It is for a pop-up window for people to sign-up for our emails!

NEED HELP? 1-800-273-8255 TXT "CTL" to 741741

Just for Today

Hi guys,
These past few days have been okay for me. The internship at Turning Point was a great opportunity for me, and it also allowed me to confront some of my own demons as well as helping others acknowledge theirs.
A few weeks ago, we were brainstorming ideas for a podcast and we came up with the following title: Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness. The idea was to look back on our childhoods and think about parts of them that had seemed normal at the time, but that we now realize were early symptoms of our mental illnesses. Most of the time, I am perfectly fine talking about mental illness, but this time, I felt small and lonely, just how I had felt when I was a kid. This was my first time feeling emotionally triggered by a discussion around mental illness. We recorded the podcast, and I was okay, and we all moved on. (You can find the podcast in the media room archives).
Except I had therapy last week, and I was talking to her about it, and she said, “Why do you think it made you so uncomfortable?”
I had no idea what to say. She suspected that I had some demons lurking in my subconscious, that were preventing me from comfortably talking about my mental illness growing up. So, she asked me a question that forced me to confront the demons.
“What would you say to your younger self, knowing what you know now about your mental health?
I immediately started crying. I was crying, so I don’t remember all of what I said, but here was some of it:
you have a mental illness.
it’s okay.
you are not alone.
there’s nothing wrong with you.
it’s going to be okay.
i am crying again writing this (don’t worry they are tears of growth and self-acceptance;) ) but I got so emotional because that was exactly what I needed to hear when I was little. When I was a kid, I felt so alone, I felt like there was no one else like me in the whole world. it meant so much to comfort my younger self, to both offer and receive words of hope and healing. we often tend to be very critical of our younger selves, thinking that we didn’t like who we were at a certain time. it can be helpful to ask yourself why. forgive yourself, and heal yourself, one step at a time, just for today.

The Beginning

The scene is all too familiar. I am in bed, paralyzed by my anxiety and held down by my depression. I’ve been here too long but I am still tired. I think about the outside world and instinctively pull the covers over my head until there’s darkness and silence again. I close my eyes tight and hope that sleep will come soon to get a break from my mind.

Would you have thought that this person is in recovery from reading this? Probably not. Recovery is painted as the other side of the fence where the grass is finally greener or the place beyond the finish line where you stand on a podium and receive a medal for all of your hard work. This image we have in our head couldn’t be further from reality. Recovery is ugly, it is difficult, it is uncomfortable. It presents a whole new set of challenges that you never could have anticipated before embarking on this journey.

And please, don’t get me wrong. Mental illness and addiction is no walk in the park. It is a dark and lonely place. It is insidious because it doesn’t take the things that give you joy away from you, it just makes you completely disinterested in those sources of joy and even resent their existence. You suddenly look around you and find yourself in a world that you can no longer recognize and you start to forget that your life was anything more than the personal hell you are experiencing. You have withdrawn yourself from everything and everyone that you have cared for or about and you find yourself alone. This is absolutely fucking terrifying. All you are left with is your mind which feels toxic and unwell. It tells you that you are no good, unworthy of those things or people that brought you happiness. And the worst part? The worst part is you believe it.

But, despite this happening to you, there is something inside of you that makes you keep on fighting. So that’s what you do. You fight. You tell the people who have still stuck around you what has been happening. You go to therapy and find out a lot about yourself that you had been holding down. Soon, you begin to catch glimpses of the person you used to know, someone who isn’t plagued by their own mind. But, mental illness is not that simple. It won’t release you from it’s grasp even if you really want to get better and return to your life. It takes grit and determination to drag yourself back up everytime that you are pulled back down by it. This is recovery. It is doing what is uncomfortable for you because of your illness and doing it anyway because you know that on the other side is the life you have been dreaming of.

This is my story. I have been battling chronic depression, generalized anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, dissociation, and self harm since I was 15 years old. After 7 grueling years of trying just to survive, I can finally say I am in recovery. Not too long ago I didn’t even know you could be in recovery for mental illness. I thought that my life would be a relentless challenge, and I didn’t see any way forward. The most I could handle was surviving another day. After a stint in a psych ward, years of therapy, medication, dropping out of art school, and barely holding a minimum wage job down, I am here. I think of my future and I have hope, plans, drive, and determination. I am working at my dream job and I feel more like myself than I maybe ever have done.

However, this is not where my recovery story ends because despite the hope, the healthy coping skills I have learned, and the wonderful support network around me, I still have to consciously make healthy choices for myself. At every turn I am confronted with making a choice that feels comfortable for my mental health, or the choice that I know will be difficult but that will help me in the long run. Believe me when I say that choosing the uncomfortable option is not easy, but I like to think of these decisions as turning point moments, because I know that with every decision I can be brought closer or further away from my goal. Something as simple as drinking water can send me into a tailspin some days because even though the action of it is easy, it takes all the might that I have to choose myself rather than my illness. I have to remind myself that my illness is my enemy and I should not be catering towards it. It has taken everything away from me before and it will do it again if I do not continue fighting it.

At the beginning of this year, my boyfriend and biggest cheerleader was deployed with the US Army and I began setting myself up to reinforce my healthy habits to deal with the challenge up ahead. I started my job here at Turning Point CT, journaling everyday, going to the gym regularly, going on hikes with my dog, and regularly practicing yoga at a local studio. I began to feel in a position where I could handle this upcoming 9 months, if I was only able to keep the momentum going. Little did I know that this plan was about to be turned on its head during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine. Suddenly, I was bound to my bed like I had been in the midst of my mental illness. I was forced to be isolated like my mental illness had done to me. On top of all of this, my anxiety is screaming at me telling me that I can lose someone I love and care about. I was shaken to my core and experiencing real grief for those all over the world dealing with this global trauma. I felt myself slipping into my mental illness again. So I had to scramble and figure out all new ways of keeping myself on my path to recovery. I still haven’t figured it out yet, but I am trying to be gentle with myself while I do.

So I hope that you will join me in my recovery journey while I continue fighting this fight. I am going to try everyday to do something that shows myself that I am still here, showing up. Somedays the only thing I might be able to do is make my bed, or make sure I have fed myself enough food and water. Some days might be bigger and I manage to fall back on healthy coping skills rather than unhealthy ones during a panic attack. What I am saying is, that recovery is not a straight line because it requires constant effort. There will be times where it looks like I am not making progress, but even a small step forward is still a step forwards.

It’s Been A While

Great song by “Staind” by the way, “It’s Been A While” I believe they actually just started going back on tour, anyway I’ll drop the lyrics below:

It’s been awhile
Since I couldn’t
Hold my head up high
And it’s been awhile
Since I first saw you
And it’s been awhile
Since I could stand
On my own two feet again
And it’s been awhile
Since I could call you
And all the things I can’t remember
As fucked up as it all may seem
The consequences that are rendered
I stretch myself beyond my means
And it’s been awhile
Since I could say
That I wasn’t addicted
It’s been awhile
Since I could say
I loved myself as well
And it’s been awhile
Since I’ve gone and
Fucked things up
Just like I always do
And it’s been awhile
But all that shit
Seems to disappear
When I’m with you
And everything I can remember
As fucked up as it all may seem
The consequences that I’ve rendered
Have gone and fucked things up again
Why must I feel this way?
Just make this go away
Just one more peaceful day
It’s been awhile
Since I couldn’t
Look at myself straight
And it’s been awhile
Since I said, “I’m sorry”
And it’s been awhile
Since I’ve seen the way
The candles light your face
And it’s been awhile
But I can still remember
Just the way you taste
And everything I can remember
As fucked up
As it all may seem to be
I know it’s me
I cannot blame this on my father
He did the best he could for me
It’s been awhile
Since I couldn’t
Hold my head up high
And it’s been awhile
Since I said, “I’m sorry”

Here’s the link to the music video on YT https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=araU0fZj6oQ

I like to give this song a listen when I’m feeling alright, because it really has been a while since last I’ve really f*cked things up in my life. It serves as a reminder to me, to make sure I keep on top of my stuff, gives me a little taste of what things used to be like. Just enough however that it doesnt send me into a dark place for the rest of the day. As I’ve mentioned many times before, music has such an interesting impact on the human brain. If you want to learn a little more about how music can be a wonderful tool in your journey through life, check out my earlier blog post on it -> here <-

Mental Health video by young adults!

Guys, check out this awesome video!

“From award-winning documentary filmmaker Arthur Cauty, comes Faces of Mental Health, a short film which challenges stigma and encourages open conversation around mental illness and suicide in young people.

Students in Bristol were offered a space to open up and share their thoughts and personal experiences of mental illness and suicide, with a view to encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds across the country and around the World to step forward and speak out.”

It’s on vimeo, and definitely worth a watch and a share!!

Check out the video here on vimeo

Disconnecting for a Connection

What is disconnecting? Is it when you detach with love? Terminating a relationship? Isolating yourself? Unplugging an electrical device? Is it rejection? Not having a bond with something or someone?

Many times, people assume that someone who is disconnected find themselves in a difficult and challenging place to be. This can definitely be true, but what if disconnecting can be healthy and form a different connection?

When I have felt disconnected to the people, places, and things that help me stay sane, I start to get pretty down. I start feeling each of my insecurities creep into my mind and heart to convince me that I either don’t deserve the connection, or that it’s lost because of me.

Being disconnected can be very dangerous for my recovery and overall wellness – mentally and physically – however, it can also be extremely helpful, when used the right way; when I disconnect in order to connect.

One way I do this is by going to the beach and I shut out my thoughts and ground myself by using all of my senses to connect with the beach. I’ll disconnect my phone, my racing thoughts, my rapid heart rate, my loved ones, my responsibilities and allow myself to be vulnerable so I can connect to the calmness that the beach brings me. When I do this often, I’m able to balance the other connections in my life and have the strength to mend the disconnections in my life that I’m unhappy about.

Another way I’ve been disconnecting to connect is by getting to a quiet place, getting on my knees, and closing my eyes to start praying. I’m disconnecting any distraction so that I can build my spiritual connection. When I do this, I’m able to stabilize my emotions and welcome healing.

I’ve also been disconnecting electronics. I have been actually for once turning my phone on complete silence – no vibrate, nothing. When I do this, I’m able to enjoy the moment I’m in and be more in that moment. Sometimes, the moment is simply being alone. Sometimes I disconnect with others because I’m taking time for self-care. I’ve been realizing lately how important self-care really is.

This tool that I’ve learned and put into practice has had amazing benefits:
-the symptoms of my anxiety and ptsd have been more manageable
-I am able to take full advantage of EMDR Therapy
-My self-advocacy skills have increased tremendously
-I feel more empowered
-I feel confident in my ability to say no
-tasks are less pressuring and overwhelming

How will you disconnect to build a connection? What does that look like for you?

Long time, no see!

Hi everyone! It’s been a long, long time since I last wrote in this blog.

What’s kept me away?
• I started school and became a full-time student (I made honors last semester!)
• Willow and I left the shelter and moved into our own apartment.
• Willow turned TWO.
• I’ve been taking on more responsibilities at work and I’ve been working hard in school.

There are a lot of days that I’ve been happy and hopeful and staying afloat with a lot going on.

There have also been a lot of days that I’m busy all day. When I wake up early and stay up late and I’m exhausted and stressed. And that has been hard.

But I’m also staying afloat, in fact I’m doing well, too. Not all the time, of course, but still, I’m not giving up. If this were a few years ago, normally in a time like this, I wouldn’t be ok. I’d run at the slightest feeling of defeat, self-destruct then hide away.
At a time like this, I would be doing the worst I’d ever done, again.

But, I’m not. I’ve been doing better than I remember being for a long time. And I’m so grateful for that. I feel like I have found who I always was underneath the things that glued me to the floor.

Every so often though, I feel scared. Scared because I know I have so much at stake, and because I know I have come so far.
I wonder, sometimes, why am I ok? I wonder not if but when I will fail?
Then I remember the same things that scare me also help me be ok. They motivate me, support me and remind me to keep working. I think about the things that make me want to be ok.

I think about Willow, about being able to do more than just function, about being hopeful for our future, about school and my job, and I think about peer support. I think about the things I went through, the journey of shifting between the fine lines of patient and peer. About getting to speak with people who I understand, people who are struggling through high school with depression or anxiety or while fighting with their family every night. I think about how much peer support and the opportunity to use my story to better empathize with others, which have helped me be ok in times like this.

And I even though sometimes I feel scared, anxious, or doubtful – I feel good about continuing to move forward. I don’t feel tempted to stop, or give up, I feel excited to see what comes next; that fills me and keeps me going forward through fear and doubt.

"Busy" – Overwhelming? or Productive?

First let me say, wow what a leap since last time I’ve released an update. Lot’s has gone on, holidays have passed, school and work has continued, as has life. One thing that I’v been saying for the past few months especially has been “I’m so busy”, and in that time it’s meant one of two things at multiple points. The first being “I’m so busy, it’s overwhelming. I’m so stressed out, I can’t take this anymore!”. And the second being “I’m so busy, I am knocking sh*t out! I feel so productive!”. We’ve all felt both, we know how stressful and rewarding being “busy” can be, sometimes both feelings at the same time even. But if we look a little closer, that “busy” follows us around, manifests in our emotions. Allow me to give an example, if I’m really busy and everything’s a mess, I’m going to be drained I’m going to be very irritable and quick to snap, I might be unproductive in my off-hours. Where as if I’m really busy and I’m able to knock everything out with the might of Zeus, I’m more likely to be more productive in my other activities, I might feel relieved, or fulfilled, my emotions are more likely to feel good.
No one wants to feel bad, just like no one wants to be drowning in assignments, but here’s a little something I realized over the past few months, especially as I made the transition into Overwhelming, to Productive:

Your productivity level has EVERYTHING to do with your mental health

If you don’t force yourself to get your sh*t done and it doesn’t bite you in the ass on the way home, a beast will awaken inside of you and rock, your, sh*t, HARD! I have ADD/ADHD, plus I’m an 18 year old guy, I’m not always ready to sit down and focus on nothing but what’s in front of me, but that’s why I try to think ahead and do whatever I can in the moment to help myself prepare for whatever my next task is. If you haven’t picked up on it, these are all umbrella effects, as soon as you focus and work on better one thing, other things typically follow. So if you’re struggling with your mental health, instead of focusing solely on it maybe it’s time to give some of the other aspects in your life some attention. Chances are they can probably help steer the whole ship around.

Music & Emotions//Opening My Library

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you know i looove music. I love to listen to it, write it, record it, watch it, hear about it, and i absolutely love everything guitars. So with this post I want to open it up to all of you as a library, allow me to explain.

1.) Tell me how you’re feeling/times you’re feeling a certain way

2.) Tell me how you WANT to feel, OR if you’d like music to help feel said feelings all the way through

3.) Tell me what kind of music you currently enjoy/listen to OR a genre of music you’d like to explore farther

Now these three steps (in a responding post below) would be applicable if you’re looking for my recommendations on music and how it affects our emotions, HOWEVER I have a very broad taste and relatively extensive knowledge on a lot of music genres and sub-genres so if you’re looking to explore one farther or ask music related questions I have no opposition to that either!

Now, allow me to speak more on Music and their relationship with our emotions. Music is an international language. It is spoken through all races, sexes, communities, ages, etc. In many cultures it is described as the “language of emotions”, that’s also why when we watch films, for example, music typically accompanies specific moments or scenes to give the viewer a better sense of the emotional atmosphere and let us know how we should be viewing what’s going on. The experience of “Music” has the power to evoke emotions that is absolutely incomparable to any other sense. When our brain processes music, it can be related to a “collage” of sorts. There are different sounds in a specific structure, in which when combined in said sequence, create a piece of art that seems to make sense to us compared to it’s singular sounds alone. Music is primarily rooted in the primitive part of the brain’s structures that are tied to emotion, motivation, and reward. The response that our brain’s have our almost unconscious in a way, and musical artists themselves have the ability to manipulate our emotions and expectations whether they realize what they’re doing or not. According to psychcentral.com, “More than any other stimulus, music has the ability to conjure up images and feelings that need not necessarily be directly reflected in memory.”. If you sit back and just read that sentence over a time or two again, it really truly is amazing how Music can draw pictures in our heads and evoke such strong emotion, and yet, those things MAY not even be related to any past memories or experiences, providing you with a whole new experience through nothing more than sound. Our own preference even on the kind of music we’d like to listen to at some time has an effect on its perceived experience to the listener.

“It could be this heightened level of experience in certain people and musicians that allows them to imagine and create music that others simply cannot, painting their very own sonic image.”. – Malini Mohana on “Music & How It Impacts Your Brain, Emotions”

SO, with all of this being said, I open this up to you, as I encourage you to ask for any of those beautiful experiences through music that I may be able to share with you.

Open Discussion: When Hurt Haunts

With this post Id like to create an open discussion to talk about when being hurt comes back to nibble at your brain a little bit. It can be really frustrating and difficult to be reminded of hard times especially when you’re on a roll, or getting over it, or you feel like you’re all better. Share what you do to try to either distract yourself, or heal, or whatever it is that you do to positively benefit yourself when those thoughts just wont leave you alone.

Recovery Month Videos

We want to see your videos for Suicide Prevention and Recovery Month! Check out Eliza’s video of why she fights for recovery and post yours here! We will share them on our facebook and twitter (if you want!)

Rest in Peace, Mac Miller

Today the artist Mac Miller passed away. He was 26-years old.
Mac Miller openly suffered from addiction and mental illness- candidly talking about his struggles in interviews and breaking down the walls that create stigma.
He was a talented musician, and impacted many young people with his music and his soul.

The tragedy of another young person, lost to addiction is a heavy weight we must carry as a society.
It seems recently, that we are losing celebrities at an alarming rate.
Through tragedy, a platform is opened- in which we can gather together and speak loudly about these things which have been forbidden.

With addiction, suicide, and mental illness ringing loudly in our ears- we must remember those we have lost. And move forward- not in silence, but in strength- with knowledge gained from their lives and their pain- with lessons to speak up and ask questions.
We must commit to caring for each other- no longer is it possible to look away from mental illness and addiction- we are so clearly surrounded by it- so clearly suffering from it, or not, but know people who are. So now, we must rise together to change the conversation and break the stigma which has silenced us for so long.

As for Mac Miller, I hope deeply that his family feels the love and support they need to get through this time- and I hope they feel comfort knowing they have the support of many others who have gone through similar loss. I hope he is at peace and that he rests in peace.

R.I.P Mac Miller



Plans for the Fall

August is almost over… HOW?!

summer

It’s almost time to kiss Summer goodbye, and say hello to wonderful, amazing Fall!
I love the Summer, but I love the Fall so much.
Still, even though I love the Fall, and I’m no longer in High School, the end of Summer gives me a knot in my stomach… I get so nervous and anxious, no doubt because school was so anxiety provoking for me as a child and teenager, and Fall often meant depression, anxiety, hospitals… a lot of pain.
With time, my love for Fall is beginning to come back into the forefront when I realize Summer is nearly over- but I still cannot escape the dull lull of anxiety that sits within my and grows bigger as leaves begin to change and nights become long.
It’s also kind of sad!

fall

So, how do you guys feel? Are you happy/sad/nervous/etc? What does Fall mean to you and what are your plans this Fall?
If you struggle with this time of year, what specifically do you struggle with? What makes it better?

We are here for you all during this seasonal transition and transition back to school!

How I Found the Courage to Heal on My Detour

Healing takes courage, and sometimes it takes a friend, a therapist, or a book!
How have you made it through each detour of healing and recovery? Where are you now?
This was a book that helped me start…

Well, I’ll start with how I found the book.

My life was out of control. I called a therapist.

She listened to my flustered ramblings, then calmly replied, “You have to tell your story”.

Tell my story?

“Yes, you have to say in words what happened to you.”

I hung up and never talked to her again. She was oversimplifying things. I’m used to “thinking” myself out. I didn’t know why I actually had to verbalize it. What could words do?

I spent a few months pretending everything was okay, but it wasn’t. Then I thought, what the heck, I’ll say it. I tried, but I couldn’t speak.

At that moment, I knew the therapist was right. Until I could use the power of words to express what happened to me, I would not heal.

It took years before I could even articulate an idea of the turmoil that was rattling around inside of me. The confusion, the pain, the anger – the losses. I all kinds of journals, you know, the kind you see at Hallmark with the pretty covers and the inspirational quotes, like a compulsion – believing there would come a time when words would flow through me and guide me back to my self.

And one day, I took one of those journals. I opened it. And I began to write:

“April…Oh I don’t know.
Things are good – I’ve been doing a lot of auditioning, I’m even performing!
And, now that I have an agent, I’m taking the train in to the city for auditions – by myself…’cause I’m a woman now!

It’s great – I’m really getting to know the showbiz crowd and feel like I have mentors in the crazy business – people I really trust. I think…”

Then shortly after that, I had some time to kill before an audition last week so I went to the bookstore. And I was browsing the Healing & Spirituality section – I needed some inspiring poetry to pep me up because I don’t know, I’d been feeling really drained – and thought that maybe that’s just what this business does to you –

I picked up each book unenthusiastically.

“You Can Heal Your Life.”
“The Artist’s Way.”
“The Courage to Heal: For survivors of sexual abuse.”

I almost laughed, put the book back, walked away… and then came back, started to slowly flip through the pages. I sat down, slowly, glued to the pages.

“Sexual Abuse.”

Those were words that belong with plane crashes and gang rapes and armed robberies and dateline specials. In Fairfield, Connecticut, there’s stress for final exams, or a fight with my drama-queen friends.

(I looked around nervously, then continued to read.
“Check all that apply:
I feel dirty, like there’s something wrong with me
Sometimes I think I’m crazy
I feel ashamed
I’m different from other people
If people really knew me, they’d leave
I have a hard time taking care of myself
I don’t deserve to be happy
I’m a failure
I can’t cry anymore
I feel as if my body is separate from the rest of me
I feel numb.”

That’s…my story. Numb. That was the word. The soft b felt tingly on my lips as I swallowed up that word in terrifying secrecy. Numb. That is how I felt. Like my body was physically going through the motions of everyday life, but the me I knew my entire life was not a part of it. It was as though I determined to remain in denial.
When I turned 17, a mentor who I had known for several years transformed into a complete stranger. One night I had come to his studio for a voice lesson. I went into total shock and coped by leaving my body and staying numb when he started to molest me.

By the end of the night, I couldn’t remember a thing that had happened. When I woke up, my voice teacher did not go back to who I thought he was. I stayed numb. For months. And months. Suddenly, all I could feel were my feet pacing back and forth over the endless passing of days.

Out of control. Until I could speak it. And…the therapist was right.

And then I was in a Barnes and Noble somehow holding an impossible book. Courage. Heal.

Nervousness rushed over my body, like I’d just been caught shoplifting. The warmth that filled my cheeks was a peculiar heat I hadn’t felt since I had last laughed, or smiled. Words had the power to pierce through my skin with more potency than my fingernails, now rattling with uncontrollable energy.

So that’s my story. And… I had never actually told anyone before.

Just this book. Because this book told me.

So I guess I healed through stories – literally. Because two stories talked to each other.

Sometimes you need other people’s words until you can fill in your own.

Of course, some people like to fill in their own words for me. They always will. But, finding that book, The Courage to Heal, a decade ago, I found words. That’s all they were. It only became a story once I read them, and wrote out my own. I realized the value of my story once I was able to read it, and ultimately write it for myself.

But finding that book, I found music – more than words. A connection to the world. Everything was possible. I had a story to tell. And with a story, anything could happen. Even the good things…

Has a book ever inspired you on the next steps of your detour? Share it!
And safe, safe travels, Detourists!

Amy

Rest In Peace, Kate Spade

The fashion designer and creator of the brand Kate Spade, Katherine Brosnahan (aka Kate Spade), was found in her apartment on Tuesday after committing suicide.

She left behind her 13 year old daughter and husband, and many many fans who looked up to her accessible, pretty, and classic handbags, accessories and clothes. Since the 90’s Kate Spades beautiful, simple handbags have been known to almost everyone with even a remote interest in fashion. In middle school, Alexander McQueen (RIP) and W Magazine introduced me into the beautiful, fascinating and almost space-like (very pretty, very far away, and very hard to get to) world of high fashion, modeling, and women’s wear. Since then, my love for fashion grew- I coddled my fashion magazines like they were priceless heirlooms, woke up at 3 am to watch fashion week on my computer, live from various European countries, and maintained my first blog- a tumblr for high fashion and editorial photography- as though it were a full time job. When I was 15, Alexander McQueen committed suicide, and I cried as though he was a close friend.
Now, a young single mother, I have very little time to pursue personal interests and passions (fashion and drawing in particular) however, the news of Kate Spade’s suicide brings me to a place of sadness for many reasons. Though Kate sold her empire years ago, she provided the framework for a brand that would flow through the lives of so many people, and inspire many to love fashion. On a personal level, I am touched by the impact she had on me as a teenager, her handbags and accessories where some of the few designer pieces that brought the sparkling and elevated world of fashion close to my finger-tips. On another level, as a survivor of many very serious suicide attempts, including a attempted hanging when I was 12, I am touched and heartbroken by the silent suffering she endured. I feel so very sad for her that her pain was so immense that suicide seemed a relief to her and her family. I know that feeling well, and I know the feeling of regret, fear and happiness. I wish so much that we could speak more openly about suicide, before tragedy strikes rather than after.

Rest in Peace, Kate.

And to her family and many loved ones, a random girl in Connecticut was touched by Kate for many years, and found peace and happiness in her empire, even throughout her own depression and pain.

Embracing My Turning Pointe

At such an integral turning point in my life, I find myself struggling

majorly.

I find it exceptionally difficult to transition out of “teacher mode” and back into “regular person” mode.
The end of a school year is always challenging for me. This is the second year in a row that I have had to say goodbye to a group of kids that mean a whole lot to me. (These have been the first few years of MANY more “goodbyes” to come.)

When I am in front of a classroom, I feel very similarly to how I feel when I’m on stage. I am fearless. Nothing can touch me. I feel like it is my

purpose.

180+ days of being “Miss”; you get used to that. You get used to someone relying on you, you get used to someone needing you. I compare hearing a child call out my name to putting on a warm sweatshirt.

Additionally, this time of year is another transition, as the dance year has ended, and we are on our own summer vacation. They say “Distance makes the heart grow fonder”, and time away from dance makes me love it even more. 8 months out of 12, I get to live out my ballerina dreams, dancing in a studio I love with people I love. But the 4 months that we have off allow me to ground myself, and think about how much I love dancing.

In this time, I struggle with my identity. I struggle with my purpose. Who am I? What do I want to be? How do I want others to see me? This brings me back to my winter thoughts on who I am and how my identity affects me daily.

So, to conclude my rambling brain dump, today I am going to take a step back. I am going to embrace my struggling and embrace this turning point. And today, I am going to identify as the following: Cat Mom, drinker of tea, Bones™ Binge Watcher, girlfriend of an Airman, teacher of small humans, reader of Harry Potter, living with Anxiety and Depression. And surviving each day.

(Side note: rereading “This is from me to you. This is the truth.”, my own writing, gave me that validation I was looking for. Highly recommend reading your own writing when you are looking for comfort from someone who knows your struggles. After all, who knows you better than you?)

When the Mask Comes Off

Check out this awesome video that gives insight into the perspective of mental illness according to youth in the United States.

“When the Mask Comes Off is a video documentary featuring young people from New Mexico discussing their experiences of living with mental illness. We hear stories of struggle on their journey from misperception and alienation toward self-acceptance and healing. The documentary comes with adaptable discussion guides for use in communities and schools.”

Find the video here.

I’m Working On It

Most mornings, the moment I open my eyes, I can tell what kind of day I am going to have.

Lately, I have had some bad days.

My Anxiety has been a part of me my entire life. Most of the time, I do not allow her to be my whole life. Lately, she has been trying extra hard to take over. I am exhausted fighting her. She is not making my days easy.

Having Generalized Anxiety Disorder means that my Anxiety doesn’t discriminate. She doesn’t care if I have 37 things to do that day. She doesn’t care if it’s sunny or raining. She doesn’t care if I’m having a good day or a bad day. She fights for my attention, and she is relentless. She stops at nothing. She wins when I lose.

I keep a longgggg list of things that are giving me anxiety. I am worried about my transition into the real world, as a teacher rather than a student. I am worried that I won’t be able to handle adult responsibilities. I am worried about my upcoming travel plans.
These worries are useless. I KNOW I will be able to transition.. I KNOW I will be able to handle adult responsibilities.. But that’s where a Generalized Anxiety Disorder comes in. I cannot control being worried about things that are out of my control (or even sometimes IN my control).

I can’t help it.

But I really wish I could. I really wish I could take the daily/weekly/monthly anxieties away from the world (myself, included). I wish that it was easier for me to ignore this screaming Anxiety. I wish I had an advanced skill-set that allowed me to live peacefully with my Anxiety every day. I don’t.

But, I’m working on it.


The little bean that gets me through my hardest days.

Twenty Years

October 1997
Age three. My first dance class.
Picture an exceptionally small little girl with all of the worries in the world.
I didn’t know how to accept my feelings. I didn’t know how to process my emotions.

October 2007
Age thirteen. In therapy for eight years. Still learning how to deal with my anxiety. Still learning how to accept that I was living with a mental illness. Still learning to admit to myself that I was living with a mental illness.

October 2017
Age twenty-three. Celebrating twenty years of dance in the studio I love so much.
I have finally learned how to live with my mental illness. I have finally learned how to accept that my Anxiety and my Depression do not define me.

Two weekends ago, I had the honor and privilege of celebrating my 20th year recital- living my life on stage surrounded by the people I love the most. When I look back on my life, there is no possible way for me to do so without thinking about how much dancing has saved me.
Living with a mental illness (or illnesses, in my case) means that I treat every day a little bit differently than someone without a mental illness does. Some days, I have to cancel plans. Some days, I run late. Some days, I’m stuck in bed. Some days, I don’t leave the bathroom. Some days, my emotions get to me, and I cry for no reason.
But, some days are good. Some days, I am excited to take on the day. Some days, I look forward to what the unknown will bring me.

I have worked hard to learn how to live around the type of day I am having. I am still working at it. It’s not an easy process. I am still learning how to live my life despite my crippling anxiety. As I have lived with myself for 24 years, I feel pretty confident knowing how to read my body and my mind, and knowing when I need to fight, and when I need to take flight. Some days, my anxiety gets so bad that I am in flight even before I step out of bed. But other days, other battles are worth the fight.

Dancing is a part of me. I am the best me when I am dancing. My Anxiety and my Depression know they aren’t allowed in the studio. They don’t get to me while I’m dancing. Anxiety has taken so much away from my life- but she will never take dancing from me.

I won’t let her.


2013. 15 years.


You lift me. You make me a better woman.


Thank you for twenty beautiful years of love, dedication, and dance.

My Humiliation is Finally Over

The other day I took my last drug test for probation.

I know it may sound strange to be proud and happy about this, but I am for so many reasons.

When I take a supervised drug test for probation, this is what happens:

I walk into the facility having to use the bathroom SO bad because I’ve been holding it in so I can actually pee when I get there. I have to sit and wait (about 10-15 minutes) for a female to take the test. But why would a female have to take the test? Because this is a supervised test. Aka a complete stranger is going to watch me pee.

Thankfully I’m not “pee-shy” as they call it, which is probably due to me having to use the restroom literally three feet away from someone’s bed when I was incarcerated. But ladies… if you’re on your menstrual cycle you better believe they watch you when you need to practice hygiene for that. Aka this stranger watched me while I changed my tampon. Awkward.

I’ve been on the other side of this situation; the person supervising. It’s awkward for this role as well, but I’m tired of hearing professionals say, “it’s just as awkward for me, as it is for you.” … Ummm… it’s really not. It’s so much more awkward and humiliating for the person taking the test. The person taking the test is not getting paid to do so. The person taking the test does not have to have their privacy invaded. Oh, and the person taking the test doesn’t get reminded of all of the things they did wrong and why they are there in the first place each time doing this. And then they will turn on the water from the faucet as if that’s supposed to work some magic. Yeah, right. And please don’t have a conversation with me while I humiliate myself because I cannot concentrate on carrying on a conversation with you while you stare at me pee and change my tampon… just saying.

I’m also tired of hearing, “but you know the results are going to be negative, so you have nothing to worry about.” Really?

Every time I take a drug test(negative or not), my past comes into my mind like wildfire. A negative test result does not eliminate the humiliation of the process. I wish people would respect that more, especially providers. It’s not that I’m worried about the test results. Is the anxiety of the whole process increased if I know the results will be positive? Absolutely. But whether it’s negative or not, I’m anxious of the thoughts that come creeping into my mind before, during, and after a test. I’m anxious about the humiliation of the whole process. I’m anxious about the judgement, discrimination, and stigma that comes along with the process. There have been several times I have been looked down upon because I was on probation, there to take a test.

The harsh thoughts that my mental health disorders flood into my mind are awful. I try to shut them out (it’s a daily thing), but they’re there and they are NOT always easy to ignore. Sometimes I’m unable to eat or function the best that day (work, school, social life, home life) because the whole process has an aftermath effect. It really didn’t get easier for me as I continued taking them (weekly for 9 months, every four months for three years).

