Each week we are highlighting a different Chronic Illness Bloggers’ member as our ‘Blogger of the Week‘. As well as getting to know each other better, we hope that you enjoy this series and that you find the interviews with each member to be insightful and helpful.
This week our blogger of the week is Amy of Amy Oestreicher.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am an artist, performer, musician, foodie, creator, and life-lover on a beautiful detour after, at age 18, a sudden blood clot caused me to fall into a coma for months. Now, I am piecing together my life after my initial dreams of performing musical theater took a turn into broader horizons. I believe it is my mission to spread messages of hope and strength while doing what I love to do, which is CREATE.
Art, music, theater, writing – the world is full of everyday miracles and beautiful detours. I’m also a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, a writer for The Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright.
As the writer, director and star of the Gutless & Grateful, my one-woman autobiographical musical, I’ve toured theaters across the country. I’m also a visual mixed media artist. To celebrate my own “beautiful detour”, I created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events. See more at amyoes.com.
My medical journey is quite unique: my stomach exploded due to a blood clot, and when I awoke from my coma months later, I was told that I couldn’t eat or drink and it was not known whether I would ever be able to again. Having been creative all of my life, I hung onto my passion to create as my lifeline in order to persevere through years of medical turbulence.
To keep my hope alive and faith strong throughout ten years and 27 surgeries, and to feel like I wasn’t fading into the woodwork as the world I knew continued to revolve around me, I turned to art. I fell in love with painting and mixed media creations. Painting was an amazing discovery for me – it was a way to express things that were too painful and overwhelming for words. It was also a way for me to cope with uncertainty.
2. What is your blog called and how do you define your blog’s purpose?
Now it’s part of my website, Amy Oestreicher, but before I had a website, I just had something on Blogspot. I decided to name my blog Allspice & Acrylics to chronicle my daily routine of coping with not being able to eat or drink after surgery. To pass the endless hours, I’d divide my day between the furnace-room-turned-art-studio and ironically, the kitchen. Unable to eat, I actually became obsessed with cooking for my family and took to spices as an artist might turn to different colors of paint.
3. How long have you been blogging and why did you start?
I am not the most tech-savvy person in the world and still feel relatively new to the world of social media. I fell into a coma at 18 years old in 2005, and when I was finally discharged from the hospital a year later, my friends tried to explain this unfamiliar realm of “Facebook” and were determined to set up an account for me.
I definitely had no idea what a “blog” was, and had no idea what a wonderful resource it was to reconnect with my world after being so suddenly pulled from it. In 2011, I made the big decision to put myself out there after years of isolation and mount an art show with 70 of my paintings. I was overwhelmed with the amazing reception and for the first time since my coma, I felt part of my community again, no longer an alien looking in on the outside world. But then the show ended, people went home, and my art was taken off of the gallery walls.
It was such a depressing feeling – almost a tease – feeling part of the world again and then the letdown after it was all over. Then, a mentor of mine told me about the world of “blogging.” She set up a simple template on Blogspot for me and gave me a quick overview of how to use it. I had never heard of a “blog” before, but the more I researched, the more enticed I was by the idea. Would people actually care about things I had to say?
Once I started posting on Allspice & Acrylics, I couldn’t stop. I didn’t care if anyone was reading my blog – it was an amazing way for me to mark time, document my daily creations, and have some kind of outlet to express myself. Even just sharing it with my family felt like a wonderful way to connect. Then, I used the Facebook account my friends had set up for me and shared it with my Facebook “friends”.
Suddenly I was a few steps forward from feeling completely isolated. Blogging made me feel less alone. Then, I got my first “follower” – then my first comment. I was overjoyed and felt unstoppable – as though there was support around me that I could sense – a larger community than I could even comprehend cheering me on. I blogged every day, and knowing I would blog about my daily creations was motivation to create more.
