Beating Illness By Performing About It

Beating Illness By Performing About It

How do you come to terms with a near-death experience? You sing and dance about it.
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As actors, we tell stories constantly. I first told mine over four years ago. Not only to myself, but to complete strangers and New York theatergoers. 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.

Theater has the power to change lives, both for those performing and those who watch. Theater teaches us we’re capable of anything—and usually teaches us this at times we need it most.

I grew up as a great big ham. I lived for the world of the stage. For me, singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me.

I’ve always been warned not to put all of my eggs in one basket, but theater ran through my veins. It was all I thought about, lived, and dreamed. I’d write songs in my notebook as I waited for the school bell to ring, then I’d hop on the train to the next open call I’d read about in the latest casting magazine.

So what do you do when you’ve invested everything into your passion and you can’t follow it anymore? I’ve always thought about what would a world-concert pianist would do if he injured his hand, or if a prima ballerina broke her leg.

But sprains heal and wounds can eventually mend. Dire circumstances felt much more long lasting when I awoke from a coma at age 18.

In 2005 just a week before my senior prom, my stomach started hurting. My dad said it might be gas, but he took me to the ER for an x-ray, just in case. On the way there, my cheeks actually puffed up. Soon after, I collapsed, and I woke up from my coma months later. Apparently, there was a blood clot on the mesenteric artery that caused a thrombosis, and when they cut into me, my stomach actually burst to the top of the operating room. Both of my lungs collapsed, I went into sepsis shock, and I needed 122 units of blood to keep me alive. When I finally awoke from my coma months later, I had no stomach anymore. I couldn’t eat or drink, and it was not known when or if I would ever be able to again.

For someone who had only been to the doctor for an annual physical, this was more confusing than devastating. Where was I? And wasn’t I just supposed to be worrying about college prep? Suddenly, “worry” took on on whole new meaning.

Although the medical staff—that suddenly became everyday faces—was more concerned about keeping my organs and me alive, I was still trying to grapple with one frightening new concern:

Would I ever be able to sing and dance on stage again?

With a ventilator and a tracheotomy, I couldn’t even talk. From months of bed rest, the first time I was able to stand up I was alarmed at how my legs trembled as though they were Jell-O. I lost the energy to even think about what I loved. Being unable to eat or drink in these new medical circumstances turned my once steady focus to mush and irritability.

I remember asking every person I could find in the hospital if they thought I would ever be able to sing and dance again. I was faced with many apologetic “I don’t know” ’s, sighs, shrugs, and the awkward changing of the topic. However, I remember one occupational therapist gave me words that, to her, felt like encouragement. She looked at me compassionately and said, “You never know. The human body is amazing. I had one patient who showed no signs of hope, and a year later when he was discharged, he only needed a wheelchair!”

INSERT VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0x5KtBAW2EI

(These were not exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for.)

With time, patience, and dogged determination, I was eventually discharged from the hospital. What I’m glossing over are the multitudes of surgeries, setbacks, and frustrations, because what was the most important was my passion. I never forgot how I missed the stage. Even not being able to talk or stand up on my own, I still visualized me singing and dancing. Without theater, I felt disconnected, purposeless, a has-been. I missed the vibrant girl I remembered being the first to sign up for auditions, now condemned to a realm of medical isolation.

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/DztxEDZjNPI

I had always had a dream of combining song and dialogue in a show of my own design. I love the idea of storytelling through theater, but as a teen I didn’t really have much of a story to tell. But sometimes, a setback is an opportunity in disguise. Suddenly, I had a tale of hurdles, triumph, and heart.

Eight years after my coma, I was finally headed towards a life of stability. I learned through experience that things can heal with time. It was an extremely difficult journey, yet when I started to put together a musical of my life, things felt like they had happened for a reason. Now I had a story to tell.

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGrPt2R_nhQ

My one-woman musical autobiography, “Gutless & Grateful,” started out as stapled pages of the journal I kept when I was unable to eat or drink for years. I called it my “world in a binder.” My parents called it “Amy’s little play.” It was no surprise when I was met with looks of concern and gentle warnings when I decided to book a theater in New York for my world premiere!

I performed “Gutless & Grateful” for the first time in October 2012. It was a frightening, bold, vulnerable, and breathtaking experience. In it, I told everything 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 struggles.

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/tvfl9x_w0bA

Since then, I’ve been touring it nationwide to theaters, international conferences, colleges, and anywhere I can get myself booked, with a dream getting the show in a small Off-Broadway house. I developed my little-show-that-could into a mental health advocacy and sexual assault prevention program for students. Nearly losing my life at 18 years old, I’m now reaching out to students at that same pivotal point in their own lives.

As a performer, all I want to do is give back. Being up on stage and singing is one part of the joy, but what brings the process full circle is knowing that somewhere in the audience, I am affecting someone and making them think in a different way. That is the power of theater: stirring you to see things differently. Doing what I love, my passion once again can freely flow through my veins, and I’m a person now, not just a patient or a medical miracle.

Gutless and Grateful is not just my story. It's the story that unites us all - a story of hope, loss, triumph and transforming adversity into creativity and gratitude. My circumstances may seem "extreme" and unique, but the emotions I experienced are universal. That's the power of theatre - to make a difference in the lives of many, through one story.

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/pYMFL40aDp4

Now get out there, see a show, do a dance, and make your mark on this world.

Find out more about Gutless and Grateful at amyoes.com/gutless and subscribe for updates.

