These days actor/comedian/speaker/life coach/talent manager Kate Romero has a full and happy life. It wasn’t always that way.
After a difficult childhood that included surviving many traumas, Romero found herself across the table from another deadbeat boyfriend. With several drinks under his belt, he and Romero headed out to their van and took off into the early morning. It was the beginning of a life-changing event for Romero.
“He got agitated reaching for a cigarette and inadvertently drove us off a cliff,” Romero says of what happened next. “Our van rolled some 11 times down the cliff to crash on the canyon floor under a full moon. While airborne, I felt weightless spinning between the two bucket seats. It was surreal.”
Romero managed to claw her way back up the cliff, where she stopped breathing while lying on the side of the road. She felt herself floating 25 feet above the scene, observing. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate her while onlookers and her still-drunk boyfriend cried. She was declared dead. But, in the ambulance, as her boyfriend rode with her body from the scene, a miracle happened — she woke up.
Heeding our Wake-Up Calls
For Romero, her near death experience was a wake-up call in more ways than one. Her word for it is “freedom.” Like others who have survived near death experiences, her perspective on life has never been the same, and for good reason.
“Near death experiences have us come face to face with our own mortality,” New York-based psychotherapist and coach Janet Zinn tells Talkspace. “Once someone has confronted possible death, it gives them perspective on the value of life in general.”
We talked to three people who have faced down death and one mental health expert, and these are five of the psychological secrets they shared.
1. Cherish Love
One of the biggest awakenings for Romero was the importance of nurturing love in her life, a lesson that’s a good reminder for all of us. At the end of the day, love is the most powerful force we have.
“All there really is in the world is love, as corny as that might sound,” Romero says. “That’s what makes up everything.”
Take the time to cherish those who provide unconditional love, and don’t settle for anything less. And, like Romero — now happily married after ditching the boyfriend who nearly killed her years ago — make sure to give love only to those who deserve it.
“Those who have faced near death experiences…can also more readily dismiss relationships that don’t serve them,” says Zinn. “For instance, given the lesson that time is dear, they don’t want to engage in superficial relationships, and are apt to let go of those ‘friendships.’”
2. Find What Matters
There’s nothing like the scare of death to find perspective on what truly matters in life. Take time to look hard at your values and put those into practice, because we’re only on the planet for a limited amount of time. Make it count.
“One example of this was a client who was in medical school because all her life she was told how smart she was and that she should go into medicine, but her real love was teaching,” Zinn shares. “She…shifted her career course, much to the chagrin of her family, to education following a major car accident. She is so happy in her career, and she can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Facing down death brings our emotional self back to center and removes the mindless hum we so often get caught up in. If we tap into these feelings, we may find a wealth of resources we didn’t know we had.
“We are more vulnerable and can feel things fully following a near death experience,” says Zinn. “This brings us closer to our feelings. That sensitivity allows us to harness our own strength in making changes in our lives.”
3. Appreciate The Small Things
Learning to appreciate the small moments in life is said so often it borders on cliche. But before you dismiss the idea, consider that often it really is the little things that matter most to us, like a handwritten letter from a grandmother or a shared laugh over a good cup of coffee. Slow down, because if we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss these precious memories.
“When you have an experience, everything slows down,” shares Josiane Antonette, who survived her own near death experience. “Everything is in a different place and you have the time to really appreciate….You’re sensing things in a different way.”
“You realize that life is short,” Smith tells Talkspace. “You appreciate each and every day — this includes appreciating the small things like a sunrise to a thank you note.”
4. Acknowledge Shared Connections
One of Josiane Antonette’s most powerful revelations is acknowledging our shared connections as humans. When we can stand in our sameness, we benefit both those around us and ourselves.
“Everybody’s the same,” says Antonette. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, black, white, nobody…If we learn that, then we can stand in another place in life and realize I will do my best to grow.”
To do this, be present. Be present in relationships, in brief interactions with strangers, and be present to witness the beauty we all inherently carry within us. We share this world, and those bonds transcend any artificial barriers we try to create. Life is so much more than the “rat race.”
“Really be present — be there and share whatever you have learned in life,” advises Antonette. “Help people right here, and then help them to understand that there’s a bigger picture.”
5. Learn Self-Acceptance
Finally, accept yourself completely. Life is precious, yours included. Just as Romero’s accident served as her wake-up call to appreciate her self-worth, we all deserve to find inner acceptance and self-love.
“Respect yourself, because you are so beautiful,” says Antonette. “You cannot put yourself in places where you can be abused because you’re too beautiful. Once you know your beauty, you don’t allow yourself to go there.”
True self-acceptance includes cherishing love, pursuing what truly matters, finding joy in even the smallest moments, and seeking out shared human connections. Our link to each other runs deep and know that when we take care of ourselves, we give others permission to do the same. We lift each other up.
“This planet is made for us to learn from each other,” Antonette says. “We came here to learn and to be together.”
You’re Not Alone
Taken as a whole, the biggest psychological secret may be the willingness to see ourselves reflected in another’s eyes.
We’re not alone in this world. We’re not so different from each other in the end, and it’s embracing and growing from our shared humanity that will make the time we have left matter.