Women Who Inspire: Finding Myself Through Gratitude

The following is an article written by Amy Oestreicher, for the Women Who Inspire series. She shares with us a truly inspirational story about making a whole lot of lemonade when you’re handed a mountain of lemons. If you would like to be included in this series, please email themamanurse@gmail.com. We would love to read your story!


I’ve spent a lot of time waiting in my life. As a kid, I grew antsy with anticipation, waiting until I was older to start dating, to go to the mall unsupervised and to learn how to drive. I counted down the days until I turned 18, giddy at the idea of college and independence at last.

But two weeks after I turned 18, waiting took on an entirely new meaning. An unforeseen blood clot caused my body to go into septic shock, and my life changed forever. Now it was my devoted family who had to wait patiently and lovingly while I recovered from a three-month coma.

When I awoke, I had to wait many months before I could take a breath of outside air once again. I had to wait eight more months before I was discharged from the ICU. Three years passed before I could drink a sip of water or eat a morsel of food again. And it took 27 surgeries before my doctors could create a makeshift digestive system for me.

I became extremely well-versed in patience.

But I also learned something far better. Even though my life as I knew it was shattered, I could reassemble the pieces together differently, but beautifully like a mosaic. These imperfect shards of a life I longed to reclaim could create a work of art of even greater impact.

A decade has passed since my life took an unexpected detour. It was a messy detour that put most of my life plans on hold. But this detour also turned out to be the richest time in my life. To this day, I’m still healing physically and emotionally. Every morning, I make a new attempt to find who I am and to discover who I am becoming. If I had waited for life to be perfect or at least for life to go back to how it was, I would have missed out on so many things. I would have never mounted my first solo art show after learning to paint in the hospital.

Art has certainly helped me cope with deep hardships in my life.  Originally, painting became such a blessing for me because it was an amazing way for me to express what was too overwhelming, frustrating and scary for words. Whatever distress I was feeling, whatever uncertainty I wrestled with, once I put my brush to the canvas, something felt released – my sadness was still there, but at least I could feel it. And so for a long while, my sadness inspired my painting. YET, it would transform my painting. Even if I was feeling the lowest I have ever felt, somehow my paintings would be a celebration of joy.

happy tree-AOS

This is a piece that I created when stuck in the hospital for two months – everything seemed to be fine after a surgery, I went to California on vacation, and after my wound ruptured, I was immediately air-lifted to Yale Medical Center. Once again, I was told that I could not eat or drink so the wound could heal. When life felt shaky, I deferred to my rock – my paintbrush and my creativity. Every day I would create a new work of art, a new source of hope, and display it outside my hospital room. Soon, nurses and even mobile patients would stroll by my room to see what I had created.

Art has also shaped who I am becoming as a woman.  My latest inspiration has been love and romance, as I celebrate my five-month wedding anniversary this month. I feel very blessed to have found such a deep connection to my husband, as well as the connection with my self that art has provided me with.

wedding pic

 

Art has also become a safe way for me to explore my relationship with my body as a woman.  I’ve had a very interesting relationship with figure drawing. Being a self taught artist, the idea of drawing the human body always has intimidated me – we all have an inner critic! However, I used figures in my work over and over again throughout the years in order to process what I was feeling after nearly 30 life AND body-altering surgeries. After every surgery, I would wake up with a new anatomy – a bag here, no belly button here, this missing, that added. It was very dissociating and made me feel like an alien to myself. I drew the figure to find wholeness with my body again, to accept it, to show the different “selves” of me, to love it as my own.

self picture

I continue to celebrate life each day through my art. I celebrate life, thriving, and overcoming obstacles through creative expression. Art has been my lifeline. It has given me hope when there was none readily available. Art has been my anchor that I have been able to rely on when my fate seemed uncertain. And art is now where I can safely find my blissful place, and find myself over and over again.

My medical ordeal was a big detour in my life.  Before this, my biggest goal in life was acting on the Broadway stage – and now I couldn’t even walk or talk. That’s when I made the conscious decision, that as long as this was my life right now, I would not let myself feel like a victim or hospital patient.

I was discharged a few months after I had come to, and a month after leaving, I got the lead role in a local musical – tubes, bags, and all, and still not even being allowed to have an ice cube. To cope with my hunger, I ironically found myself obsessed with food. I wanted an excuse to play with it, organize it, smell it – so I started a chocolate business which shipped all over the country, and taught myself how to cook, eventually starting a food blog. I taught nursery school, leapt across the stage in “CATS”, wrote over 30 original songs, wrote a one-woman play, started my autobiography, studied karate, yoga and dance, and starred in musicals. I needed to feel like there was still blood running through my veins – that I still was human.

