From Patient to Person: How Art Helped Me Find My Identity

brushes on palletteSometimes, I consider it a blessing that I have no formal art training. Not being savvy with technical art terms is an advantage when my lines aren’t perfectly shaped or my colors aren’t seamlessly blended. My oblivion and unashamed passion help to silence my inner critic. Whatever I paint, I create from the heart. I try to focus on the physical sensations of feeling my brush glide across the canvas, drenched in a juicy glob of heavy-bodied paint. I feel the bristles press against the stretched linen; I see each fiber drag across a mound of cherry-apple red. As I guide my brush up and down my canvas, the repetitive gestures become meditative. I stop thinking as I press down on my brush harder. The canvas then becomes an open channel to my soul, a clear-as-day lens into what can be sensed, but not seen. And now—here it is: in iridescent hues, glistening in silky splotches of wet paint.

For me, art is healing. In the process of creating, I find myself and learn lessons along the way. Through creativity, I discovered my voice. I picked up a paintbrush for the first time when I was stuck in the hospital for months after a disastrous surgery. My mother brought fabric, glue, paints, and markers to my small hospital cubicle, and I made art for the first time. Suddenly, I found a way to express emotions that were too painful, complicated, and overwhelming for words. I used everything— even toilet paper from the hospital bathroom. I painted my trees that I missed; I created my inside and outside worlds, full of their joy and pain, tears and hearts, lightning bolts and flowers.

Through this creativity, I discovered a voice. It was a voice I could recognize: the Amy that was there before dozens of surgeries, the passionate part of me that no medical intervention could surgically remove. For me, painting was one more step toward feeling human again. Art was my way of documenting my life and pinpointing my soul at a time when I wasn’t sure who I was or what I was feeling. Making art inspired me with the courage to put myself out there, and emboldened me with the confidence that I was a person, and not just a patient. My life had changed, but my Self was still vital as ever—in whatever colors I dipped my brush in.

Each morning before the doctors came in for rounds, I’d paint feverishly whatever abstraction came to mind and what evolved from my situation. When I completed my pieces, I felt like I had not only gotten out my frustrations and worry, but also found a place of joy and gratitude. I would put each canvas outside my hospital room, and soon the unit began to catch on, even taking patients by my room to see what I had created that day. I was sustaining my aliveness and inspiring others, which filled me with unanticipated meaning and satisfaction.

Finding my heart in every canvas was a happy discovery, the sweet reward every time the paint dried and it was ready to display.

Ironically, the darker the circumstances became, the more joyous my paintings seem today. Every tree seems to be singing and dancing, although the teardrops and lightning bolts are always streaked across the bold backgrounds. Even though an onset of sadness would prompt me to paint the act of painting became joyful—and by the time I finished a painting, I was exhausted and oddly happy. By painting, I could see what I was feeling. And to know I could feel at a time when every surgery made me feel more and more like a robot, well, that just made me very happy. Finding my heart in every canvas was a happy discovery, the sweet reward every time the paint dried and it was ready to display.

I found my way to painting accidentally on the road to healing. But I had no idea that art would continue to heal the part of me that the doctors couldn’t. When identifying as a “patient” for so many years made me lose a sense of who I was, the paint picked up where I had left off and created vivid worlds that I didn’t even know I had within me.

amy oestreicher singing treeAmy Oestreicher is a 28-year-old actress, musician, teacher, composer, dancer, writer, artist, yogi, foodie, and general lover of life. Surviving and thriving through a coma, 27 surgeries, and other trauma has inspired Amy to share her story with the world through her passionate desire to create and help others. Piecing her life together after her initial dreams of performing musical theatre took on a beautiful detour into broader horizons. Amy has written, directed and starred in a one-woman musical about her life, Gutless & Grateful; has flourished as a mixed media and acrylic artist, with her art in multiple galleries and mounting dozens of solo art shows; and continues to share her story through her art, music, theatre, and writings. More information on her unique story, as well as her creative ventures can be found at amyoes.com, and visit her blog http://www.allspiceandacrylics.blogspot.com/ for her newest art, music and inspirational musings.

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  • Bree

    June 29th, 2015 at 4:42 PM

    The art of painting and creating can be very therapeutic to many in the throes of just needing something in their lives, and this action of making and creating can be that for them.
    It is kind of awesome really when you can get your emotions out in a way that you can see and touch and hear, and I think that for many art is very much like that.

  • Michelle

    June 30th, 2015 at 8:40 AM

    Now for me doing art would be stressful because I would be worrying that my stuff would not look good or that I was doing something wrong.
    maybe writing would be more my thing. I’m the only one reading it so even if it is wrong it will make some sense to me.

  • Joanna

    July 1st, 2015 at 9:06 AM

    Very inspiring story to read…Good post…

  • tonya

    July 2nd, 2015 at 1:08 PM

    What an uplifting and powerful read!

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