I try to change my perspective into something positive as I usually do, but it’s definitely difficult. The thoughts still come and the emotions still follow. I try to look at the situation with gratitude. I’m thankful that I’m sober. I’m thankful that I’m not in prison. I’m thankful of where I am in life. I also allow it to be a moment of humility. But there is a difference between being humble and being humiliated. 

Quora defines the difference of humility and humiliation:

Humiliation is the act of being humiliated by something or someone, so in a sense, it’s embarrassment or self loathing. Humility is the understanding or will to accept yourself and to not be egotistical or arrogant, not to mention being accepting.”

So I guess it’s a mixture of both for me.

But now, to end on a positive note, I’M DONE TAKING THESE SUPERVISED PEE SESSIONS!!!

I did three freaking years of them and I can finally close that door. I am still on probation, but the next test would have been scheduled when my probation time had already elapsed. I’m looking forward to being able to post about probation being terminated in July. Until then… I’ll be enjoying shutting the door of every bathroom I go into haha.

humiliation

My Best Self

As part of my journey toward mental wellness and stability, I have suffered through many of these times- feeling like I am not good enough, not being happy in my own skin, not even wanting to look at myself in the mirror.

I have not been feeling like my best self.

And when I’m not feeling like my best self, it’s really easy to start going down a path of terrible thoughts, spinning out of control. Once those thoughts start spinning, it’s really hard to think anything else.

When you live with a mental illness, not every day is going to be great. Not every day is even going to be good. Some days just suck. It is hard to find the motivation to complete mundane tasks.  It is hard to get out of bed.

It is hard to be me.

It is hard to be you.

I think it’s very difficult to be cognizant of the battles that everyone fights, whether they be on the inside of their heads or on the outside of their heads. Living with a mental illness doesn’t make this battle any easier. In fact, it makes it harder. Not only are you in constant Fight or Flight mode with every decision, every move you make- you are also fighting the battles that occur outside of your brain.

Each day, I wake up and for that brief five seconds, my brain forgets that she has to fight. She is not worried. She is not scared. She is not running. She is at peace.

I wish that I could extend those five seconds just a little bit longer every day. Because if I get to a point where my brain feels like she is safe and she doesn’t have to fight, maybe she will decide she likes herself. Maybe if she decides she likes herself, she’ll like me, too.

For now, I can count on my brain to like me when I am dancing. She loves me when I’m dancing. She is free when I’m dancing.

Why is HUMOR a container AND cure-all for Balance, Health and JOY?

How does humor heal trauma?  Here’s a brief…lopsided clip from my keynote at the Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor Conference to explain!

Humor is a creative container for un-fun emotions we try to repress in trauma.

Why do we joke about things?

It’s a way to contain it so we can manage it, we become larger than it, It gives us control in a healthy way.

 

Humor was our container in hospital, and it created a common ground to bring us all together.

How did we all find a way to laugh, even when I was close to death myself, fighting for my own survival?

My brother dated the ICU nurses.

Mom watched Everybody loves Raymond.

We set up bowling games with medicine cups in hallway (we were repurposing, seeing things differently!)

 

Laughing at yourself can give you the confidence to do things (As soon as I was discharged from the ICU, I joined the cast of a local musical.)

If you can make containers as islands through your “detour,” you can swim through, and back into life.

Humor is the container that transports you across the rocky shore.

So is play, and acting like a kid…or animal!

Animals – instinctive play, there’s humor in that (read the book, Waking the Tiger) they lack self consciousness.

Humor allows us to discharge that energy.

All negative emotions can be let out in a healthy container so they don’t eat away at us.

We can decorate that container as creatively as we want – what does creativity mean to you? It can be many things!

Creativity is just any outlet where we can channel the emotion we feel, share it and transform it

My diagnosis had no container, no formal label.

If we can’t put a label on things we get overwhelmed. It feels beyond our control.

Humor gives us ownership. We don’t feel nervous to not have a professional, official  “label” to know how to handle sickness and uncertainty.

We are brave enough to find our own way if we can laugh at risking and failing.

Some moments you just can’t find humor in the moment and that’s okay.

You use mindfulness to be present.

When I started to think of it as energy I got excited – creative fuel – it’s why the tortured artist gets excited by torture but doesn’t have to stay tortured

What are ways to transform that energy?

Mindfulness: felt sensations, get your head out of it

You can get to that place of nonthinking that allow animals and kids to PLAY.

ONCE WE naturally discharge that energy, we get that load off our chest. We restore homeostasis – that means we feel balance – thanks to humor!

How does humor help you?

Forgiving My Younger Self

Last night, as I was just about to fall asleep, an anxious thought invaded my mind. Then several others came flooding in right after. I tried to ignore them, but they were so strong. Mainly, they were specific memories of times during my active addiction that I completely broke my morals; all for drugs.

I kept reassuring myself by saying, “No, Ally, you weren’t in your right state of mind. You were in a bad place. You aren’t there now. You don’t do that now. Focus on now.”

But depression and anxiety (and for my faith followers: the enemy) doesn’t want you to be reassured. It doesn’t want you to be calm, to let go, to focus on the positive. Instead, more invasive thoughts came in to add onto the pain of the already existing thoughts. Did they keep coming because I was fighting them?

So here’s a breakdown of the thoughts in a dialogue form:

Starter thought: “Do you remember the time you (insert memory of the time I degraded myself)?”

My fighting thought: “No, Ally, you weren’t in your right state of mind. You were in a bad place. You aren’t there now. You don’t do that now. Focus on now.”

Invasive thought #2: “But you still did it. (insert degrading name-calling: whore, stupid) You can’t take that back.”

My fighting thought: *deep breaths* “I did it, I’m not proud of it, I’m still in the dark with that time and I’m not like that anymore.”

Invasive thought #3: “But does your boyfriend know about it? What do you think he would think? Does your mother know about it? What do you think she will think? I’m sure this will come to light eventually and you know everyone will judge you and definitely leave you.”

My fighting thought: *trying to ignore the lump in my throat* “I don’t think he cares much about my past. I think I’ve told him about this time, but now, come to think of it, I don’t know if I have told him. Am I being dishonest? My mom would be disappointed, but she has my back. Jen. Must text my best friend Jen. She will reassure me and comfort me and not judge me.”

Notice how I already started to entertain these invasive thoughts?

Shortly after texting my best friend, the tears came, the guilt came, the shame came. Stupid thoughts, stupid anxiety, and stupid depression had me all in my feelings. The enemy is pretty smart; he knows exactly how to trip me up.

That one dark memory reminder caused me to remember and think about several others. I started beating myself up and feeling awful for things I had done.

And then I realized: I need to forgive that younger me.

So Dear Younger Me,
It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I didn’t protect you better. All of this will be for a reason one day, you’ll see.

Signed,
A Much Wiser You

So although I may be a little uneasy still about the choices I made when I was younger; under the influence or not, I can’t let them destroy the current choices I have. I can’t change the past. I repeat, I cannot change the past. But I can do something today. I can do something in the future. I can protect that inner child of mine. My guard might be up a little extra until these emotions relax a bit, but that is ok. It is ok for me to have to do some extra breathing. It is ok for me to write out my feelings. It is ok for me to lean onto my best friend. It is ok to remind myself that God has forgiven me.

Is there something you need to forgive your younger self for today?

My Definition

My quest to find mental health and stability has stretched over a period of years and years and years. I have no secret to happiness. I have not yet discovered all there is to know about my mental health.

And I think that’s the point.  

We are each on our own separate journeys that are made up of unique twists and turns. We all have faults. We all make mistakes. But what’s important is that we

push forward.

We keep going. We soldier on.

It was not an easy feat to come to terms with the fact that I live with a mental illness. It was not easy for me to first accept that my brain functioned in a different way than the “normal” teen. And it was not easy for me to accept that I live with my mental illness- my mental illness does not define me and it does not consume me.

That is a tough pill to swallow. (No pun intended. Okay, maybe a little pun intended.)

It is really, really, REALLY hard to accept who you are every single day of your life. I admire those who can and do. I admire those who have worked so hard to bring light to the fact that we are all different, we are all unique, we are all beautiful.

I have spent many days under the covers, not wanting to be a real person because I couldn’t accept who I was. I couldn’t accept that my mental illness was something I needed to learn to live with. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have just been born “normal” – without this looming black cloud that I will never be able to get rid of.

I have come to a point in my life where I have realized that I am a person living with a mental illness. My Anxiety and my Depression do not define me. I am not Olivia, mentally ill. I am not Olivia, anxious. I am not Olivia, depressed.

I am Olivia, dancer.
I am Olivia, cat mom.
I am Olivia, teacher.
I am Olivia, sister, daughter, granddaughter, girlfriend, cousin, friend.

I am so much more than who I thought I was doomed to be because of my mental illnesses.

Today, I encourage you to look at yourself in the mirror, and be kind to you. You deserve kindness and compassion. And you deserve to know this: no one gets to decide your feelings. They are yours. They are real. They are valid.

You are valid.

You are not your mental illness.

What’s a lifeline of creativity for you?

What’s one healing form of creativity? 

Music!  That’s why I write songs, and I’m so excited to share two of the videos of premieres of my original songs, How Dare You (what I wish I could have said to my abuser at 17 years old) and Picture Frame (a love-note and farewell to childhood) at the New York Duplex Cabaret and Piano Bar.  Thanks to Playlight Theatre for organizing the amazing Songwriter’s Showcase!  

These two songs are part of two musicals I’m working on, Passageways, and Leftovers.  Watch the videos of the amazing And my song “Picture Frame,” sung by SHARAE MOULTRIE (A New Brain, Gallery Players) and “How Dare You” sung by MEGHANN REYNOLDS (Show Me A Hero, HBO)

Creative expression as a personal lifeline…

Whenever I could, I have used some inner resource to be healing myself, to be creative.  When it was first found out that I would have to get another colostomy, my parents were trying to break it to me in the calmest way.  I was hunched my double-boiler making chocolate and as soon as they told me, I started crying and screaming hysterically.

Creating chocolate was the best way I knew to express what I was really feeling: Rage, like I wanted to explode – in my chest and legs.  I just wanted to hit something, throw something on the floor a.  I was so furious at the situation and worse: helpless. By creating, I felt like my feelings were being expressed, and  I was able to know what I was feeling – which gave me a sense of empowerment in a powerless situation.

         Creativity in Uncertainty

So how did I survive over four years (besides IV nutrition, which was NOT the same as a huge bowl of ice cream!) without even a tiny ice cube to satiate myself?  I had to be resourceful.  This is what creativity means to me in my favorite quotes:

Art is magical, but it’s not magic. It’s a neurological product, and we can study this neurological product the same way we study other complex processes such as language. — Charles Limb, neuroscientist

Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
— Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle

The goal of life is rapture. Art is the way we experience it. Art is the transforming experience.
— Joseph Campbell

Beginning with audacity is a very great part of the art of painting.
— Winston Churchill

…Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect on all sides – the seeming realities of this world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we can’t receive. Proust calls these hints our “true impressions.” The true impressions, our persistent intuitions, will, without art, be hidden from us and we will be left with nothing but a ‘terminology for practical ends’ which we falsely call life.
— Saul Bellow, on science and art from his Nobel lecture in 1976

The artist has one function–to affirm and glorify life.
— W. Edward Brown

Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.
— Berthold Brecht

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.
— James Baldwin

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.
— Henry Ward Beecher

That’s all I’ll share for now – but let me know – how is creativity YOUR lifeline?

Well, let’s hope April is filled with Spring flowers, and keep sharing your detours with me!

“April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks Go.” – Christopher Morley

(Check out more art here)

Safe Travels, Detourists!

Amy

Isolations Belong in the Studio, Not in Our Heads

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is isolating. It is lonely.

But it is not quiet.

It is loud. It screams in both of my ears constantly. It never lets me forget it’s there. Not at 9 in the morning, not at 4 in the afternoon, not at 3 in the morning.

My anxiety disorder has left me stranded in bed. It has left me to fend for myself on my hardest days. My anxiety disorder has singled me out in many situations that I couldn’t handle.
I have left many lunches, because I couldn’t finish my meal. I have stopped many rides, because my anxiety went into Fight or Flight mode. I have missed out on concerts, vacations, events, you name it. All because my anxiety told me I would be better off sitting out.

I wish that my brain would give me peace. Just for a few minutes. I wish that it wasn’t such an isolating part of my life.

**

Holidays are hard. They are a constant reminder that I am no longer the child I once was- that my anxieties have intensified. Even in a crowded room, my brain has this incredibly annoying way of separating me from the rest of the crowd.

One of the puzzle pieces that makes up my anxiety disorder is its empathic ability to drain my energy just by being near others. It is not something I enjoy. I don’t find enjoyment in being exhausted by others. When this happens, it is hard for me to communicate effectively. It is hard for me to walk down the street and meet someone’s eyes. It is hard to be around other people whose energies are so powerful. I am not ignoring you. I am not mad at you. I am just too exhausted to form a conversation.

I am writing today so that maybe you might not feel as lonely, knowing someone in the world is experiencing a high-anxiety day. Just like you.
Maybe if conversations about our mental illnesses were accepted and welcomed, this disorder wouldn’t feel so isolating. Maybe if we were taught coping mechanisms from the moment we are born, this disorder wouldn’t feel so isolating. Maybe if we did research to help our loved ones who are struggling, this disorder wouldn’t feel so isolating. Maybe if we learned language to help others who are feeling this way, this disorder wouldn’t feel so isolating. Maybe if we put more energy into loving and respecting those who are different from us, this disorder wouldn’t feel so isolating. Maybe if we worked together to end the stigma, this disorder wouldn’t feel so isolating.

Photo by KEP.

Maybe.

What does a "blip in time" mean to you? How to tell yourself everything passes

How do you tell yourself that everything passes, eventually? Even times are tough?
Sometimes, I try to write a song.
Just recently, I got to perform  an original song Check it out here. Last night, I was lucky enough to perform  an original song to celebrate untold stories of strong, powerfully resilient women.

When I originally wrote “Blip in Time,” as well as a few dozen others, I never thought I’d be performing this song on stage, in public, to celebrate strong women everywhere. Last night, it was to celebrate the amazing legacy of Grace Paley.

i wrote it to get through a very difficult personal time, to uncertainly reassure myself that everything would pass eventually with time. I just had to breathe and take it moment by moment, one day at a time.

It shows that if you can just get through one nanosecond at a time,  be in the moment when you can, you can make it through anything. We just need to keep telling ourselves that!

That is what resilience means to me. Just being here right now one day at a time, and trying your own personal best not to anticipate what may come in the future. 

This song in last night’s performance was to celebrate the legacy of Grace Paley, an amazing Jewish female writer who stood up for what she believed in, and also wrote beautiful poetry and short stories She is certainly an inspiration to me.

Here are my own lyrics – What does a blip in time mean to you?

BLIP IN TIME LYRICS
By Amy Oestreicher
https://amyoes.com/original-songs/

This is a blip, is a blip in time
this cannot last forever
this is a moment, a friend of mine
let it go, swiftly surrender

before you know it, the present’s passed
only a story you’ll tell
the thing about now is it doesn’t last
yet the lessons will do you well

sit under this tree with me
Sit and hold my hand
breathe in what the air is whistling
Grounding with the land

These are the ways, are the ways we heal
When life strikes us from above
The only sensations that are real
Are those who we live for and love

Hold still just a bit more and you will catch
The rays of sun on your skin
The sadness will pass, the pain floats away
The light is meant to breathe in

Float upon these waves with me
drift back to the shore
sometimes what we think we need
is not what we are truly longing for.

this all will pass
though it may seem like a big storm cloud
all that really matters
is that I know I’m here right now…

This is a blip, is a blip I’ll bet
soon to be memories
This is the time that I won’t forget
it will remain with me

I am the future, I am myself
I am what I believe
I have the power to start again
new strands to thread and weave…

this all will pass
if I stand strong
and all will be is my song!

How do you tell yourself what you’re going through right now will pass, eventually?

What does a blip in time mean to you?

Flight

My chest is tight.
I am screaming out loud to a room full of people, and no one is listening.
My eyes are wet with tears. I am crying out for help. I am getting nothing from the people surrounding me. No response. No sign of help.

My vision is blurring. I am desperately searching for a focus point, but I am having trouble finding one. Fight or Flight is kicking in. Flight is going to win. Flight always wins. I have to get out of here.

This is a panic attack from the inside. These are the feelings that take over my body. I lose control. Everything I had been working so hard toward slips away from me. I am no longer in control of me.

It is terrifying.

***

I was humbled to be invited to be a speaker on the panel at Norwalk High School’s showing of Angst, a film that explores anxiety, its causes, and its effects. I was asked to provide a description of my reactions to the film, as well as invited to answer questions from the crowd. 

Someone in the crowd asked a question that went something like this:

what advice would you give parents with children who are battling an anxiety disorder?

My immediate thoughts came together and I responded with my go-to response, which is generally the following: Parents who are looking to help their children fight the good fight, I would encourage you to explore all options before deciding to medicate your child. I understand that when a doctor you trust tells you to put your child on any kind of medication, you listen to them. You want the best for your children. Who wouldn’t?

I stand by this. As an adult who was medicated as a child and is now dealing with the lifelong consequences of a decision that wasn’t mine in the first place, I want parents to be able to find the information that they need and the skills that they need to be able to provide the best care and support for their children.

As I was thinking about this question after the discussion was over (and for most of today, because, you know… anxiety), I would like to add more to my answer.

Parents, I encourage you to talk to your children. Speak to them with a real voice, and speak to them with intent to listen. And then listen, really REALLY listen to what your child has to say to you. Encourage your child to speak his or her mind. Make “talking about your feelings” a regular topic of conversation. (“How is your noggin doing today?” is a good way to get started if you are stuck. Thanks for that, Matthew.)

As an adult living with an anxiety disorder, I have mastered the art of wearing different costumes in different situations. I wear several costumes- including (but not limited to): Miss Tangredi-teacher of fifth graders, Olivia the Ballerina-fearless while dancing, Sunny’s Mom-the hired help assigned to feeding my cat…. the list goes on and on.

These costumes are my protective gear. My armor. They are what I wrap myself in to protect myself from harm that the outside world brings. I imagine most children living with an anxiety disorder have their own costumes that they wear. As children, we are not taught how to use language to describe the anxiety disorder we are living with. Most of us don’t even realize there is a problem. For a long time, I thought everyone was terrified of elevators. Why wouldn’t they be?

Encourage your children to build their own armor. Help them build it. Learn and teach them coping skills. Teach them to ask for help when they need it. Create an environment that makes your child feel safe. Ask them questions that make them feel valuable and important. Make sure your child knows that their feelings are valid- that THEY are valid.

Me & My Mental Illness.

My name is Julianna, and this is my first time ever using this website. I suppose this domain is used to open up, and tell people about what is going on in your head that made me feel the need to join this website. Believe me – I’m not a sharer. I’m known to be to myself and shove all of these awful thoughts and feelings I have into my head, and try very hard to make sure they are shown. But allow me to be cheesy and insert a line from an amazing book and film known as “The Fault in our Stars”. the famous line reads, “THAT’S THE THING ABOUT PAIN. IT DEMANDS TO BE FELT.” I’ve learned over the past years of suffering from mental illnesses that this quote is very true. No matter how hard I try to seem perfect, I’m an emotional roller-coaster that seems to only go downhill.
Let me start of by saying how my issues started. I believe I started having social anxiety ever since I was little because of my parent’s divorce – but it became very noticeable once I was a freshman in high school. I remember being in a crowded room at a church camp one summer – being extremely overwhelmed. Long story short, and giant room full of loud kids that I didn’t know caused me to have a panic attack and I ran out of the building. How humiliating, I know. After that my social anxiety became much more noticeable in my daily life. I became scared of being in any crowds, I couldn’t be in places where I didn’t know anyone, and I became much more distant when it came to meeting new people. I still struggle with social anxiety – and my best friend is one of the most extroverted people you’ll ever meet. So whenever I do decide to open up and tell him that I’m struggling – he doesn’t understand and thinks I’m just overreacting.
Also – I struggle with anorexia & body dysmorphia. This all started when I began high school. I was best friends with the prettiest girl as our school who also happened to have the most perfect body. I remember specifically being at a football game with her at my school and everyone walking up to her saying how beautiful she was and then them looking at me saying “I like your hair.” I don’t know about you but that seems like quite the slap in the face. I was also having to deal with social media and seeing all of these beautiful people that I idolized and wanted to be. And to me – not eating seemed like the quickest solution. I went from being 120 pounds (which isn’t overweight by any means) to a whopping 78 pounds in one year. As a freshman in high school – being 78 pounds is insanely uncommon. I was judged by everyone – people saying I looked sick or like a walking corpse. People would look at me and just hand me food saying I needed to “fatten up” but in my head I was thinking I needed to lose 10 more pounds because I couldn’t wrap my fingers around my bicep. I’ve gotten better with my eating after medication – but I still struggle with body dysmorphia. I will look in the mirror and believe I weigh 500 pounds when in reality I’m 90. Every now and then I won’t be eating at all in a day – but I’ve been able to get myself to eat at least once a day. Which is major improvement.
I also struggle with “depression” I put that in quotes because I’ve never been diagnosed but I have all symptoms. I suffer from great sadness about my life and who I am as a person. I most days feel worthless, and I feel as if I’m a waste of space. I don’t feel joyful or excited about many things. I spend my days locked in my room – feeling alone and unwanted. I surround myself with awful thoughts and sad music and watch sad movies and read sad quotes. I tell myself constantly how ugly, untalented, pointless, and sad my entire existence is. It’s as blunt and harsh as that.
There’s a little insight of my mind – and what I deal will day to day. If you read all of this – you’re a trooper.

Motivation

Hello, currently I am going through a bit of struggle. I have been dealing with high anxiety too. the thing is how do you get yourself to have motivation despite things you’re dealing with? right now i don’t have a job…currently applying and looking. but that adds on to how i been feeling, depressed. along with the depression, I have autoimmune disease, which is being treated. however, with this i am still tired and not motivated like i use to be. I am in no way making excuses of not getting out and doing things like some people have told me i’m just being lazy. i’m really not, this is just really hard. and people deal with things differently. what motivates you to get up and go?

Stages of life

This week I have been thinking a lot about the different stages in my life.

Luz posted something on the forum about changing your expectations of yourself, and reaching goals you may have never thought yourself capable of. She talked about what her life used to look like, and how she once did not believe she was capable of achieving “normalcy”.
That made me think a lot about my past; where I’ve come from, where I’ve gone, where I’m at now. And most importantly, how I got there, and here. What did it take to go through each age and stage of my life? Where did I go (both good and bad) that I never imagined myself going? How did it change me?

Then today something else happened that hurled me years and years into my past.

I met someone- well didn’t meet, more met again. When I introduced myself she instantly remembered me- we were roommates and friends in the hospital together when I was 12.

That was over ten years ago, and the first time (of over 15) I was put in a psychiatric hospital.
At that point in my life, it was one of the most profound experiences I’d ever had. So much happened in those 7 months (it was technically 3 separate stays, but with only a few days of being discharged in between) that shaped and transformed me.

I cannot help but find myself entombed in thoughts and memories. Reminiscing about a time in my life that was both incredibly painful, scary, and difficult; but also comfortable, safe, and sometimes even very happy. These memories are similar to falling in a rose bush. I’m surrounded by beautiful flowers, and covered in wounds. I feel a small light in my stomach, but enclosed within a deep pit full of sadness.

And then I begin to think about what happened after I left the hospital.

From there my life fell apart.
From there my journey with mental illness began; and has not ended since.
And from there I grew and changed in many ways- both good and bad.

From memories of my first hospitalization, come painful memories of all that ensued afterward; essentially my entire family falling apart both separately and together over a period of 5 years.
What each tragedy encompassed.
How it felt, and I don’t just remember the feeling, I experience it.

I am once again a 14 year old girl stuffing 200 pills down her throat.

Then, I am 16 years old, saying “no” to a 24 year old man, who was too high to listen.
I am 17 years old and waking up from a coma after a suicide attempt I don’t remember making, because all the seizures that resulted from it damaged my memory.
Again and again I am experiencing the traumas I left behind years ago.

And it’s like being beaten with a bat.
I cannot catch my breath enough to beg for it to stop.

Where am I in time and how do I find my way back here?

How do I accept all that’s happened and the place I’m at now when all I want to do I reject it and bury my mind in a deep pit of sand?

It’s so strange how things continue to change at such a rapid pace. It’s all the time and we have no say as to whether or not it happens. Against our will we are under a constant transformation that will only cease to exist when we do.

How do I swallow the fact that I once wanted to die?
That many times I tried to kill myself?
That I hurt myself every day for years?
How do I move forward knowing at one time in my life I would cry thinking about how much I hated myself?
And that at one time I was a teenager and watching my life crumble before me; terrified and powerless.

I ask how do I do this because really, it wasn’t that long ago. And really, I’m still the same person.

Except now I have a daughter and life and set of responsibilities that I was never supposed to have.  I was never supposed to be here. I don’t think I ever planned on being 22.
Yet against my own will, transformations occurred. And somehow, without my knowledge or consent, I began to get better.

What about the times that that old, familiar dark place seems most comfortable?

It’s funny how small things can begin large, unmanageable spirals. Like hearing a song, or smelling something vaguely familiar. And how simple things, like writing this blog post can begin to bring me back into realignment- even if it’s without my consent or intent.

I come back to a place of normalcy where I remember that sadness is not safety. And that I’m no longer a child, and no longer without control or power.

And most importantly, I am responsible for a little girl. Who needs me and wants me. And it’s my job to be there for her, and be good to her. And I promise to her, and myself, and the entire universe that I will not fail her and I will always try as hard as I can to be what she needs.

Defining My Character

I have been on both sides of a depressive episode, many, many times. In 24 years, the mountains in my life have been really high, and the valleys have been really low. I’d like to think both my mountains and my valleys are part of what make me who I am.

I have always viewed my Mental Illnesses as a disability, as a hindrance, as things that stood in my way of being who I was meant to be.

Until so very recently.

I read in passing somewhere, “viewing my mental illness as a gift”.
My initial thoughts: A gift? Really? Who would want crippling Anxiety for their birthday? Who wants to open Depression on Christmas morning? That thought process is a mistake. No one would want either of those things if they were given the option.
And then I thought about it more and more as each day passed. My Anxiety and my Depression have shaped who I am.

“To feel everything so very deeply.”

My Mental Illnesses have given me empathy. They give me the opportunity and the blessing to be able to feel what others are feeling. They allow me to be open and welcoming and compassionate. For so very long, I had to create a safe space inside my own head, to hide from the Mentally Ill demons that tormented me each day. I can now provide that safe space and comfort to those who need it. I wouldn’t know how to think those positive thoughts and create that safety if it weren’t for my Anxiety and my Depression following me and cackling at me like the hyenas they are.
My Mental Illness is part of who I am. But is not all of who I am.
It is a gift. But is not the best part of me.
It gave me the opportunity to grow as a human being. But it is not my defining characteristic.

Trying to be perfect in an imperfect world

I am a perfectionist.

 

Many people may believe that perfectionism is a good quality to have. Yet those who live with unrealistic standards and crippling anxiety understand the plight of someone who sets standards they cannot possibly reach, and the sorrow of the continuous failure and disappointment they must deal with when they believe everything must always be perfect. This is what it feels like to be a perfectionist…

When I was a little girl, I had so many ideas about what my life was supposed to be like. I thought everything had to be perfect; especially me. I had a carefully arranged and thoroughly thought out plan of what perfect was. When things deviated from that, I fell apart.
As I got older, it became harder and harder to live up to the expectations I had created for myself. People rarely lived up to my ideals. Slowly, this began to break me.
It was strange, the way I fell apart; in many ways, my demise was self-created. Yet, even with a sense of recognition, I could not stop myself. It was a cycle that I had made with my own two hands, stepped in willingly, but could not find the strength to jump out of. My brain had begun to betray me at a young age and has not stopped since.

I remember being in Elementary school, and deciding quite concretely what it took to be ‘successful’, which was synonymous with being ‘good enough’.

I had to get good grades, which meant I had to get all A’s because being good enough wasn’t good enough and in order to succeed, I had to be the best. When I graduated High School with my perfect grades, I had to go to college. But not just college; I had to go to Harvard. I had to follow the expectations I had set, and thrive within the pressure cooker I had built around myself. If I faltered in even small ways, it was a massive, unforgivable failure on my part. And worse than failure was being a disappointment, which was, by all means, the absolute worst thing I could do.

Unfortunately, the world did not follow the standards I expected it to, and I felt powerless to change it. I could not stop my mom from dropping me off to school late every single day, yet I still cried like a baby and yelled that I would never go to college if I couldn’t get to second grade on time. People would put things back in the ‘wrong’ place, and I would crumble. I, like everyone in the world, would lose control constantly. Yet, unlike the rest of my peers, I seemed unable to swallow this and move forward without first falling to the floor in a puddle of tears, or hitting my head against a wall, or screaming and screaming until my little lungs cracked and burned.
As I got older, I began to reason that if things were imperfect, out of my control, or lower than my standards, that rather than accepting the loss of control and disappointment, I would willingly fail. Willingly handing over my power was easier than having it fall from my grip, despite my efforts.

Now, I am no longer a little girl.

I still struggle with the expectation of perfection I unconsciously set for myself. Yet, consciously I fight the notion and try to set new standards.
If I ever spoke to Willow the way I used to speak to myself, my heart would shatter into a million pieces. If she ever spoke to or thought of herself in the way I used to think of myself, I don’t believe I could carry the sadness that would veil my heart. So instead of teaching her to love herself, I will learn how to love myself. She will watch her mom be kind and forgiving to herself, see how she accepts the ebbs and flows of life, and witness her open her palms to the universe to receive what is handed to her. And with time, she too will do the same.

perfectionist

My mom and me in my Great Aunts’ house in Jacksonville, FL.

perfectionist

Me, in my favorite hat

perfectionist

My anxiety due to the high standards I constantly set for myself peaked in my freshman year of High School

perfectionist

My beautiful daughter, who is and will always be perfect simply for being herself

Guilt, Anxiety, and Fear: Motherhood

When I wake up it starts.

I probably didn’t sleep very well- or maybe I did and I wanted to sleep longer.
I probably got woken up a few times last night to nurse you back to sleep. There were probably a few times you were restless and tossed and turned while you tried to get comfortable.

Guilt;
I remember being woken up over and over again, exhaustion, panic because I know I’m tired and need so much more sleep than I will get. Frustrated because I so desperately want to sleep as peacefully as I imagine you do. Anger because I cannot and anticipation of how exhausted I will feel in the morning.

Fear of never being able to sleep again.

Dread;
I dread waking up in this place, putting you in daycare, being alive and monotonously going through the day.

Collapsing into a puddle, I break, I lose my patience. I’m not fully awake and not fully human. Maybe I harshly say,
“stop.”
Or angrily beg you to go back to sleep. Or worse, maybe I just lay there, don’t look at you or talk to you, just sit in a heaping puddle of uncomfortable emotions.

When I wake up, probably a little while before you did, a realization comes to me as I see how beautiful and peaceful you are. I realize the impatience that took over me hours earlier.

I’m a terrible mother- a terrible person, in fact.

I lost my patience. I scared you, upset you, and damaged you. An intense wave of sadness covers me and I feel desperate to go backward in time. A pit grows in my stomach as I know I cannot do that and must only go forwards. I want to hold you, I want to cry, I want to be perfect for you and I want to be happy with you always.

Regret, fear, dread, anger, exhaustion, guilt, sadness.
Over and over again, every day.

I wonder what I am doing wrong. There are many, many things I know; many mistakes. I wonder how much they are damaging you, and in what ways.
I want to fix them all- be perfect and wonderful and exactly what you need and want. But when I try to think of my wrong-doings I cannot pinpoint them all.
It’s looking for hay in a haystack- it’s all there and it’s all the same, and it’s all wrong. I can hardly do anything right for you. Maybe I do what I believe is good, but soon I will find it is, in fact, wrong. I have hurt or damaged you in some unknown, and therefore gigantic, way. Worst of all, I cannot take any of it back.

Paralyzed with fear but continuously pushed forward by the current of life.
I’m stuck in a riptide.

But my love for you grows each day. It’s a painful love that fills me simultaneously with joy, and a deep despair and fear.
I wonder about all the things I must prevent. All the possibilities. So much can go wrong. So many scary, seemingly unpreventable things swirling around us in this world. I want to protect you but fear I cannot.

I feel out of control.

But then a beautiful day happens.
You grab my checks with two soft, warm hands and look into my eyes.
Or you crawl to me, laugh, kiss me.
You let me hold you and hug you and you hold me back.
And for a moment, my fears melt away, so that I’m standing in a deep puddle, soaking wet but dripping dry. We stand alone in the dark for a moment, and my brain gives me time to love you in peace.

I realize that these moments can grow. That if I make myself a farmer and equip myself with fertilizer and pesticides and gain the knowledge to grow a garden that we can be happy. I can rake out sadness and anxiety to make room for big, bright, beautiful happiness.

I will call myself a farmer and you will be my seeds, my water, and my sun.

