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Feb 1, 2021

An estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives. Furthermore, up to 20 percent of these people go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Also, an estimated 5 percent of Americans, more than 13 million people, have PTSD at any given time.

Amy Oestreicher was one of them. So, what happens when an ordinary teenager has to turn into a warrior just to survive? And can the journey through PTSD really become an “adventure?”

Amy had ambitious plans for college and a Broadway career, until her stomach exploded the week before her senior prom. Months later, she awoke from a coma to learn that she might never be able to eat or drink again. After years on IV nutrition, her first bite of food awakened her senses to life's ordinary miracles. But it also brought back memories of being sexually abused by a trusted mentor for months, just before the unexpected rush to the emergency room that fateful Passover night. With determination, imagination, relentless resilience, and an inner “hunger” for life, Amy created a roadmap where none existed. 

Amy’s journey through life's unthinkable detours is nothing short of miraculous. But the creative path to healing she forged is accessible to anyone. As a survivor, and “thriver”, of abuse and extensive medical trauma, Amy discovered sources of resilience she didn’t know she had.  Amy’s journey is ultimately a celebration of ordinary and extraordinary challenges and miracles.

In this interview, Amy shares her struggles and discoveries living with both visible and invisible illness. In addition, she talks about the tremendous gifts to be reaped from trauma. Also, she shares lessons which have illuminated her path, and how these gifts can be discovered as a unique, yet universal way to navigate any kind of uncertainty.


Episode Highlights:

  • First Amy talks about her upcoming audio book.
  • Then Emily asks Amy to tell her story.
  • Amy had her life planned out. She applied to 17 colleges. 
  • She loved the world of theater.
  • When she was 17, her mentor started abusing her.
  • Amy told her mother abut the abuse in April of her senior year in High School.
  • Shortly after that, Amy had a really bad stomach ache and her father took her to the hospital.
  • Amy’s stomach exploded to the ceiling of the operating room.
  • Her parents were told Amy wouldn't make it through the night.
  • Months later Amy woke up from a coma.
  • She was told she wasn't going to college. 
  • Furthermore, Amy didn't have a stomach and the doctors didn't know when she'd ever be able to eat or drink again.
  • Amy talks about her recovery in the Intensive Care Unit.
  • It took 7 years and 28 surgeries before Amy could eat and drink but she still doesn’t have a stomach.
  • Next Amy talks abut the challenges of being home and not being able to eat or drink.
  • Consequently, Amy learned how to be creative in the kitchen. 
  • Also, she discovered that she focused on what she couldn’t have.
  • Amy’s memoir is about how creativity saved her life.
  • Her first creation was a chocolate business.
  • Next, she persuaded her parents to let her audition for the play Oliver. 
  • And she ended up getting the lead role.
  • Creativity was Amy’s safe container where she could do what she loved and be someone other than who she became medically.
  • She took it one day at a time with no timeline in sight.
  • Also, she got through by being in the moment and being grateful.
  • Amy presents at surgical conferences and talks to doctors to educate them on the psychological impacts of hunger.
  • And, she doesn't know anyone else who has been through what she experienced.
  • Amy talks about how her family supported her.
  • Her brother kept a journal while he was in the ICU with her for 72 days. 
  • And Amy used that journal to write a play about how trauma affects a family.  
  • When she was finally able to eat, the food unexpectedly fueled her memories.
  • She went to college at age 25. 
  • In college, Amy learned how the mind and body are connected and wrote a paper on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Amy calls herself a "Detourist" and Emily asks Amy to talk about the detours in her life.
  • Gutless and Grateful is a musical Amy wrote about her life.
  • She discovered that what happened to her was a beautiful detour.
  • Trust your detour as you go through it one step at a time.
  • We need community support when we heal and we get that by not playing the victim and by focusing on "what can we do with this."
  • Detours are important for college students and Amy explains why.
  • Discovering the Hero's Journey helped Amy discover her path.
  • Gratitude was key to Amy's recovery.
  • Also, gratitude helped Amy figure out her values.
  • Amy discovered painting after her 13th surgery.
  • Amy has give 4 TED Talks and the links are in the show notes.
  • Emily and Amy talk about how everyone is an artist.
  • Amy admits she needs to take time to breathe and appreciate what she's accomplished.
  • Emily asks Amy if she's always so positive.
  • Amy considers herself a very present person.  
  • Then she talks about her grieving process.
  • Amy adds a tear to every one of her paintings to depict that even with the joy, there is sadness.
  • Focusing on each individual moment got Amy through.
  • Emily and Amy discuss the importance of sharing your story when you're ready.
  • Finally, this COVID time is a detour for all of us.
  • And there are resources on Amy’s website for resilience and a section for others to share their detour story.


Resources Mentioned: