. She called her husband and said, “I think I need to quit.” That was her last day on the job.
Looking back today, Sauter believes it was the best decision she’s ever made.
“I felt relief,” Sauter said. “The weight came off my shoulders immediately, and I felt empowered. Because for so many years, I felt like I had no power left. I was always making sure everyone else was OK, and making sure I don’t hurt people. And for the first time in many years, I felt like the old me.”
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About a year before quitting, Sauter had already been trying to improve her mental wellness. She found a book called “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown based on a recommendation from a therapist. She dived into a mindfulness course, which helped her quiet her mind and gave her tools to start her journey of healing. But it wasn’t until early 2018, when Sauter and her husband moved to Des Moines, when she started taking significant positive strides.
While in London, Sauter said she operated with the mindset that others had an obligation to help her because she couldn’t help herself. Removed from the stressful environment in London, Sauter realized she had always had the tools to improve herself — she just didn’t know how to use them.
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“I always had the power within [to help myself], but I couldn’t access it,” Sauter said. “I felt very lonely in London. Even being in that relationship [with my husband], who was very supportive, I still felt very lonely. That was tough.”
Sauter still deals with anxiety, but has developed healthy coping habits. She has taken her understanding of mental illness and given back, helping with the National Alliance of Mental Illness in Des Moines and starting her company Curo, which teaches mindfulness through workshops and events.
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“I now do things that I couldn’t even imagine two years ago,” Sauter said. “I can now push myself and know not to overdo it. I try to take it step by step. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is you have to give yourself time. Because for so many years, you learned habits and strategies to survive that are not healthy. You need to give yourself time to heal and develop better habits.”
Make It OK is community campaign to reduce stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness. Start by learning what a mental illness really is. Then, find out what to say and not to say when someone opens up to you. You can also help others by sharing your own story to help people know they aren’t alone. Learn more about how you can get involved at MakeItOK.org/Iowa.