Dancing, Prancing, and Purring

It was the end of March. I’d just turned 18 years old. My best (and only) friend had just left for Basic Training. I was making life changing decisions- where I was going to go to college, what I was going to study, who I wanted to be. I was getting Ds in 50% of my classes. It was hard to even open my eyes in the morning, let alone get out of bed, go to school, and be a person. Not only was I struggling to go through the motions of being a high school senior, I was battling my mental illnesses every moment.

We’d just said goodbye to our last cat a year earlier. There were no litter boxes, there were no tiny paw steps, there were no cats curled up on the couch anymore. My mom was sad. I was sad. We needed a cat again.

My mom decided that she would be on the lookout for a cat that needed a home. Not three days later, my mom called me from work saying that a woman had shared a post on Facebook that an adult tabby cat was looking for a home. We agreed to contact the woman and see if we could meet the cat.

We anxiously made the trip 30 minutes south to meet Sunny. When we arrived at his foster mom’s house, she invited us in and made us feel so welcomed. She introduced us to Sunny and immediately he curled up on my lap. Foster Mom Sue explained to us that someone had dropped Sunny on her doorstep, and because he was fixed- she thought he was a female cat. His original name was Hunny. When she took him to the vet, the vet gently told her she’d been wrong about his gender, and he thus became Sunny.

Sunny was so loving and gentle and he purred like there was no tomorrow. Foster Mom Sue told us that Sunny had been diagnosed with a heart murmur when she’d taken him to the vet. Tears filled my eyes and I exclaimed, “I have a heart murmur, too!”

I needed to bring him home with me.

But my mom wanted to make sure we were really ready to have another cat in our lives. We went home without him that day, with the promise to call Foster Mom Sue in a few days.

Three days passed. We couldn’t stop thinking about Sunny. We’d even nicknamed him Sunny D. 
We called Foster Mom Sue and went back to pick up our boy. He was so anxious the entire ride home. My heart broke to hear him cry. I sat in the trunk with him and told him about how wonderful his life was about to be.

He made himself at home right away. Within two days, he was sleeping at the foot of my bed, purring away as the night went on.

Sunny developed an uncanny sense of “My Mom Needs Me”. He would lay with me when I was depressed and couldn’t get out of bed. He’d lay on my chest and purr when I was anxious. His purrs and his steady breathing calmed me down. His purrs healed me.

I had a purpose again. I had to be the best Olivia I could be for Sunny. I had to let him know that he was never going to have to live outside in the cold ever again. I took care of him. I slept next to him. I gave him all the pets his heart could handle. Sunny needed a Mommy. And I needed Sunny.

Sunny and I have celebrated 5 “Gotcha” Days together. He has been there for me in the worst moments of my life. Sunny loves me unconditionally. He loves me when I’m depressed. He loves me when I’m anxious. He loves me even when I drag him to the vet on the wrong day.

He loves me so much that he steps on my head at 3 in the morning when he is hungry.

Sunny has my entire heart. He saved me. He gave my life a purpose again.

Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time, there was a girl.
When she was born she was small and soft and surrounded by love and warmth. She had a brother, a mom, and a dad.
Very quickly the world began to creep through the stone walls surrounding her. The world was dark, and black, and thick. It oozed through the walls and lay heavily on and around her. It weighed her down and made her sad. Sometimes the world was nice and bright, it shone through the windows of the house and melted some of the black goo away. But the black goo was always there, it would never all melt away. Even still, sometimes when the goo was gone it left thick, dark, painful scars. It hurt her a lot, but made her happy, too.
The girls father went away. She was too young to know what it meant to miss someone, so she didn’t. Then another man came to be her dad. He went away too, though. Her mom got sick and sad. Her and her brother built and armor for each other. It was thick and strong, but very dark and heavy. Nobody could get through the armor. That was good sometimes, they thought they were keeping out all the goo of the world. But one day they realized they couldn’t get out, and when they tried to let someone in they had forgotten how to take it off. So their skin grew hard and clung on tightly to the metal around it- soon the armor wasn’t really armor, it was just them.
Inside the armor they were very sad, and angry. And underneath that they were scared. And under that, they were small soft babies who needed love and warmth. But the world was mean. It pushed them over and looked away when they reached out and cried. So they learned not to.
One day they left the stone walls. They fell into the goo. The girls brother swam out, but she was stuck. Her brother tried to tell her how to swim, but she couldn’t hear him; he tried to throw her a rope, but she couldn’t see him. When she looked around, she couldn’t see how he had swam to safety just to help her. The world grew into a monster and whispered in her ear. It told her he left her, he abandoned her. She was alone. He told her that he wasn’t ugly, but all of them were. All the ugly people, and deep down she was hideous too.
So she pushed out the sadness and fear. She nursed her anger and helped it grow big and strong. She climbed on his shoulders and she felt big and strong too. But he sucked the life out of her. He made her smaller and sadder, but from her perch on his shoulder she could not tell.
One day she fell. From the hole in the bottom of the goo, she could finally see where she was. And she knew she didn’t want to be there anymore.
She started to try to climb out, to reach for people to help pull her out. She kept coming close. But she fell many times. She fell hard, and sometimes it was a very long way until she stopped falling. Sometimes she felt so sad in her hole that she took a very long time to pick herself back up.
One day she found out she would have a baby. She was so happy and scared, and very sad because she didn’t want her baby to be born in the goo. She started trying harder and harder to climb out. One day when she was halfway up, the baby was born. She was still in the goo, but she wasn’t stuck. She realized it would take her a very long time to get all the way out, and when she made it, it would still take time to clean the goo off of herself and her baby.
But the baby was small and soft and surrounded by love and warmth. And the girl wasn’t a girl anymore, she was a young woman. And the armor didn’t stick to her skin so much, in fact some of it fell of on its own. And one day she realized the goo was lighter some days, and that even from the pit the light could come through.
Once Upon A Time There was a warrior. She had a baby who was small and soft and surrounded by love and warmth. And each day together they fought off the goo of the world, and searched for the light. She knew one day they would find their way out together.
The End

Me and My mom

Me and my brother, Harry

My mom and me

Harry and me in Montana 

Harry, my mom, me

Me and Harry after he graduated Naval Boot Camp (Chicago, IL) 

Me, 8 months pregnant- the night of my baby shower

Willow, 1 day old

Me and Willow, first day home

Willow, 1 week old

Discomfort doesn’t last

This time of year is hard for me.
Maybe it’s the cold, or the holidays, or the constant reminder of new beginnings which is really just a reminder of failures you have committed.
I don’t remember if it’s always been this hard to muddle through the days as it feels right now. Maybe it’s only felt like this for a few days, or weeks or months. Maybe it’s felt like this for years. I don’t know why I can’t remember. I probably could if I stopped all my thoughts and everything else coming and going through my body and mind, but I think that would take an extraordinary amount of effort, and energy, which I feel as though I have almost none of. Sometimes I crave the feeling of motivation. To be energized and excited by life, and feel the deep, strong push from within to do. Other times I want to curl up in my feelings and recede deeply within my sadness and heavy mind until all I can feel around me is the dull vibration of the world around me.
I think I’m depressed.
I think I need a break, or a vacation, or many, many long naps.
I think I need someone to come with big strong arms and grab hold of everything I carry, without asking, and just walk away from me.
I just want everything to stop for a while. I need either to suddenly become disgustingly happy or be given the grace to fall apart and become a dark oozing puddle.
And then I remember, I can’t. I can’t fall apart, and it’s not likely that I will soon be given a break or a vacation. It’s silly to imagine a giant lumberjack walking up to me and relieving me of everything I carry in my mind and body. Life will continue to relentlessly come towards me, and it won’t stop for a very very long time.
Maybe it would help me to be myself. Not mom, or employee, or friend. Just be me. Sit and listen to music and draw and do all the silly things that made my life important before I was too important to do them. I feel so far away from myself sometimes. Or, really, a lot of times.
It feels like I’m not Eliza anymore, and I never will be again; I’ll just be Mom forever and ever.
The pressure of being mom feels like too much some days. It feels like the pressure of starting a semester really strong. Making friends, doing homework, getting A’s, being liked by your teachers and yourself. And going and going and forgetting about yourself and everything else until suddenly you turn around and there’s a mountain behind you that’s been slowly building for weeks. And you see the mountain shake and falter and you run. But you can’t run fast enough, and you’re not strong enough to stop it from falling. So it does, and it crushes you. And all of a sudden you fail over and over again until that’s who you are; a failure. And you fail at school and life and work and so you decide giving up is much easier then disappointing anyone. It feels like I’m going and going- far past my tipping point, and I’m scared to turn around and see the mountain that’s built up behind me. I’m scared because I know if I look, I’ll see how close it is to tipping over. And I am scared to break; I’m scared to fail and give up. But how on Earth can I find the strength within to keep going?
Maybe it’s best not to wonder how on Earth I will get through. Maybe I should just blindly go forward. Like I did when I gave birth. Like I’ve done throughout my life. Maybe that’s how all the successful people do it; suffer silently while blindly trusting their own tremendous strength.
When I was a teenager, I did a lot of Yoga. It became a panacea to my issues. It helped me love my body, trust my strength, and feel physically and spiritually empowered. I remember one time I went to a Kundalini class- which I had never done before or even heard of. I had no idea the physical strain holding one pose for long periods would have on me. I remember being in a big class, with people I didn’t know, and a teacher I had never met. I was scared of the discomfort I began to feel. I remember saying to myself- give up- put your arms down and rest. At some point in the practice, I closed my eyes and realized that five seconds ago I felt like I could not physically continue, but I had. And I had done that continuously and unconsciously throughout the practice. It was empowering to realize the hidden strength I had. I remember talking myself through the pose- reminding myself that discomfort cannot and will not kill me. That I would not die from this discomfort- that no disaster would happen- the only possibility I was looking at was the one of falling out of a pose. So I kindly told myself that I was strong, that I could and would stay in this pose for as long as I physically could. I would not convince myself to give up, as I had silently been doing throughout my practice. And if I did fall out of a pose, or give in from unbearable discomfort, that I would not be ashamed or embarrassed. I promised myself I would be proud of making it farther than I had ever imagined.
In life, I have gone much further than I have imagined. I have lived. I have stopped cutting, and numbing myself with drugs and alcohol. I have been a mother, and a good one. I have made it another day, every single day, for the last 8,166 days. Through unimaginable pain, sadness, happiness, and anger I have made it. And today, I promise myself I will make it. And if I wake up tomorrow and decide I must give up, then I will allow myself to. But for the next hour, I promise myself I will make it. And tomorrow when I wake up I will promise myself to make it again and again.
And if I can’t love myself enough to do it for me, I will do it for my daughter.
And I will become stronger and happier and better.
And maybe not tomorrow or next week or next year, but someday I will be given a break and a vacation and everything else I want and need.

Me and Willow at the train station
Willow listening to Christmas carolers
Me and Willow on Christmas Eve eve
Willow is unimpressed by the giant Christmas tree
The best Christmas present… a magic box!

To those who helped me

Having anxiety feels like I’m swimming. I’m in a giant ocean, and my body is heavy and exhausted. I’m doggy paddling and struggling to keep my head up at all times. I keep swallowing water, and going under, but somehow I don’t drown. Somehow I’m able to keep going. There are moments when big waves swell up and carry me where I need to go, with little effort on my part. Sometimes I get to dry land and lay there, exhausted, and rest until I’m able to swim once again.
Having anxiety with a baby is like when you were a kid in the pool, barely swimming yourself, when your friend suddenly grabs hold of your shoulders for stability and pulls you under. Its a terrifying moment, and you can’t yell for help without swallowing water.
Being angry, and overwhelmed, and tired, and hungry are normal. They’re parts of everybody’s life. When you have a child, sometimes you feel like a child, too. On the verge of a meltdown, with no way of calmly expressing your feelings or needs, feeling like they don’t matter, anyways. And you have to push away what you’re going through because it’s not your child’s fault, and they need you, and if you were to break, who would be there for them? But sometimes it feels like I need my mom. Sometimes it feels like I want to sit and cry because its almost 6 pm and I barely ate, and I’m tired, and life is too much in this moment. And I want my mom to hold me and tell me she understands and loves me.
Being a mom feels lonely sometimes. It feels like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders and I’m the only one who can hold it, and if I were to put it down something terrible would happen.
Sometimes I feel guilty. So guilty I feel like I cannot sit with my feelings or thoughts without breaking.
Sometimes I feel angry and I don’t know why.
Sometimes I feel stuck; so stuck. And so angry that I feel stuck, and guilty that I’m angry, and lonely because I must be the only person going through this and everyone else must be handling their lives and their feelings so much better than I am.
And then I remember, this is not the first time in my life I felt as though I was drowning.

Right before my family reached a climax of suffering, and we all broke, and then somehow, although not perfectly, rebuilt each of our lives seperately; we moved. We moved from our house in Redding that we had lived in since I was 8, to an apartment in New Canaan. I was 16. The suffering that we as a family experienced both induvidually and seperatley increased rapidly, and would not stop or slow down. I was so scared. And sad and angry and confused.
I described this feeling as being in the middle of a big ocean. I was on a rickety raft that was barely afloat. Holes kept popping up and threatening to drown us, somehow I stuffed whatever I had into these holes and kept us alive. I kept calling out for help. Screaming frantically with tears streaming down my face; but it felt like no one could hear me. Like those nightmares when you’re yelling, but nothing comes out. Sometimes a boat or Island would pass and I would scream and wave my arms for help. Most of the times we would pass by unnoticed- sometimes a life jacket would be thrown, just missing us, and we would float away.
I remeber one time the police got called. We were all fighting. 211 came. We were referred to see a counselour in Stamford. His name was Larry.
Immediately he recognized the suffering and dysfunction we had all learned to cope with. He spoke to my brother and I as though he knew we were drowning, but also knew we were too afraid to ask for help- or maybe too beaten down by life to expect it. My brother clung to him- I pushed him. He told us he understood what we were experiencing- all of it- even the hideous anger I had learned to greet the world with. He didn’t hate me for it, even though I hated myself for it.
We were at an odd age, where the state allows you to refuse help, and I did exactly that. He could not force me to take the life jacket he was offering. So I didn’t, even though I had hoped for it, and I don’t really know why I did that. Maybe I thought it was littered with holes, or filled with sand. Often I told myself my suffering wasn’t that bad. I remember not wanting to get my mom in trouble, or tear our family apart. So I became big and strong enough to push him away.
I wouldn’t go to school. He came to my house one day. He told me he wanted to help me. I told him I didn’t need or want any help. He said that he knew me, he knew that when I said no, I didn’t mean no, that sometimes I was too afraid to say yes. I told him he didn’t know anything about me, and that that wasn’t true; even though I was shocked by how true it was, and by how much he must have truly understood me. In my head I was begging him to help me, to disregard everything that came out of my lying, terrified mouth.

He knew I had little motivation to do anything, much less go to school, he said he would believe that I didn’t need help if I went to school every day that week. We both knew that was as likely as one of us hitting the lottery. But I said I would. I asked if he would leave me alone if I went to school every day that week, and believe that I was fine. He said he would.
For some reason I went to school every day that week. It was the first time in years.
I never saw him again.
It’s something I’ve felt regret, guilt, shame, and sadness about many days since then.
In the past two or so years, I’ve thought about Larry many days. I’ve wanted to call him. To thank him and apologize, and tell him about my life now, and cry to him about how everything fell apart shortly after he left. But tell him that I was ok, that we were all ok, and he was right.
But I have never been able to do it. I don’t know why.
On Thursday, I found out that Larry died last year.
I was immediately filled with guilt. Guilt for pushing him away when all he wanted was to help me and my brother, to understand us, and give us what we needed. And sadness, a lot of sadness. Because I would never be able to thank him, or more importantly, to apologize for my anger and fear.
I sat outside a little after finding this out and closed my eyes, I allowed my head to become filled with sadness. I tried to connect my spirit with the universe to send him a message. Tell him what I would have over the phone, not with words, but with my love and energy.
If I could speak to you right now, Larry, I would only be able to thank you. You pulled me out of the depths of the ocean, and brought me to dry land. I only jumped back into the waters because it had become my home. Larry, you showed me what was, and what could have been; you accepted my anger, and reminded me I deserved to be taken care of.
You took part in a life-long task many amazing people have attempted; which is to heal me.
I’m so much better now, and I’m still trying to go further every day. I have a beautiful daughter, and I will be so much better than our moms were to us.
Thank you. S.I.P.

There are many people who come into our lives for both short and long periods. I’m reminded constantly, that its not the quantity of time these people are with us, but the quality. Death and regret remind us to be calm and be slow. To say thank you and I love you and I’m glad that you’re here.

Point Your Toes in the Direction of Your Dreams

Today, as I enjoy my mini celebration of being alive for exactly 23.75 years, I cannot get some very specific thoughts out of my head. So I am going to share them with you.
Because maybe if I write them down, and maybe if I have someone on my side, I’ll be able to battle their intrusion.

I am tired. My body and my head and my soul are tired. I feel like I am being pulled in 27 different directions. I am spreading myself so so thin to satisfy everything and everyone. I’m not complaining. I was MEANT to be on this earth to make people feel loved, and to help them realize they don’t have to walk this life alone. I am eternally grateful that fate has chosen me to fulfill that duty. It is my purpose and caring for people is what gives my soul strength.
I am just tired.

The end of the year is always an incredible whirlwind of emotions and I don’t know if I can physically/emotionally/mentally handle all of those emotions this year. As December unravels, it is getting harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. My body is craving more hours of sleep, but my mind cannot rest.
I don’t know how to, or if I even want to, take part in the Christmas festivities that are supposed to be so warm and so joyous and so loving. I don’t know if I can put on my “social interaction doesn’t terrify me” costume and be a joyous Olivia.

I have come SO far in the last year in terms of my mental health and my mental wellness. I am SO proud of who I am and who I have become. Every day I am reminded of the incredible things I have done by someone who sees who I really am. I am surrounded by so much love and support, and I still manage to forget that I am not alone.

So if you are reading this today, I get it. I get you. It’s not easy to be able to recognize the wonderful spirit you bring to this world. But I promise, it’s there.

As for me, I’ve cordially invited my Anxiety and my Depression to take the rest of the year off. They have worked hard enough from January until now. I am done with their misbehavior. I am done with the way they make me feel.
So from now until the end of this year (and hopefully well into 2018), the smile that you see is raw and real. It’s genuine.

And as for Anxiety and Depression- you may have won a few battles, but you are not winning this war.

Sad girl; strong mom

When I was a kid, there was a lot of uncertainty in my life.
One day things would be amazing; hopeful, happy, and calm. Suddenly, without warning or clear cause, things would dramatically change. Whether it was my family’s financial situation, my moms mood or pain, or my own mental wellness- there was no stable branch for me or my brother to lean on; if there was, the continuance of that stability was always unknown.
I think we both learned at an early age, that it was our expectations which caused the greatest disappointment, and our disappointment that caused the greatest pain.
I remember when I was about 7, my mom got sick. I remember it like a dream; I know there is a vivid memory somewhere deep within my subconscious, but I cannot assess it, so when I try to retrieve it, it’s choppy and blurred. Regardless, I remember feeling as though nothing was wrong, and then suddenly everything was. I remember a lot of confusion. I was scared, and I missed my mom; I remember confusion and fear mostly. She was taken to a hospital. We had no family, and my mom had very few friends, most of whom she barley talked to. So for a week or so, I went to our closest family friends house. They lived in the city, we used to go to school together. It was fun to be there, it felt like a long sleepover. Then after a short time, they had to go on vacation. From there, we had various babysitters who stayed with us and watched my brother and I. Most of them we didn’t know as well as we should have, some of them we barely knew. That is one of my first “black-hole” memories. When I think of that time I feel a deep pit, that extends from my heart to my stomach and makes me close my eyes for a moment. Its hard to think about.
When she came home a long time later, I had turned 8, and she had turned very, very sad. She had more than one back surgery while she was gone, gotten a severe staph infection, and began to suffer from chronic, debilitating pain. She was so different.
I had barley seen her that entire time. I was so happy she was with us again, but she was so different.
We had babysitters stay with us because she was too sad and in too much pain to fulfill her duties as our mother. She had her own black hole.
She wore a brace, and took a lot of medication that made her sleepy. When it wore off, it made her very sick and uncomfortable. She yelled a lot, and was hardly happy, it felt. I took on a new role. I don’t remember if I decided to take on the role, or whether it was shoved into my arms and was simply too burdensome to place down. Regardless, my job suddenly became to make her better. I don’t think I knew exactly what that role entailed or how I would fulfill it. I began desperately trying to pull happiness from her, take away her pain, make our world happy and light.
I, of course, failed over and over again. I became a failure. Yet, I could not stop myself from delving into this role each day. Although each failure brought new and more intense sadness upon me, this was a disappointment I could not seem to walk away from.
Even as a teenager, angry and solemn and horrendously resentful against my mother and life, I continued to step into my heavy shoes each day and walk into fire. I laid down each night, still burning, and woke up to once again be the fixer.
Although I no longer live with my mom, and I’m no longer a confused child or angry teenager, I find myself fighting the pain it created each day.

I don’t know how to be a good mom. Most days I wake up and try to wing it, or go with what feels natural and right. I feel sure that I’m failing once more each day. And yet, like I did as a child, I continue to throw myself into a role I’m quite uncertain of how to fulfill.
I pray to the universe, or whatever I believe in, that I don’t fail Willow. My heart is so heavy at times and my head full of thoughts and fears and hopes and dreams.
I know for certain there are many ways to be a good mother; to raise Willow to be a strong person and healthy adult. I’m quite sure as well, there are even more ways to fail her.
I wish I could read a book, take a class, or swallow a pill that would turn me into the mother and person I wish I were.
I guess the only way to become that person is to continue to do what I’m doing; wake up each day and dive into the flames. Although I know there are things I ought to leave behind as I move forward, perhaps I will shed them naturally, and evolve organically into the person I’d like to be.
I hope that as each day ends I become a stronger, happier, and better mother and woman; and that one day Willow remembers her childhood will happiness and love.
Until then, I will continue to walk through flames for her.

Willow and I on Thanksgiving, Willow on Thanksgiving, and me when I was six

Keeping the Rhythm You Gave Me

One of the most magical things about dancing is getting to feel the music in your body- truly feeling each note vibrating through your soul. I know that you don’t have to be a dancer to feel that way about music. Some of the Earth’s inhabitants can simply listen to a song and empathize with the emotion that the artist was feeling when they wrote it.

Those kinds of people are special.

Music has shaped and created my world in so many unique and wonderful ways. Sometimes, simply hearing the first few notes of a song allows me to travel through time and space and take on the emotions I was feeling the very first time that song resonated with me. My favorite memories are associated with music.

At 7-years-old, I was given the gift of the album that changed my life. M!zundaztood is the second studio album that P!nk released, and it’s the first studio album that made me feel. At 7, I was able to identify with things that P!nk, a 22-year old, was singing about. Not fitting in. Being misunderstood. Hating yourself. A broken family.

These incredibly heavy and heart-wrenching topics that an adult was singing about, I understood. I identified with. I finally felt like there was someone in the world who knew exactly how I felt in my most depressive state. M!zundaztood got me through my darkest hours. The more I learned about P!nk, the more understood and important I felt. At 27, she was writing things that made people listen. She didn’t care who she was pissing off. If she had something to say, she was going to say it. I needed someone to show me that speaking your mind is GOING to make you stand out, it’s GOING to piss people off, and it’s GOING to make a difference in this world. P!nk was (and still is) that someone.
For the next 7 years, I survived my darkest days by listening to M!sundaztood and I’m Not Dead tracks on repeat for 24 hours straight.

Her words made me trick myself into believing I was strong, until I actually became that strong person I was imagining. She was putting words out into the world that were encouraging girls (just like me) to embrace their differences and to stand up for what they believe in. I was so proud to sing at the top of my lungs,

“I’m so glad that I’ll never fit in. That will never be me. Outcasts and girls with ambition- that’s what I want to see.”

And then, in August of 2008, my beautiful idol gave me another gift.

She gave me So What?

“So What? What do I have to say about So What? Sooooo what??” she says about the track.
Insert image of a 14-year-old high school freshman just trying to survive. Oh, wait. I have that exact photograph. 

There I am. Age 14. Trying to fit into a world in which I was meant to stand out. I spent many of my 14-year-old days alone, in my room, imagining a version of myself that was impossible to maintain. I was angry. Sad. Alone. Scared of what I was going to become as I entered (and lived through) the high school phase of my life. I was intimidated by everything and everyone. I was bullied by kids I thought were my closest friends. It was hard to get out of bed most of my high school days.
But I always had P!nk with me.

If there were ever a time in my life when I needed to pick a theme song for myself, it would be So What?
14-year-old me lived and breathed So What? (In her defense, 23-year-old me still lives and breathes So What?)
I am eternally grateful that P!nk gave me (the whole world really, but I know it was just meant for me specifically) that song and the attitude that so fittingly goes along with it. There’s just something about So What? that can cure any kind of bad day/ailment/chronic pain that I will ever suffer. So What? is exactly that. So what your day sucked? So what someone was mean to you? So what you didn’t finish your to-do list? So what that mean girl in your class made a nasty comment towards you?

SO WHAT.

For Alecia Moore, more affectionately known as P!nk,
thank you for encouraging me to find the strength I had so deeply hidden inside of me. Thank you for giving me someone to look up to, someone who doesn’t care what the press or the rest of the world thinks of her. Thank you for explaining how terrified you were to be a mother, since your mother always wished you a daughter just like you. Thank you for teaching your daughter, “We don’t say mean things and we don’t say things we don’t mean”. Thank you for all of the good you have done for this world. Thank you for putting into words the thoughts that I couldn’t. Thank you for understanding.

The Piques and Pits in My Life

This is the first moment in the last 24(ish) hours that I’ve sat down and actually formed a thought. In between putting on my “socialization doesn’t scare me” costume, Christmas shopping, wrapping Christmas gifts, and studying for a giant test that I have to take tomorrow, I haven’t had a true moment to myself to reflect on my week and my peaks and pits.

So here it goes.

This week (month/year) hasn’t been easy. I’ve been swimming through an ocean of stress, which stems from my school anxiety, my lack of organization, the weather changing. I haven’t been my best me. There are all kinds of changes happening in my life right now and I am struggling to find any kind of constant. This is an everlasting cycle that has occurred for 23 years. I stress, I search for a constant, I find a constant, I get attached to my constant, something gets in the way of that constant, I stress. It repeats. On and on.
I have a mountain of homework that I can’t find any motivation to do.

I am almost done with classes in my Master’s program. This is terrifying. I don’t know how to not be a student. I may not be the best, but all my life, I have always been a student. My identity is changing and I don’t know the best way to deal with that.

My peaks:
I am going to start by getting out of bed every day, rather than hiding like I usually do. I am going to dance twice this week, which is making my heart happy just to think about. There is one month until Christmas, my favorite holiday. Almost all of my Christmas shopping is done.

This week, Eliza said to me, “You are going to be the best teacher.”. I bought Sophia and I Ugly Christmas Sweaters and we are going to be the hit of Christmas Eve. I’ve spent time with family that I don’t get to see often, and I was reminded of how proud I am of my last name. I’ve held three babies this week. I am going to see my favorite nephew man tomorrow afternoon. The butterflies I get just by seeing your face.

This coming week, I am going to focus more on my peaks than my pits. And to you, my reader, I encourage you to focus more energy on your peaks than your pits. Because the peaks will always outweigh the pits. And as always, if you need help finding a peak, I will happily give you one of mine. Remember how important you are in this world. Remember that you are here for a reason, that you are strong and powerful. Remember how much this world needs you in it.

Raising the Barre Since 1997

Anxiety has taken many things from me.
She has taken my sanity, my comfort.
She has robbed me of experiences.
Anxiety screams at me constantly. She is louder than the voice inside my head.

There is one thing in the world that settles her.
As soon as I slide my feet into one of three pairs of shoes, she knows her time is up.

She can’t get to me when I am dancing.

I have been many, many things in the last twenty years. I’ve taken on different roles. I’ve played many parts. My weight has fluctuated. My face has changed. I have grown in so many different ways.
Three things in my life have been constant.

Anxiety.
Depression.

And dancing.

My favorite me is who I get to be when I am dancing. I am fearless. I am safe. I am free.
I am any personality I want to be. I am anything I want people to feel when they watch me perform.
I can feel the music move through my soul. My world is whole when my body is in a rhythm.

The hour and a half I get to spend in the studio on Wednesday nights is the only hour and a half of peace I get all week.
Peace of mind.
Peace and quiet.
The speakers could be shaking because of the volume of the music, and it is still the quietest my brain will be all week.

This peace wouldn’t be possible without the support of the greatest group of women in the entire world. Wednesday at 6:30, you are my entire heart. It’s been 8 years, and every week is better than the last. You make me a better dancer, and a better person. You push me to move, create, inspire. Each of you holds a place in my heart, and your love gets me through my darkest hours.

My mental illnesses have constantly let me down, disappointed me, hurt me, and stopped me from living my best life for the last twenty years, but that’s okay. Because at least dance has never given up on me.

Letting go of the past and looking forward to the future

It was another hard week. It moved slowly yet quickly, and I struggled to catch up with myself almost every step of the way.
I met with my psychiatrist on Tuesday. We talked about starting medication again. It was a continuance of an ongoing conversation; one I will probably never stop having with my providers.
When I got pregnant I was taking a handful of different medications. Each did something different, and supposedly they held hands and worked together to safely guide me through my days. I didn’t really know how they made me feel. It was hard to tell if they helped or not, and which ones worked: or if only one worked and the rest simply hid behind one another. When I decided to keep Willow it was clear that I had to come off of all my medications.
So, for the first time in nearly ten years I was raw. I had had periods of not being medicated in the past, but these were short-lived and unsupervised.
Being pregnant and un-medicated was Hell. Not just for me, but for everyone around me. When I reached a peak of suffering, I ‘gave in’. I know, really, I was only doing what was best for me and Willow; the stress I was under was worse than what any medication could have probably done to her. The relief I felt from only a little bit of Zoloft was almost miraculous. For the first time in almost 7 months, I finally began to enjoy my pregnancy.
After giving birth, I was on a cloud; I was incredible, strong, and resilient, I was a powerful woman, and needed nothing. I was in awe of my perfect, precious baby. Seeing her in person made her seem so much more fragile. How could I take medication while breastfeeding, not knowing the potential risk? Besides, I felt amazing. So once again, I stopped taking my medication because I thought it was what was best for my daughter. Almost nine months later, I am still not taking any medication.
But I wonder sometimes. Is this really the right thing? I know I could feel better than I do, that taking a small dose of something would probably lift me up a little, relieve me of some of my anxiety; of the obsessive thoughts and worrying I have about Willow. But what would it do to her? Her brain is still developing-what would messing with her serotonin levels do to her? Once I start down that road of thoughts- I have to shut myself down. Instantly, I begin to worry, to panic. I get a headache and my eyes feel heavy. The unknown is too much for me. Maybe the stress I feel every day is worse for Willow than an antidepressant creeping into my breastmilk. Maybe it’s fine. But what about the vast grey area of the unknown? The area where I’m falling and falling, and reaching for something to grab hold of- but can never quite grasp? That space is too frightening for me. As scary as life is sometimes for me right now, that area is much more terrifying. So my doctor and I decided that right now I’m ok without medication, I’m not as good as I can be, but I’m ok. I’m in a place where having control over whether or not I take the medication is ok. And that feels good to know. Still, some days I’m unsure.
Am I being the best mom I can be? Am I damaging my amazing daughter? How much of my anxiety is she picking up on, and what is it doing to her?

Yesterday, I cried in front of a stranger. I didn’t mean to; The tears had been building for a few minutes- but I kept catching them. Snatching them and stuffing them down as quickly as I could. But as I sat in front of a guidance counselor at NCC, talking about school, and time, and energy; things I don’t currently have enough of; I could do little to hold back my intense sadness. I cried for a moment, then moved on; embarrassed of how crazy and out of control I must have looked to her. I knew she was probably judging me. Thinking about what a poor, uneducated, helpless young mother I must be. My poor child.

As I sat in the cold waiting for my bus, with Willow sleeping on my chest, my sadness grew. I thought of my life. The life I had before my pregnancy, and the life I was supposed to live; or at least the one I expected to live. Not the part of succumbing to my mental illness, but the fantasy and hope I had, that one day, I would get better. I imagined going to school, having some fun, making money. Building myself up so that one day, I would be able to grow up and have a family. Then I thought about how none of that was possible anymore, at least not how I had wished it would be.

I couldn’t sit in a dorm room with my peers and do homework, and smoke weed, and go to class; couldn’t save up for silly vacations or go on road trips; I had to rush back “home” to make my 6 o’clock curfew. I had to give my daughter a bath and put her to bed; take community college courses one by one, while working, and raising Willow. I have to throw aside my selfish wants and needs and drudge forward for the well-being of my child.

In that moment, I regretted becoming a mother. Not because I hate it, or because I don’t love Willow with every force within me; but because I wasn’t ready for motherhood. And I had to sit with the sadness of knowing I had committed to a life-long task I wasn’t prepared to take on. Knowing that I can’t turn back, or press pause, or share the weight of Willows life with anyone but myself. And again, I cried. In front of many strangers. Except this time I couldn’t wonder what they must have been thinking because I was too full of sorrow.

