I’ve officially closed the door on a decade of medical hurdles. Called both a “surgical disaster” and a “medical miracle”, I don’t have a body quite like I’d imagine everyone else’s to be – a feminine figure with smooth flesh, voluptuous curves, effortlessly flaunting tight mini-skirts and throwing on a tee-shirt without worrying if certain medical additions are exposed – at least, that’s how I thought everyone felt about their body.
At 18 years old, I was sucked into an alternate universe of IVs, CT-scans, cutting apart and putting back together, having my body manipulated like medical marionette. Ten years later, it’s hard to remember what my body looked like before the scars, ostomy bags, and IVs became a mainstay in my physical life. I don’t remember what it felt like to sleep on my stomach, or to jump in the pool fearlessly.
But in exchange, I’ve learned things about my body – the vessel for the vitality that flows within me – that I will never forget.
Years ago, when I was still trying to come to terms with my new body after27 turbulent surgeries, much of the art I created was tactile art, using materials like felt, buttons, etc. to really feel comfortable with how my body was “magically” altered every time I woke up in the recovery room. Waking up with a new colostomy, ostomy, wound, scar etc. is always a bit jarring and takes some time to get used to. Getting recognized with the Great Comebacks Award was a big honor and also helped me realize that what I had been through could inspire others.
What’s one practice in your daily life that helps remind you of your beauty?
Gratitude reminds me of my beauty and roots me to who I am. I made a gratitude list every night in the hospital. I’d make myself think of something I was grateful for from A to Z, even when I hated my circumstances. By rummaging through my angry and frustrated thoughts, eventually, some positivity submerged. By the time I reached “Z”, my life had not changed dramatically, but my thoughts had.
You don’t need a set of fancy paints to create art, you don’t need a picture-perfect life to find every day gratitude, and you certainly don’t need a fancy hardcover journal to start a grateful list. But it does wonders to remind you of the beauty in this world.
What aspects of your physical space do you find beautiful and/or bring you ease?
Coming into this world, I’ve always resonated with trees, forests, hills, and anything that gives me perspective on just how small I am in the world’s bigger picture.
At 18, I was forced to ask myself – what is the world’s bigger picture for me? One week before my senior prom, an unexpected blood clot landed me in a coma for months, prompting over three years of being unable to eat or drink, and once 27 surgeries turned my life around, I found solace in what had always given me comfort – nature.
Leave it to the world, I had always loved to find a place inside my heart, making the world my home once again. And leave it to hills, trees and nature , where the entire earth majestically awakens, to ignite that fire in me that I wondered if I could ever feel again.
When I came out of my coma, I felt like a newborn child rediscovering the world once again. I remember seeing the sunset for the very first time, when I was first able to crane my neck towards the narrow glazed-over ICU window. I took a breath, and felt those beautiful sun rays seep into my lungs, filling me with new life.
As I regained my health, I discovered that finding physical stability was one-half of the job, while regaining my soul took more effort, care and time. But thankfully there is always nature and trees, who are always changing, growing transitioning and blooming
I always find and re-find myself in the outdoors – once as an innocent child with her arms open to everything this world has to offer, then coming back to life rediscovering the world almost as a newborn does after months in a coma.
How have you redefined beauty in your own life (and in your head)?
Called both a “surgical disaster” and a “medical miracle”, I don’t have a body quite like I’d imagine everyone else’s to be. A feminine figure with smooth flesh, voluptuous curves, effortlessly flaunting tight mini-skirts and throwing on a tee-shirt without worrying if certain medical additions are exposed – at least, that’s how I thought everyone felt about their body.
When I first had my ostomy, I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t know anyone else who had one. I felt alien. But my ostomy is my quirk, my lifesaver. It is my uniqueness. Maybe when we think of beauty, we should focus on highlighting our uniqueness, not our toned arms or cookie-cutter hairstyles.
My scars haven’t faded, and my ostomies haven’t disappeared. I don’t remember what it felt like to sleep on my stomach, or to jump in the pool fearlessly.
But in exchange, I’ve learned things about my body – the vessel for the vitality that flows within me – that I will never forget. That’s what beauty is – LIFE.
Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, speaker for RAINN, writer for The Huffington Post, award-winning health advocate, actress and playwright, eagerly sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, performance, art and speaking. Amy’s “beautiful detour” inspired her to create the #LoveMyDetour movement, a campaign inspiring people to flourish because of, rather than in spite of challenges.
As the Eastern Regional Recipient of the Great Comebacks Award, Amy has spoken to hundreds of WOCN nurses on behalf of ostomates nationwide. She contributes to over 70 online and print publications, and her story has appeared on the TODAY Show, CBS, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen Magazine, among others.