Eileen Wallach, Your Heart on Art
When I ask her to tell me her story, she says, “which one?” with a laugh, full of wisdom and knowing. Eileen Wallach has been there. She sports a large tattoo on her arm with a pair of wings, one black, one white. To her, it means “stalked by demons, guarded by angels.” The work she has immersed herself in for the last seven years is a direct result of a journey that lead her to help people who’ve experienced life-altering events, be it the loss of a job, suicide, the trauma of domestic violence: to help them “find their true being, their true brain, their heart.” Eileen says, “It’s what you’re feeling, that’s who you are.”
Growing up in a family with a father who lived and breathed that if you don’t like what you’re doing, don’t do it, Eileen hasn’t sat still much in her life. When the family moved to Tasmania, Australia, she quit high school and enrolled herself into cooking school. After that, it was back to the U.S. for junior college in Pennsylvania and then an undergraduate degree in physical health and recreation in Florida. She taught physical education to gifted kids before becoming a program director for a community center in Pennsylvania and then in Tennessee, where she met Rick. Throughout much of this time, Eileen describes herself as a functioning addict. Also during that time, Eileen had been married to a man who handcuffed her to a bed while he beat her and then left her there, alone and wounded, for three days.
Rick was Eileen’s second husband. She describes them as connected at the soul. Like her dad, when she found herself unhappy with what she was doing, he encouraged her to do what she wanted. Another list of ways to achieve that included becoming a private investigator, going to clown college, and speaking nationally about using humor and laughter in leadership and life. And, she also managed to earn a master’s degree in social work. With all of this under her belt, Eileen was still not satisfied. Then, her career in art took off.
Since the age of 22, Eileen journaled art instead of words. When her rent went through the roof, Rick built her an art studio in their basement to continue her work. Rick died of suicide in 2011. Eileen was going to wake him after she realized he was running late for the day and walked in just as he died. She knows in her soul, he never would have done that on purpose: for her to witness his death. That’s just what happened. She describes Rick’s death as her healing moment. All of the steps she’d taken in her life prepared her to heal through this. Eight months after his death, she’d achieved a 501c3 for Your Heart on Art, a non-profit agency that helps people and their loved ones struggling with grief, fear, pain, and anger, learn to express themselves—with creativity and color—through art.
The Your Heart on Art curriculum helps people articulate what they can’t say in traditional talk therapy, relate in ways that are on level with their heart, led by a woman who “wears the shoes of all the things people have gone through.” Eileen works every day to quiet her brain when the weight of work wears on her. You know those people you can say anything to? Eileen seems to be that person. She describes herself as a wanderer, a healer, an earth angel. She consciously takes people’s pain and carries it for them as she shows them how to heal themselves through creating art. She does this for herself by creating her own art—spirit sticks and amazing dream catchers—and spending time outside on her 10 acres with her black German shepherd PTSD caregiver. But every time she meets someone new, who has a story, which she’ll tell you is everyone, she is relit to her calling. Healing, a gift she never knew she had, is her calling. She encourages people that when you’re hurting, the best thing you can do is be mindful in the moment to do something, anything, to change it. “Just do the thing.”
Eileen sees her work as keeping Rick alive. She believes she was meant to meet him, that his most content years of life were when they were together, and that while his demons were stronger than his angels, it made an angel out of her to help others find their path toward healing after a life-altering change.
Author Lindsay Branine
Lindsay has worked in the mental health field for more than 20 years, 18 with a focus on crisis work; working on crisis lines, in emergency rooms, and with innovative leadership teams to change the way we view, access, and manage mental health crisis care.