When I got on the bus I called my brother. He and I went through Hell and back with one another. The Hell I’m referring to is our childhood. But he had a separate burden to bear. One that I had the privilege of ignoring. That burden was watching me self-destruct. Nonetheless, he never once left my side; even though I accused him of doing so many times, even though I tried to push him away and lock him out, and even though at many times, I was a horrible sister.
He made me feel better. Not just because he spoke in an Australian accent and made fun of Trump. He and I are proof that even the most traumatic and damaging childhoods do not have to ruin a person. That despite prolonged suffering, a hurt child can still grow into an intelligent and kind adult.
And that reminded me of another thing, although I’m “not where I (want) to be, (at least) I’m not where I used to be” (Joyce Meyer). In the past years, I have grown tremendously. I remember in my adolescence, one of my best friends told me, in a very serious but loving way, that she felt certain one day I would kill myself. That was not the last time somebody told me they were prepared to mourn my death. And I knew, too, that one day I would die, and I felt certain it would be by suicide.
That girl is no longer me, I know she still lives deeply inside, sad, and scared, but she no longer greets me in the mirror. I have made progress in my life I would have never imagined possible, and come to a place I dreamed of several years ago. So while I know where I want to go, and know there is a long way to go until I get there, I find peace in the knowledge that I can look back and see the tremendous mountain I have managed to make it up. I know that it won’t be long before I can look down again, and bask at the progress I made. That will make me a better woman, and a better mother. And although my life won’t ever be perfect, it can be good, and I won’t stop until it is.

Willow Bear thanks you for reading this week!

My Attitude and My Outlook

I am tired of the ever-mind-numbing question, 

“Are you okay?”

I’m even more tired of meekly replying,

“Is anyone?”

Most days I have to put on my “socialization doesn’t terrify me” costume, and pretend that the world and its inhabitants don’t horrify me.
The days are growing darker earlier, and if that isn’t a metaphor for my depression, I don’t know what is.

I read a post this morning that said, “There is a difference between being happy and being distracted from sadness.”
So, so often I find myself falling victim to this truth. For a few hours a day, I’m able to distract myself from the depression that sleeps on my left shoulder. Sometimes it’s by reading, or dancing, or even working. But for the other (approx.) 19.75 hours, my brain is thinking of all the reasons that I am sad. Or anxious. Or nervous. Or curious. Or obsessive. Or irritated. Or angry.
For no particular reason.

19.75 hours of the day, my depression sleeping on my left shoulder battles the anxiety that is screaming at the top of her lungs on my right shoulder.
They fight.
My brain is a war zone. It is a battlefield.
I am caught in the middle of their aggressive altercations.
I am the collateral damage that is left behind after my mental illnesses have exhausted themselves by arguing.

I wish I was able to see myself as the rest of the world sees me. I have an unbelievable support system that make me the person I am. The encouragement I receive from my Earth Angels is the closest thing to magic I will ever have. I am able to wrap myself in their love and kindness, and most of the time, that is enough protection from the Dementors that linger around me.

I have not always had this overwhelming support. I didn’t always have a place where I felt I could fit in. I battled many, many years seemingly alone. I spent many, many days dreaming of a better world, a world that accepted everyone for exactly who they were- a world that embraced the differences that make us so beautiful.

But I am living proof that help is given to those who ask for it. So today, know that you are worth getting help. Know that you are worth being happy. You are worth the whole world.
And if you know someone who maybe, like me, needs people to lean on- reach out to them. Let them know you are thinking about them. Or tell them a joke you heard. Or send them a picture of a cat. That will always work for me.

Good momentum leading to bad days

Do you ever feel like the more you go, the easier it gets?
Until suddenly you realize you’ve built so much momentum that you’re rolling down a hill full speed and can’t stop. Suddenly, you hit a tree, or a wall. And you sit there exhausted, hurt, and dazed. Suddenly, a bunch of debris comes tumbling down the hill and smothers you.

And for a while, you just lay there, underneath it all, unable to bring yourself back up.

But leaves and branches fall from the tree, more debris comes down the hill.

You tell yourself,

“it’s ok”

You’ll take care of it all when you’re able to pick yourself back up.

Then suddenly you’re ten feet deep, and you have no clue how you’ll get yourself out. And the thought of getting yourself out is so overwhelming, that it takes all your energy to even consider getting up.

By some feat, you end up getting up and out. You clean up some of the pile, and the less imposing parts get swept aside. You start back down the hill, and the cycle continues.

Is there a way to stop that cycle? To slow yourself down? Breathe a little more everyday? Be a little more productive? Some how stay on top of your tasks, and your child’s tasks, and your wants and needs, as well as your family’s, and have fun, and eat well, and sleep 8 hours, and go for walks, and plan for your future, and so on and so fourth? Is that possible? Or do you simply gain momentum, moving forward amazingly in one area, or a couple areas of your life, while sneakily neglecting the less pressing parts of your life. Until suddenly, it all catches up with you, and you get knocked over.

I had a hard day today. Nothing in particular happened, or was wrong. A couple of small scratches on top of an old wound and suddenly it’s infected.

I’m worried about my brother. I’m always worried about my mom. I’m mad at Willow’s dad. I hate where I live. I wish I could make more money, go to school, and be the perfect mother. I have about 7 trash bags of clean laundry sitting in my closet that I need to fold and put away. The next 2 days are going to be very busy- and so is most of next week. I have about ten things on my mind that I need to remember. But I know I’ll forget them. I can’t write them down; if I write them down, it’s another to-do list to add to my 20 or so existing to-do lists. I was short with Willow today, all day, because I was so stressed out, and I’m mad at myself for that. It’s the holidays and I’m wondering how I can have a happy thanksgiving and Christmas with my daughter and make it back to the shelter for my 9pm curfew. There are are lot of things about where I live that I dislike and disagree with, and I feel helpless to change them; and angry about that. Willows dad has to move from our old apartment at the end of this month. And even though it’s a new beginning for all of us in a way, I’m heartbroken over the symbolic permanence of the end of our family.

And more and more.

And my mind won’t let up.

I keep trying to remind myself to release these difficult emotions into the universe. To allow my higher power to take some of the weight off my shoulders. But I resist letting go of these thoughts and feelings; I hold on tightly to my anxiety and stress. Why? I don’t know.

I close my eyes, take a deep breath in and out. It’s a relieving breath, that makes me realize I haven’t done that nearly enough today. I open my hands, palms up, to the sky, and allow my mouth to relax and lips to curl into a soft smile (thank you, DBT).

Today wasn’t all bad. I had a small win with my bank (they reimbursed me an overdraft fee). Then I celebrated by getting subway since I was technically $40.00 richer (not really, but I let myself pretend). I talked on the phone with my twin brother, which I do not do nearly enough. He made me laugh, and forget about being angry. I got my laundry done (even though I didn’t fold it or put it away). Willow took a nap in her crib for about 15 minutes; which was incredible considering it’s happened only a handful of times in her 8 months of life. I felt loved by willow. I ate Halloween candy.

I guess what I need is, is to have these days.

Days where everything is hard and stressful and I barley make it through. The kind of day where, when your mom asks you how it went, all you can do is cry.

Sometimes all I can do is open my palms and allow them to come. Sit through the hard days, weeks, and months. Do what I can to survive, and be ok with just surviving.

I can give myself permission to struggle and get behind, and stay behind for a while.

And know that when I’m able, I’ll stand up, pick up the pieces around me little by little, and move forward once more.

I need to keep enjoying my small wins, and finding happiness where it finds me.

I must remember that although it may feel like forever, it’s only for right now.


And this, too shall pass.

This too shall pass

Yesterday Willow turned 8 months old.
It’s hard to believe I have been a mom for almost a year.
Part of me feels as though I have been doing this for nearly a decade. Another half of me feels as though it was only a few weeks ago that I was holding my newborn daughter.

I remember when my daughter was born. Not as vividly as I thought I would recall it; I imagined years later, remembering the color hair tie I wore and the exact emotions I felt as my screaming, naked baby was placed on my chest.
But I remember it.

I remember saying,
“Fuck, fuck, fuck”
in pain- in front of my boyfriends mom, who never heard me swear before. I wanted to apologize, but was too shocked by the pain of labor to actually do it. I remember as I got closer to pushing, the strength of my instincts. I was too focused to doubt myself, so like a dancer preforming a routine I knew by heart, I followed my body’s commands. I went from bed, to ball, to shower, to toilet in a matter of minutes. I groaned, I leaned, I ignored all the noises and people around me. I went inside myself and flowed through the motions of labor.

Then I remember fear.
While I sat up in bed, with my knees by my cheeks, I felt terrified.
The pain I was feeling was more intense and unavoidable than anything I had ever experienced in my life. I knew, that even though I was feeling a pain more intense than I had ever experienced, I could not stop. I could not back out, nor did I want to.
I remember telling my amazing midwife,
“I can’t do this, I can’t do this”
She was calm, confident, and fearless when she told me,
“Yes you can. You’re safe. You’re doing an amazing job”.
Being told I was safe was exactly what I need to hear. I was terrified of the pain I was feeling. It was so intense it felt as though it could kill me. With eyes closed and arms out, I had been flung into a foreign place. I could not see where I was, nor did I know where to go; but I had to find my way through.
I let go of my fear and hesitancy as I listened to my body and ignored my brain. I continued pushing through a level of pain that I’ve never felt before, and through that experienced a new, greater level of pain. I pushed and pushed , with eyes closed tight running forward, I continued, unsure but faithful.
Then a nurse told me that I could reach down and feel my babies head if I wanted to. I put my hand between my legs and and felt my daughters hair.
With new determination, I was sure of what I was doing.
Suddenly, as quickly as it began, it was over.
As my midwife held up my daughter at all I could say was,
“Oh my God, oh my God”.

I had done it. I looked my fear, doubts, and hesitation in its eyes, and continued forward with open willingness.
Giving birth filled me with an ecstasy and pride I had never experienced.
I had known going in to the hospital that millions of women before me had accomplished childbirth. I knew I wanted to have a natural birth. I knew that one way or another, I would have my daughter.
Regardless of this knowledge, of my attempted preparation, I was filled with intense doubt and fear.

I learned, from giving birth many things about myself.

I learned the power of intentions; and that I can do anything I set my mind to.
I learned that discomfort and pain won’t kill you- despite your fears it may. That if you can harness the strength to sit with it- to go through it, not around- that it will end.
I learned about love- real love- and that I had never experienced it before meeting my daughter.
And I finally began to understand the importance of loving myself.

I hope that I will continue to love myself more each day. That I will learn that I want to change for myself, because I love myself; not just because I want to be a good mom.
And I hope that one day soon- I will be the woman I want my daughter to be.
And the woman I want to be.

For now, I will sit with the discomfort of not being in the place I wish I were in.
I will sit with the discomfort of living in a shelter, being employed part time and very poor, and of not having a degree.
I will sit with the discomfort of being a work in progress.

I will continue to move forward, through the pain and sadness of not having the life I want for my daughter, not yet.
I will go through this pain- and during that time learn a great deal more about myself and my life.

And one day soon, Willow and I will be ok.

Here’s How October and Creativity Can Help You on Your Detour Right Now

  “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Hope all you Detourists are enjoying the transforming  season of Autumn, where every day is another discovery and an ordinary miracle.

Sometimes we all have to take things day by day with hope things will change. Luckily, every falling leaf tells us that.

Through surgeries and other frustrations, nature and creativity have taught me those lessons.

So how did I survive over six years (besides IV nutrition, which was NOT the same as a huge bowl of ice cream!) without even a tiny ice cube to satiate myself? 

Nine Ways to Use Nature and Creativity Right Now

1. Being resourceful – working with what you have

2. Create, create, create. Anything, just do it. Be productive, just by striving to make your mark on this world. 
3. Making an impact or change on your environment, however large, small, internal or external that may be.

4. Refusing to compare your progress and rate of change with anyone or anything else, just going with your gut
Creating ruthlessly, wrecklessly, shamelessly, impulsively, primal – and in that you will find your glory and creativity
5. Working from a force that rises within you so involuntary, not unlike the sparking of a fire
6. Feeling inspiration from external/internal stimuli and not taking the time/thought to question why/when/how it came from
7. Deciding to lead and not follow. Being original without striving for it.
8. Always looking for the bigger picture, whether you can immediately spot it or whether it takes a lifetime to grasp
9. Creativity is the joy, the process, the destination. Not a particular product, goal, status symbol, or requirement.

So with that in mind, Detourists, I hope you use that unexpected winding road for discovery. You can always grab some inspiration from the Detourists who have shared their own stories on Why Not Wednesday, or tell me about a time in your own life where things didn’t go as you expected. Share your story here.

Upcoming Performances

Next up for me, I’ll be performing Gutless and Grateful at the Alliance for Jewish Theatre Conference October 24th in Boston Massachusetts. Check out this awesome conference here.

In the meantime, I’ll be in the studio creating.

Here’s what I’ve been doing in the studio lately…

And starting some new ideas…

You  an always check out the latest on my blog or art gallery.

It’s never too late to start, and October is a beautiful time…

.

Creativity pushes boundaries – most effectively when it’s unintentional. Enjoy the fall, and try making your own coloring pages – here’s a little idea I came up with.  It’s a great place to start!

Safe Travels Detourists. (What’s #LoveMyDetour?)

Amy

"This is from me to you. This is the truth."

I reflect sometimes on how to identify myself. I wish there was one word I could maintain as my title, but truthfully, there are at least 50 words that come to my mind as my identifying features. I am up front about myself upon meeting people. I think the humans of the world are entitled to knowing what they are getting themselves into by letting me into their lives.
I have struggled for a long time with my own self-worth and purpose- most of my 23 years. I am a constant work in progress. I have good days, and then bad days, and then a few more good days, and then a few more bad days. My entirety is made up of many pieces that I am proud to own.
Identify me as a woman. Identify me as a daughter, a sister. Identify me as a warm-hearted spirit. Identify me as a fiery personality (that’s how my mom sees me). Identify me as a dancer. Identify me as a teacher. Identify me as a cat-mom. Identify me as a Hufflepuff. Identify me as a feminist. Identify me as a student. Identify me as a writer. Identify me as the girl dancing in her car as you pass me on the highway. Identify me as a tea-drinker. Identify me as a “follower of cats on Instagram”. Identify me as a hard worker. Identify me as the number-one-grandchild (that’s how I see myself). Identify me as someone who posts way too much information on Twitter. Identify me as someone who owns way too many mugs. Identify me as a crafter. Identify me as a giant hairless cat that can’t fend for herself (that’s how my cat sees me). Identify me as a reader. Identify me as someone you can trust. Identify me as someone who lives with a mental illness.
But don’t just identify me as one thing. I am made up of them all. All of those pieces add to my ever-growing puzzle.

Click on Sunny to read my story! 

To the Moon and back

My name is Eliza, I am 22 years old and have a 7-month-old daughter, named Willow.
My life is certainly different in almost every way than I had once imagined it might be. Struggling with mental illness throughout high school, my focus was blurred and my vision of myself and the world seemed an abysmal tomb of hopeless sorrow and pain. After a very proud graduation, 6 years in the making, I thought I had begun to creep from the shadows and began to feel ‘normal’. This feeling of normalcy was a great relief, although it was short lived. I soon found myself overwhelmed with a full-time schedule at college and work, coupled with a life that continued to rush past me at speeds I could not keep up with, despite my efforts. I turned inward, and reached for drugs, alcohol, and self harm to give me relief from life, which seemed to berate and beat me until I was left laying in the dirt, begging for mercy. A deep sadness and resentment towards the world and everyone in it filled my being. Finally, I could no longer stand it and sought help. After 45 days of detox and rehab, I emerged, beaten and wary- but grateful for both my life and sobriety.
Soon after coming home, I met someone, and quickly rushed into a relationship. We officially started dating in April of 2016. By July 6th, 2016 I was 7 weeks pregnant. Feeling I could not face the thought of abortion, I decided I would have my baby. Looking back, its a decision I made quickly, and without brutal honesty with either myself or my boyfriend. Nonetheless, I committed, and though many urged me to terminate my pregnancy, I continued to move forward- sure I was making the right decision. Nine months later, on February 26th, I gave birth to a beautiful, 8 pound 6 oz, girl, Willow Moon. After less than five minutes of crying, she laid silently on my chest and took in the world for hours.
Five months later, my relationship with her dad had been crumbling for what felt like years. How long it actually took, I don’t remember, all I remember are the feelings. Sadness and anger. Suddenly, I was forced to decide to leave or stay in a situation were I feared for our safety at times, and our happiness constantly. Willow Moon and I took what we could, and left quickly. We now live together in less than 100 square feet at a shelter for pregnant women and mothers. And battling life together, we try to be brave and learn what we can from each other. This is our journey to the Moon and back.

Caring About the Environment Helped me Care About Myself: Nature & Mental Health

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

My recovery has been shaped by the trials and triumphs of a life with many detours. 

Nature is the life force that fuels my passion and propels my own mission forward. I’ve always resonated with trees and what provides perspective on how small I am in the world’s bigger picture.

“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries.”
― Jimmy Carter

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. Once 27 surgeries turned my life around, I found solace in what had always given me comfort – nature and spirituality.

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”
― Chris Maser, Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest

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 blinding sun rays seep into my lungs, filling me with new life.

Burst from Bark
As I regained health, I discovered that finding physical stability was half of the job. Regaining my soul took more effort, care, time. But thankfully there is always nature to center me. I show this gratitude through what I create. Being a writer is how I can give back to the world that has filled me with vitality once again. When trauma threatens to take everything, I create to honor that in nature, matter is never destroyed, just recreated in a different form, and as artists, it’s our civic duty to engage communities in environmental issues.

Bud-e Talk

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
― Henry David Thoreau, Familiar Letters

I believe that the most effective means of navigating life’s “detours” and finding our place in the world is through creative expression.  We feel heard, gain clarity and can build a community based on compassion. I believe a healthy, vibrant, and thriving community is one in which everyone regularly has the ability to contribute, create, listen and receive. As each individual chooses to create and interact with the space and one another through the arts, they engage in a vital conversation on our relationship to nature, our world, and the obstacles we collectively face.

“The poetry of the earth is never dead.”
― John Keats

DSC_6228

How can nature heal you today?

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

See more of my art at www.amyoes.com/galleries and pick up some here.

Five Magic Steps to Turn Creativity Into Happy Mental Wellness

Can You Prove the Art of Happiness?

Yes — you can. If anyone can be an artist, then anyone can be happy.

And yes — you are an artist, too.

How can art make you happy if you’re not good at art? And what does art solve, anyway?

Creativity: The Art of Happy

Art and creativity cures a problem that we all share at times — boredom. I’m not just talking about commercial breaks, a meeting at work that never ends, or traffic-light-kind-of-boredom. Creativity is a mind-set, a way of seeing the world. Creativity puts the magic back in life, so not only are we never bored, we are constantly inspired, present, empowered, and — dare I say it — happy.

I’m going to assign you an “art project”. But don’t be scared. The gluesticks and crayons are only required if you want them to be. This project teaches you how to see.

Let me explain with a little story about my younger self…
 As a kid, I always used to complain to my older brother, “I’m bored!” Even when I was little, I was always darting about from activity to activity. My mind was racing and I was antsy with ideas.

His response was always, “Why are you bored?”

I didn’t know.

Then I’ll never forgot what he got me as a birthday present that year. His card was a simple little hand written post-it note that said,

“This is so you’ll never be bored again.”

I opened it, hoping it was some kind of toy or exciting little gadget. But it was just a soft-cover activity book for me to fill out. I had that natural let-down when you get your hopes up and really just get…a book.

No! Not a book!

But then I looked at the cover and it said “Things I Can Be Happy About.” It was a workbook for me to fill in. It was filled with a bunch of blank, numbered lines, broken up into categories like “Outside”, “School”, “Friends”, “Activities” etc. I don’t think I ever filled it out, but I got the idea.

The no-fail cure for boredom…

My brother was trying to teach me my first lesson in gratitude. If you realize what you can be happy about, it’s hard to ever get “bored.” Instead of getting “bored”, he wanted me to get “appreciative.”

A lot of times when we’re bored, we’re just unhappy. And it might just take too much energy to think about what we should be happy about. So I have a little exercise I like to do. I also think it’s a great idea to try with kids, who get tend to tire of things quickly, or might not always remember how much there is to be happy about.

And then on the other end, sometimes kids are the ones who remind us to be happy about the simple things. Kids can be miniature wise-adults, and grown-ups can have the fearless abandon of a child. That’s how we all balance each other out.

In my TEDx Talks, I talked about how creativity saved my life….

 
 

But it also made me extremely happy.

Creating excitement…

So with that in mind, this is my exercise for kids, adults, and the kid-adult in all of us.
 Today I invite you to see things differently. All it takes is a little mind-bending. We’re never too old to create fantasies. These are some out-of-the-box ways to view any ordinary, boring moment in life and bring it to a completely new dimension.

When we elevate the everyday, we can’t get bored. We’re struck by every laughing tree, every popping color, every breath of sunrise.

And even better, that whimsical fascination with the world around us might even inspire us to create…and with a project to do or a idea in our heads — how the heck can we get bored???

These are some ideas to view the world differently. Try each one on for size, then share it with someone else!

How to use creativity as a mindset:

1.) See the human face in everything — does that tree trunk remind you of a friend’s face?

2.) Be curious: ask childlike questions about the world around you like what makes the sky blue or the clouds look like that?

3.) Be a poet and describe the world around you in haikus!

4.) Take a walk and only make left turns — a lot of them!

5.) View everything solid as liquid and everything liquid as solid. How does it feel to walk on liquid grass?

I could go on and on with ideas, but go ahead, create some of your own! Do it just for the sake of adding a spark to your day.

Share it with a friend to give them a reason not to ever be bored — I’m sure they’ll fire back with their own ideas!

Art empowers me with the ability to create a ripple of happiness. As a human who can make “art”, I know that I have the power to make this happen every moment, with even the smallest of gestures. Art is how we tell our stories.
 A random act of kindness, a tender word, a brush stroke — whatever works. How will you make your mark on the world?

Start with a scribble…

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. As the creator of “Gutless & Grateful,” her BroadwayWorld-nominated 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 and international conferences. To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events. “Detourism” is also the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017. She’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others. Learn about her art, music, theatre, advocacy, book, and inspiring story at amyoes.com, or “tweet me at @amyoes!”

Pizza Changed My Life. How Pizza Changed My Life…It’s #NationalCheesePizzaDay!

Pizza Changed My Life.

By Amy Oestreicher  – www.amyoes.com

I’m being serious here.

(Seriously.)

So, I talk a lot about not being able to eat or drink for six years. I even gave a TEDx Talk about it. 

So let’s just say, I couldn’t be happier to be eating pizza and performing in cheesy plays I’ve written. For a few years, cheese was something I could only dream of inhaling.

I was your typical well-fed Jewish girl, partial to Chinese food and non-alcoholic Shirley Temples. Nowhere in my teenage view could I ever had anticipated a coma right before my senior prom, and months later, being awoken by doctors who solemnly shook their heads and shrugged as they said, “You can’t eat or drink right now. And we don’t know when… or if… you’ll ever be able to again.”

When surgeons miraculously reconstructed my digestive system, food was a thrilling discovery. A lot of people ask what the first thing I ate was. Believe it or not, I brought a little frozen waffle with me to the doctors. A mini one. For some reason, I REALLY wanted to have a frozen waffle. So I had a bite, and then I realized I had to start with baby food.
Oh well. Nothing is as glamorous as it seems.
Have you ever had something in your life that you’ve really looked forward to and then you found out it wasn’t that great? That you realized maybe you overrated a bit?
Well, that actually wasn’t the case with food. Food is NOT overrated one bit!
In fact, perhaps I had underrated it’s potential…

Pizza and me: A life-story

It took a really long time to work up to pizza, and I was terrified. I thought I was going to choke. I was afraid of the texture, the heat of the melted cheese (I’m drooling right now) and the tang of the tomato sauce.
How was I supposed to chew all of that grainy cheesy goodness?
I remember staring at my flimsy paper plate a REALLY long time, and then my friend said, “well why don’t you just eat it already?” (Not the plate, you get the idea.)

So I pick up the piece of pizza and took a bite. And I seriously went crazy. In a good way, of course.
I remember that the first thing I did was take a walk outside and call my brother. I was so giddy and flustered, rambling on,
“Jeff, you never would believe what I just did! I had pizza! No, you don’t get it, like now that I can eat pizza, I can do anything! I can go out to lunch with friends and say, hey, you wanna go out for pizza or something? I can go to a diner and be like, hey I’d like to order pizza! I can call some buddies and be like hey, let’s have a game night and we’ll take in some pizza! I can go on double dates at a pizza joint! I can have a pizza party, heck — I can make my own! Once I can eat pizza — the world is an open door!”
I’m not joking — I really said that. And more, I really believed that.

The Power of Food

It’s hard to understand what food does. It’s more than just keeping you full. It’s a lifeline to the world. It’s social, it’s casual, it makes you feel like a person. It puts a physical sensation into your body that otherwise makes you numb.
Food opens you up to yourself and to the world again.
But I was still on the phone: “Jeff — no serious, you really don’t get it! Like, it’s portable too! So I can just be like, oh, I’m grabbing a slice of pizza on my way out. Or hey, I’d like a slice — or TWO — to go! And I can just eat it and watch a movie, or split a pie with

I had been through the struggles of someone three times my age, but I felt like a baby and everything felt new. I was so scarred and weary, but I was still somehow ready to start out fresh, and ready to heal.
And it started with pizza.
Once I could eat, of course a few surgeries later I couldn’t eat again. That’s the phase of my life when I became obsessed with cooking so I could still have contact with food. And my favorite thing to make was deep dish pizza. Staying connected to food made me feel again — even though it hurt and was terribly difficult. The smell of my pizza cooking in the oven made me cry, and the tears felt like home.
Maybe those tears are what gave me hope that one day, I really would be able to eat again.
Cooking gave me hope. And apparently hope helped, because now I eat way too much pizza, let’s just say.

What’s better than a homemade deep dish pizza? Gratitude. For pizza. With extra cheese.
These days, with me and pizza, it’s love at first bite.

So think about it, take some time for gratitude, and to call your local delivery man. The next time you take a bite of pizza, of cheese, of life, really think about how wonderful it tastes, what doors it opens, and how wonderfully it feels to be alive!
It’s cheesy, but it’s true.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SLICE?

Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD  specialist, artist, author, multidisciplinary educator, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright. Learn more about Amy’s program for colleges here. As creator of Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, after it’s NYC Broadway-World nominated debut in 2012, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. Sign up for her newsletter for weekly Detourist tips and updates on her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour.

I’ll be performing an original monologue..ironically about NOT being able to eat, at Plays and Pizza, a night of short plays at Lucky Jack’s Bar, with special guest Norman Zamcheck on Piano and free pizza after the show. 

Plays and Pizza, a night of short plays at Lucky Jack’s Bar.  
Sept 18th
730 pm
129 Orchard St. Lucky Jacks Bar.
$7.00 PayPal.Me/PlaysandPizza

When Stage Fright, Fear, and Passion Become Your Best Friend: Making a Show

When GUTLESS & GRATEFUL premiered in New York at The Triad in October 2012, everything came to fruition. I stopped comparing myself to others and realized that I had stayed true to myself. I was still the same performer I had always aspired to be, but now I was telling my own story rather than playing an ingénue in GUYS & DOLLS. It took more work, with a rockier path, but I was performing theatre that connected with audiences on an even broader level. Total strangers felt like they knew me and offered me their own stories. For the first time, my story was being told in my own words. It was now no longerAmy Oestreicher, the woman whose stomach exploded, but Amy Oestreicher, the actress, expressing her inspiring tale at The Triad. It felt like springboard for even more opportunity and my bridge to the world.

Of course, there were plenty of naysayers. I hadn’t done a show for years. What did I know about producing my own show in New York? It’s natural when someone tells you you can’t do something to think about it a bit. Many times I believed them. I went to auditions with bags attached to me, attended hot yoga daily while connected to an IV pump, and have gotten many funny looks and some awkward situation that embarrassed and upset me. It’s difficult to ignore what other people think of a career move, or a comment that touches on an insecurity. While creating GUTLESS & GRATEFUL, it was easy to compare myself to former colleagues that were doing theatre, but “bigger” and “better” than I was— on Broadway, on tours, seemingly “breezing through” their career.
But I think the most important (and difficult) thing for me was patience. Telling myself that I will get there— this is my own unique path, and as long as I am still doing what I love, in whatever shape or form, I am staying authentic to my own path. I didn’t let food scare me for all of those years it could have killed me, so how could I get stage fright now?

After I performed, I didn’t realize how people would be affected. Not only did they empathize with my ups and downs, they were laughing with me! I connected to the world, and to my own community again, something I desperately needed and what has always drawn me to theatre in the first place.
My first performance at The Triad brought everything full circle. It was a frightening, bold, vulnerable, and breathtaking experience. In it, I told everything: the pain, the joy, the fury, all with music, drama, and humor, most importantly. I had played “roles” before, but for the first time, I was honestly revealing my own medical and emotional struggles for hundreds of strangers every night. It was a risk to lay my soul bare, but the reward was in how my own vulnerability caused others to become vulnerable and moved by my own struggles.
Just before opening night, as my mother helped me get into my red dress, she looked at me, like she looked at her “old daughter” getting dressed for a middle school musical. She slipped my red dress over a new body, battered, bruised, covered in scars, bags and medical tape. But my earrings were sparkling, my eyes were stained with eyeliner—not tears—and now I had tape for my body mic, in addition to my ostomy bag. I was not defeated. This could be a new start.
I walked out on stage, sat at my desk in the downstage right corner that we had so carefully marked down with tape. I was more nervous than I could ever remember and could hardly breathe. The lights were dark, but I could see the glasses of audience members in a packed house. Who was here? As the lights began to brighten, I could recognize friends, family, all waiting to hear me sing…

“Deep breaths, deep breaths Amy…”


The crowd was quiet. Jerold, on the piano to my left, started the intro we had rehearsed a trillion times. The band started to play, my brother behind me, and I felt support in a theatre from literally all sides. Here I was, with one chance to prove something, to sing. To make sure my body mic was on…
The intro stopped, and I looked up at the audience to sing, “I’ve an unrest inside me.”

And, boy, did I have an unrest.

From my journal at that time:

October 19: Yay! It went better than I ever could have expected!
October 21: My show is sold out! Heaven! They had to add seats!
October 25: I don’t want this show to end at The Triad. Must get this produced after. So I spend 6 hours sending emails to producers, and I even got a few responses!
October 26: Amazing finish! House was filled, and the general manager said he’d love for me to do an extended run one day! Maybe after surgery. But the biggest surprise of the night: William Finn showed up. I was shocked! On the way home, parents kept saying what a positive experience this all was. I’m so glad. Think of how many people I touched through this!

This wasn’t the path I planned for myself, but does anyone’s life ever work out exactly how they plan it?

My stomach exploded. My world changed in an instant. My life took a detour as all lives do.

So, I made the best of it, and now I have my detour to thank for all the gifts in my life. As actors, we tell stories constantly. I first told mine over six years ago and continue to do so, not only to myself, but to complete strangers and New York Theatregoers. Every time I “perform” what happened to me, I find myself somehow transformed in the process. Theatre has the power to change lives, both for those directly involved and those who watch. Theatre teaches us we’re capable of anything, and usually tells us this at times we need it most.
After my show, people would come up to me and tell me how inspired they had been by my story. They would almost apologize, as if ashamed that their own problems could possibly compare. This always struck me odd because I believe that suffering is relative. Although my situation was extreme, I experienced universal feelings that everyone goes through in life, whether it’s a surgery, a break-up, or a broken heart. Whatever the story, it is ours and uniquely ours and we all have to get it out there. Through telling our stories, we realize that we are not alone. We feel connected by a shared experience, and this experience strengthens us just enough to keep getting through life’s experiences day after day!
This realization I had that we all need to tell our stories inspired me to start leading workshops about the healing power of our stories to organizations, schools, and under-served communities.

This unexpected route has shown me that when life throws you in a different direction…
GO WITH IT.
TRUST IT.
BE NERVOUS. IT’S OKAY.

WHO DOESN’T GET STAGE FRIGHT.

AND TRUST…

…you’ll be okay.

There might even be applause. 🙂

Learn more about Gutless and Grateful at www.amyoes.com/gutless. Now that it’s back-to-school season, I also do the show for schools and colleges!  Check out “Mental HEALth Mindset: www.amyoes.com/student-mental-health and send me a note!

The Most Clever Way to Find Hope on a Down Day is….

It can be hard to keep going, even when life seems good.  The little things can still be hard. What do I try to do?

Sometimes, I go through old journal entries and seek out key themes that helped me find joy in circumstances that were not ideal:

1.) Make your own rules.

Two rules I always used to try to follow:

Pray for someone every day

Don’t move until you see a miracle, wait for a miracle.

2.) Take a new risk daily.

Every day I am going to find one thing that I’ve never done before, one risk I have taken that makes that day stand out. As you expand your consciousness of kindness, you create a more spiritual life.

3.) Relax into the messy un-plans.

