For the first installment of The Age of Bold: Women Gathering Courage, Wisdom and Strength”, I’ve selected someone with an incredible life story. I first learned about Amy Oestreicher when I wrote The Connection Between Art and Writing. Amy is very familiar with the power of art, as her own life journey has been healed and inspired by it. Amy’s story is extraordinary. Having gone through twenty-seven surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse and a decade of medical trauma, she has been able to persevere through it all. On her personal website, Amy says, “Every twist and turn has made me who I am today—a bold, resilient woman with a deeper purpose.”
When I reached out to Amy with the proposition to feature on my blog, I hoped that her story would reach people throughout the world, inspiring them to overcome any obstacle set in their way. When she agreed to guest star with such warmth and enthusiasm, I felt her energy and positive vibes immediately. I knew she would be a great fit for my theme because as a woman she has learned to trust, love and believe in herself, despite the challenges she’s encountered.
This is the story of an extraordinary person who’s defied every stigma, negativity, and tragedy to become who she was always meant to be: an artist, but most importantly, a role model.
This is her story:
I’ve spent a lot of time waiting in my life. As a kid, I grew antsy with impatience, 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’ve ever felt, somehow my paintings would be a celebration of joy.
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-vacced 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.
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.
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.
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!
<—————Did you find this story inspirational? Share with friends and make sure to subscribe to my site to read about the next guest blogger for The Age of Bold: Women Gathering Courage, Wisdom and Strength. On Wednesday, Danielle Rose, a writer, herbalist and intuitive reader will guest blog as a woman with a strong zest for life.