Monday, February 22, 2016

A survivor speaks - Part II

Amy Oestreicher, a thriver and survivor who went through 27 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse and a decade of medical trauma. She dealt with all the setbacks and frustrations that go along with life-altering events, and has emerged a successful, bold and resilient woman with a deeper purpose. Here is the second part of her story! [Long Read]

After everything I’ve been through, I just want to share my story and help others, like I’ve done already. I actually don't really fit into any category, because I don't have a formal diagnosis or illness - basically, due to a blood clot, my stomach randomly exploded at the end of my high school senior year, coma, both lungs collapsed, needed 122 units of blood, couldn't eat for a total of 6 of the past 3 years, or even drink as much as an ice chip, 27 surgeries, a bunch of ostomies and fistulas along the way, etc. - But the point was, I didn't know there were people who had been through surgeries and other unpleasant life interruptions and came out the other side living normal, if not richer lives.  if I had ever known there were people like me, r somewhat like me, it would have been that much easier to get through.  

I've always been an artist, actress, musician, creator, and passionate lover of life.  Now I know my role in life is to still pursue those passions but on such a deeper scale. Now my goal is to use my art and my passion to share my story and reach other people.  My hope is that my message will reach the right person at just the time when they need it.

 Basically, my passion for creativity saved my life and now I just want to give back.  I discovered painting accidentally on my way to healing in hospitals for months.  Now I've made cards and prints of some of these pieces because the art and the story behind the art has proved to really inspire others.  I also wrote, starred in and directed a one woman musical comedy about my life, Gutless & Grateful.

 My goal is to eventually start some kind of organization or healing movement, center, forum, or anything advocating for the arts, creativity and healing.  I also plan on expanding my creativity workshops and speaking into entire wellness retreats where we can all come together and become empowered by our own Beautiful detours.  I  really believe that suffering is relative, and "healing" doesn't always have to mean from something terrible.  I consider healing a positive thing, a natural process in life that everyone does - as natural as learing, growing, changing, evolving, etc.

Knowing that I always loved life before this, and this numb shift in my energy had to mean that I needed to heal from something,  not that there was something wrong with me, or that life was suddenly bad. Perhaps it was being the granddaughter of a very strong Holocaust survivor or the fact that I had an amazingly supportive family and great childhood memories.  Also I've always been an extremely Type a overachiever so honestly I would try to get depressed but then I would get really frustrated with myself because I wasn't getting anything done!  As a performer all I wanted to do was make my mark on the world and my biggest fear when waking up from a coma was that I would not be relevant anymore and I wouldn't be able to make an impact doing what I love.  Performing with my life force! It was how I breathed. It was how I connected with my world. I was determined that no matter what until I would get my life back and I would not let an abuser or surgeries or any others do to prevent me from reclaiming my voice: art, creativity, cultivating hope through gratitude, family, humor, learning to feel my feelings and not run from them.

According to doctors, I am a “surgical disaster.” A week before my senior prom, my stomach started to hurt. My dad took me to the Emergency Room for an x-ray, and on the way to the hospital, I collapsed. I slipped into a coma and didn't wake until months later.  I've been through my own ordeal of sexual abuse, 27 surgeries, coma, organ failure, six years unable to eat or drink and, of course, the PTSD that comes from ten years of trauma.  But, as an artist, newlywed, actress, 28-year old college student and overall lover of life, I've learned so much from this beautiful detour. My stomach randomly exploded when I was 18 and my life changed overnight when I woke up from a coma...months later.  With no formal diagnosis, roadmap, or reason to have hope at all, creativity became my lifeline and what allowed me to thrive. I went on to discover art, create hundreds of mixed media works in hospitals.  With time, patience, and dogged determination, I was eventually discharged from the hospital. 

From the thousands of journal entries I had completed over the years, I wrote, starred and directed myself in Gutless & Grateful, the one-woman musical about my life which I've been touring around the country for three years.  Starting college, finally, at 25 years old, I realized what a pivotal time college can be for students.  When I realized that many students were struggling with issues I had faced in isolation for years – shame, fear, PTSD, anxiety, depression, loneliness- I wanted to encourage students to start speaking up. .  Only when I was finally able to share my story could I truly heal. 
 Through sharing our stories, we become empowered, inspired and more comfortable with our life circumstances, as well as with who we are.  That is why I turned my one-woman autobiographical musical into a mental health advocacy program.  The show is me confiding in the student body – my difficult life experiences, the thoughts that made me feel as though I were insane, and how I chose to heal.  Sharing my story starts the conversation for others, and I hope to bring out the stories that unite us all, to show that creativity is an essential mindset, a survival skill, and a way to see the world.  I’m currently studying art education, expressive arts therapies, playwriting and theatre at Hampshire College.  My art, theatre, school, my husband – these are just small portions of the gifts of my beautiful detour.  I've asked why me, I've hated my life, and I've had many days where I didn't want to get up in the morning.  But traveling this "detour" in my life, I've gained so many blessings along the way. These twists and turns have made me who I am and now I Love My Detour.   That's made me a Detourist.  I hope to inspire anyone who's path has taken an unexpected turn.  A detour can be a beautiful trip - that's the heart behind my #LoveMyDetour campaign.  

Sign up to be part of Amy’s Love My Detour campaign. You could also help through the referral program, or help take Amy’s project around the world.