Life is messy, and everything does not have to be incorporated into a schedule – then I’ll never have room for the unexpected beauties to pop up!  Live frugally on surprise

4.) Enjoy the Beautiful Day

The sunlight makes the leaves shimmer gold, and it doesn’t even matter that they are all on the ground and the trees are naked – they look splendid anyway!  They cover the pavement and cast a trail down, around corners, leading to uncharted territories, to other, even  more beautiful horizons.  This must be a good sign of how today will be – I can easily think anxious thoughts today, but I don’t feel like that in this moment.

Instead, I will follow the trail of leaves, picking up one by one, using that as a metaphor for how I am to be in an individual moment and not think forwards or backwards, just enveloping myself inside the beauty of each star-shaped leaf.  I will not be in my head today – it’ a great day to be outdoors!

5.) Break Down Walls

Fear builds walls to block the light.

6.) Know Your Daydreams

I know my daydreams are real and can really come into existence for me, on the other side of this.  The other side of the mountain. I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.

When you’re walking and a butterfly flutters up to you, how can you not feel the Spring soak you in warm, loving light? You see the butterfly flutter his wings, almost dancing along. Butterflies show us that true joy is within the dance of life.

7.) Persistence Sets You Free.

.  It is NOT impossible to give up. It is possible to gain FREEDOM.

8.) Just live and see how good it feels.

It feels good to be alive…

I found one of my old entries that gave me a new idea for finding hope:

“I love life. And I want more of it!!!!  Finally I have come to the point where living has become more important  than hiding away.  Because I let myself have that opportunity – I pushed myself to be scared because deep inside I knew there was nothing to be scared of!  And I like life in the light, once I overcame this fear.  It was so fun leading myself through my visualization in the actual woods, following the trail of leaves and telling the story of the hidden demons that lurk about in the eyes of the trees.  And the park was so gorgeous with the blaring circle of sun setting behind gigantic tall trees, and the moon already appearing at the other end of the sky, waiting in its dressing room for its showtime.  I wrote this visualization down and shared it with my mom – it feels so good to give back!”

Where can you find hope today?
Safe travels, Detourists!

Amy
www.amyoes.com

What Can Theatre Can Tell Us About Mental Health & Humanity Today?

“Welcome to the greatest adventure of your life!”
That’s how I began my second TEDx Talk this year. And it’s basically a talk about healing from trauma through story. Many stories, but really, just one.

Think about some of the greatest stories you’ve heard – maybe it’s a Star Wars movie, perhaps a Harry Potter book, or a chapter in the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology. Think about the patterns you observe around you every day. And think about how those patterns we experience, and the stories we hear guide us every day – whether we know it or not.
Rick Dildine, artistic and executive director of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, who will soon join Alabama Shakespeare Festival as Artistic Director, shared the power he finds in storytelling through theatre.
“I make theatre to ask, ‘What is my purpose here? Why am I in this world? It’s an opportunity to get closer to that truth.’”
So what are some of the first questions he asks when approaching a play?
“What is the truth of this story? What do I know about this from my own experience? What is universal?”
It’s that universal story that theatre tells so well – a story of the hero’s journey – and a story that saved my own life.
In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes the archetypal hero’s journey as an adventure we all undertake in our lifetime.
In Campbell’s words:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
My second TEDx Talk was all about heroes, stories and the two best places to find them: in theatre, and in ourselves.
Storytelling, since the beginning of time, has driven change, created movements, and empowered those who never knew they had a story to tell. As an artist, creating stories is my way to uncover the certainty and significance from chaos and unsteadiness. After surviving a decade of trauma, I discovered this storytelling “survival strategy” as a lifeline, roadmap and anchor to myself. To cope with 27 surgeries and six years unable to eat or drink, I locked myself in my room and journaled thousands of pages, using Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero’s journey to create a structure for my life that had lost all structure entirely. Not only did stories help my own personal transformation, they helped me reintegrate into society once I myself had transformed.
And the power of one story – one universal narrative is not only what guided me through trauma, but what is producing theatre that is changing lives from coast to coast…and beyond.
Christopher Ashley, artistic director at La Jolla Playhouse, and director of Broadway’s Come From Away, discovered how a story all the way in Newfoundland could resonate with New Yorkers.
How did he first get attracted to this story?
“I was in New York during 9/11 and had all of these strong, unresolved feelings at that time, and my associate director at La Jolla came to my office and said, ‘There’s a script you have to read, and I think it’s really gonna matter to you.’ There was something immediate about the script that struck me – something about that moment of kindness and generosity that felt like a necessary story to tell at this exact moment. We are living in a moment of such division and friction between people.
The stories of Newfoundland of that week, where people were so stranded, and how thoroughly people took care of them. There were different religions, backgrounds, and nothing else mattered, except that this person was hungry, and this person needed protection. There was generosity, compassion, it felt very much about community, and very much like how New Yorkers took care of each other at that time. The “New York” edge was off, and it was about humanity.”
Dildine finds the humanity of a story through family. “I’ve always loved intimate family dramas. What does it mean to be a human? A true moment of humanity for me, is where the prince has to sit through his father’s death in Henry the Fourth. To have a loved one pass on in our lives…that is something we all will inevitably experience.”
Humanity.
Humanity – for me, that is what theatre is about – finding the essence of humanity. THAT’s how we fight stigma – by showing how very much we ALL have in common!

To be continued….

“Those who suffer from mental illness are stronger than you think. We must fight to go work, care for our families, be there for our friends, and act ‘normal’ while battling unimaginable pain.”

“It’s so common, it could be anyone. The trouble is, nobody wants to talk about it. And that makes everything worse.”

See my TEDx Talks at www.amyoes.com/tedx and tell me what YOU think!

Why this month is the best time to jumpstart your mental health with creativity

Happy August! With September around the corner, I havev a great idea for your end-of-summer detours:

In my most recent TEDx Talk (watch it here!) I talked about how to become the hero of your own story through four “hard-core skills to resilience.” My favorite? Creativity of course. So find those back-to-school sales and buy yourself some Crayola’s –
that’s all you need…and a pair of kid-eyes to see things differently.
Need help? Check out my Huffington Post article with some great takeaways.

But just for my newsletter Detourists, here are some of my favorite, and super-basic ways to finding the creative spark to turn any obstacle into a hero’s adventure…

1.) Literally make a worry box/bubble/bag/container.
It’s amazing what a physical symbol can do in your life. Find something – even pebbles, to represent each worry, and allow your creative side to be messy and unpredictable, once the extra thoughts are put away. If you really need to think about them, just open the box at another time.

2.) Daydream
STOP. Say hello to one of your super-hero five senses and let it take you on a ride. Stare at clouds. Smell a cinnamon clove. Allow your mind to wander into a land that may not make sense…yet. Then doodle it. See where it goes.

3.) Take a walk
You’l find plenty of tactile objects and sensations to launch your daydream, plus, I find just physically moving helps generate those creative juices. (I know I’m crazy, but since I think best when I’m walking around, I’m currently finishing my book, My Beautiful Detour, walking around texting into my Google Doc app!
And if you get outside, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to…

4.) People watch
Make up back stories for the people you’re watching. They don’t have to know about it, so allow yourself to be as outlandish as you’ll let yourself. Then offer them a quiet smile as you pass. Maybe you’ll pass the creative spark onto them!

I’m sharing a dozen more easy ideas for August in my blog this week, so make sure you check it out!

 

I’ve been doing this art-making myself lately to work on my new play, Trust/Remembered:

Yep, I’m devising a new theatre piece through live art-making on stage – a new multimedia project based on my latest TEDx Talk – exploring healing from trauma as a warrior’s adventure through the archetypal hero’s journey:
Check out a behind-the-scenes peek at the process here: https://youtu.be/LobqH6GiTH4

What am I discussing as I paint?  Why painting is so therapeutic for anyone struggling with anxiety, or feelings they’re not sure how to express yet.  I explain it in my article with some helpful inspiration here: It’s Okay to Freeze.

Remember, you can just start with a doodle…and you’ll find the hero in yourself.

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, Make sure you thank the heroes in your own lives!

Safe, silly travels, Detourists!

Amy

“Being a hero means ignoring how silly you feel.”
― Diana Wynne Jones,

How Does Trauma Make You a Hero? (Really!)

My 2nd TEDx Talk is officially live! It’s about transforming trauma – or any adversity – into a warrior’s adventure through creativity, story, wonder, and a bit of the archetypal hero’s journey.

On February 25th, 2017, I gave my 2nd TEDx Talk on how I healed from trauma, through turning myself into Tigerlilly, the warrior, using my “Four Hard Core Skills to Resilience” that I created from my roadmap….the archetypal hero’s journey.

Creativity was a mindset that literally saved my life. REMEMBER…we’re all artists at heart!

WATCH THE TEDX TALK:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtmqAcWx7I8

I would love to hear from you.
What does creativity mean to you?
Is there a story you’ve read as a child that’s always stayed with you?
After watching my talk, what step are you in on the hero’s journey?
How can you use that pattern to tell you where you need to go next in your life?

I gave this TEDx Talk for VCU’s theme of PATTERNS. Is there a pattern that has guided you? What’s your favorite pattern?

Oh, and what’s one pattern we all have in our lives?

DETOURS!

Through sharing our stories, we become empowered, inspired and more comfortable with our life circumstances, as well as with who we are. Telling our stories helps us process it – just like you learn something better yourself when you have to teach someone else. Through our shared experience, we gain confidence and become travel-partners on our detours.  And traveling is always less scary when we’re not alone.

City Dream

Even if you’re not ready to share your story, read a book. Hear the stories of others –courageous, adventure stories!  We learn by example, so when that difficult detour surprises you, you’ll be able to pull those heroic stories out of your back pocket and follow your own hero’s journey.

Watch my first TEDx Talk on Detours here. HTTPS://amyoes.com/TEDx

I’d love to hear from you all on the patterns in your own life – and the stories you’ve heard that stick with you today.

Remember – everyone has a story worth sharing. Even if for now, it’s one that’s been told to us.

They’re your secret weapon!

Don’t believe me? Watch the talk !

Safe travels, Detourists!

A Teaser for my Never-Before-Seen 2nd TEDx Talk

A Teaser for My 2nd Never-Before-Seen TEDx Talk!

For those of us that LOVE Joseph Campbell and the archetypal hero’s journey (where is it NOT?) I wanted to share an exciting update — I gave my second TEDx Talk last February at VCU, and it’s taken a few months, but I finally found out that the talk is going to be live next week! In the meantime, they gave me the first three minutes that I wanted to share. I’ll share the rest when it’s up on the TEDx site. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts…the rest of the talk might go in a bit of an unexpected direction — so stay tuned — enjoy…and “Welcome to the Greatest Adventure of Your Life!”

 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70kLYw_tNWU&feature=youtu.be

Best,

TigerLilly (makes more sense when you see the rest of the talk)

What excites me the most is getting to use a bit more of my art in this talk as well too 🙂 www.amyoes.com/galleries

Hope you enjoy and remember that we all have stories — it’s SHARING them that changes us, our perspective, our world, and everyone around us. So read/tell/listen/google some stories!

Stay tuned…

See my first TEDx Talk here.

Some extra notes…

Everyone loves a good story.  Is there a book or poem you’ve read that has always stuck with you?  A certain metaphor from a whimsical children’s story that resonated with you as a child?  I remember always loving the book Harold and the Purple Crayon.  I loved the idea of a little child being able to create his own world.  It made me feel like I could too.
That’s the beauty of a metaphor: Through a larger vision, we can relate with our own unique stories.
That is also the power of storytelling.  Everyone’s story is different.  But we all can relate to emotions.  If you’re human, you’ve felt sadness.  You’ve felt hunger, pain, joy, loss, .
If you’re a human on this earth, you’ve felt life.  Look all around you, and you’ll see life growing, dying, changing and regenerating daily.

So keep traveling Detourists – there is always a chance for a new start…and to be a hero!

Hang in there 🙂

Dealing with Physical "Detours" and How to Cope

This post is about the physical “detours” we all may encounter. When are bodies don’t work like we want them to…how do we mentally cope?

I have an ostomy.

When I first got my ostomy, I felt very alone. I felt self-conscious of the smell and sound, and sometimes I longed for my old body.

When I couldn’t take self-loathing anymore, I decided to make friends with it. I reached out. I inquired about support groups in my area and realized there are many people like me. I realized my ostomy is a beautiful thing and has enabled me to do all the things I’ve been able to accomplish over the years. It is my uniqueness.

These are 10 things I would have liked to tell myself when I first had an ostomy  — 10 things I didn’t know but eventually learned, which I am so grateful for today:

1. What it was.

I had no idea what an ostomy was before I had one. But I have a confession: I didn’t realize exactly what it was until a year later! Coming out of multiple surgeries, I had so many bags and new anatomical surprises to think about that a little pink bulge on my belly seemed to be the least of my problems!

I’ve learned things in the past 10 years that have shocked, scared and relieved me, such as: You can’t actually feel your stoma — no nerve endings! I’ve had three ostomies and four ileostomies over the years. I didn’t realize how different they were. Once I learned about the differences and functions of each, I was better able to take care of them.

2. What my limits were.

When I saw that I’d have to live life with a bag stuck to my side, I assumed I’d be “fragile” for the rest of my life. But believe it or not, there are so many active ostomates out there! Swimming, karate, ballet, yoga — I’ve done everything I did before my ostomy and more.

3. There are so many strong ostomates.

I was privileged to be the Eastern regional recipient of the Great Comebacksaward and meet five other amazing ostomates doing incredible things. There is a huge, supportive ostomy community. Check out this determined runnerall of these famous heroes who had inflammatory bowel disease, and did you know Great Comebacks was founded by a former NFL linebacker

4. Ostomates excel at innovation and inventiveness.

It turned out I was able to do all those things I thought I couldn’t — but that didn’t mean it was easy. Some of the best things in life take work, and that makes you appreciate it even more. Let’s just say that plastic wrap, Pepto-Bismol, waterproof tape and wetsuits have become good friends of mine. The beautiful music video for the song “Renegades” by X Ambassadors features an incredible man who just happens to also be blind. He says it best: “It’s not a matter of enjoying it more or less, it’s about enjoying it differently.”

5. How amazing my body is.

I have a new respect for my body and the way it can function now.

6. Judgment hurts, but fear hurts more.

Stay informed and know the facts.  The more I actually understood how an ostomy worked, the more I realized how wonderful it was. After that, I took it as my responsibility to educate others. Instead of wondering if I was being “judged” by others, I took it as a privilege to inform them.

7. Everything is connected.

Take care of your full self: emotional, spiritual, mental and physical. If you’re stressed, you might be bloated or feel pain or discomfort. Remember to take deep breaths in difficult times.

8. The people who love you, love you.

If you’re just getting comfortable with your ostomy, remember that your support system loves you for who you are. You are more than your ostomy. Reach out when you feel alone and never forget how loved you are.

9. Eat fresh.

You are what you eat, so eat whole and nourishing foods. Your ostomy will thank you, and so will you!

10. Life can go on.

Throughout these seven years, I’ve been strong, determined and willing to do whatever it took to stay alive. I’ve dealt with tubes, bags, poles, you name it. And if this ostomy is all that I’m left with after everything, then I am truly grateful. More than that, I thank my ostomy for enabling me to live life to the fullest, to my fullest. I call it my Harry Potter thunderbolt scar: a symbol of strength, courage, individuality and life.

There are a few things I didn’t know before my ostomy. But what I look forward to most is everything left to learn. Thank you, ostomy, for making the world a wide open door once again.

Do you want to share your story on my blog?  Find out more here.

Amy works directly with survivors of sexual assault and those healing from PTSD. Learn more about her college mental health program and sexual assault prevention initiative on her site, www.amyoes.com. All artwork was created by Amy in her own healing process.

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.

Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer’s Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual. “Detourism” is the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, “My Beautiful Detour,” available December 2017.

She’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, and Cosmopolitan, among others. Learn more at amyoes.com. Watch Amy’s TEDx Talk: A Detour is Not a Dead End here: Amy’s TEDx Talk: Detour

Why we all need to express our diversity – but how do we fight its stigma?

As a Detourist, I’ve encountered a lot of mental health stigma. I’ve gone from theatre kid, to actress, to traumatized, to comatose, to survivor, to playwright, to person in less than 30 years. Creativity not only saved my life, it became my life force, anchor to myself, and road map where there was none. Creativity is the best way to say anything we’re feeling. And that’s the best way to fight mental health stigma.

Theatre was the one place I felt I could say anything. Theatre has always been my first love and felt like natural medium to tell my story. I had experienced years of setbacks, triumphs and frustrations in isolation. I didn’t appreciate the full scope of what I had undergone, and the impact it would have on others, until I was able to perform it, and bring secrets to light for the first time. “Gutless & Grateful” was a musical about my near-death experience, but it was also the first opportunity I had to ever speak out loud, “I was sexually abused.” In the act of telling, I set myself free. As a performer, I long to connect with my community and share a message that will inspire others – that is the power of theatre. Helping yourself is a reward in one respect, but to know that your own struggles can heal others is transformative and uplifting.

Giving my story a dramatic arc was a way to reframe my own narrative, and find the meaning in what I had been through: nearly 30 surgeries, six years unable to eat and drink, and perhaps a little mention that I had been sexually abused by my voice teacher shortly before my stomach exploded my senior year of high school.

I wasn’t sure how sexual abuse fit into my story yet.

Perhaps it was because I hadn’t figured out what being a survivor of sexual abuse meant to me at all.

Sexual assault is a big burden to carry as a secret – and none of the news stories were talking about anything other than my total gastrectomy and organ failure. In fact, my abuser was still teaching. (He still is.) Where did this experience fit into my narrative?

I learned that the memories I was still struggling with would not be solved by a musical comedy. In my “gutsy” life-story theatrical debut, I was joyously overwhelmed by rave reviews from New York theatre critics.

But there was one line from an otherwise great review that stuck with me:

“Although there is, of course, a connection between mind and body, it was somewhat hard to swallow that the source of her illness could be blamed on being raped, which was implied at the beginning.”

Really? Hard to swallow?

Now I was getting stigma from critics? If theatre wasn’t safe, what was?

Could I fight stigma through theatre?

After “Gutless,” I was determined as a playwright to create a play to show that recovery from trauma is raw, messy, and rarely a straight line…or “easy to swallow.” I went on to create plays, musicals, scenes and snippets that I felt society needed to hear. I learned that there are physical scars from trauma, and then there are scars we can’t see.

As both a survivor and an emerging female playwright, it’s been an ongoing battle to reclaim my voice and tell my own story. And recently, I realized I wasn’t alone.

Other artists were facing stigma in mental health, diversity, and the freedom to be who we are, where we are, as we are.

What would you do if a publisher rejected your manuscript because of lesbian and transgender themes? What if you were told these themes were not commercial — or not appropriate for young people? Back in 2008, with the world economy hovering on the brink of collapse, a group of women playwrights were forced to confront these questions.

The International Center for Women Playwrights hosts a longstanding email discussion group with over 300 subscribers. Long before artists could network on Facebook and Twitter, ICWP formed an active, spirited online community of multicultural writers. Founded in 1988, ICWP’s mission was to support and promote women playwrights around the world and advocate for gender equity in theater. Women from many countries (and a few like-minded men) shared knowledge, support, encouragement — and daily rants about the challenges of working in a male-dominated profession. Women of color, lesbians, gender nonconforming persons, disabled women, women of all ages and ethnicities gathered with stories to tell. Mostly, they saw little on the contemporary stage that reflected their own experiences.

It was not unusual to hear stories of intolerance. But, this time, a powerful, articulate lesbian writer stood up demanding action. While nobody could deny the discrimination she had experienced — or the danger it posed to LGBT youth — nobody could agree on an appropriate response. Boycott the publisher? Protest on a wider scale? Or just take the high-road, and submit manuscripts elsewhere? The typically supportive email list erupted into a flame war. Lawyers were consulted. Several key members left the group, including the activist playwright who raised the question. What emerged from the ashes was a renewed commitment to change, when members were finally able to rally around an idea for positive action.

Williams volunteered to edit a book of short scenes for 2-3 actors, suitable for audition pieces or student acting class work. The thematic focus of the book would be “diverse voices” — drama about characters from under-represented minorities, and the challenges these individuals face. As simple as this idea seemed, the publication of ICWP’s Scenes from a Diverse World supports gender equity in theater, and opens up new worlds for theater students.

After reading all about William’s collection, I was brought back to learning for the first time, that a collection of my own work, including an extremely “open” monologue, “I’m Living Life With Open Wounds,” would be published and performed by college students for an academic thesis on Disability, and incorporated into a high school textbook for a unit on empathy through theatre. If every human, from of every background, affiliation and identity can feel proud to speak truths which society needs to hear, then we can access theatre’s truth ability change lives, to bring marginalized voices to the center, and to create a society built on inclusion, generosity of spirit, and positive change.

How are YOU sharing your unique role in our diverse world?

(Perhaps a monologue can get you started.)

Oestreicher is a proud member of ICWP, multidisciplinary teaching artist, TEDx speaker, PTSD Specialist, author, actress and playwright. See more mixed media artwork, learn about her plays, or catch her touring Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical.

Can a Story Make a Woman Leader?

This has definitely been a year of milestones for me.

In the past year, I’ve…

…turned thirty years old, graduated college, gotten married and divorced, tried eel sushi for the first time, written a full-length musical, become a published playwright, toured my one-woman show to nine new states, given two TEDx Talks, and even though I’ve  been relentlessly searching for medical answers, I’m driven to keep my hunger for life alive, even as a “surgical work in progress.”

My relationship with my body has not been an easy journey. After 27 surgeries, the road has been rocky, and it’s not over yet.

There are certain things I don’t have control over, like finding a surgeon that can somehow fix every medical concern in the book.

But there are certain things I CAN control…

…and no, I’m not talking about the trite affirmation, “I can’t control circumstances but I can control my reaction to it.” Because it’s okay to get upset, angry, and to experience other reactions to frustrating circumstances. We’re only human, and we can’t be “Gutless and Grateful” all the time.

BUT, we CAN control what we choose to do with that reaction.

What do I mean by that?

When I feel angry, hurt, fearful, frustrated, or any emotion that’s hard to sit with, I try to turn it into a force for good.  I take that energy and turn it into something creative.

So, for instance, when I feel alone or powerless to change my medical circumstances, I’ll write a song:

I can create art…

I’ll share my story…

And I’ll remember that I’m not alone.

All of these resources empower me as a woman leader. These are resources I’m thrilled to be sharing with other student leaders , so they can help their own campuses and communities.

I never thought I would get to college, after a decade of medical trauma. The April of my senior year, I had just gotten my college acceptance letters, and in April 25th, 2005, I fell into a coma.

I’ll spare you the details, but watch my TEDx Talk for the story!

 I finally got to college, and I realize that I could be a woman leader, an inspiration to others.   I realized that it was never too late to do anything. That’s why I am so excited to be leading a storytelling workshop for other college women leaders just like myself  on June 2nd!  My proposal was selected as one of approximately 40 workshops that will be presented at this year’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) to be held at the University of Maryland, College Park from May 31 to June 3.Because I realized in order to find meaning from own journey, that there is nothing more powerful and being able to share your story, and blaze a path for others to follow.

What Is the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders?

The AAUW National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) is the premier conference for students to hone their leadership skills, make lifelong connections, and get ready to shape the world!

For more than 30 years, NCCWSL has provided a transformative experience for the next generation of leaders. Past attendees have gone on to lead nonprofits, innovate the corporate world, create disruptive technologies, and more — all while paying it forward for women and girls. Nearly 900 college and university women and campus professionals from all across the United States and from around the world in redefining leadership for all women.

 I can’t wait to meet other feisty, fearless women leaders and changemakers – I’ve been touring a college leadership program around the country for the past six years, all while still being in college myself! 

Turning adversity into a non-profit venture and social outreach program made me realize it’s was too late to do anything, whether it be going to college, or changing the world. 

If I can turn an obstacle into a way to inspire others, it fuels hope that it’s never too late for my medical circumstances to change. In the meantime, the only thing in our control is the ability to tell our story and become strong women leaders for others. 

So I hope to see you at the conference, and if you’re there, stop by my storytelling workshop!. Truly nothing more powerful than the power of a story!

“Storytelling for Leadership: Resiliency Skills to Turn Your Passion into Action”  will be sponsored by Brandeis International Business School.

Storytelling for Leadership:  Resiliency Skills to Turn Your Passion into Action

Workshops Session IV
June 2, 2–3:15 p.m.

Thurgood Marshall
Presenter: Amy Oestreicher, Founder, Gutless and Grateful at Hampshire College (@AmyOes)
Learning objective: leadership development
Level: beginner
SPONSORED BY BRANDEIS INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS SCHOOL

Can your story make a difference? Storytelling, since the beginning of time, has driven change, created movements, and launched careers. By utilizing classic storytelling techniques, you’ll work to reframe your personal narrative, effortlessly creating compelling meaning that motivates those around you and connects your competencies to your confidence. Learn to stand out from the pack and move into the leadership role you deserve. Think your story’s not worth sharing? By the end of this session, you’ll be surprised!

See more at https://www.nccwsl.org/about/workshops/ and learn about my college mental health, leadership and sexual assault prevention programs at www.amyoes.com/student-mental-health.

 


What is an “integrative approach” to wellness?

As a speaker, survivor and lifelover, I have a personal mission to…“inspire people to make a commitment to healthy living, turning hopes and intentions into the highest enjoyment of life.”

SO imagine how excited I was to present three wellness-inspired programs at a luxury spa with this exact vision!


Canyon Ranch is the world’s recognized leader in healthy living and luxury spa vacations, with destination spa resorts that have received countless awards and accolades for an innovative approach to health and fitness, and for the serene, relaxing and inspiring spa environments.

OK. So what does a spa have to do with mental health???

Taking care of yourself! Release the emotions by talking to a friend, therapist or life coach, exercising, drinking plenty of water, walking in nature or volunteering. Start a gratitude journal. Relax and watch a TV show. Smell a flower! What makes YOU feel good?

It was a great weekend, speaking (and performing!) on wellness, creativity, and joy — three of my favorite topics!

I also gave away some of my favorite creative secrets to building resilience


Canyon Ranch was an ideal spot for immersive performance… I got to perform excerpts of Gutless and Grateful in their beautiful library!


To say that the natural scenery that surrounds the beautiful Lenox location is breathtaking is one thing…but the art this was so thoughftully placed everywhere was exquisite, inspiring, and calming.


SO what turns a luxury spa into a total wellness Mecca?
Canyon Ranch has everything covered…


Fitness & Movement

Nutrition & Food

Health & Healing

Mind & Spirit

Spa & Beauty

How can you incorporate a bit of each of these into your own life?
Want a bit more creativity in your life?
Check out WHY CREATIVITY IS THE ONLY MINDSET YOU’LL EVER NEED.

Thanks Canyon Ranch! This was truly the only wellness I needed this weekend!

Amy Oestreicher is touring “Gutless & Grateful,” her Broadway World-nominated one-woman autobiographical musical, to theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness to schools, hospitals, and international conferences. Learn about her art, music, theatre, advocacy, book, and inspiring story at or “tweet me at @amyoes!”

How do you make a breakthrough when your detour gets dark

The biggest ground rule on a detour is to know that although your “detour” is a path unlike anyone else’s, EVERYONE has some path in their life veer off in an unexpected route. Every day – all around us!
So when life doesn’t go as you expect…reach out. Tell a friend how your feeling. And… have nine other tips that have helped me:

Can terrible events lead to remarkable and dramatic breakthroughs?
There IS an upside of hardship – but you’ll never know it if you don’t keep going. Keep traveling that detour until you find that upside.

How can you make sure you get there?

In my experience, I’ve found nine ideas that help me reach the “upside of trauma.”

My NineTips

  1. Surround yourself with people who support you.
  2. Have something to look forward to and something to strive for.
  3. Focus on the, bright future ahead to get through difficult times
  4. Believe your story can change the world.
  5. Keep moving forward. Plan ahead but be prepared to adapt, keep moving forward no matter what.
  6. Remember that you’re larger than your circumstances
  7. Focus on what you can do, not cant.
  8. Let yourself feel bad feelings but remember what you can do.

Number Nine happens to be my favorite…

9: Expressing our traumas through art:

Sometimes it’s tough to just come and and talk about difficult times. It’s hard to open up.  But we NEED to.  Why keep those memories locked up inside?  When we keep things in, we become numb.

But how to start?  That’s what ART is for.  Creativity is the best medicine!

community art

I learned the power of community art this weekend in an Art Workshop.  We each had to draw our version of “trauma” and then arrange our drawings in a way that spoke to us.  It was amazing how although our traumas were all different, our drawings of “trauma” were so similar.

I didn’t have to share exactly what happened to me, but I felt heard.  Have you experienced this feeling before?  Get some friends together and create.  It could be healing in more ways than you know.

If you could draw your detour, what would it look like?

Tears for Tomorrow

Detour Art Exercise: Think of one thing you can’t put into words.  One thing that you’d LOVE to tell someone…but can’t yet.

Draw it instead.

So today, make some art.  Star a doodle, buy a coloring book, or make a collage out of magazine images.

You might just find the upside of trauma through what you create.

So what exactly is the upside of trauma?

CONNECTION.

Mommy Cant Fix This

Mommy Can’t Fix This (Mixed Media Gallery)

By sharing the stories of what has happened in our lives, we feel heard, supported, and connected.

Detourists should not travel alone.  We all have something to learn from each other’s journey.

detour definition

Learn what a Detourist is here, (you’re a Detourist, you just don’t know it yet) and share your story here. YOU never know who YOU may help.

There is an upside of trauma.  You just have to get through those rough detours to see those flowers along the path.  That’s the upside.  Don’t give up.  Keep going.  

And one day…

Floating-Girl-IMG_0429

You’ll find that flower!!!

I #LoveMyDetour.  Now tell me why you love yours.

#LoveMyDetour

That’s the upside of trauma.  What’s your upside?

All artwork was created by Amy on her detour.  Help her bring PTSD Awareness to the stage by supporting her work on patreon.com/amyo and watch her TEDx talk on her website at amyoes.com/tedx. Learn about hermental health advocacy programs for students, and find out how to take part in the#LoveMyDetour movement, and learn about her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour at www.amyoes.com.

Take Back the Night for Mental Health

Published on amyoes.com

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
― Lao Tzu

I’m flying back to New York today after an amazing week in Tucson Arizona. I was there to take back the night.

And so were people all around the world.

What is Take Back the Night?

“TBTN’s history spans over half a century. Decades ago in Europe, women from many countries met together as a tribunal council to discuss women’s safety when walking down public streets.  In 1981, The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers declared the third Friday of September to be the designated date for Take Back The Night® marches nationwide.”

You can watch my keynote speech here.

I was asked to be the keynote speaker at TBTN in Arizona. I’m still shaking from the power of a community united in solidarity.After hearing so many incredibly heartbreaking and resilient stories shared in the Survivor Speakout, I came away knowing that survivors are the strongest people in the world.

“Since the 1970s in the United States, TBTN has focused on eliminating sexual and domestic violence in all forms. Thousands of colleges, domestic violence shelters, and rape crisis centers have held events all over the country.

TBTN creates safe communities and respectful relationships through awareness events and initiatives. Women across the world are taking back their voices by speaking out against these crimes, but there is much to be accomplished in the fight to end sexual violence.

The march is far from over.”

After this amazing, night, I got to perform Gutless & Grateful, my one-woman autobiographical musical, at Pima Community College , 8pm on April 13th,  part of a great double-header, thanks to the Esperanza Dance Company!

Esperanza Dance Project 

 “Art is a wound  turned to light.”
– Georges Braque

Take Back The Night Events occur in over 30 countries worldwide. Over 600 campuses and communities have held Take Back The Night Events to date. We have reached over 30 million people with our message, our support and our commitment to ending sexual violence.

To honor sexual assault awareness month, I wanted to share several articles I’ve written about my own story, ways to heal, and ways to help spread community awareness.

  1. It’s Okay to Freeze: Healing from Sexual Assault (Huffington Post)

Explaining the “freeze” in PTSD, and working through undeserved shame.

2. Healing From Numbness (Sammiches & Psych Meds)

Working through feelings is difficult after sexual assault, but it is the only way forward and back into our lives.

3. Music Therapy and Sexual Abuse

How writing songs was a powerful way to reclaim my “voice” after being so betrayed.

5. To the man who molested me when I turned 17 (Role Reboot)

Why, although I never spoke my abuser’s name, I will not let him be my “secret.”

6. Five Ways Everyone Can Participate in Sexual Assault Awareness Month

How every individual can be an agent of change, not just in April, but in every conversation, question, action and mindset.

7. What to Say (and Not to Say) to a Survivor of Sexual Assault

One of the most important things we can do is know how to best support a survivor.

8. PTSD: The Illness I Couldn’t See (Huffington Post)

“PTSD. I had never heard those letters put together before. I knew what “trauma” was, but I didn’t know it could cause so much internal dis-ease and dis-order — illness that I couldn’t see.”

9. Discovering “The Courage To Heal” (Original Monologue)

How one book was able to change the course of my recovery.

Did one of my essays especially ring out to you? Send me a note. I’d love to know.