My show dared to explore a very personal topic – what could have been a tragedy – in a comedic, yet poignant musical. “Gutless & Grateful: A Musical Feast” was the culmination of years of struggling in the dark, and the spark in me that refused to die. It told my triumphant survival tale in a way that inspired many theatregoers and prompted them to rethink the ways they live their lives. It was such a powerful experience to share my story and have it affect so many people, that I truly felt firsthand the transformative power of theatre.

gutless and grateful

Now I’m taking my show across the country to support groups, colleges, healthcare professionals, workshops, and conferences, sharing my story with the world.  This beautiful detour has turned in the richest time of my life.  And I am truly grateful for the woman I’ve become.  That is why I LOVE my detour!

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.
To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others thrive through difficulties.
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 more: amyoes.com.
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

TheMamaNurse

Hi! I am a Registered Nurse on a unit that encompasses labour and delivery, postpartum, medical, surgical and palliative care in a rural hospital in Ontario, Canada. I am a mom of two and am passionate about women's rights, mom and infant care, parenting and nursing. I hope to create an educational, entertaining and highly relatable resource for women around the world. Thanks for stopping by! Xo, The Mama Nurse

28 thoughts on “Women Who Inspire: Finding Myself Through Gratitude

  • May 14, 2016 at 4:45 pm
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    Wow! That really is inspirational. I can’t believe how much she has achieved despite all of the obstacles in her life. What a determined woman. It really leaves me wondering ‘what can I do with my life?’ not in a bad way, but in a good way.

    It’s never too late…I started blogging in December and now I am wondering what else I can have a go at and explore. This story has spurred me on.

    Thanks so much for sharing this. #KCACOLS
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    Reply
  • May 14, 2016 at 4:50 pm
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    A truly inspirational story. How amazing that you found yourself in art and with your husband…congrats on your five month anniversary. Your strength shines through your story. #KCACOLS

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    • May 16, 2016 at 3:12 pm
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      Definitely! Her story helps us all look inward to see who we really are and what we can accomplish.

      Reply
  • May 15, 2016 at 1:22 am
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    Wow you’ve been through so much and yet you have an amazing positive attitude! You’re very inspiring. And your wedding photo is beautiful. Only just discovered your blog but I’m looking forward to reading more of it xx #KCACOLS

    Reply
  • May 15, 2016 at 5:01 am
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    What an inspirational woman. You have been though more so far in your life that most will ever go through. You are amazingly positive. Here’s to you!

    #KCACOLS

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  • May 15, 2016 at 7:43 am
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    This truly is so deeply inspirational-absolutely incredible! Life comes with struggles, and this young woman has been dealt so many hardships, but her positive outlook and attitude truly are a breath of fresh air. x #KCACOLS

    Reply
  • May 15, 2016 at 10:50 am
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    A truly inspirational story which I know will help others. Thanks so much for sharingx #KCACOLS

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  • May 15, 2016 at 1:21 pm
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    just an incredible story and this paragraph will reply stay with me:
    But I also learned something far better. Even though my life as I knew it was shattered, I could reassemble the pieces together differently, but beautifully like a mosaic. These imperfect shards of a life I longed to reclaim could create a work of art of even greater impact.
    Thank you so much for sharing a truly inspirational woman #KCACOLS

    Reply
    • May 16, 2016 at 3:07 pm
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      Thanks so much for reading Helen. I’m so glad that Amy’s inspirational story spoke to you. Xx

      Reply
  • May 15, 2016 at 2:50 pm
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    Wow! What a story! I really don’t even have words to express how inspirational and amazing this story is. I just… Wow. #KCACOLS

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  • May 15, 2016 at 9:14 pm
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    She is really amazing! Despite her health problems she continued to pursue her dreams and endeavors. Seriously, I have no excuse now. Her outlook on life is beautiful and she really inspired me to live a fuller life and go after my goals, dreams and hobbies.

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    • May 16, 2016 at 3:01 pm
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      Thanks for reading! She is truly amazing! I agree, her story can make me feel like anything can be accomplished! 😀

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    • May 16, 2016 at 3:00 pm
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      She definitely is. I am very proud that she has chosen to share her story on The Mama Nurse. Thanks for sharing, Sam!

      Reply
  • May 16, 2016 at 11:57 am
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    wow and double wow, I haven’t read anything like this before. What an amazing story of courage and determination.

    mainy

    #KCACOLS

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    • May 16, 2016 at 2:58 pm
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      Thanks Mainy for reading. Make sure to come back next Friday to read another story about Women Who Inspire!

      Reply
  • May 16, 2016 at 3:01 pm
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    What a brave and amazing person to have the courage and determination to succeed in all that she has done over the years! I truly inspirational post and has me wondering what i should be doing next. We only live once – we have to enjoy it! Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday

    Reply
  • May 16, 2016 at 5:41 pm
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    What an amazing, inspirational story! Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

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    • May 17, 2016 at 12:24 pm
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      No problem so blessed to have such strong women submit to my “women who inspire” series! 😀

      Reply
  • May 21, 2016 at 9:08 am
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    Wow, what an amazing story! Amy is truly inspirational! She’s had the strength and determination to just get out there and do so many things and follow her dreams… It definitely makes you think, well what’s stopping me? Thanks for sharing her incredible story. #KCACOLS

    Reply

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