Changing Habits To Feel Good Again: Surviving A Near-Death Experience And Coping With PTSD

Changing Habits To Feel Good Again: Surviving A Near-Death Experience And Coping With PTSD

by Cyan Gahm

 In 2015, I graduated college ready to take on the professional world. A year later, I spent my birthday vacation with a beloved boyfriend who ended up taking his life after attempting to take my life as he repeatedly told me “it is time for us to die together”. The only thought in my mind was “this is the day I die” as blackouts and stars passed by from his physical abuse.

When I was told of his passing, I lost my appetite and just stared into space. I felt numb and empty; gravity seemed to pull me down so much that it was hard to find the strength to stand or wake up every morning. I lost the feeling of desire, passion, and confidence. Daily life encounters would trigger me to completely space out, go into flashbacks, feel scared, and depressed. I couldn’t wrap my head around the intensity of what had happened, why it happened to me, why I was still alive, and how I was supposed to be happy for the rest of my life.

Hanging out with my friends afterward was tough because seeing their happiness made me feel alone with my struggle which made me nervous that I would never truly feel happy around them again. I handled my PTSD poorly, through heavy drinking and recreational drug use, because it numbed grieving my boyfriend, and grieving my old self. But I still accepted every invitation from friends and every suggestion from my therapist to find myself again: picnics for lunch, walking my dog at the park, grief groups, and even church. These things brought my attention to the present moment, closer to nature, and welcomed me to connect with people again.

My therapist helped me cope with the flashbacks and depression, and maintain awareness of my triggers. ADAA, The Mighty, additional wellness organizations, and the friendships I gained after my trauma reminded me that many of us are struggling daily to sustain stable lives with the weight of personal past stories on our shoulders. An assortment of diagnoses, and the various ways they impact us, and a plethora of people; but we all end up feeling better in similar ways. That’s why talking about how you feel with a therapist is so highly recommended, versus coping with unhappiness alone.

I found a book in my late boyfriend’s bedroom about changing habits, a topic that completely woke me up out of my trance. I was never a reader but after my trauma, I became more intrigued about the brain than ever before, additionally inspiring me to read books about nutrition and neuroscience. Learning new things helps but when you feel off, absorbing new knowledge is a difficult mindset to reach. So on the days I felt good, I made a list of what happened that day that may have helped me feel happier: relaxing in my hammock, hiking, listening to dance-worthy music, attending art festivals, eating exotic fruit, playing with a pet, or forcing myself to learn one simple thing that day.

On the days I felt mentally and emotionally drained, this list reminded me of the things that once sparked feeling uplifted, which helped me significantly in the long run. To this day, that list is growing and I’m thankful to have survived my worst days by reconnecting with myself, feeling passionate about life each day, and feeling truly happy with being alive.

My assigned PTSD service animal recently passed away so my mindset felt fragile again, but luckily I knew where to start. Therapists, wellness organizations, and books reminded me to stay healthy, think positively about the future, and take proper action to feel better when spiraling in discomfort.

I graduated college as a hotel designer with a dream to design my own boutique hotel. My trauma inspired a unique concept for guests visiting my hotel to get a glimpse of reminders that may help them feel alive. I look forward to my hotel enlivening the spirit of those struggling by gifting them a spark of happiness and hope during their path of rediscovery.

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