Gutless, Grateful, and Sharing my Story

I’m also touring with my own Sexual Assault Prevention program, as well as my show, Gutless and Grateful, which combines Broadway theatre with sexual assault awareness and mental health advocacy, in order to empower survivors of assault and to create a more compassionate, open community.

It’s been amazing to be able to integrate doing what I love with not only what I’ve been through, but what I’ve learned, in order to share how we can make awareness and prevention possible for all.

 Remember…with creativity, you can eventually express ANYTHING.  

and once you can express it…

You can transform it.

Here’s a picture from the beautiful venue in Tucson.  More to come!

Next up, Gutless & Grateful at Clark University April 21st!  And if you’re interested in a new project…check out a premiere staged reading of FIBERS, April 22nd, 8pm at Hampshire College!

The Power of Our Stories

This week, tell a story. Read a story. Listen to the stories around you. Reach out.

The day I reached out, I found connection, acceptance, forgiveness, and my self.  And I love who I found.Until I was able to tell my story, at first for myself, and ultimately, to others, I was not able to fully heal.

Wishing you an amazing month with enough empowered awareness to last all year long.

You can become an advocate and make prevention possible in your community.  Check the NSVRC’s Media Kit for Sexual Assault Prevention for more resources.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
― William Faulkner

Do you want to share your story on my blog?  Find out more here.

Amy works directly with survivors of sexual assault and those healing from PTSD. Learn more about her college mental health program and sexual assault prevention initiative on her site, www.amyoes.com. All artwork was created by Amy in her own healing process.

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.

Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer’s Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual. “Detourism” is the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, “My Beautiful Detour,” available December 2017.

She’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, and Cosmopolitan, among others. Learn more at amyoes.comWatch Amy’s TEDx Talk: A Detour is Not a Dead End here: Amy’s TEDx Talk: Detour

How to Play a Positive Role in Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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 17, I was sexually abused by a voice coach who had become a mentor, a friend, my family. 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.

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?

The Stifling Problem

Sexual assault is a serious problem in our society, and one of the most important things we can do is know how to best support a survivor.

You can be an active part of lowering this statistic by knowing what to say to someone who has been assaulted.

Why is it hard for survivors to report an assault?

First, it’s best to understand why sexual assault is so infrequently reported. As asurvivor myself, I experienced each of these barriers:

· We don’t know how to speak it.

Survivors of sexual assault might not have the words or vocabulary to report that they’ve been violated. It took me years before I could even begin to articulate the turmoil that was rattling inside of me. It was terrifying for me to actually verbalize the fact that had been betrayed by someone I really trusted.

We don’t know who to tell.

It can be very difficult to find someone we feel comfortable enough sharing this with, especially if we haven’t fully processed it for ourselves.

We’re scared we won’t be believed.

We fear that when we finally do work up the courage to tell someone, we wont be taken seriously.

The Dangers of Not Speaking

Holding this secret in can slowly shift to victim blaming. We think, “If I hadn’t been there, or worn this outfit, or been with this person had done [insert here], I wouldn’t have been assaulted.”

Yet, in reality, the only person that can actually prevent the rape is the rapist themselves. But for most of us, it’s easier or us to got through that mental checklist of things we “could have” prevented, because we can rationalize, “If I hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have spoken to this person.” It’s how we try to come to terms with what happened. What results is a damaging self-blame that we don’t deserve.

Undeserved Shame

If a survivor of sexual assault is already saying these things to themselves, imagine how hard it is for them to actually speak out. When we keep this in, it turns to shame.

The shame survivors feel is a tremendous barrier to reporting.

How can you help someone overcome their barriers to reporting?

Create a safe place for that reporting to happen, with an open heart. It took years for me to feel comfortable sharing my own story, but knowing how imperative this was for my own healing process inspires me to help others do the same.

At a very vulnerable time, learn how to best support a survivor:

What to say to someone who tells you they have been assaulted:

I believe you.

You are safe.

I’m sorry this happened to you.

I’m so glad you are telling me this.

This is not your fault.

· Whatever reaction you are having is normal. You are not going crazy.

Things will never be the same, but things will be better. (Be compassionately realistic.When these acts happen, they become part of us, and how we heal depends on the support systems we have.)

I am here to support you through this.

Just as important is knowing what not to say:

Why or how could someone do this to you?

Then they’ll start to wonder what they could have done to “make that happen.”

I understand.

Even if you empathize, or are a survivor yourself, respect that you will never now what it is actually like for the survivor and their own individual experience.

It could have been worse. You’re lucky that something more awful didn’t happen.

If you hadn’t been ____, maybe this would not have happened.

It’s not your fault, but, maybe you shouldn’t have___.

You’re going to be fine.

It’s not fine right now. People need to feel the pain and difficulty of their experience. It will get better, but they need to find safe ways to be whatever they are feeling right now.

Try not to get so worked up.

A survivor has every right and reason to feel what they are feeling right now. Let them know that.

Helping Break the Silence

Most importantly, listen to the survivor. Let them say however little or much as they need to. Follow up with them if you can. And know that you have have made a tremendous impact on someone’s recovery.

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. After never having a boyfriend in my life, I tried online dating, got married, did a TEDx Talk about it, and then, when suddenly faced with divorce, I realized strength I never knew I had. 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.

But first…I had to learn how to speak it.

Everyone has a place in sexual assault prevention. According to RAINN, an average of 68% of assaults in the last five years were not reported. Together, we can help all survivors come forward to share their story and heal.

Amy works directly with survivors of sexual assault and those healing from PTSD. Learn more about her college mental health program and sexual assault prevention initiative on her site, www.amyoes.com. All artwork was created by Amy in her own healing process.

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.

Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer’s Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual. “Detourism” is the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, “My Beautiful Detour,” available December 2017.

Here’s why you should do something to scare yourself today…and how.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

What is your biggest fear?

I have quite a few fears.  They range from pretty silly ones – I’m scared of the dark…

…And then sometimes I’m scared to face feelings that are not too fun to experience.

Anger. grief. loss. frustration…the list continues…

So just avoid it…right?

Think again.

What happens when we avoid negative emotions brought up from a past experience…

Oestreicher_Melancholy_img10.jog

We become disconnected and withdrawn

We narrow our range of existence and lose contact with friends

We try to control our world to stay “emotionally safe”, and then outside world becomes dangerous, further alienating us.

How do we move through a negative emotion or event?

  • We take steps to reengage with the world – which means starting to take baby steps back into those thoughts and feelings.  Then, the healing starts.
  • Healing happens when we trust.  People can recover, move on and endure if they have ONE person they can attach to and connect with on emotional level.

How to move through it:

Remember, you don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re tested.  There’s no way of knowing until you decide you’re going to take that leap.  Did a negative emotion or thought scare the living daylights out of you?  Are you run by that emotion, run by fear?

Let that fear transform who YOU are.  Let that fear be your compass on your beautiful detour.Fear is a valuable tool in a Detourist’s resiliency toolbox.

Watch my TEDx Talk on how I transformed my fear into more fuel to travel all of my very scary “detours…”

Remember – it’s the twists, turns and difficulties in your path that can transform you and your journey.  Those fears, hardships and detours are what makes you human and…YOU.

That’s why we share our stories.  We share our “detours” instead of running from them.  We share to cheer each other on in our journeys. We share to encourage our fellow Detourists to reach that beautiful clearing – perhaps a different one than they planned for themselves, but perhaps an even more beautiful sight to see.

How you can help another Detourist today:

Do you have a friend who you think needs way more credit than they give themselves?  It’s OK to ask someone you care about, “Are you struggling with negative thoughts?  Is there anything you just want to talk about?” Or give them some helpful resources.

Think about that quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. What’s one thing you can do today that scares you?

What support do you need to do that?

Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.”
― C. JoyBell C.

Check out more inspiration on my blog at amyoes.com and my program for students, Mental Health Mindset!

Musical Mental Health: Why songwriting will guide your detour (and how!)

COMPOSING THE WAY BACK to myself: THREE SONGS

What’s your favorite song?

Music has always been a powerful resource for me. As a kid, I was always writing songs in my head, daydreaming about producing my own musical with original songs. But songwriting proved to be instrumental in helping me discover my own voice again after my life took a dramatic turn.

When I was a child, the arts were my passion and identity. Later, when my traumas occurred, they became my lifeline. I grew up all my life in theatre. For me, singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me. When I took a deep, grounded breath from my gut, I sang what my heart longed to express. I found comfort in the words of my favorite composers. I read scripts like they were novels. I would play with my playbills from various shows I had seen like they were my Barbie dolls. Through theatre, I had a place in this world. I could make believe by inserting myself into characters from every era, situation and mindset, while still expressing my own individuality. Theatre was my language I could access to truly know who I was, no matter what was going on in my life, and I was singing, dancing, acting and creating from the time I could talk. I lived my life believing I would carve a beautiful career out for myself in the world of musical theatre, be on Broadway, and conquer the world.

But fast forward through a decade of trauma…

Then… therapy was based in the world of theatre, art, writing, dance, music, and whatever else I could use to express myself appropriately. The arts were a way for me to communicate whatever felt too painful and overwhelming to put into words. They also helped me process what I was feeling. Most importantly, they served as a medium where I could still engage with my community, reach out to others, and make a difference in this world utilizing my passion. Arts were my way of connecting with the world, sharing my story, and spreading my message that hope, strength, and beauty can be found in whatever life brings you. To find myself again after so many medical interventions, I painted, I danced, I wrote, I sang – but it was the act of writing and putting those words to music – to sing them from my gut – that allowed me to accept my body again – a body vastly different from the one I grew up in. Songwriting was my therapy, and within a month, I had written over thirty songs.

“Hospital Song”, is the song I wrote to the body that I woke up to. It was how I showed appreciation and gratitude for the foreign skin I was in – how I came to find comfort in my body once again and show compassion for all that it had been through. I composed this song as a lullaby to myself. I thought of the old ballad “Someone’s Waiting For You” and thought of the message that I needed to comfort myself with. I was always told I needed to show love for the wounded part of me, even when I wanted to ignore it altogether. I tried to look at the weaker part of me as a girl who needed my love and support. The healthy, vital part of me needed to be there…for ALL of me. To compose this song, I sang to Wounded Amy as I would sing a lullaby to a child, afraid of the dark.

I’ll be sharing a few more songs in the weeks to come.  In the meantime, turn on the radio and sing.  Or get out a notepad and jot down some phrases, ideas, or hum a bit to yourself.  Any way you can express yourself is one step closer to navigating your very beautiful, very YOU detour!

Safe travels, Detourists, and KEEP SINGING!

Amy

You can check out more of my original songs here, and watch my TEDx Talk about how music played a huge role in my own recovery at www.amyoes.com/tedx!

What’s your personal anthem? Write your own mental health anthem!

Songs can be the best anchor,road map, and compass for an mental health issue we might be facing.

What is Your Anthem? And can a song empower women worldwide?

As a born and bred musical theatre ham…I love singing. And I’d say I have a few “personal” anthems.”

 
 
Me singing at the Metropolitan Room — come see my show there March 26th! https://amyoes.com/metroom

What is YOUR anthem?

I wrote this song in honor of WomenArts SWAN Song Contest. They’re looking for “inspiring songs that can be sung at SWAN Day events and at other community gatherings.”

So, I thought about what empowering women means to me. It means reclaiming my voice — our voices, the voices of women around the world.

Here’s what I came up with:

This is Our Voice

Listen here:

https://amyoes.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Amy-This-is-Our-Voice-Demo-V1-1.mp3

Definitely not polished…but you can also see part of my songwriting process and hear me play it here!

 
 

Here are the lyrics:

View the lyrics as a PDF here.

Silence bellows through the halls
Moon is still hung in the sky
Shadows casting on the walls
There’s a weight I can’t deny
I’m waking up for one more day
Circling through another round
Am I gonna make my way
Through the skin that keeps me down
You look
You don’t hear me
Do you know

I am a force
Misguided outside the light
Finding a word
Some echo to steer me right
These words can’t shake
These walls to break
Like the seed of my soul
It’s the sound of the choice
That my name is our voice
Now you know

I am a woman
I am a stone
I am a vessel
I’m the compass towards a home
I am a female
Thick as a flame
If a sounding
That’s astounding
I sing
This is my name

Madness spills into the room
Stare me down with laser eyes
Breathing in the angry fumes
Breathing out my stifled cries
This is my force
Silent but not for long
Finding the words
A heartbeat that stirs a song
A beat that drives
A million lives
From the seeds of our souls
And our claim/we claim
All the sounds of our voices
This is our name

We are the women
We are the stones
We are the vessels
We’re the journey
Back to home
We are the story
And we tell it
Bold as flame
Of the choice to
Give a voice to
A booming sound
The sound
This is our name.

Now you know
Now you know
Now you know
Now you know

We are the women
We are the stones
We are the vessels
We’re the journey
Back to home
We are the story
And we tell it
Bold as flame
Of the choice to
Give a voice to
A booming sound
The sound
This is our name.

What do you think? Is this your anthem?

  • SWAN Day unites women around the world.
  • SWAN Day celebrates the diversity of women’s creativity and builds cultural bridges.
  • SWAN Day helps women artists build support networks that sustain them all year.
  • SWAN Day teaches women artists that they have tremendous power when they work together and help each other.

See more of my art at amyoes.com/galleries

I wrote this song because after a decade of trauma, I’ve worked relentlessly, passionately, and fearlessly to reclaim my voice. I hope in singing this song, it will help you find yours, and ours.

Female Empowerment Anthem #SWANday! This Is Our Voice Help spread music & healing! #sing[click to tweet]

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. As the creator of “Gutless & Grateful,” her BroadwayWorld-nominated 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 and international conferences. To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events. “ Learn about her art, music, theatre, advocacy, book, and inspiring story at amyoes.com, or “tweet me at @amyoes!”

5 Quotes on Patterns to Guide You Through Any Detour

I’m thrilled to be giving another TEDx Talk…this Saturday!

Patterns

February 25, 2017

“Trends, reoccurring events and circumstances. These are common ways we see patterns. Patterns are the laws of nature and life that present themselves in all disciplines of life – from the smallest microorganism to macrocosm. They manage the systems by which our universe operates. While patterns aren’t always apparent, they are continuous and autonomous.” – TEDx VCU

Our theme explores the various ways patterns present themselves and their significance in our daily existence. TEDxVCU will present ideas that:

● define and clarify the existence of patterns
● identify occurrences that establish patterns
● identify occurrences that alter the course of patterns

What’s in a pattern?

Have you noticed yourself going around in patterns lately?

I’ve been thinking a lot about patterns this week…after all, I’m giving another TEDx Talk next Saturday at Virginia Commonwealth University…and their theme is PATTERNS!

Patterns Make Life Beautiful

What can make life so wonderfully delicious – a spectacle for the senses – is when we start to notice the world around us in new ways.  Creativity is all about seeing things differently.  

So go, find your joy – create and make your own patterns!  Here’s a free creativity e-book if you need help getting started!

Five Best Quotes About Patterns

In honor of the theme, I’m sharing my top five favorite quotes about patterns.

“Pay attention to the intricate patterns of your existence that you take for granted.”
― Doug Dillon

“It is easy to surround yourself with people who think in the same ways, believe the same ideas, and live life in similar patterns. Many communities are made up of the same kind of people to the extent that we intentionally have to seek people whose stories are completely different from ours.”
― Holly Sprink,

“Sometimes we get stuck in patterns or reoccurring themes in our lives that require a shocking epiphany to give us the opportunity to see new possibilities and notice the obstacles that keep us from moving on.”
― Kat Lahr,

“Sometimes you can grow more in a shorter amount of time with the right company than years of soul-searching alone, or by living the same patterns you’ve lived for your entire life.”
― A.J. Darkholme

“The patterns we perceive are determined by the stories we want to believe.”
― John Verndon

What patterns do you see in the world around you? Sometimes, patterns can help us change things about ourselves. In the movie “Groundhod Day,” Bill Murray realized that he was living the same day over and over again – then, he came up with ways to fix the things that went wrong before.

Patterns help us improve our lives. They balance our perspective, and they add to its beauty.  They give us order and stability.

And they help us navigate DETOURS – which I spoke about last year at TEDx.

Find the beauty in the patterns

“Pay attention to the intricate patterns of your existence that you take for granted.”
― Doug Dillon

I’m working my way through February bit by bit, breath by breath.  I’ve got quite a big day at the end of the month, and lots of little excitements along the way.  And of course, every day can be an adventure 🙂

This week…notice the little patterns in life you take for granted.  What do you see?
 

Even a detour can be a pattern…

What do patterns mean to you?  What’s one pattern in your life right at this moment?

 
 
 

Life is a Job – And Here’s Why That’s Awesome.

Tell Me a Story

Sometimes all it takes is a good book to get you thinking a bit differently.

One of my favorite books to get through hard times? The Upside of Trauma, by Jim Rendon.

Life's Little Detours: 50 Lessons to Find and Hold Onto Happiness

Another book that has helped me is Life’s Little Detours – I’ve written many times before about my own “Beautiful Detour” – if life had gone on the path we had planned for ourselves, wouldn’t we have missed the flowers along the way?

Fantasy Walk

So understandably, seeing this title stopped me in my tracks!

One last book I’d like to share with you is Embracing Uncertainty – a book that made the phrase Feel the fear and do it anyway a household phrase – well at least in MY household!

My life was the epitome of uncertainty for years.  Think about it.  I lost my stomach, doctors didn’t know when or IF I’d ever be able to eat or drink again.  *Non-stomach growling here* I had to make it from day to day just believing that some kind of miracle could happen.

Sometimes life is a job.  You don’t always feel like going to work – even if you love what you do.  Sometimes you’re just tired.  But you’ve got to show up.  You know why you applied in the first place.  And doing what you love can be so rewarding.

So today, LIVE what you love.  It’s a job.  And it won’t always be the funnest thing in the world – but you’ll get your paycheck sooner or later.

What are some books that have changed your life?  Definitely send me a comment – I need some good reads!

Forest Romance

I’m just now starting to work on a book of my own.  It will have my crazy story in it, but only to enhance my message – I want to show how we all deserve to share our stories, and not only do we deserve to, it is our right.  It’s how we heal, how we feel, and how we connect with ourselves and to each other.

That is what creativity means to me – telling, sharing, writing, art-ing, dancing, breathing, living, going to work at YOURLIFE Inc.

So put on your work clothes and show up!  IT’s a job.  And jobs can be oh so rewarding 🙂  Remember – it’ll be casual Friday before ya know it!

I started creating inchies years ago as a way to do small little artworks when I didn’t want to commit to a huge canvas and soon it became an obsession.

inchies-by-amy

I made some inchies today just for fun.

Inchies-2

Now that I’m selling so many inchies, I don’t always feel like making them.

discoveryshow9

But that’s okay.  Sometimes you don’t have to always feel “inspired” to do your job.  Maybe just by showing up, you’ll get there.  If you act healthy, you’ll feel healthy.  Sometimes you gotta fake it till ya make it – that goes for work, creativity AND life.

That’s why, even when I was in the hospital recovering from surgery…I still found a way to make art.

I don’t like the idea of “waiting” for things to get better.  We spend enough time waiting for traffic lights to change.

When life gets tough, think about the why behind YOU.  What drives you to get up every morning?

Sometimes you don’t know how something will work out.  Sometimes you don’t know why you’re creating in the first place.

But if it makes you happy…you don’t need the why.  THAT’s your why,

Have you read a book that has helped you see differently?  Sometimes we just need to read the words of others to tell us something we’ve known all along.

ClpOxNbXEAABEL5

Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light. –Vera Nazarian

Get Physical for Mental Health…with ART!

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

― Shel Silverstein

Why not start February with a quote from one of my favorite children’s book authors?

February is a time of transition.  But, we don’t have to wait for a groundhog to tell us whether we’re getting a few more weeks of winter or not. 

Positive Thinking may not always be easy when it’s still looking bleak outside…

But thankfully, that’s what art is for.

Not sure where to start with art? Start small. Make an INCHIE.

What’s an INCHIE?  Literally a collage that was 1 in tall and 1 inch wide – little miniature thumbnail sketches of how I felt.

I made hundreds when stuck at Yale hospital for months. I love creating inchie art, and in dire medical circumstances, this was the best way to express my uneasiness in the midst of uncertainty.

Each individual inchie expressed a fear, worry or concern I had about my future.

 I called this “Can’t Distract” because I was unable to take my thoughts away from this anxiety.  Rather than deny these thoughts, I made art from them.  Suddenly, they became less scary.  Art made your fears and concerns visual so you can begin to deal with them.

Art makes you comfortable with uncertainty

Just like the uncertainty of Yale hospital I could use my art as a metaphor for the best mindset to have: getting creative with uncertainty.

The pieces I had the most fun creating are the ones that I have no expectations for.  Like life!

 This started by some random shredding and gluing of newspapers, magazines,  coupons, plastic wrap, gum wrappers, and whatever else I was about to throw out.  Then, I spent hours just painting layers and layers of paint, trying to obscure some of the printed text.  Eventually, this face emerged.

 For me, this symbolized the process of finding myself – hard to find at first, but with each and every layer, applied tediously and determinedly with meticulousness and great care, my a face eventually surfaced.

So yes, art is definitely a way to warm up your February…

To get my morning started, I always need to wake up to something physical.  It can be a walk, yoga…but you know what?  Art is a great way to get physical too!  And use all of your senses to create color, light and hope.

Because there is always hope, Detourists!

You’re Not Alone on Your Detour

We all have detours in life, and they are easier to get through when we share them.  Remember to use #LoveMyDetour and show the world that a Detour is Not a Dead End.

And learn how to share your own detour here!  If you want to share anything at all about any detour in your life, I would love to hear – we’re stronger together!

That’s all for this week, Detourists.  I’m off to do some last minute rehearsing…I’ve got a show to do this Sunday! (And it involves NO football)

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
― William Faulkner

This is the only way to make JOY up to you – and it’s super-easy.

“Happiness is a butterfly, which once pursued is always beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

DSC_4659

How do you keep your resolutions on a life detour?

If you haven’t, it’s okay. Go easy on yourself.  My resolution was to relax – I haven’t done much of that yet!  February is around the corner, and if you haven’t been keeping your New Year’s resolutions, simplify the rest of your year with one of my favorite mantras:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Think about the past month. The first month of 2017.  Did you create any habits?  Break any?  If you’ like to learn a bit more about being mindful, check out my post on being in the moment – it’s easier than you think.

How do you be in the moment? See things with new eyes…

Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul. —W. Somerset Maugham

One of the coolest things about being a human is that we get to make choices. It can also be one of the scariest things.  In each moment, we have a choice to make our day whatever we want it to be.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but we truly do. if you’re having a bad day, you can make a choice.  Maybe your choice is to grab a cup of coffee.  Maybe your choice is to run into a corner where no one can hear you and screen.  Choices can be really simple.

Simple doesn’t mean easy, though. It’s hard being human…because sometimes there seem like way too many choices to choose from! (…like the amazing food spread!)

But sometimes, the most empowering thing is to just know we DO have a choice. There is always something we can do to make any moment more pleasant.

Remember – freedom is a verb.

Medically, I still have my ups and downs – and on my blog, I try to share as much of that as I can, because things are always easier when you can talk about it. 

But at even the darkest of times, I try to remind myself that joy can be up to me. Check this out!

My super-secret joy formula is…(by the way, I have tons more of this in my upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour)

JOY – “IT’S UP TO ME” NOW

I – I create the quality of my life with my ongoing thoughts.

T – The choice of joy or the opposite is mine.

S – See, hear, and feel the way joyful people see, hear, and feel.

U – Unjoy is created by negative T.W.A: thoughts, words, and actions.

P – Perspective makes me happy or unhappy.

T – Talk to yourself the way you would if you were a master of joy.

O – Oneness of humanity gives me many opportunities for kindness.

M – My unconditional joy & love creates a magnificent life.

E – Every moment of joy is stored in my awesome brain and I can access those moments whenever I choose.

 

It’s my drive to find joy wherever I can that has gotten me this far, I believe.

And it can get you there too.

Safe Travel, Detourists!

Amy

(Interested in seeing Gutless & Grateful in New York, or a few other states this year?  Check out where I’ll be!)

Great Playlist to help face FEAR, PANIC and ANXIETY

1) Weightless by Marconi Union

2) Final Countdown – Europe:

3) We Are The Champions – Queen

4) Gonna Fly Now – Rocky Theme:

5) Unwritten – Natasha Bedenfield:

6) People Help the People- Birdy

7) Details in the Fabric by Jason Mraz

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdIw6tEjyEg

9) Car Radio by Twenty One Pilots

10) We Fall Down – Donnie McClurkin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3A5s2feN6Yk

Theatre is the Best Mental Health Teacher

As people, we all have stories.  And as actors, we tell stories constantly.  I first told mine over five years ago.  Not only to myself, but to complete strangers and New York theatregoers.   Fresh out of my 27th surgery, I performed words from journal entries I wrote years ago as a way to pass the time between the endless series of medical interventions.  Every time I “perform” what happened to me, I find myself somehow transformed in the process.

Theatre has the power to change lives, both for those directly involved and those who watch. Theatre teaches us we’re capable of anything – and usually tells us this at times we need it most. And that’s why theatre is the best mental health resource I can think of.

10 Ways Theatre Proves We’re Capable of Anything

  1. Wishing we were someone else is okay sometimes – It plants a seed for what we can ultimately become, if we keep wishing.
  2. When others believe in you, you feel capable of anything.
  3. Getting to learn about other people’s stories is inspiring and empowering.  It makes us realize what we can be capable of.
  4. You are capable of making an impact on even those who have impacted you.  Don’t get intimidated by those you admire.  You just may have something to teach them!
  5. When others believe in you, you feel capable of anything.
  6. Don’t be afraid to speak up, be aggressive or to ask for what you ned..  You are capable of making an impact, so flaunt what you’ve got and know you’re capable of being amazing!
  7. My show talks about my life, but it’s not a show about me.  It’s about us, our stories, keeping hope alive, and staying healthy in our minds as well as our bodies.  That’s why I couldn’t be prouder to be able to help others.
  8. You’re always capable of making a comeback.  Just come back.
  9. It’s okay to take a break, but don’t give up.  You’re capable of a second wind that lasts.
  10. Think no one can relate to your problems?   No matter how “unique” your detour is, you’re not alone.

Performing theatre showed me what I’m capable of, but more importantly, that we are all capable of understanding each other.  That’s how theatre creates empathy, fights stigma, and creates a world based on compassion.

Now get out there, see a show, do a dance, and make your mark on this world.

Finding-My-Way-Home

Amy will be performing Gutless & Grateful, her one woman musical on February 5th and March 26th in NYC at the Metropolitan Room. If you’d like to perform Gutless & Grateful as a student, send a playwright inquiry. Learn about her mental health & leadership programs for students, and find out how to take part in the #LoveMyDetour movement, fighting stigma with stories

Five Steps to Transforming This January Into the Greatest 2017

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Happy New Year! (Are you ready?)

stART

As we approach the first month of 2017,  I wish you  joy, health, community and deep breaths of gratitude – you’re here, you’re awesome and you’ve made it this far!

Creativity is a mindset... (3)

So what now?  Check out my some past posts I’ve done on manifesting joy.  But to get your started…

Five Experiences to Welcome in 2017.

1.) Practice Compassion.

Do a random act of kindness today by wishing Happy New Year to one Facebook Friend you wouldn’t regularly chat with.  Tell someone in your life how grateful you are for them that you might not go out of your way to thank.

Here, My Heart

Need some help understanding compassion? This TED Talk by Krista Tippet explains it beautifully!  You can also read a piece I wrote for her On Being blog about finding faith in the ICU.  Or heck, watch my TEDx Talk – the best way we can find compassion for others is knowing that we’re ALL traveling detours together. 

2.) Start a vision board.

Dreams Incomplete

This was my first vision board. You can see some others I’ve created and some tips here.

A vision board is just a visual manifestation of whatever you want for yourself this year.  You can paint it, cut out pictures from magazines and just tape them together, draw it, make a cartoon, a collage – really anything goes.  This help you visualize what you long for, what your goals are, and where you see yourself in 2017.  Sometimes it helps to have that image literally in front of you to look at, as a visual reminder to help you work from the outside in.

3.) Do an easy, three-step meditation.

Break Free Amy Oestreicher

This will help you focus your 2017 intentions on your vision board.

Step one: Focus on your breath, don’t change it, but notice it.  If it were a color, what would it be?

Step Two: Notice any sensations that accompany your breath.  What do you physically feel in your body?

Step Three: notice the rhythm, texture, temperature of your breath. How does your breath resonate in your body?

4.) Eat something spectacular.

Or bake it!

Do you need an excuse to bring out your inner foodie?  Think about the very first nourishment you’ll give your body in 2016 – this is a big deal!  Remember, you are what you eat.  So think about what you’d like to be this year, and then think about what food would really make your body smile from the inside out.

P.S. Food can help us cope with anything…did you know when I couldn’t eat, I started a chocolate business just so I could play with candy?

Check out some of my “just for fun” art

5.) Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.

1

You know me with my gratitude.  But why not?  When we know what we’re grateful for, we know what we’re about.  We bring out the best in ourselves, in our world, and in each other.  Go on, practice your ABC’s…Letter that piece of paper from A to Z and think something from 2015 you’re grateful for for each letter.

Grateful List

Stare at that list and relish how much good there already is in your life.

Tree-with-the-Hanging-Heart-IMG_0395

Now look at your vision board and savor how much more you have to strive for and look forward to.

It is a wonder to be alive on this earth. Any year, day, time, place moment.

You are here.  And that is why you are incredible.  Never forget it, even when times are tough.  No one, no detour, no nothing can ever take away how very capable you are.

1

I hope that 2017 is filled with so many detours, twists and turns in your life, you get completely lost, completely sidetracked, lose yourself unexpectedly and find yourself on that beautiful, twisty turny journey.  Remember  – you’re a DETOURIST.  You got this!

Remember, there are a whole bunch of Detourists traveling along with you – and you can share your journey too!

Safe, beautiful New Year travels, Detourists!  

me in studio

I’ll be in my studio…

Truly,

Amy, your Detourist Field Guide

Oh, and if you need more inspiration, check out my blog!

Could I Understand My PTSD Through Writing a Play About it?

The Definition of “Flicker”:

to move unsteadily. To burn or shine fitfully with a fluctuating light. Fluctuating between two worlds.

My Definition of “Flicker”:

Or, as a psychic once told my mother as I lay in a coma, “She’s deciding which way she wants to go.”

And, as my mother retorted, “Well, she doesn’t have a choice.” (Psychic is then “escorted” out of the Pediatric ICU.)

“Fight, my warrior, fight,” were the words my mother determinedly whispered to me throughout the months of my coma. Only she knew the real burn I was battling to save myself from: a secret that threatened to extinguish my inner fire, long before my external world, as I knew it, spontaneously combusted overnight.

 

So, how does a fitful movement of light, a smoldering glow, a molested teenager, a comatose nomad, or a paralyzed family learn to be more than a flash in the dark once they’ve been burned?

After trauma, can we ever be more than a flicker in the dark?

 I’d call myself a flicker that “fluctuated fitfully” to find myself. And Flickers and a Firestarter is a story that “fluctuated fitfully” to find itself.  It’s a full-length, fully-lived play I wrote that fluctuated to find itself too.  Together, we flickered, tossed and turned, wracking our brains figuring out how to reclaim life from the crushed, icy wastelands of trauma.

I  wrote a show about it all, Gutless & Grateful.  In putting together the arc of a 70-minute musical, I was coming to terms with the “detoured” framework of my life.  Giving my story a dramatic arc was a way to reframe my own narrative, and find the meaning in what I had been through: nearly 30 surgeries, six years unable to eat and drink, and perhaps a little mention that I had been sexually abused by my voice teacher shortly before my stomach exploded my senior year of high school. 

I wasn’t sure how sexual abuse fit into my story yet.

Perhaps it was because I hadn’t figured out what being a survivor of sexual abuse meant to me at all.

Did Sexual Assault “Fit” In My Story?

Sexual assault is a big burden to carry as a secret – and none of the news stories were talking about anything other than my total gastrectomy and organ failure. In fact, my abuser was still teaching. (He still is.) Where did this experience fit into my narrative?

I learned that the memories I was still struggling with would not be solved by a musical comedy.  In my “gutsy” life-story theatrical debut, I was joyously overwhelmed by rave reviews from New York theatre critics.

But there was one line from an otherwise great review that stuck with me:

 “Although there is, of course, a connection between mind and body, it was somewhat hard to swallow that the source of her illness could be blamed on being raped, which was implied at the beginning.”

Really?  Hard to swallow?

Did Critics Prove Me Wrong?

I was hurt, upset, and perhaps a bit insecure. Maybe she was right. How could I have the nerve to connect sexual abuse to my stomach exploding months later?  Re-reading this line on my phone before my final performance, I started to question what I was never really sure about in the first place. Was she making jest on the theory that even doctors were leaning towards? When people heard about my crazy story, the first question they always asked was, “So what made your stomach explode?”  I didn’t know – I wasn’t the doctor.  But the more I researched on the science of stress, the more I was pulled to investigate this further. And the more research I did, the more startled I was by what I found.

Searching For a Mind-Body Connection

The only thing that connected molestation, secrets, hurt, pain, stomach ache, blood clot, and a coma was…me –my own soul, my own mind, my own emotions.  Remembering how the energy in my body felt at each stage, perhaps my instincts were right.

