Kristin is a marketing and communications specialist from Canada with an interest in the environment and in personal development. I asked her about her moment of clarity, and she describes a traumatic event that initially led to despair but then became the gateway to finding joy and gratitude.
How did she accomplish this? By listening to herself. The experience helped her realize how much she focused on helping other people and how uncomfortable she was being helped, and eventually, she came to the conclusion that she had to listen to and take care of herself first before she could do either.
So far, the circumstances motivating change have been widely varying. But we’re seeing some themes emerge in the characteristics that drive and sustain change: self-awareness, stubbornness (tenacity), wanting to be happy, believing change is possible, being honest with oneself. Kristin displays many of these. Here is her story of change.
1. Can you describe a moment (or several) in your life when you realized you had to change or else you would suffer impossible-to-manage consequences (e.g., deep unhappiness, grief, loss, possible institutionalization, jail, or even death)?
Several situations in my life had a deep impact and resulted in important changes. The one that affected me the most was a fire that caused post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. I watched my place burning down in an inferno that made 300 families homeless from one day to the next. Nobody died in the fire, it was only a material loss. Therefore I tried to get back to normal as quickly as possible. We had a new place in less than a week; after one week I was back to work full-time. I did not talk much about the fire and continued life as if nothing had happened. Others who wanted to help became a challenge for me as I was not used to accepting help and did not ask for it. Usually I took care of others. Dealing with these offers and being grateful and not hurting anybody’s feelings took more energy than dealing with my own problems.
After a few weeks the disruptions began, and I started crying for no reason, began having nightmares, could not sleep, and felt demotivated and exhausted all day. Meeting friends became a challenge because I did not want to bother anyone with my issues. With no words from family and friends I felt very lonely and unimportant. One day the desperation was so overwhelming that I wanted to commit suicide. My husband was there for me and saved me from the black hole I created. It took another three months before I accepted my feelings and asked for help.
2. What brought you to that moment(s)?
Six months after the fire I started counselling. The first two sessions I kept my guard up. One night before the third session I had a mental breakdown. My heart pounded, I had trouble breathing and I cried for hours without being able to stop. That night I made a list of all things that had changed since the fire. I also wrote down everything that triggered the memory, changes in my relationships, and the new normal life I wanted to have. For the first time, I looked at pictures from the fire and allowed myself to be sad and lost. Until then I had suppressed my feelings not only in front of others but from myself.
3. What do you think made you able to be aware/pay attention to the warning sign, the moment of needing to change or suffer negative consequences?
Acknowledging my feelings was an important step to changing my behaviour. Not only the obvious feelings like sadness and grief but also guilt and anger. Yes, I was sometimes angry that others seemed to know what I needed when I could not tell. I did not want to be forever grateful anymore when I did not ask for help. And I felt very guilty about being so ungrateful, which is not my nature. Being on the other side of the table, dependent and receiving help instead of giving support, opened my eyes.
4. What did you do after that moment? Did you find or create a process for changing yourself (e.g., religion, meditation, support group, therapy, other system of principles)? How would you describe that process?
A major step was going to therapy and opening up to my therapist who listens to everything in a neutral, non-judgmental manner. The sessions were like a date with myself, an hour just to take care of my healing process at my own pace. At least as important as therapy was group meditation. With no prior experience it opened a whole new world to me and empowered me to regain self-confidence and trust in my abilities. Last but not least I started reading psychology books and treated myself as a guinea pig. Being in the observer role balanced my frequent ups and downs and helped me to get grounded.
5. Have you been able to stay committed to the process(es) you’ve found for change?
It is an ongoing process that might never end. I am committed to keep the connection to my inner voice and listen carefully to my intuition. Taking care of myself first became a new priority in order to help others. And also to wait for them to ask for help before offering it unwanted to empower them to take control over their lives.
6. What characteristics in yourself do you think enable you to stay committed?
I am a good listener for others; now I start by listening to myself. Also, I believe that every experience in my life holds something positive, a lesson to learn. Instead of focusing on the bad things I rather look for those that work well and make me happy and grateful.
What characteristics help you make significant changes in your life?
More about Kristin
Kristin holds a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies with a major in marketing and management from the Bauhaus University Weimar, Germany. During her studies she gained five years hands-on experience as a reporter for a daily newspaper. After graduating Kristin stayed at the Bauhaus University Weimar in the department of marketing and communications. Her responsibilities included marketing analysis of study programs, chief editorial of the quarterly journal, event organization, and media relations. Moving to Canada, Kristin turned her life-long passion for the environment into her profession. She works as marketing coordinator and fundraiser for two environmental non-profit organizations in Calgary.