We’re almost at that magical time of year – that time that makes me happy I live in New England and able to witness the most beautiful fall foliage. Taking nature walks this time of year fills me with a sudden, invigorating desire to make this my new start.
What is it about fall that brings so many new beginnings to mind?
The smell of freshly sharpened pencils, of mulled cider, of brisk autumn air. The earthy color of bark, the excitement of football season, and the hot touch of toasting pumpkin seeds…
Fall brings all of these memories to mind. It reminds me of childhood, family, holidays and tradition. But most of all, fall reminds me of who I am.
I’ve always loved nature, ever since I was a little girl. My nature walks were my time to daydream and collect little treasures along the way. I’d often come home with pockets full of acorns, mulch, flowers I’d picked off of neighbors’ lawns, pebbles and a bit of dirt.
My fantasies were vivid, and the world felt so alive around me. To me, the trees had faces, the sun had a song and even as a kid, I knew I was living in a world of miracles.
Nature was how I continually rediscovered myself. Every day, the world felt new.
I grew up happy, healthy and confident with who I was.
But my life took an unexpected turn when, two weeks after I turned 18, I fell into a coma for months, due to a sudden blood clot. When I awoke, I was told I no longer had a stomach and that I couldn’t eat or drink. It was not known when (or if) I would ever again.
Waking up in that unfamiliar world of the ICU, full of beeping machines, nurses and IV pumps, was earth-shattering. I discovered medical appliances all over my immobile and foreign body, and I felt as though I had woken up as someone else.
Not knowing when I would leave this alternate universe was frightening and overwhelming. But what I want to share with you are the blessings that came from starting anew.
As I became more and more alert, I slowly rediscovered the world I had been away from for so long. It felt like every smell, every sight and every interaction was being experienced for the first time.
As my family sat by my bedside, I noticed things about their demeanor and our dynamics I had never taken the time to see before. I realized that these quiet, intimate moments can speak volumes.
In a way, being snatched from the hustle and bustle of everyday life provided an opportunity to connect more deeply with my loved ones. We had been given the precious gifts of quiet time, with no distractions. Things I hadn’t noticed before -my mother’s smile, a friend’s laughter, the love and support all around me — now evoked feelings of profound gratitude.
The beauty of a near-death experience is that you realize the things that matter in life. (However, I wouldn’t say falling into a coma is necessary to realize this!) Every day is an opportunity to remember the things that make us feel grateful.
Bit by bit, I started to feel myself materialize back into the girl I knew before my coma. This time, however, I was equipped with a deeper wisdom and a vivacious new desire to discover the world.
As my spirits lifted, I got better from the inside out and hungrier than ever to re-experience the world. Eventually, I didn’t need to be plugged into as many machines.
My family started taking me on high-speed rides, racing me through the halls of Columbia Hospital in my wheelchair. We’d explore all of the hidden nooks and crannies on every floor, even though I’m sure we weren’t supposed to be in half of those places!
Finally, one day, we found a beautiful spot outside, where I got to enjoy my first breath of fresh air in months. I remember seeing the sunset for the first time since the coma, and I felt like a child being born all over again.
Even the mundane became glorious — seeing people having lunch outside, the roaring of traffic, birds overhead — and the more I saw, the more I wanted to be a part of it.
Now, here I am, a decade later.
I’m healthy, grateful, and a part of the world again. It’s the wonderful world I knew as a nature-loving, happy-go-lucky teen. Life has an extra little spark behind every sunset, friend, and routine experience.
I admit that I still get caught up in the rush of everyday life. I always try to remember what it felt like to breathe in the sunset in that rusty old wheelchair. When I do, the overwhelming sense of gratitude floods my senses again.
But being in the moment and “stopping to smell the roses” is a lot easier said than done – even for someone who happened to write a one-woman musical about her life called Gutless and GRATEFUL!
So, I try to break it down for myself so the process of stopping and appreciating the world around me isn’t terribly overwhelming:
Four Ways to Intrude on Nature
You don’t need fancy picnic baskets or a farm to table meal – just move away from the kitchen table, pack up some dips, roasted vegetables and festive salads, and sit in the backyard or a neighborhood park.
Get Active Outside
You don’t need to go on a camping trick, or seek out the steepest mountain biking trails. Take a nature walk. If there’s some spring in your step, take a little jog – or, I you’re completely uninhibited like me, hear a song in your heart and dance on the beach! I promise that no one is staring at your as much as you think they are!
All it takes it a notebook and crayons – even one little pencil! Check out these seen simple ways to get in touch with your creative side – all of this can be done outside!
That’s right. Nature can naturally improve your health. Breathe in Mother Nature, and instantly feel more relaxed and refreshed. You can even think affirmations to yourself as you breathe in and out.
When life is difficult, try to find that one “sunset” to breathe in from that rusty wheelchair. And if you miss it one night, remember the sun will always be up again the next day. For as long as you are living, there will be sunsets and breaths. This fall, try to take in as many as you can.
When you breath in the autumn air, feel that cool crisp breeze rush into your body, think about how that vitality connects you to what and who you love. Think about how many hundreds of alphabets you would need to sum up the glorious gratitude of life. Every day you have the chance to start again.
How can you live your days as if each experience was being felt for the first time?
Make fall your new beginning. Start today.
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. She works individually with her innovative creativity coaching, business, speaking, and social media courses. As creator of her one-woman musical Gutless & Grateful , the #LoveMyDetour Campaign, which was the subject of her TEDx Talk, she’s currently touring theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. Subscribe to her newsletter for updates and free excerpts from her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017. Get your free creativity e-book at amyoes.com/create and a free guide to getting a TEDx Talk at amyoes.com/discover.