How Creativity Therapy Saved My Life

by Amy Oestreicher

My name is Amy Oestreicher, and according to doctors, I am a “surgical disaster.” However, at 28, I feel truly blessed. I may not have a stomach, but I sure am hungry for life. It started in 2005 – a week before my senior prom. It was our second night of Passover, and my stomach started hurting. My dad said it might be gas, but he took me to the ER for an x-ray, just in case. On the way there, my cheeks actually puffed up, soon after, I collapsed.

I woke up from my coma months later. 

painting by Amy Oestreicher
Painting 'She Sees' by Amy Oestreicher

Apparently, there was a blood clot on the mesenteric artery that caused a thrombosis, and when they cut into me, my stomach actually burst to the top of the OR. Both of my lungs collapsed, I went into sepsis shock, and I needed 122 units of blood to keep me alive. At 18, I was read my last rites.

When I finally awoke from my coma, the doctors told me what was going on. I had no stomach, I couldn’t eat or drink, and it was not known when or if I would ever be able to again. What do you say to that? I was shocked – I had been too sleepy to be hungry, but now that I knew what the real circumstances were, I was devastated. I was confused, like I had woken up in someone else’s life – where was I? Who was I? I remember I was once so desperate for answers that I googled “How do I find myself?”

Part of me wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear, part of me wanted to throw something. I was frustrated – I had just gotten my college acceptance letters – was I the victim of some cruel joke?

One day, I picked up a paintbrush. And my world changed. I had found a way to express things that were too complicated, painful and overwhelming to put into words. Suddenly, when the uncertainty around me seemed frighteningly 
unmanageable, the strokes of my paintbrush could soothe me as I
 created a peaceful world that my soul longed to rest in. My passion could ignite instead of my anger and
 despair. And slowly, the good feelings overwhelmed the bad because I
 could control the positive world portrayed on my canvases with what my
 subconscious chose to create. And I still believe that attitude is
 everything.

You don’t need to be an “artist” to make art – all you need to do is start somewhere. Art doesn’t have to be “good”, it just has to be “real.” What draws me back again and again to my paintbrush is that when I hold it in my hands, no one can judge me – all that matters is what I’m feeling inside. Through painting, I’ve discovered feelings I’ve suppressed that I had never even anticipated. Every day I come to my painting, I may be feeling something different. I could paint the most joyful expression in the world, or just a giant tear drop – but every time, I always walk away feeling better. I’ve realized what I was feeling – and I’d rather feel everything than nothing at all.

Creativity became my lifeline. When I wanted to keep my mind and heart numb to avoid dealing with difficult circumstances, art could help me unlock those feelings and truly express myself.

Who knew that art would make my medical trauma become the most amazing adventure and lesson of my life? Art helped me process what I was feeling. But most importantly, art served to be the greatest reward, acting as a medium where I could
 still engage with my community, reach out to others, and make a 
difference in this world while utilizing my passion. Arts were my way
 of connecting with the world, sharing my story, and spreading my 
message of hope, strength, and finding beauty in whatever life brings
 you. My art may be self-taught, but it is personal, uniquely me, and a mosaic of what I 
have been through.

As a child, the arts were my passion and identity. When my traumas occurred, they became my lifeline. Now that I am out of my medical crisis and enjoying a life 
of health and vitality once again, the arts are how I can reconnect
 with the world, make a difference, and raise awareness – awareness of
 the power of ones internal resources, awareness that there are many 
ways to heal externally and internally, and awareness of the human
 potential and spirit. An awareness of gratitude – that every day and
 moment should be celebrated – that life is a canvas, an open score, a
 bare stage, waiting for us to join the dance!

I found art accidentally on my way to healing physically, emotionally and
 spiritually, and have learned that it is one of the most rewarding,
 forgiving, beautiful ways to find my way through the darkness and into 
the light. I may have found it accidentally, but because of art, I have found myself again. Although left with a few scars, I am long past
 my bleak days in the hospital. With my wonderfully supportive family, my passion and a paintbrush, I was able to keep my soul alive for that uncertain time
 in my life. Life may not always be predictable, but art can always find
 the beauty in the detours.



Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.

As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she's toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer's Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual.

To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events. "Detourism" is also the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017.
 
As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she's contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC's TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others.
 
She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide, and is this year's keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability. Learn the art of navigating beautiful detours and sign up for updates at amyoes.com.

Watch for another post from Amy next week!

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2 comments :

  1. Wow! What an inspiring story! I'm excited to read her next one.

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