Recently Jason Harris, founder of Jason’s Connection spoke with Amy Oestreicher PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for The Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, award-winning actress, and playwright.
As a survivor and “thriver” of nearly 30 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse, organ failure, and a decade of medical trauma, Amy has been challenged with moments of extreme difficulty.
When I was 15, I was really admired by my voice teacher who became by mentor. A few years later when I was 17, he all of a sudden started molesting me. I was shocked and I just froze. I completely left my body and don’t know anything that happened.
I just remember I had been always been very in touch with myself, a very intuitive person, spiritual, and I used to love nature walks. All of a sudden, I couldn’t really focus on the trees anymore. I could only focus on the sound of my feet moving. Everything became very mechanical at the point where I didn’t even recognize myself anymore.
One day I was at the bookstore I picked up a book that was about healing from sexual abuse, I laughed and put the book back. But I ended up picking it back up again and I flipped open the page of symptoms and I looked down at the list and I felt numb. I felt out of my body. I felt there’s something wrong with me.
It was really a revelation for me, that I was sexually abused by my voice teacher. So from then I really felt like I was carrying this anxious, dark secret that I had no idea what to do with. I kept this secret inside for months. April of my senior year when I turned 18, I finally told my mom, I couldn’t take it anymore.
We were going to get therapy and everything but then a couple weeks later, my stomach was really hurting and we ended us going to the ER. We then found out that I became septic. When they did surgery, both of my lungs collapsed, my stomach hit the ceiling and I went into cardiac arrest. I was in a coma for months. When I woke the doctor’s informed me that I no longer had a stomach.
What helped me survive is that I didn’t really know how to act like a “patient” My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t make a mark in the world anymore. I always identified as a performer, which was my way of connecting.
Creatively connecting with my passion really got me through.
I am a visual artist now. I was never a visual artist. I actually discovered art by accident. My mom, when I was in the hospital would bring me art supplies to give me something to do. For the longest time, I refused. Then one day, I think when I reached my lowest point I reached for a canvas and thinking to myself ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ but I was feeling a lot right then and I needed to do something where I don’t have to use words.
I remember painting the first picture and it was such a physical experience where I just was feeling everything. Then I realized that painting was a way to express what was too complicated or overwhelming for words. And it was a way that I could deal with the sadness and uncomfortable emotions, but also a safe way that didn’t overwhelm me.
It’s so easy to say and sound inspirational but it’s hard as hell to trust
I ended up writing a one-woman show about my life; I’ve been touring for 5 years now with Gutless and Grateful. This inspired me to take what was once just a little musical and turn it into a whole mental health and sexual assault prevention program. I became very involved with PTSD and trauma and understanding what it does to an individual. It also made me feel not so crazy when I realized all the psychological aftermath.
Now I’m touring a show, not only a musical. I’m taking it to colleges and organizations. I am really excited to see what I did instinctively to heal is really legit. To heal through creativity, through expressing, through sharing.
My motto is I Love My Detour
It’s all about what happens to us but also the strength in being able to love what happens to us by knowing we’re not alone and knowing that there are other people going through detours.
PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for The Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, award-winning actress, and playwright. As a survivor and “thriver” of nearly 30 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse, organ failure, and a decade of medical trauma, Amy has been challenged with moments of extreme difficulty. But, as an artist, actress, college student, and overall lover of life, Amy eagerly shares the lessons learned from trauma and has brought out the stories that unite us all through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.
Founder of Jason’s Connection – an online resource for those with disabilities, mental health, aging and other needs. Jason was awarded an M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education and Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies from Syracuse University. Jason is also a Project Coordinator and Research Associate at the Burton Blatt Institute, an international think tank for Disability Rights and Human Justice at Syracuse University. He regularly contributes to the blog in his own series called Jason’s View and travels the country consulting and speaking about disability issues and rights. To read more from Jason Harris, read Jason's View.