Finally, I was surgically reconstructed with a make-shift digestive system and was able to eat. I grew a bit less interested in blogging and eventually stopped in favor of finally living the life I had waited for. I took almost four years off from blogging and didn’t think twice about it. I went on to write a one-woman musical about my story, continued showing my artwork, finally enrolled in college, and even got engaged. Then, Allspice & Acrylics fell back into my lap at the perfect time.
To promote all of my creative ventures, I launched my professional website – www.amyoes.com. I resumed my blog when there was more personal content I wanted to share about my work, and too many updates on my latest projects to keep adding to my website. My blog allowed me to give a more personal slant on all of my work – a more intimate way to connect with my community.
4. How often do you post? What made you decide to post on this schedule?
My first post after my hiatus was in late February (2015) and since then, I’ve been going strong. I post basically every day. I share my daily artistic creations, reflections on what I’ve been through, my writings, thoughts on nature, etc. It’s therapeutic for me, and it’s inspiring to others.
I’ve expanded my blog’s reach through Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, Bloglovin’ and however I can reach others. I started with doing a few guest posts on crafts, recipes, and sharing my story. Eventually, I started blogging more and more about my creative ventures, and those ventures turned into a business! I never thought I’d be starting a business. Or blogging for Huffington Post. Or giving a TEDx Talk – but honestly – I feel like all of that really stemmed from starting a blog!
Piecing myself together after a decade of medical trauma has been a project, a journey, a story that I am still writing. My blog helps me document that. That’s why I can’t help it – I post every day!
5. Do you feel blogging has benefitted you? If so, how?
After everything I’ve been through, I just want to share my story and spread my message of hope, strength and creativity as a way to get through anything. Soon I will be selling prints of my artwork and other items on my professional site, and because of my blog, I have unexpectedly built up a great online following. My eventual goal is to found an organization that advocates for the arts and healing, and by making my presence known online, I feel so much closer to spreading my story and gaining interest in my goals.
I really excelled as a blogger when I started sharing my story. Stories make us stronger. Stories make us think differently. And there is strength in thinking, seeing and doing things differently. That’s the beauty of a metaphor: Through a larger vision, we can relate with our Everyone’s story is different. But we all can relate to emotions.
Blogging has anchored me with support I didn’t even know was possible. I am reaching out to people I never would have even heard of otherwise. Blogging has introduced me to endless possibilities, and I’m hooked! Now that I’m a “regular” blogger, I anticipate the challenge of what to do if I don’t feel like blogging every day.
It’s hard to not feel pressured when I’ve been so regular about it, but with my wedding next month, honeymoon, and whatever other adventures life takes me on, I want to make sure I make enough time for other aspects of life as well. Blogging has been an unexpected treasure that has turned this not so tech-savvy girl into a connected creator – now the possibilities are endless!
6. Why do you feel it’s important to blog about chronic illness?
As simply stated as possible: the more people do it, the more we fight stigma. There are many things that can make us sick in this world. But secrecy is the worst perpetrator. Honesty and bringing things to light – that’s so healing.
7. What are your top 3 blogging tips for other bloggers?
1. Go outside your niche – don’t think about being a “health blogger” or a “travel blogger,” “beauty blogger,” etc. I find that people come for the person more than the content. They’ll keep reading even if you’re off-topic if you are coming from a truthful place. People just like stories – remember that.
2. Be personal, bold and fearless in your blog. It will change your life, your goals, your path.
3. Don’t be intimidated by a blank screen. Just start with a word. Start with “I am.” If there is one thing I’ve learned through life and through starting my own business, it’s to never give up. Persistence. In every respect. Keep going, never giving up, even when I was exhausted or overwhelmed by the idea of what I wanted to accomplish. I literally was a girl waking up from a coma trying to find her place in a big world. I didn’t know where to start. So I just started somewhere – anywhere. And just kept going from there – blindly at first, but eventually finding a focus, and then just following it intently. Persistence softened with a faith that with that determination, I would get there.