Amy Oestreicher - My Beautiful Detour
Amy Oestreicher is an Audie Award-nominated PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for The Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, award-winning actress, and playwright. She’s also the author of a brand new novel, “My Beautiful Detour: A Unthinkable Journey from Gutless to Grateful”.
Amy was an ambitious, audacious teenager who had her life all planned out: go to college, win a Tony, and conquer the world. But life took an unexpected detour when the week before her high school senior prom, she found herself in unusual pain. She was rushed to the emergency room, and due to a blood clot, Amy’s stomach exploded to the ceiling of the operating room. After both lungs collapsed, she almost died. Months later, she awoke from a coma covered in tubes, bags, and drains, and was told that she had no stomach anymore, she could not eat or drink, and it was not certain if or when she would ever taste one bite ever again. It took 27 surgeries and six years, but eventually, Amy was miraculously reconstructed, and with the intestines she had left, was given a system that digests food.
Today, through her #LoveMyDetour “Detourist Campaign,” she creates content that inspires, educates, entertains, and transforms our perception of obstacles for individuals faced with unexpected bumps and “detours” in their lives – much like what Amy faced at 18 years old. As founder of #LoveMyDetour, she provides advocacy, entertainment, seminars, and peer-to-peer education on trauma, mental health, women’s issues, storytelling, and diversity. Her vital message is delivered with humor, eloquence and heart in a down-to-earth, relatable and positive manner.
Amy is incredible and inspiring, and a survivor and “thriver” who is sharing the gifts of life’s “beautiful detours” through her writing and her speaking. I’m so excited for you guys to connect with Amy, learn more about her story and the impact that she’s having, and follow along!
I'd love it if you'd introduce yourself, what you do, and what you're working on.
II'm a PTSD specialist, author, artist, actress, playwright, creator, TEDx speaker, and Detourist.
I grew up believing that my entire life would be dedicated to the performing arts. Now, I'm also a survivor and "thriver" of sexual abuse, 27 surgeries, coma, organ failure, and the PTSD that comes from ten years of trauma – or what I now call my “beautiful detour."
At 18, years old, a blood clot caused my body to go into septic shock. I was in a coma for six months, and after a total gastrectomy, I was unable to eat or drink a drop of water for six of the past ten years. After 27 surgeries, I was miraculously reconnected with the intestines I had left. To persevere through those tumultuous years took great inner and outer strength – strength I didn’t know I was capable of until I was tested.
I learned that the human spirit feeds off of hope, and hope is fuel we can cultivate ourselves. Ultimately, I learned that with resourcefulness, creativity, and unwavering curiosity, we can transform any adversity into personal growth and a resilience that is uniquely ours.
How did you get started?
I grew up loving to create, mostly musical theatre. it was only after my traumas did I learn to use creativity as a survival skill. Then, I was able to turn my creativity into a healing means of expression. Then, I was able to turn my passion for creativity into business.
What inspired the work that you're doing?
My life detours. Everything became possible once I was willing to intentionally wander from the life I planned and embrace this “detour” as an opportunity for discovery. This is not the life that I planned for myself – but does anyone’s life ever work out exactly how they plan it?
So many gifts came out of this. I discovered painting in hospitals and flourished as a mixed media artist with solo art shows, merchandise and creativity workshops. I wrote a one-woman musical about my life, Gutless & Grateful, which I’ve performed in theatres across the country for three years and now take it to college campuses, conferences and support groups as a mental health awareness and sexual assault prevention program. And I finally started college…at 25 years old.
I was not able to fully appreciate the beauty of my detours until I was able to share them. As a performer, all I’ve wanted to do was give back to the world. But now I have an even greater gift to give: a story to tell.
What is your biggest passion? Do you feel like you're living your passion and purpose?
Creating and helping others is my biggest passion, and I definitely feel that, by sharing this, I'm living my purpose.
Creativity is a way to see the world - a mindset. So even with the IV poles beeping, I still heard the music. In my bleak ICU cubicle, I could still see me dancing someday. Creativity gave me hope.
What is your joy blueprint? What lights you up, brings you joy, and makes you feel the most alive?
Creativity is what makes me feel most alive. Its the best way to express ourselves, know what's really going on, and share our stories. I believe everyone has a story worth sharing. If I didn’t think like an artist, I would have never been able to re-imagine my identity and maintain an inner fire that kept my spirit alive. And we are ALL artists with the mindset that we can reimagine life however we’d like it to be - just create it! I am an artist because I couldn’t imagine any other way of connecting with my world, myself, and my passion. I wake up every morning with a drive to create. Every sensation I touch, every breath I inhale brings an image to my mind that fills me with giddy excitement. I find inspiration in each everyday miracle, and my first impulse is to create something with it. When I do, I feel aligned with the universe—like something larger is moving through me. I feel the big, limitless expanse of sky above me, my feet grounded in the earth, and my heart pulled between the two extremes.
I am an artist because that is how I feel like I belong. It’s my role in the world, and it’s how I can share my passion with others, and receive inspiration from everything around me.
Finding humor and joy in any circumstance is the best way to get through anything, I believe.
I literally awoke from a coma to find myself in an alternate universe. Unable to talk, sit up, or control my trembling hands, a doctor – who seemed to know me very well at this point – explained as gently as he could what on earth had happened to me. I had no stomach anymore, 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?”
I didn’t understand when I first woke up from my coma why my muscles had suddenly turned to jello. With a ventilator and a tracheotomy, I couldn’t even talk. From months of bed-rest, the first time I was able to stand up, I was alarmed at how they trembled, and how weak I was. I lost the energy to even think about what I loved, and being unable to eat or drink in these new medical circumstances turned my once-steady focus to mush and irritability. I remember asking every person I could find in the hospital if they thought I would ever be able to sing and dance again. I was faced with many apologetic "I don’t knows," sighs, shrugs, and awkward changing of the topic.
As my health improved, the doctors seemed to expect me to just be happy I was alive but I wanted a timetable of how long it would take to get my real life back again. 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? 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. My extremely supportive family and I found the humor and fun in everything, and made our ICU stay as pleasant as we could – whether it was setting up bowling pins in the hallway, serenading the doctors on guitars, or even my parents sneaking me out of the ICU in my hospital gown to go shopping, my attitude always remained to make the best of whatever circumstances I was dealt. Any kind of therapy was put on hold because what was most important was my physical survival. Even therapists thought it would be torture for me to sit in a room and talk about my feelings when I couldn’t even eat or drink.
How do you live intentionally? Are there tools/resources/practices that you rely on to help you stay mindful and grounded?
Every road leads somewhere, and the more we share, the more we realize we’re not alone. Just talk. Share. Sing a song, do a dance — or if you’re not a theatre ham like me, draw a picture, journal, or tell a friend. You never know if someone else is feeling the same kind of uncertainty when a path doesn’t go as you expect.
My detour took me has taken me everywhere from wound-care conferences to humor academies. From there, well, the beauty of a detour is I don’t know where it might lead.
What would your younger self think about what you're doing now?
She would definitely be surprised that my life went this way, but I think she would feel satisfied, and proud!
Do you have a go-to mantra or affirmation?
Trust that you are capable.
Be curious to see where the detour may lead.
My advice is: Detours can lead to new, unexpected and amazing opportunities. Just keep going.
I think creativity is like water energy - it’s all in us, and just comes out in whatever medium we feel fearless enough to try out. I will never forget how I was literally given a voice by the arts, after this decade of trauma threatened to permanently claim my voice and write my story. I had experienced years of setbacks, triumphs and frustrations in isolation, stifled by circumstances that appeared so much larger than myself. Playwriting, art-making, singing, dancing, and every possible form of expression granted me creative ownership, launching me back into society as a storyteller, rather than a victim.
What is your biggest dream?
To help people all over the world by bringing theatre to every kind of community, and inspiring people to tell their stories in whatever form is most comfortable for them. Theatre is probably my favorite - writing a musical transformed my traumas into a universal narrative, and seeing my struggles through the lens of the archetypal hero's journey revealed the gifts of adversity. The even greater surprise was witnessing how this theatrical arc I had constructed from chaos was universally relatable. I realized that creativity could facilitate healing for both the artist and audience, as they engage with the story. Theatre was “great equalizer” which created a common language between marginalized voices and an audience ready to listen. I’ve learned that, just as healing cannot take place in a vacuum, neither does art.
But visual art is a close second! I found art accidentally on my way to healing, 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.
My music, singing, composing - I love singing so I write and perform any time I can! As artists we tell stories constantly. Every time I "perform" or “create” what happened to me, I find myself somehow transformed in the process. The arts teach us we're capable of anything, and usually tells us this at times we need it most.
And speaking is another way to share - but I always supplement it with some kind of creation further than a speech - whether it be poetry, monologue, song, dance, art….I'd love to help people in any way I can through the arts.
To learn more about Amy you can connect with her on her website www.amyoes.com and on Instagram @amyoes70 Facebook @amyoestr and on Twitter @amyoes and to learn more about her new book, “My Beautiful Detour: An Unthinkable Journey from Gutless to Grateful” click here
Joy Corner is an interview-style blog series brought to you by Seek The Joy Podcast. Our mission continues to be a desire to share your stories, truths, joys and inspiration in your words. We invite you to join our corner, and share your joys, passions, and moments of inspiration as we continue to seek the joy, together. Join this series here