Cover Image Credit: Amy Oestreicher

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22 Post Malone ‘beerbongs & bentleys’ Lyrics College Kids Will Use As Insta Captions This Summer

It's here, and it's fire.
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If you didn't know, I am really not sure how you wouldn't know, but it's fine, Post Malone's new album FINALLY came out! Posty has time and time again proven that he's a trailblazer in the music industry. His genre is a mix of everything, from rap to acoustic guitar, and he sounds like he's at home in both settings.

Here it is, a list of Post Malone lyrics you'll use or see as Instagram captions. I can already feel it, this summer is Posty's summer –– a summer for "beerbongs & bentleys."

1. "Spoil My Night" - "Won't you come spoil my night?"

2. "Spoil My Night" - "Feelings come into play and I'm thinkin' this happens every time"

3. "Spoil My Night" - "Yeah, when I walk up in a party, they all act like they know me"

4. "Zack and Codeine" - "Been livin' fast, no I can't take it slowly"

5. "Zack and Codeine" - "But it don't mean nothing without all my people"

6. "Zack and Codeine" - "Pour that drink 'cause we ain't sleepin' tonight"

7. "Takin Shots" - "Heard that there's a party, I might pay a visit"

8. "Takin Shots" - "Baby, just for the night, you my soulmate"

9. "Over Now" - "I'ma turn the tables, promise you will not forget it"

10. "Stay" - "Damn, who are we right now?"

11. "Blame It On Me" - "These hurricanes inside of my brain"

12. "Same Bitches" - "Bottles on deck, and my drink full"

13. "Same Bitches" - "Population four million, how I see the same bitches?"

14. "Jonestown" - "It happens every time"

15. "92 Explorer" - "She in the front seat head bangin'"

16. "Sugar Wraith" - "And then I went and changed my life"

17. "Sugar Wraith" - "I take the lead, they just follow"

18. "Rockstar" - "Sayin, 'I'm with the band'"

19. "Rockstar" - "Livin’ like a Rockstar, I’m livin’ like a Rockstar"

20. "Rockstar" - "Sweeter than a Pop-Tart”

21. "Psycho" - "Can’t really trust nobody with all this jewelry on you"

22. "Psycho" - "I got homies, let it go"

Cover Image Credit: Post Malone // Instagram

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What Harry Potter Means To Me

A special thank you to the Boy Who Lived.
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Growing up, my sister was my role model; whether it be buying all the expansion packs for Sims 3, cutting my hair for side bangs, or playing with Barbies, I followed every trend that she did in an attempt to be just like her.

When she was seven, my sister moved to Youghal, a small town in County Cork in Ireland. I was too young to really remember her moving, but as I grew up, watching my sister, my best friend, leave my side without knowing when I would see her again became the most heartbreaking experience I could have imagined.

We used to play school together when we were young- she taught me how to read and write the whole alphabet in cursive and in print by the time I was five years old, and it was during this time that she instilled my passion for reading. From the time I could spell "c-a-t", she had thrust a book in my small hands- books that were much too advanced for a normal five year old, but I read them with such an avarice that I continued to find books far above my level.

When I was six years old, she bestowed upon me one that would forever change my life and how I viewed the world; it was her worn-out copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a novel by J.K. Rowling. When I first read the preview on the back cover, I found the plot somewhat boring- what is so significant about a young boy with a scar in the shape of lightning on his head? Not wanting to disappoint my sister, I decided to give it a try and was absolutely enraptured by the end of the first chapter. I fell in love with the eleven-year-old boy from 4 Privet Drive, Surrey, England.

The world of Harry Potter opened my eyes up to an entire new land, one full of magical creatures and friendships that would last a lifetime. We would stay up late discussing Harry Potter theories, debating back and forth on whether Snape was truly a hero or a villain, the logistics of Dumbledore and Harry’s relationship, and on whether Romione or Harmony should have prevailed.

Due to unfortunate circumstances, I did not see my sister for three whole years- from the ages of 12 until 15, the only time we made contact was through a screen, and this was a privileged rarity. During this time, I stopped paying attention to the Boy Who Lived. I was going through a series of rough patches, and just starting high school; it seemed silly to live in a fantasy world of my childhood, especially without my sister there to share it with me.

In the winter of 2014, I was given a chance to finally reconnect with the distant sister that I had missed so dearly; she came home for a week which, coincidentally, happened to be an ABC marathon of the Harry Potter movies.

I remember the sheer excitement in my sister’s expression as she snatched the remote off the table, muttering about Harry Potter as she found the channel for ABC like she had it committed to memory.

Apprehensively, I sat on the couch next to her to watch the movie (ironically, it was the last one). I didn’t remember all that much about the series, but I was so beyond desperate to once again connect with my long-lost sister, that I figured I would at least pretend to know what was happening.

It all came rushing back to me at the first shot of green light from Harry’s wand; it felt as though we were seven and twelve years old again, discussing in detail the plots twists and turns. She howled when Fred died with his last laugh still etched into his face, and I had to control myself from bursting into tears at the sight of Lupin and Tonks holding hands on their separate stretchers. Before I knew it, it was as though we were children again, completely entranced by a world that all started in the mind of a brilliant author.

Soon after, we passed on our tradition to our younger siblings; within a year, they all had read the series with our same voracity. Since then, I have made it my mission to keep my love for the series alive; my sister comes home more often for visits, and we have even taken the trip to Harry Potter World in Universal Studios together. I now own Harry Potter themed blankets, pillows, socks, and even makeup brushes- all of my siblings, in fact, have matching Harry Potter shirts!

Harry Potter has become a stronghold for not only my relationship with my sister, but a tradition amongst the entire family; no matter how far apart we are physically, we are bonded by our love for the Boy Who Lived.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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