Could Anxiety Lead to a Coma?

After all, the anxiety I felt in my core that made it hard to focus in high school, and the knotting in my chest had to be more than just mind games. There had to be some science to this.  Or at least, as a playwright, it was my duty to illustrate what appeared so clear to me.

When I was betrayed by someone whom I really trusted, I froze.  I literally don’t remember thinking anything.  My abuser himself called me a “space-cadet.”  As I sang for him the next week in lessons, he said, “Amy, it looks like your inspiration has run dry.” Why couldn’t I act with the same gusto in my songs?   I froze to protect myself from frantic, tumultuous feelings that were suddenly tormenting me every waking second. I turned off my emotional radar and turned my heart to ice, to preserve it.  I even remember suddenly feeling physically cold all of the time.

The Evolution of Numbness

When you undergo any kind of trauma, it causes a disturbance in emotions that once came so naturally at a time.  My body stopped breathing the same way it used to – a big knot of tension evolved in my chest and remained there like a cocoon.  My thoughts became corrupted – I couldn’t think in my naturally poetic way.  Suddenly my world became rigidly controlled by numbers and mechanical, compulsive thinking. I couldn’t deal with everyday life. I was too busy hiding my soul in a dark corner so to shield it from the hurt I felt.  Without your soul, you are only half a person, a machine who is constantly running from reality.  I put up a daze like four safe walls that protected me from being consciously present in the abuse, and when the abuse ended, my daze remained.  I lived in a world separate from everyone else. 

How Can You Go From Feeling to Frozen Overnight?

I froze after abuse and froze again months later, waking up in an ICU. So how could I finally connect those two parts of me once and for all? The frozen warrior I had been when my voice teacher abused me. The frozen warrior I had to become when suddenly bound to IV machines for nourishment? How could I take those two ice-cold states of numbness I felt and break through them once and for all?

Could I Ever Make Something of This…and Myself?

Would I ever become more than just a flicker?

What’s a flicker? “To move about or behave in an agitated aimless manner.” A temporary growth of activity, and then, to die.  A flicker is a flash, a flurry. It’s a light source that flares up, just to subside.  A flicker doesn’t usually turn into anything.  It’s an almost imperceptible sign of something, and then back to darkness.  Yet a flicker saturates the air with a lingering heat. Even in the darkness, something has changed. 

What’s a flame?  A flame is a passionate burst of fire.  And a fire is…well, a fire is heat. A fire is our life force.  A fire is what happens when our hearts are ignited with breath, with feelings, with secrets, with all the pain and pleasure of life.

I didn’t survive all of this crap to stay numb. I survived to flicker. And then ignite.

I believe we are all meant to be flames – not numb, frozen states of matter, and not a gaseous puff of past that has gone up in smoke.  We are meant to flicker – to fail and win – to feel hurt and love –  to dance fitfully between the light and the dark.  Only when we fluctuate between both worlds do we truly know how to start a fire.  And that is how I could use what I’ve learned from both the world of light and dark to create theatre: the ultimate eruption.

Trauma burns us.  It burns with painful memories and lessons that perhaps we weren’t ready to learn.

But a burn can rise from ashes, into flames, into fire, into LIFE. 

Trauma frigidly freezes us from the warmth of the human race.

Theatre warmly brings us back.

Trauma makes us forget our inner power.

Theatre makes us tell truths to an audience and to yourself.

Theatre sets us on fire, from a flicker to a flame. 

And rediscovering my inner fire was exactly what I needed all along, to “crush” through my icy numbness, to unpack my secrets in storage, and to transform my traumatic imprints into a FIERY warrior’s thunderbolt scar.

Proving a Coma Through Theatre?

I’ve always sensed that the fire in my belly – the stomach ache that turned into a coma hours later – had been caused by seeds planted from a betrayal months prior.  But I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t find the story.

 

Whether my “medical theory” is true or not, I needed to make that connection for myself, and theatre helped me get there. Through theatre. we learn lessons about ourselves that we seem to have known all along.  But now they become a fierce part of our identity, and a gift we can give to the world.

And that’s the power of  theatre.

We feel heard even if we’re saying nothing at all.

As creators and audience members interact with the space, we engage in a vital conversation we didn’t even know we had needed.

Theatre sets us on fire.   I was burnt 18 years old. I froze. I thawed. I burnt out.  I struggled to flicker between the innocent world  I once knew and the uncertain world ahead of me.  In that flickering, I discovered my flame, my hunger, my passion. I reignited my aliveness. I found what made me light up again.  I found me.

Trauma made me Flicker.  Theatre made me a Firestarter.

You can help make Amy’s full-length drama, Flicker and a Firestarter, a reality by making any pledge at patreon.com/amyo. While developing “Flicker,” Amy is also touring “Gutless & Grateful,” her BroadwayWorld-nominated one-woman autobiographical musical, to theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness to schools, hospitals, and international conferences. All artwork is self-taught from Amy’s “beautiful detour.” “Detourism” is also the subject of her TEDx Talk and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017. She’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others. Learn about her art, music, theatre, advocacy, book, and inspiring story atamyoes.com, or “tweet me at @amyoes!”

These are the only Hope Hacks you need. Seriously, and they’re this simple.

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come, 
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…” 
― Alfred Tennyson

Hey Detourists! I HOPE you’re enjoying the last few weeks of 2017.

The Importance of Hope

HOPE is a strong word.  In one of my favorite posts, Hard Core Survival Skills You Can’t Live Without,I discuss my “four hard core survival skills.” This is basically my recipe for resilience.  

One of those skills is essential in making it from day to day:  HOPE.

IMG_20150403_115712

Hope

Hope is a job.  It has to be actively created in difficult times, and it may be very hard to find.  Sometimes, we need to lie to ourselves to create hope. It’s a fabrication, a willing suspension of disbelief, and a willingness to trust in something that isn’t there.  As hard as this may be sometimes, without hope, we have nothing to hang onto. 

Girl with Red Flower

And if we don’t hang on, how will we ever know if things can get better?  This week, create hope yourself.

Here’s my HOPE HACK for the week:  

Make creating hope a fun challenge…

Did you know that Green Egs and Ham by Dr. Suess was created as the result of a bet? Seuss’ editor challenged the author to write a book with 50 or fewer words used over and over again. That is how Sam-I-Am came to be! 

Your Challenge: This week, be like Dr. Suess. Give yourself a time limit, or a restriction like a word count. And create something. Sometimes, limits are what we need to thrive. You can always download my free e-book of creativity exercises for that.

A Limit for Hope?

Limits and deadlines work! According to a study by MIT Sloan School of Management and INSEAD Business School, setting self-determined deadlines for completing a project improves task performance and decreases procrastination. Simply give yourself a set amount of time to finish a task. Sometimes, HOPE takes a bit of pressure to be created!

There are times for limits, and there are times for no limits

HOPE HACK #2: Another way to create hope is the look to the world of nature – a world of limitless, endless inspiration. You can discover some of my favorite ways to find hope in nature here, and also check out my post How to Lose Your Limits, Discover Magic and Love Your Detour.

Finding Hope When You Need it Most

When  trauma left me dead inside, I turned to the world around me to find the life in it to bring life into myself. Open your eyes and look around you. Hope lives in the most uncanny places.

Now, here’s the dictionary definition of hope: 

  1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
    “he looked through her belongings in the hope of coming across some information”
    When Something Feels Right 6 x 6 IMG_0499

Hope means creating something when it’s not there. It may not be real, substantiated, material fact or proof, but it’s the tangible fuel that keeps us going from one day to the next.

HOPE HACK #3: Blogging/Reading/Writing/WORDS!

Blogging: Starting my own blog opened a world of entdless inspiration. Even just journaling your thoughts helps!

Reading: How about a kid’s book? “The Soul Bird” is a wonderful children’s classic by Michal Snunit that has always kept me in touch with the awe-filled wonder that I love about being a kid. Is there a certain story that struck you deeply at a young age, that you always remember? I would love to hear some other suggestions!
“Not Just for Kids: The artsy, soul-filled motivation you need today. “https://amyoes.com/2016/10/24/kid-motivation/ Please share for anyone who needs a pick me up!

Journaling: If you’ve had a stressful month, art journaling is a proven, easy and inspiring way to find yourself again – the less of an artist you are, the better! Here’s the trick to getting started, and how it saved my life after trauma – https://amyoes.com/2016/11/04/fall-into-art-journaling-2/

What do you need to hope for this week?

Book Updates and Hope

chasing blue hope

Sometimes, it’s hard to have hope at all.  In an old journal, I found a passage of how hope enabled me to survive:

A few surgeries later doctors told me once again, to just stop eating and drinking altogether. That’s the phase of my life when I became obsessed with cooking. so I could still have contact with food. When I couldn’t eat, my favorite thing to make was deep dish pizza. Staying connected to food made me feel again – even though it hurt and was terribly difficult. The smell of my pizza cooking in the oven made me cry, and the tears felt like home.

Maybe those tears are what gave me hope that one day, I really would be able to eat again.

Cooking gave me hope that one day, food would once again be part of my life.”

Self-Portrait

Sometimes hope can produce beautiful treasures. Back when I couldn’t eat (for one of the many times), I would spend my mornings cooking and the afternoons locked in my art room to pass the time. Let’s just say there were many edible and paintable creations from all of those years!!!

WP_20150320_22_30_13_Pro

HOPE HACK #20000: Here’s a fun way to cultivate hope: LAUGH!  Check out my post: If Humor is the Best Medicine, Here’s Why You’ll Love Being Certified in it

Theatre Creates Hope Too!

drama

Writing my one-woman musical Gutless & Grateful gave me hope through hard times. Thetare can be the biggest  a lifeline in transforming trauma

Why? Because sometimes it helps when we hear the stories of others. They give us footprints to follow. 

The best Hope Hack of All

Here’s the secret: sometimes, we find the most hope when we hear someone else’s story.  Today, think about any “detour” in your life.  Think of ONE person that you met, just because of that detour.

1

Today, thank that person, who you never would have met, had your path been straightforward and simple.

Have a great weekend and happy, bumpy travels, Detourists!  

drama13

The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” 
― Kalu Ndukwe Kalu

Here’s Why Humor Really IS The Best Medicine

“Laughter is the best medicine.”

How many of us have heard this saying and lump it in the same category of “proven science” as “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down?”

Go ahead, laugh at it. It’s good for you!

IMG_9879-the-day-is-my-friend

It’s true. Laughing is actually good for your health. It creates connection, it stirs us from the inside out, it even strengthens your immune system.  When we look for the laughter in life – whether it’s laughing at a movie, giggling with a friend, or chuckling at ourselves, we can actually put ourselves on the path to improved health, joy, and even purpose. 

There are plenty of articles you can google to learn about the health benefits of laughter.  A good belly laugh can replenish us emotionally,psychologically, spiritually, and yes, even physically by boosting immunity, combatting stress, and alleviating chronic pain.

I’ll leave you to do the research.  You can search the internet, or you can become your own research subject. Laugh and see what happens.

Laughter and Me: A (pretty funny) Story of Survival

who-says-school-has-to-be-stressful-dont-forget-to-breathe

Over ten years ago, I had no choice but to become my own research subject.  When a coma literally changed my world overnight just after I had received my college acceptance letters, I woke up in a strange, scary new world.  I chose to laugh at fear, because the true terror of my situation – a situation that was completely out of my control, as doctors fought to save my life – was too overwhelming to worry over.  In a situation that I could do nothing to help, humor was all I had.  Humor was my way of finding joy in the cards I was dealt.  Once I chose to laugh at my fear, I became larger than it.  When I became larger than my fear, I was instantly empowered with a newfound sense of identity.  

2012-11-21 12.23.43

How did I find humor stuck in the surgical ICU for nearly a year? Oh, to plenty of ways. My brothers and I made up songs.  We set up plastic cups in the unit hallways to go “bowling.”  We broke out of the unit on thrilling wheelchair “rollercoaster rides.” I also caused a few other antics, which I share in my TEDx Talk.

The Super-Secret Humor Helpers…

Drawn-to-the-Light

But it wasn’t just me who was laughing. Often, it takes others to put a smile on your face in difficult circumstances.  And when I was stuck at Columbia Presybterian, I was greeted nearly every day by crazy mimes, clowns playing ukeleles, and friendly hospital staff making lightness where they could.  I’ve always wanted to find those people who brightened such dark times and personally thank them.
The Biggest helper of all…

I think the biggest way I can thank the people that came into my life “just for laughs” is to remember that there is always a spin I can put on a situation to make me smile. A deep laugh from your belly is one of the best feelings in the world. It can forms amazing connections. It creates a friendly vibe in the room. Who knows – it could make you feel a lot better. Not sure?

14224923_10154596497839658_3302170870702156552_n

There’s only one way to find out…

Just kidding. Seriously.

Finding-My-Way-Home-IMG_0388

Amy will be presenting at this year’s Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor 27th Annual Conference, The Holiday Inn Orlando, located in the Walt Disney World® Resort,
All artwork created by Amy “just playin’ around” in her art studio.  Catch Amy touring her award-winning one-woman musical,Gutless & Grateful, to theatres, colleges, conferences and organizations nationwide, and in NYC this year.  You can also watch her TEDx Talk, , and learn about her mixed media art, speaking, and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour at www.amyoes.com.

Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent

I found this article very insightful. It covered some really important topics regarding why American young adults get depressed and find it difficult to deal with depression. One reference for example, is the conversation about keeping up with a social media identity and how that is affecting us… there is so much to this and its more demanding than I could ever imagine.
I think its a good read, so I recommend it. Of course this link will take you to TIME Magazine’s subscription page but if you are not a subscriber and don’t wish to subscribe, just be reminded that you can also borrow a free copy of the November 7th Edition of the magazine from your local library.

November 7th, 2016 | Vol. 188, No. 19 | U.S.

Healthy Habits to Kickstart a Great November

What’s a habit?

noun
1.
a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
“this can develop into a bad habit”

What’s a “healthy” habit?

A behavior that is beneficial to one’s physical or mental health, often linked to a high level of discipline and self-control. This might include regular exercise, or a balanced diet.

So what are “Detourist” healthy habits?
I have four of them, and I can’t wait to share them with you…

I try to do something creative every day. Creativity and gratitude not only saved my life, they gave me a new perspective on living a HEALTHY life.

Bored and surfing the internet? Find some inspirational quotes to surround yourself with.  Quotes are great “road signs” to help keep your detour on track!

i-survived-because-the-spark-within-me-glows-brighter-and-bolder-than-any-fires-around-me

Inspirational quotes are great reminders too.  They remind us what’s important in life. They remind us to be aware.  They remind us to be mindful.

Not STUCK in our minds…

…but MIND-FULL.
I try to find moments of mindfulness every day. – that’s a VERY powerful healthy habit!
These are key ideas to my “four hard core skills” that are great attitudes for success.

Healthy recipes make up a huge component of physical health. But what about mental health?

I’ve got a great recipe for you – a Recipe for the most healthy habit at all:  Being Resilient.
We can navigate any detour in life through creating our own Recipe for Resilience.

Here are the four secret ingredients.  Ready?
·     The Power of Stories: Sharing our story is healthy, as is learning our stories for ourselves, and allowing ourselves to be affected by the stories of others.
·     Gratitude: We can cultivate hope through gratitude. Through simple exercises and habits, including the discipline or a daily gratitude list, we become grounded in who we are, once we know what our values are and what we stand for.  Once anchored in ourselves, we can begin to access our inner-trust and compass to navigate our detours.
·     Creativity: Once we become grounded in who we are through gratitude, we can use creativity to center ourselves and propel us forward. Through creativity, we are able to be with our experiences and emotions that may be too painful, frightening or overwhelming for words, as well as experiences that have yet to be acknowledged.  So start with a doodle!
·     Hope: Hope can start out as a “lie” we tell ourselves – or as one occupational therapist told me, “therapeutic lying.” Cultivating hope can be hard work, intentional fabrication, or willing suspension of disbelief – but it is our active duty. Give yourself a reason to be hopeful – even if you have to make it up for now.

What are your healthy habits? What’s in YOUR recipe for resilience?

Drawn-to-the-Light

A habit is something you do every day.  So find one small thing you can do -share a story, make a gratitude list, doodle on a napkin, or find one thing to hope for.  And keep it up!

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. As the creator of  “Gutless & Grateful,” her BroadwayWorld-nominated 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 and international conferences.    To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events.  “Detourism” is also the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017.  She’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others.    Learn about her art, music, theatre, advocacy, book, and inspiring story at amyoes.com, or “tweet me at @amyoes!”

What do you do with your "limitations?"

Do you feel like you have a certain “limitation?” Maybe it’s a mental or physical limitation that you feel holds you back from school, work, friends, or life in general?

Yes, I do need to make some adjustments to live in the real world. You could even call some of those adjustments “limitations.” I believe that you don’t need to find the “meaning” from every hardship in life, but you

Everyone has “limits” – whatever they are. But we’re not limited people. We’re people with limits. People who lead full, enriching lives, and go on to have wonderful, rewarding experiences in school, work and life. For a long time, I wanted to just be “normal.” But not anymore. I look at all my surgical scars as my warrior scars, and we all have scars, some visible, some not. And wouldn’t you rather stand out?

I have to admit that there are times I just don’t want to put up with my circumstances anymore, let alone maintain an entire business But then I think about what I love doing in life and the reward of giving back through doing what I love – how it allows me to feel connected and a part of the moving, flowing real world – something that I longed for or years coming out of my coma. And I wouldn’t give that up for the world. Yes, I do need to make some adjustments to live in the real world. You could even call some of those adjustments “limitations.” I believe that you don’t need to find the “meaning” from every hardship in life, but you do need to find ways to work with that hardship so it doesn’t run your life. I do find that getting out there, into the world and finding ways to live what you love, ultimately is worth it – at all costs. I’ve done more in the 4 years since this disability than most people do in their entire lifetimes – use the adversity as momentum!

Yes, I do need to make some adjustments to live in the real world. You could even call some of those adjustments “limitations.” I believe that you don’t need to find the “meaning” from every hardship in life, but you

Having been affected by illness, dissociation, disability and chronic conditions, my mission with Gutless & Grateful is to provide hope, help and resources, starting a vital conversation for communities on trauma’s extensive impact, as well as the tremendous gifts that can be reaped.

Gutless & Grateful
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.
An empowered approach to wellness means knowing your needs well enough to speak up for them. Feeling different from everyone else – like you’ve got limitations no one else has to cope with? Love your limits so you can lose them.
Pink-Road
Take care of your unique needs in order to celebrate them.

How will you celebrate your limits today?
roudriumphanttrongetermined

All artwork was created by Amy to take care of her own mental health. Learn about her mental health advocacy programs, her art giveaways for students, and find out how to speak up for mental health with the #LoveMyDetour movement at amyoes.com
Follow Amy Oestreicher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/amyoes

What do you do with your "limitations?"

Do you feel like you have a certain “limitation?”  Maybe it’s a mental or physical limitation that you feel holds you back from school, work, friends, or life in general?

Yes, I do need to make some adjustments to live in the real world. You could even call some of those adjustments “limitations.” I believe that you don’t need to find the “meaning” from every hardship in life, but you

Everyone has “limits” – whatever they are. But we’re not limited people. We’re people with limits. People who lead full, enriching lives, and go on to have wonderful, rewarding experiences in school, work and life. For a long time, I wanted to just be “normal.” But not anymore.  I look at all my surgical scars as my warrior scars, and we all have scars, some visible, some not. And wouldn’t you rather stand out?

I have to admit that there are times I just don’t want to put up with my circumstances anymore, let alone maintain an entire business But then I think about what I love doing in life and the reward of giving back through doing what I love – how it allows me to feel connected and a part of the moving, flowing real world – something that I longed for or years coming out of my coma. And I wouldn’t give that up for the world. Yes, I do need to make some adjustments to live in the real world. You could even call some of those adjustments “limitations.” I believe that you don’t need to find the “meaning” from every hardship in life, but you do need to find ways to work with that hardship so it doesn’t run your life. I do find that getting out there, into the world and finding ways to live what you love, ultimately is worth it – at all costs. I’ve done more in the 4 years since this disability than most people do in their entire lifetimes – use the adversity as momentum!

26239990430_cc03d286f4_n

Having been affected by illness, dissociation, disability and chronic conditions, my mission with Gutless & Grateful is to provide hope, help and resources, starting a vital conversation for communities on trauma’s extensive impact, as well as the tremendous gifts that can be reaped.

gutless-theatre-performance

  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.
An empowered approach to wellness means knowing your needs well enough to speak up for them.  Feeling different from everyone else – like you’ve got limitations no one else has to cope with?  Love your limits so you can lose them.
2
Take care of your unique needs in order to celebrate them.
How will you celebrate your limits today?
Pink-Road

All artwork was created by Amy to take care of her own mental health. Learn about her mental health advocacyprograms, her art giveawaysfor students, and find out how to speak up for mental health with the #LoveMyDetour movement.

How to Dance Your Way Through Detours – Literally.

Before you read this…do a little happy dance!

Together We Can Reach Stars IMG_0407

Okay.  Now:  I want to share a video that made me cry, love, fear, learn, grow, smile and dance.

Sometimes, the best way to move through a struggle we may be experiencing is to literally move THROUGH it.  Physically moving our bodies is therapeutic.  It raises our endorphins, and gets our thinking gears to step to the sidelines for a bit – which is sometimes, exactly what we need to feel better.  There can be far more potent mediums that words to express ourselves – like dance.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/33288787

Bill T. Jones: Still / Here with Bill Moyers from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Bill T. Jones, “an irreplaceable dance treasure” has created over 140 works for his own company, and for cdance companies all over the world.  This amazing documentary from 1997 is the making of the dance-theater piece, Still/Here, was the subject of a 1997 documentary by Bill Moyers and David Grubin.

“At workshops around the country, people facing life-threatening illnesses are asked to remember the highs and lows of their lives, and even imagine their own deaths. They then transform their feelings into expressive movement, which Jones incorporates into the dance performed later in the program. Jones demonstrates for Moyers the movements of his own life story — his first encounter with white people, confusion over his sexuality, his partner Arnie Zane’s untimely death from AIDS, and Jones’s own HIV status.”  Learn more here.

285997_857344857046_1466766280_o

This documentary was both incredibly moving and  hard for me to watch – not in a bad way, it just made me feel…deeply!  After my coma, I used dance to get back in touch with my body after my 27 surgeries.  When I put on music, I’d start feeling each note filter through my body, and suddenly it felt as though something bigger than myself was flowing through me, granting me a new life force and vitality.  I felt energy, bounciness, rhythm and flexibility where I didn’t even know I had any!

Journey-Dancing

I’ve been using dance to heal for a very long time.  In February 2005, my mother and I took a mother-daughter dance workshop after I had been molested and had, at that time, been holding in that secret for months.

Healing Through Dance

I remember getting so lost in the music , like that was my escape where I could get away from everything, yet be centered in what really mattered.  Years later, my mother told me that a woman came up to her at that 2005 workshop and said, “Please watch your daughter dance.  if you look closely, She is really struggling with a very big issue and she is calling out for help – find out why she is suffering,”

A Call – or Dance – For Help

Mommy Cant Fix This

My mom didn’t think anything of that woman’s ominous observation at the time.  it gave me goosebumps to hear that now, because it’s true, I was trying to dance out this big red ball of fire I was feeling in my gut, that I was too scared to talk about or think about myself.  But through dance, I was subconsciously screaming out the enormous secret I was withholding.

Dancing Back to My Body

After I was discharged from the hospital, I used dance and creativity as my therapy when I was too frustrated or overwhelmed to try to express my situation in words.

If you only have a minute for the Bill T Jones documentary, go to the 20 minute point.  A blonde, beautiful, soul-filled woman is dancing her “story”, and everything she’s saying as she passionately moves about – that’s exactly how I felt as I danced through my illness.  It was a way I could come to terms with it, to befriend it, to meet it half-way.  I literally danced through my fear.

Dance Can Change the World…

…or at least the way we view it. Dancing can give us a whole new perception of ourselves and how we view obstacles. It’s a way of feeling united with a force much greater and much wiser than ourselves – the power to move.

me with dancing girl

Why do you love dance?

What does dance mean to you? Do you dance to celebrate joy, to lift you out of the dumps, to celebrate, to flirt, to find, to connect? What’s a song that you can’t help but move your body to?

I’m obsessed with tap-dancing. It’s just an awesome excuse to stomp around :

Ready to dance? What’s your favorite song…?

If you had to dance your “detour” – what would it look like? If you don’t know where to start…watch Bill T. Jones. I dare you not to be inspired!

Endorse Amy’s nomination by WEGO Health for a Health Activist Hero Award until October 21st at amyoes.com/health-activist.

Amy is currently touring with her one-woman musical, Gutless & Grateful to theatres, schools, healthcare communities and more. For information on keynote presentations, workshops and signature talkbacks, (and specialized versions for corporations, college campuses, survivors, healthcare professionals, and artists) visit amyoes.com. Amy also offers private coaching to help others navigate their own beautiful detours, and subscribe for free excerpts of her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, and download a free creativity e-book.

Follow Amy Oestreicher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/amyoes

October – Depression and Mental Health Screening Month

Hey everyone,

As we keep heading into Fall and now are in October, the days get shorter, and everything seems to slowly fade until Spring again. This time of transition in nature is a timely reminder for us to check in with ourselves, and others.

October is Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. There are resources available to help you cope with whatever you are dealing with. Check out the link below for a screening tool that can help you make an informed decision.

http://helpyourselfhelpothers.org/

As always, we are here if you have any questions or need support! – Michael

October Can Be Your Turning Point.

I’ve been going through the thousand of journal entries I’ve recorded over the years. In my TEDx Talk, I spoke about locking myself in my room for 16 hours a day to journal non-stop, as my way of coping with being unable to have a bite of food or one sip of water for several years.

Drawn-to-the-Light

Even though I am – thankfully – not in that same, awful position, a decade later, I find myself still resonating with what I wrote at a time of severe medical crises. Although we do hope to change with every year, there are some feelings that we do hope will stay constant within us.

Like the yearning to always change and to better ourselves.

So here’s part of my journal from this time of year…a few years ago during my medical crises.

A new month. New beginning. Fresh start. A change. A change in mood. From October to November. Transition. The beauty is in the changes. Just like the autumn leaves. This year I vow to change along with the world…

What is scary and uncomfortable is how you make progress, how you change.

The beauty is in the changes. Change is life. I am life. I am part of nature.

14516517_10154669255374658_2964250500499417896_n
Life is – at its basest level: is water, earth, air, fire, and spirit. Everything else does not exist. Everything else is fear. Fear takes you out of the moment.

The only purpose of life is to reap joy from every moment.

And – every time I face a fear I gain strength, courage, and confidence in doing so.

Today is the first day of October – is this a sign? I try to see everything as a sign. I try to find the miracles in everything…a new month – a time for change within me and around me.

October is more of a solitary, mysterious, soul-searching month in all of its eerily haunting charm, ghosts goblins and black cats, changing leaves, dark purple nights, full moons, howling winds, apples and pumpkins smiling with missing teeth on front porches – a time when the trees are alive with eyes, each speaking to your soul as you walk among them alone, where leaves scurry and scatter around the pavement, making a dry crackling sound – it is a very introspective month, enchanting and dark, but very “in yourself” in order to transform and come out again.

October is meant to be scary. Scary things that are hard and uncomfortable lead to progress. And the beauty is in the changes. October is full of changes too!

Embrace the changes today – that is what I am trying to tell myself – I long to be beautiful and the beauty is in the changes. When I was walking outside the other day in the cool and crisp autumn wind, it felt so good and nostalgic, so healthy and exciting inside of me and outside of me.

There is nothing that I lack – I am complete and whole. This is my life situation right now, which is the present, and nothing exists outside of it. I am free of suffering for now. Don’t think about what I’m not doing today. Think, instead, of what I am doing.

14570298_10154669256394658_280505813253121960_n
Count my blessings instead of fear.

I’ve created some favorite October affirmations:

Count your blessings instead of problems
Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry
The beauty is in the changes
Don’t be afraid of you own truth
I am larger than my deepest fear
Face the feel until it passes
The only way past it is through it
Progress is only from doing what is scary and uncomfortable
If you don’t do what is scary and uncertain, you’ll be stuck
Go out on a limb, that is where the fruit is
Take a risk, there is nothing to be scared of
Don’t be afraid of what is on the other side – for god is already there
One moment at a time like each individual leaf – be in the NOW
I am not alone, my spirit is in the world around me
I am part of nature.
I am part of the world, so part of nature, and nature is beautiful, nature is humbling – it is humbling to see how small the leaves look as the pass the huge towering trees – imagine if you’ve never seen a tree before!
I’ve realized how truly breathtaking nature is.

Because in nature, everything is beautiful, and since I am part of nature, that means Iam beautiful too, and so right there, I the dog park, it made sense to want to nourish myself, because the earth is naturally well-nourished by god and I want to thrive like nature does in the beautiful season of Autumn.

What will October be like? I eagerly await the changes. It’s true – without change, life would really be boring. The beauty and the excitement are in the changes! I wonder when the leaves will fall completely.

I am moving along with the season. I, and also my family (I can feel) are changing along with the world. We are celebrating with the seasons.

In years past I spent it in my room afraid of the world, numbing out to get through the had night, or I was in the hospital with shingles, or crying for the life I feared I would never get back.

But, this October, I put my foot down and sat dammit, I am living my life and I don’t care what anyone has to say about it.

14523227_10154669268439658_7532134557748378776_n

Because I deserve it!
Remember, you deserve life. You deserve change. Thanks, October for reminding us!
This was an excerpt from my upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour. If you want more free excerpts, and lots of stuff I literally couldn’t fit into the book, sign up for exclusive fun super-secret stuff! (Including more of my art!)

Mental Health Messages In The World Around You: Where’s Your Voice?

Published on amyoes.com

Messages and the Media – Ideas Worth Spreading?

tedx4

TEDx is all about “ideas worth spreading.”  My TEDx idea stemmed from discoveries I made from the world around me as I healed from a decade of traumatic medical “detours,” as well as the pain and anguish of processing my sexual abuse.  In a world with no roadmap, we need to anchor each of ourselves in our own idea “worth spreading” – in our own truth.  But it can be pretty difficult to spread our own idea when constantly combatted by the ideas that scream much louder from that same world around us.  Even worse, sometimes the outside “noise” is so loud that we can’t even allow ourselves the “dream-space” to find those “revelations worth discovering” and “ideas worth spreading” above all of the messages from the media.

Think about it.  Every day, how many headlines do you encounter?  How many commercials are you exposed to?  What’s playing on the radio right now?

When the Media gives you messages, fight back with even better ones.

We read so many articles about the “benefits of being in the moment,” mindfulness, or meditation.  The great thing about truly being in the moment, is that you’re truly in your SELF too. When anchored in who YOU really are, messages from the world around us can inform us, but they don’t have to influence us.

What messages do you get from the media about mental health?  What do you see on TV, hear on the news, listen to on the radio, see on posters, billboards, and read in magazines that tell you to think, act or look a certain way?

I’ve thought a lot about this in my own life.

cgcgcg

Soaking Up Messages: Are You a Sponge?

Every day, whether we like it or not, we are walking, breathing, talking, living sponges, soaking up messages from everywhere.

However, this is not a post about the negative messages we get from the media. 

This is not a post about how society makes us feel like we’re not good enough, smart enough, successful enough, pretty enough.

Unfortunately, those messages will always be there, whether we like it or not.  We’ll always be blasted with perceptions of how we should act, there will always be some message that threatens to perpetuate stigma, and there will always be individuals who make assumptions, no matter how much awareness we spread.

So then why should we advocate for mental health?

I fight in the open for mental health to speak my truth, and hope that with my story, I might be able to affect one person and cause a chain reaction.

amy.1-001

.As advocates, that’s all we can do, right? Help spread mental health awareness to others?

Wrong. There is one more thing we can do.  The MOST important thing, actually:

No matter what message we hear, we must take care of ourselves.

I struggle with symptoms of PTSD. (You can read more about that here.)

When we struggle with

fiery red anxiety,

or a relentless addiction,

any kind of physical or

mental health obstacle…

…or justlife in general, we need to find ways to become…

anchored in the moment.

How do we get in the moment? 

woman-with-the-growing-trees-amy-oestreicher
If we’re truly in the moment, nothing can break us.  We have ourselves – the most powerful tool of all.

I would like to share 25 thoughts that help me love myself enough to stay in the moment.

25 Affirmations To Remind You How Powerful You Are

  1. Heroism is hanging on one minute longer.
  2. I can do this.
  3.  I can handle whatever today brings me – being outside, spontaneous, following my heart, keeping track of when my mind takes over and learning to let go, release, trust.
  4. Each day passes.
  5. What I don’t get done today I can still get done tomorrow.
  6. Changing the routine is good.
  7. Interacting with people leaves a spark in my chest.
  8. It is beautiful outside today – follow my heart
  9. Treat today like it’s endless and there is no conception of time.
  10. Feel free to express any feelings – they are my way out of this.
  11. Evaluate any feelings of “fear.”
  12. Adversity makes us stronger if we push through it.
  13. This is the only way through it – it’s either one discomfort or the other – progressive pain or habitual pain which will keep you stuck.
  14. My heart never wants to stay numb
  15. Focus on being inside of  moments rather than doing – hang on to the moment, commit to it full-force and full body.
  16. Don’t already have one foot out the door…sit into it. 
  17. It’s not dangerous to relax into each moment – you wont drown.
  18. Where will you go, what’s the worst that can happen?
  19. The only thing to fear is staying the same. 
  20. Everyday is a new beginning.
  21. Live life for me, not for production or for anyone else
  22. If I find myself jumping off the path because my mind scares me, just gently escort myself back to my heart’s path – don’t freak out.
  23. Process matters more than goals right now.
  24. Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to understand ourselves.  (Carl Jung)

Remember, IN THE MOMENT, we’re invincible.

25 Messages to Melt Stigma and Reclaim Your Power

We can overcome everything when we just ARE.

IN the moment, we realize how beautiful we really are.  Beauty is true power.

And stigma can’t hold a candle to that.

Copy of My name is Amy

We get many different messages daily from the media.  But…only you can determine what messages will influence you.  So get in that moment and decide for yourself.  Speak the message that’s truthful to YOU.

…What message are YOU sending into the world today?

(Here’s mine!)

All artwork was created by Amy on her detour. Learn about her speaking, or catch her touring Gutless & Grateful, her one woman musical, to theatres, colleges, conferences and organizations nationwide.   Learn about hermental health advocacy programs for students, and find out how to take part in the#LoveMyDetour movement, and learn about her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour at www.amyoes.com.

An Evening with Kevin Breel

Join us for an Evening with Kevin Breel on Monday, September 19th at 7:00pm.
This is a great opportunity to hear Kevin speak out about mental health.
He will speak about his own experience with mental illness and recovery.

Where:
Sudler Hall
100 Wall Street, New Haven, CT

Detourist Book of the Week: How do you find the "upside" of a detour?

What have you been reading lately?

Sometimes the best books can be unexpected discoveries.  Have you ever strolled through the bookstore and had something catch your eye – possibly taking your thoughts on a….detour?
The biggest ground rule on a detour is to know that although your “detour” is a path unlike anyone else’s, EVERYONE has some path in their life veer off in an unexpected route.  Every day – all around us!

Sometimes, a book helps me remember that.  

I’ve just started an amazing book, The Upside of Trauma.

The author, Jim Rendon is the grandchild of a holocaust survivor, as am I.

Grandparents 16 x 20 IMG_0497

I made artwork this in honor of feeling my grandparent’s presence with me wherever I go. My grandmother reminds me of resilience in the face of extreme difficulty.  She, to me, is an amazing example of someone who thrived after trauma.  She embodied the “upside.”

The book, The Upside of Trauma, is about Post Traumatic Growth – something I think I’m living proof of as well!

13603794_10154412337459658_6806016677836343847_o

But how can terrible events lead to remarkable and dramatic breakthroughs?

That’s what this book seeks to answer. There IS an upside of trauma – but you’ll never know it if you don’t keep going.  Keep traveling that detour until you find that upside.

How can you make sure you get there?

In my experience, I’ve found nine ideas  that help me reach the “upside of trauma.”

My NineTips

  1. Surround yourself with people who support you.
  2. Have something to look forward to and something to strive for.
  3. Focus on the, bright future ahead to get through difficult times
  4. Believe your story can change the world.
  5. Keep moving forward. Plan ahead but be prepared to adapt, keep moving forward no matter what.
  6. Remember that you’re larger than your circumstances
  7. Focus on what you can do, not cant.
  8. Let yourself feel bad feelings but remember what you can do.

Number Nine happens to be my favorite…

Expressing our traumas through art:

Sometimes it’s tough to just come and and talk about difficult times. It’s hard to open up.  But we NEED to.  Why keep those memories locked up inside?  When we keep things in, we become numb.

But how to start?  That’s what ART is for.  Creativity is the best medicine!

community art

I learned the power of community art this weekend in an Art Workshop.  We each had to draw our version of “trauma” and then arrange our drawings in a way that spoke to us.  It was amazing how although our traumas were all different, our drawings of “trauma” were so similar.

I didn’t have to share exactly what happened to me, but I felt heard.  Have you experienced this feeling before?  Get some friends together and create.  It could be healing in more ways than you know.

If you could draw your detour, what would it look like?

Tears for Tomorrow

Detour Art Exercise: Think of one thing you can’t put into words.  One thing that you’d LOVE to tell someone…but can’t yet.

Draw it instead.

So today, make some art.  Star a doodle, buy a coloring book, or make a collage out of magazine images.

You might just find the upside of trauma through what you create.

So what exactly is the upside of trauma?

CONNECTION.

Mommy Cant Fix This

Mommy Can’t Fix This (Mixed Media Gallery)

By sharing the stories of what has happened in our lives, we feel heard, supported, and connected.

Detourists should not travel alone.  We all have something to learn from each other’s journey.

detour definition

Learn what a Detourist is here, (you’re a Detourist, you just don’t know it yet) and share your story here. YOU never know who YOU may help.

There is an upside of trauma.  You just have to get through those rough detours to see those flowers along the path.  That’s the upside.  Don’t give up.  Keep going.  

And one day…

Floating-Girl-IMG_0429

You’ll find that flower!!!

I #LoveMyDetour.  Now tell me why you love yours.

#LoveMyDetour

That’s the upside of trauma.  What’s your upside?

All artwork was created by Amy on her detour.  Help her bring PTSD Awareness to the stage by supporting her work on patreon.com/amyo and watch her TEDx talk on her website at amyoes.com/tedx. Learn about hermental health advocacy programs for students, and find out how to take part in the#LoveMyDetour movement, and learn about her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour at www.amyoes.com.

Andre Loren’s List: Best Quotes about depression!

Depression has a way of denying us the opportunity to do the things that we want to get done in our daily lives.
Andre Loren published a list of quotes in the publication referenced below that can help us to understand life in the eyes of depression.

“Living with depression can make each day seem like climbing a mountain. And when day after day of fighting through your depression drains you, sometimes you need a bit of inspiration to jump-start your next battle. Some people turn to music, some turn to books. We know it’s not a cure, but sometimes just an inspirational quote can be what you need to shine some light on those particularly dark days.”

One quote that he included and that I particularly admire is:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” — Marianne Williamson, submitted by Alisha Power

Please continue reading more quotes here: https://themighty.com/2016/07/quotes-to-help-with-depression/

Why Dreams are the Best Mental Health Tool

Everyone knows that getting a good night’s sleep is key to living a health, balanced life. But what about getting a good night’s dream?

Reaching-Star

Dreams are survival skills. They give us something to hope for, something to strive for, and something to wake up with, to keep in our heads and hold in our hearts.

If we choose to see dreams as the proactive forces that guide us to our true aliveness, dreams become a powerful tool. Here are five ways that dreams make us feel the most awake.

Over-the-Moon
1) Dreams give us vision. Our dreams can take us from chaos to clarity, and eventually to concept. Keep a dream journal to start understanding the language of your unconscious.

2) Dreams can bring direction to our detours. We’ve all had things in life that haven’t worked out as we planned — a breakup, a breakdown, a loss, a setback — Dreams help us find the beauty in “not knowing” by bringing images and sensations into our awareness that we might not be able to grasp onto ourselves, when trying to navigate our detoured route. Dreams have the power turn our “detours” in life into everyday blessings.

Shine

3) Dreams give us faith that healing is possible. They show us the potential of the human spirit.

4) Dreams fuel the fierce drive to bring our passion into the world. Dreams come from our innermost desires. They tell us not necessarily how we’ll get there, but why we need to get there. Once we have the “why”, the “how” will work itself out. All we need is that fierce conviction that can only come from dreams to act as our compass. Don’t tell yourself that a dream is too crazy or outlandish to happen.

Hey – it took me years to learn how to walk again after 27 debilitating surgeries, and now I’m tap-dancing about it in a one-woman musical about my life – dream on, Detourist, dream on!

Gutless & Grateful (1)

5) Dreams remind us who we are. Our dreams are the seeds that God plans for us, where our intuition whispers to us, and where we can find an anchor to our place in the world — even if we are “displaced” from it. In our dreams, we can find our way back home. After almost losing my own life, my dreams are now my safe place, where I can mingle with myself, replenishing my trust in life whenever circumstances may make me afraid. Dreams dreamed me back into life.

Tonight, go to bed early and get some rest. You’ll invigorate your body, rejuvenate your mind, and your spirit will be oh so happy.

And that’s the best formula for great mental health!

2011-03-25_10-59-06_410

Safe travels Detourists!

013600057_10154410552734658_2277711624734080787_n

Oh….and sweet, sweet dreams!

Zzzzzzz…….

All artwork was created by Amy on her detour. Learn about her speaking, or catch her touring Gutless & Grateful, her one woman musical, to theatres, colleges, conferences and organizations nationwide.   Learn about hermental health advocacy programs for students, and find out how to take part in the#LoveMyDetour movement, and learn about her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour at www.amyoes.com and catch her one-woman musical in New York City in August 6th, 2016.

Creative Coping Skills to Get Grounded in Change

It’s hard to keep up hope on a detour.  Maintaining an empowered approach to Mental Health all the time can be difficult, and I often personally struggle with symptoms of PTSD.  These are some reminders I give myself that often help me:

 1.) Try to see the good in circumstances

It wasn’t easy, but when stuck in hospitals throughout 27 traumatic surgeries, I kept a gratitude list so I could remember that there was still good in my life.  It helped me see things differently.  What is the opportunity in your obstacle?

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” 
― Martha Washington

So how do you find the positive when your pain – physical or emotional – screams louder than an 1980’s stereo?

2.) Practice self-care.

“Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let’s start with a grateful list form A to Z.   You don’t have to start with A.  Find any letter you can think of.  Breakfast! (My favorite B-word!) Just make sure to take the list along and fill it out before the day is through!

3.) Ground yourself. When negative thoughts or painful emotions are speaking louder than anything else around you, it’s hard to be present.  Instantly, I go right into my head – I’m worrying, self-consious and slipping slowly into pity-party mode.  Help!  I’m sucked into my mind!

Learn how to stay present.  Here are some more tips:

4.) Say an affirmation. Gooogle “affirmations” yourself “I choose to live in the present.”

5.) Breathe. It sounds easy, I know.  But you’d be surprised how often you stop breathe when you start overthinking.  Breathe deeply – it’s calming and healthy!  You can read more about the amazing benefits of deep breathing here.  Need some practice?  Breathe along (sounds crazy, I know)with this Youtube guided meditation by Eckhart Tolle TV, and when you’re ready to lie down, learn how opening up your back can open the pathway to breathing…and presence!

5.) Awareness Without Judgement. Notice every physical sensation in your body.  Have a chat with what I like to call my Five Superheros:  Taste, Touch, Sight, Sound, Smell.  Think I’m crazy?  I call them my superheros because they save me in the nick of time when I’m about to get lost in anxious thoughts.  When I start worrying or pitying myself, I call on these rockstars before I can think one more thought.

6.) Quick!  At this very second, name the first thing you…

Smell_______

See_______

Touch_______

Taste (it can be air!)_______

Hear_______

 

Your five senses help you stay grounded, no matter what. I’d love to hear some of your  tips on how to get grounded in change.

Don’t get stressed – get grounded.  Even when life takes a detour, you can always stay grounded in YOU.

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.  Learn more: amyoes.com.

Why My TEDx Talk Was Glitch: Loving Our Detours, Our Glitches

27 surgeries, it’s been a very long, detoured journey, and it still isn’t over yet.

But what makes the journey meaningful, and ultimately rewarding, is the ability to share, and know that you can possibly help someone through their own “detours.” Something I’ve learned over time, is that a Detour is Not a Dead End – which was the title of my first TEDx Talk!  I gave my TEDx Talk this April, and finally…it’s out!

Giving the talk was a thrilling experience.  Even being such a shameless musical theatre ham that I am, this was the most nervous I’ve ever been.  Actually, I didn’t realize how nervous I was until I was done…and I started basically hyperventilating!

In fact, the theme of this year’s TEDx at Syracuse University happens to be…Glitch.

Check out my talk here:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/0x5KtBAW2EI

What would you define as a “glitch?”

Here’s one dictionary definition:

Glitch: suffer a sudden malfunction or irregularity.
Glitch a minor problem that causes a temporary setback

I think the better question is, who hasn’t had a glitch in life?

WHAT’S YOUR GLITCH?

I’d define a “glitch” as a detour – you know, something in life that doesn’t go as you expect.  Nobody expects a detour to happen, in life. It’s what happens when we think we have things planned and all figured out…and then we’re thrown a curveball.

blogart99

I’m excited about the “Glitch” theme for this year’s TEDx.  What is life without the imperfections, the “malfunctions” and “irregularities” in life to keep us on our toes and pushing us to learn, change, adapt and grow?

Untitled design (15)

THE FIVE BEST THINGS ABOUT GLITCHES

We all experience “glitches” in life.  Here are five reasons why “GLITCH” might be the best TEDx theme ever.

1.) GLITCHES GIVE US A CHANCE TO REVISIT AND REVISE.

When we spot an “imperfection,” we’re forced to pause and give it more careful thought.  We’re challenged to work on something that we might have glossed over or might have easily overlooked.  Glitches demand attention, a different approach, a new way ofproblem-solving.

2.) GLITCHES GIVE US CHARACTER.

In a world of sameness and uniformity, it’s the mistakes that are our uniqueness.  Our “flaws” allow us to stand out.  A glitch is individuality – a mistake that’s unmistakably you.

3.) GLITCHES MAKE US WHO WE ARE.

What glitches and detours force us to do is explore new opportunities. When we can’t go in the direction we anticipated, we’ve got to switch gears and adapt. We have to resource inner strengths that we never knew we were capable of accessing. When we achieve the “unthinkable”, we discover who we really are.

4.) GLITCHES MAKE OUR STORIES.

Think of a favorite adventure movie.  Every good plot has an unexpected twist of events.  If life went exactly as you planned, where would the excitement be? The best stories the ones with surprising “glitches” and turns.  Glitches lead to discovery, epiphanies happy accidents.  Did you know that potato chips were invented by a glitch?

5.) GLITCHES CONNECT US.

We all have things in life that don’t go as we expect. We all make mistakes and experience “failure.” The more we share our “glitches”, the more we realize we’re not alone – and there is strength built in community. The world of “glitches” is a world of uniqueness, empathy, compassion and change.

Bonus reason?  Glitch is a pretty fun word to say.

GLITCHES HAVE AN “UPSIDE.”

Field-for-FlightIMG_0134

Glitches allow us to welcome the unexpected change in our “thought-out” life and see what opportunities may arise.

I’m living proof that a glitch can lead to unexpected blessings. If I took away all of the setbacks, hurdles, frustrations and glitches, I wouldn’t be who I am today…giving aTEDx Talk on glitches.

Glitches are most certainly happy, liberating and open-ended discoveries.

A “glitch” is not a dead end.

We just have to keep going long enough to reach a clearing to find the artistic nooks and crannies along that happy accident.

When you feel like you’ve made a glitch, you may not know what to do next, but that’s okay.  Sometimes the best thing is to show up and follow through.

Some glitches don’t go away.  Even with wounds that still haven’t healed – and that’s not a metaphor – I’m still on the road.  That road –uncertain, honestly, terrifying at times – can lead to the most beautiful flowers you’ll ever find.

Every little twist and turn has made me who I am.  And I like who I am.

There is nothing so dangerous about a glitch.  Relax!  Glitches can turn into flashes of insight, making room for new discoveries to flow in. Love is what we are.  Fear is what we learn.  Now, learn to love your glitches, and see where that takes you.

So don’t be afraid … Follow life’s glitches and enjoy the flowers along the way

HOW CAN YOU MAKE A “GLITCH” TODAY?

tedddd12783638_10154040927694658_4352849864627554050_o

 All artwork was created by Amy. Learn about her mental health advocacy programs for students, and find out how to take part in the #LoveMyDetour movement, striving to create compassion through stories.

I Got Rid of All My Demons

To listen to a black artist sing about depression is a little thrilling.

To hear a black artist speak about mental illness, about eradicating stigma and encouraging men, especially black men to disavow the age-old belief that they are somehow immune to mental illness, is groundbreaking.

Lyrics can reveal pain, sorrow, frustration and depression in a very artful way and here is a rapper who is fearless and bold enough to bring out the trauma that is intertwined in his thoughts and feelings through his music.

Vic Mensa, was on medications while he was dealing with his own deep darkness. He talks about the shortfalls of drugs and prescribed drugs but the natural healing of being honest and forthright about your struggles.

In acknowledgement of men’s health month, I encourage you to watch this interview.

Part Two: The Only Four Mental Health Mindsets You Need

This is part two of my four-part series:  

The Four Hardcore Survival Skills You Can’t Live Without Are Simpler Than You Think

We’ve talked about Gratitude as Skill #1, and now, I’d like to introduce you to Number Three…

2.) Creativity

Through creativity, we can create a safe container to be present with our experiences that we may still coming to terms with.  Creative expression engages us in a conversation with emotions that may be too painful, frightening or overwhelming for words.

me in studio

You certainly don’t need to be an artist to make art – you just need an open heart and a mind willing to take a backseat.  You can paint, sing, write, doodle, and it doesn’t have to be good.  Don’t think about what you are trying to express or what your “art” is supposed to mean.  Creativity allows us to interact with another part of our consciousness – and the more we get to know ourselves, all of ourselves, the stronger of an identity we build.  A strong sense of identity is the greatest compass on a “detour.”

Don’t know where to start?

Try 7 SIMPLE STEPS TO FIND YOUR CREATIVE SIDE

Oestreicher_BlushingTree_img5

  1.  Close your eyes, take a breath, and take a mindful stroll outside (preferably as nature-like as possible)!
  2. Find the first image that excites you. How does it make you feel? What kind of music do you hear in your head? If that image were a dance, what would be its song?
  3. Grab a piece of paper and crayons. (There’s nothing like a box of old-school crayolas!)
  4. Put on the song that your image was “dancing to.”
  5. Start to draw to the music – just one continuous line. Don’t think. Just hear the music and draw.
  6. When you hear the music louder than your thoughts, forget all the rules and fill in the whole page.
  7. Write a letter on the back and send it to someone you love…or better yet, to yourself!

7 Simple Steps To Find Your Creative SideOn my blog, I suggest a few different ways you can start seeing the world differently – turning your thoughts upside down is the best starting point to create.

Art is more than a hobby. Art and creativity cure a problem that we all share at times – boredom. I’m not just talking about commercial breaks, a meeting at work that never ends, or traffic lights. Creativity is a mind-set, a way of seeing the world.Creativity puts the magic back in life, so not only are we never bored, we are constantly inspired, present, empowered, and – dare I say it – happy.

tree

So that’s it for my second installment of essential mental health skills.

TO RECAP:

  1. Gratitude (Make an A to Z Gratitude List)
  2. Hope (Lie to yourself…seriously!)
  3. Well, you’ll have to wait for the next post!

In the meantime, keep traveling that beautiful detour!

Nobody expects a detour to happen, in life. It’s what happens when we think we have things planned and all figured out…and then we’re thrown a curveball.

Safe travels!

— Amy, the Detourist

All artwork was created by Amy on her detour. Learn about her speaking, or catch her touring Gutless & Grateful, her one woman musical, to theatres, colleges, conferences and organizations nationwide.   Learn about hermental health advocacy programs for students, and find out how to take part in the#LoveMyDetour movement, and learn about her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour at www.amyoes.com.

What It Is Like To Have A Mental Illness

“For some recovery is the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life despite disability.”

“Daily Life as a College Student” blogger, Kelly recently she shared her story on Odyssey, which is a platform for millennials to share their voices on topical issues that impacts them.
“People with mental illness should feel like they can get the help they need and not be judged for it…”
READ HERE: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/what-it-is-like-to-have-mental-illness

https://turningpointct.org/lets-talk/forum/blog-daily-life-college-student/

finals week

Finals week in college are probably one of the worst weeks for every college student adding mental illness into the mix doesn’t make it fun at all. Being as stressed I am I almost just shut down. Its honestly so scary for me. I have worked so hard for more then three months and I may not have done as while I wanted to. I work so hard in school so finals are no different. I hate them because everything is so close together. I am trying to study for one final while writing a paper for another because my mind will not stop telling me all the thing I have to get down in a four-day span. I go back home on Friday and on top of stressing about finals, I am sad to leave for the summer. I have living in the house for a year and being at school is my safe place I walk to the beach everyday maybe twice a day on really nice days and now I have to leave for the whole summer and not be anywhere near a beach. It sucks. Also I am leaving friends. I know I am going back in 3 months but that’s what sucks about college friends you don’t see them for so long. They can always visit but people are so busy in the summer that its almost impossible to meet up. So in short this is a hard week for my depression I am living my beach and my support group of friends here for 3 months and I have to wait and find out how I did in school which on top of everything is so stressful because of how hard I worked. Also because most of you reading this are from CT, I would love to let you know about the NAMI walk in Hartford. It is on May 21st and I would love you guys to make a team or just donate money. Its all about breaking the stigma around mental illness.

Part Two of Week 4/18/16 & Part One of Week 4/24/16

So when I posted on Monday I was having a horrible panic attack because of how stressful my week was going to be. So I did do horrible on my Spanish test but on the upside the lowest one is dropped so yay!… I guess… So then Tuesday came it was just like a normal Tuesday and I was able to do most of my Thursday night class homework that day during work. Wednesday was the worst day of this week. I had another Spanish quiz I went and took that after I rushed to interview 2 people for a project due Thursday. After interviewing I had about 15 minutes to eat and run to my event. The event I did was amazing. The group of performers we had were so kind and happy to be here sharing their story which meant a lot to me. I finally relaxed during the performance then after I got all stressed out again because I had a quiz and a paper due Thursday. So Thursday come and I get to sleep in a little I go to class and get a little stressed because my teacher wants us to work on our final paper in class. I don’t feel comfortable working on my papers in class because I have to map everything out and it doesn’t look like I’m doing what I should be, but I got through the class and did my best. Then I look my quiz for my one of my psychology classes and got a 92 (GO ME!!!). After class I went home and finished up typing up the interviews I took Wednesday and finished another paper for that class. After class Thursday I started studying for the quiz I had moved to Friday. Then I realized my teacher was doing a full moon meditation and I decided to go. Usually I wouldn’t but I knew my teacher would do a great job so I went and it was amazing I had an amazing time. Then I woke up Friday took my quiz and then set up for an event called Groove Boston. It was a lot of fun the people we set up with were so kind and helpful. We set up from 12pm-5pm and then went back and took it down from 1-3:30am. It was a long day but the people made it a good experience and that is what mattered the most I think. But it was a pretty stressful week but clearly I turned out okay and made it though
Week of 4/25/16
My plan is so part the first part of this week with the second part of last week if it makes sense to everyone if not okay let me know
So tomorrow ( Monday) I have my oral part of my Spanish final so I am kinda of stressed out about it but I know I will do my best and that is what matters. After that I have my boyfriend’s induction into his first honor society. Then I have a banquet after the banquet I am going home to work on my final paper for Philosophy class due next week but the sooner its due the less I have to worry about during finals. Tuesday I have class all day then work till 12am so I am going to study all night on my Spanish because I have my final Wednesday when I take a break during the 6 hours I am working I will be studying my psychology. My Spanish teacher didn’t want us to have our final on the final day so we are doing it this week which personally I am happy about. So that is what I am doing Wednesday after that I am writing a paper due Thursday night when I finish my paper I will be study for my psychology quiz I also have on Thursday. On Thursday I am going to relax after class before this weekend is going to be hell. We have a huge concert on Saturday night so I have to help out setting that up. It will be okay because we have such great people but it is going to be a lot to set up. In between shifts of setting up I’m going to be studying because of finals so wish me luck this week I will post the second half Sunday.

Part One of Week 4/18/16

This is the first part of my blog for this week because my week is so stressful I want you guys to see how even though I feel so stressed, anxious and depressed this week I will get through it the second part will be posted Friday afternoon and I will be a reflection on how I thought this week really went. First off does anyone feel this week is so stressful? This is my second to last week of class and all of a sudden I feel like my life is falling apart its like someone pulled the rug out from under me and I just landed right on my face. I’ve been doing so well all semester and now I don’t know what to do. Today is Monday and looking at the week I’m trying to be positive and think maybe I can handle all of this but I have no idea how. This is my week… Monday (today) I have a Spanish test I should be studying for and I have but me and Spanish don’t really click. So I have studied the best I could. Then I have promo for an event I have on Wednesday but more on that later. Tuesday I have class all day then I have work till 12 am. Which is hopefully when I get most of my stuff done. Wednesday I have another test in Spanish and then I have an event, which I am really excited about but before the event I have to interview two people I only have 40 minutes to do it. Thursday my interview notes are due also I have two quizzes which I have to find time to study for because my event on Wednesday is going to till around 11:30. Having anxiety, I never know if I am over reacting about the stress or if I am really drowning. People around me without mental illness are also stressed so a feel a little bit better but I still feel super stressed. Being as stressed out as I am my depression is hurting me I want nothing to do with anyone. I want to lay in bed alone which is something I never ever want to do I want to be able to feel like everything I am doing throughout the day is meaningful but here I am wanting to skip class tomorrow to lay in bed. Well thanks for reading this guys. Wish me luck for this week to go by as quick and painless as possible. Look out for my next post on Friday.

My Day 4/12/16

First thing I heard this morning was someone throwing up in my bathroom. This really affected my anxiety, because I have OCD about cleanliness and germs. At home I don’t have control over my environment, so if the house is messy and unorganized I can’t do anything about it. Instead I have to keep my room at home unorganized so that I am less stressed about the mess around my house. But at school everything needs to be clean because I have control of my life here. I need everything to be clean, but when I wake up to someone throwing up it makes me really anxious and annoyed. today I had to get up at 7am and clean my bathroom.

The second thing I got to do today was deal with college loans. Loans are stressful, without having anxiety and depression, so having them makes it all so much worse. The reason I had to deal with loans unexpectedly was because I was behind on payments to my school, and I am scheduled to pick classes tomorrow at 8:30am. I would be unable to pick classes when my time arrived unless all my payments were in. Last year my registration day was the worst day I have ever had, and I had a panic attack to the point where I didn’t go to class for the next two days it was so intensely stressful. I had all of my classes picked out, but then none were open, the school I was at last year was huge! All my classes even second and third picks were taken. I never wanted to go through that again, so all I did was stress out about how this loan was not going to keep me from getting to them in time. The school was extremely helpful, and made sure everything was sorted out and I will be able to register tomorrow as planned.

The third thing that happened to me today day was that I came home and found my kitchen in a huge mess. As previously mentioned I have OCD. I feel dirty all over when my house is dirty, something which I just cleaned which made it all the more frustrating that it was already this gross again. So instead of writing a paper I needed to write for class I cleaned the whole kitchen. I also cleaned everything out of the dishwasher, and put it all away because once I start I can’t stop. After that I took everything from the sink, and put it in the dishwasher. It was now that I found that every piece of silverware we owned in the house was in the sink. It never occurred to anyone that they should wash any of it. Finally, once the entire kitchen has been purged, am I able to sit down. I just needed to write about my day, because sometimes it feels the world needs a few more OCD people to clean up for those who are not blessed with even just simple kitchen etiquette. I hope you have had a better day then mine went. Does anyone else have to deal with dirty roommate, whether they bother you because of OCD or just because it is gross? Anybody else want to open up they won’t know. I’m all ears!

Stay Safe <3

About Me

Hi my name is Kelly. My blog is going to be about daily life as college student with mental illness. I have anxiety, depression and OCD. I am a transfer student and transferring to the school I am at now as changed my life in incredible ways. Ways that makes it much easier to talk about my mental illnesses and help others who are suffering. I want to have you read my blog and understand that I go through the same things you all have at one time or another. I plan to blog about my week and how I got through a panic attack or when my OCD got really bad and I didn’t clean when I really wanted to. I want you to see that even though what you are doing seems very small it is a huge deal and I have no shame about sharing my daily life with you if I can help you in any way. I want you, who are reading my blog to understand you can always get help even when it seems impossible. College saved my life. Having help that was free to get changed everything it is amazing and works wonders for me and others.

If there was a cure for depression

a figure with a head that is shaded out
For months I struggled with depression hardly knowing what I was going through…

For the most part I knew that I was often anxious and I had this empty feeling that I just wanted to go away.

I am a very pessimistic person, which means that I still am… I worry about the simplest things – sometimes within my subconscious.
Maybe I have always been this way. I remember being in high school… I couldn’t go through a weekend having not looked over what I had done in class all week without feeling worried that something could go wrong. For one, I cared deeply about my school work but I was a little on the extreme. I studied, it may not have always been the best approach but I had a weird attachment to books. It was very natural for me to run though my notebook or I would just end up starting another week feeling some struggle or disappointment. Too bad, I’m now in my adult years and I’m beginning to realize that it’s not just the books; I really have an overbearing fear of failure which gives way to occasional panic attacks.

It’s that feeling you get when you think that you have not done enough or there has got to be something else to do… that restless feeling.
Every day I have been in the habit of reading a chapter or so from a book, running through a Spanish lesson or doing some form of workout. If I have something planned, I immediately get to it but if I procrastinate, I begin to develop anxiety.

But there are those days when I feel so down that I can’t get to anything and quite frankly, it makes matters worse.

I develop a feeling of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness. I have difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.
When I was 20 years old I was diagnosed with major depression. It was really hard for me to sleep at nights – it still is. If you knock at my door at 3am in the morning I’ll probably answer it immediately. I started medication and for some time it helped but the true antidote were the things that I do when I am feeling down or when I begin to have negative thoughts. I write poems, I paint and I take photographs.

But that doesn’t mean that life eventually became perfect and my depression went away. These things don’t really cure ‘losing my family’, ‘being jobless’ or ‘homophobia’ so the only thing that has really changed is that I have developed better coping skills. I don’t have as many suicidal thoughts as before and I feel a bit more interested in my hobbies and life altogether.

Now and then I have a rough day and I sleep it out; I try not to get into the negative thinking. But I have to admit, it can be hard at times… if that doesn’t work I turn to my music, if that doesn’t work, I take a walk… I just keep trying.

Check out these uplifting stories:
http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/personal-stories/all-stories/7

How to Cope With the Holiday Sadness

The holidays can be extremely difficult for many of us because it brings up memories of loved ones who have passed. Whether the memory was making Grandma’s famous cookies or the ritual of having Christmas dinner at your sister’s house, it can hurt and still affect us deeply after years of the passing.
There’s never a perfect time of year to grieve, but the holidays can certainly trigger those feelings of sadness. The holiday season can also make it tough for those who’ve recently divorced, traveled across the world and won’t be home for Christmas (or any other holiday), or struggle with depression in general.

Here are “10 Ways to Cope When the Holidays Hurt” by Suzanne Degges- White Ph.D.

1.Don’t completely isolate yourself from other people.
2.Allow yourself space to acknowledge your loss and the pain it has produced, but do not let yourself use the loss as an excuse to escape through alcohol or other addictive substances.
3.If a particular ritual is just too painful to try and continue this year, accept that there are limits to what you are capable of doing and forgive yourself for that.
4.Create a special new ritual that honors the person who is no longer with you.
5.Light a special candle and offer a silent or spoken tribute to this person.
6.Add a special decoration to your collection and display it in this person’s honor.
7.Choose a special recipe that was always a favorite and prepare it each year – saying a special prayer in their honor before consuming it.
8.Ask yourself and your family what this person loved most about the holiday season – and engage in this aspect of the holiday with especial fervor! If it was the lights of the season, throw your heart into decorating your home with the lights that always brought a smile! If it was the cookies, bake your heart out – even if you aren’t the most talent chef, enjoy doing something that your loved one would have enjoyed seeing happen. If it was the carols and songs of the season, let the CDs, Sirius, or Pandora serenade the silence with the songs this person loved.
9.Remind yourself that at this time of year, the shortest day falls on the last day of autumn. Winter may bring the coldest weather, the deepest hibernation of animal life, the barren trees may stand out starkly against the winter sky, but remind yourself that once the first day of winter has arrived, the days are once again growing in length and the nights are beginning to shorten. This is a magic time when we can feel the change in the natural world on a very deep level. The grief or loss you feel may ebb and flow like a tide, but remind yourself that there is a natural rhythm in life and it truly is always darkest before the dawn.
10.Honor your feelings, but don’t allow yourself to get so wrapped up in the loss that you forget the gifts that this person had brought to your life! When we let ourselves get sucked into a place of abject grief and darkness, we are sacrificing the joy that this person inspired in our lives and in others. Feeling sadness and grief is natural and normal; forgetting about the positive life force this person had been is not.

Do you do anything in particular to help cope with the holiday sadness? My mom makes special floral arrangements for Christmas and she makes special ones for loved ones who have passed. One person in particular loved sparkle and “bling” so she is sure to make that arrangement with glitter and other decorations in her honor. It’s healing to make this a new tradition because although having the holidays with her at the house is no longer available, bringing the special arrangements to the graves is still something.

Starting over

I would love to hear stories about how you learned to manage your mental illness and what life was like when you started over.