Published on February 27, 2014 | by Emma Francis0
Meet the inspiring creator of One Million Lovely LettersFounder of One Million Lovely Letters, Jodi Ann Bickley speaks to ALN‘s Emma Francis about performing poetry at festivals to writing strangers uplifting letters, and the condition that changed her life.
Colourful hair and a beaming smile, Jodi Ann Bickley, 25, is full of life – but just two years ago she was moments away from death. She was losing hope, losing friends and losing the will to live, but Jodi knew she had to do something amazing to make this new life of hers worth living.
If you’ve ever been to Glastonbury, Reading or any other summer festival, you will know what it’s like when you get home covered in dirt and bug bites from sleeping in a tent in questionable conditions.
Jodi knew the feeling, having travelled around all the different festivals in 2011 as a performance poet, and after her last stop at Bestival, the summer of a lifetime came to an end. Little did she know one of her many bites was from a tick that was carrying a rare brain disease called encephalitis – from this bite, things started to go sadly downhill for Jodi.
“The encephalitis led me to having a mini stroke, which took away all my right side. I couldn’t walk, write, or do anything,” explains Jodi.
After months of physical therapy for her right side, Jodi decided to go back to work. However, she explains: “I got really, really sick, and nobody understood why. All the doctors were like ‘what’s going on?’ It ended up me having a condition called ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.”
This is a condition that Jodi now has to live with. “I get it quite severely. When I crash, I can’t move. I can barely talk. I lose my balance, get dizzy, and black out all the time. I have fits where I hurt myself and end up with black eyes and bust lips. I look like a street fighter,” laughs Jodi. It’s incredible how she manages to make light of something so serious. However, it hasn’t always been so easy to talk about her situation with a giggle.
“It got me really down – I was 24 coming up to 25 and I couldn’t move. My social life had gone, everything had gone, and I just got really down – the lowest you could possibly get.”
She explains how this put a strain on her friendships: “Through everything that happened I lost a lot of people. Whenever you go through a big change or a situation it filters people – not the good from the bad, but the people that are going to be there for keeps and the people who aren’t.”
Jodi was suffering from depression but knew that she had a decision to make: “I just thought, I’m either going to lie here and let this kill me, or I’m going to have to do something that’s going to make me want to wake up tomorrow. Something a bit magic.”
Jodi saved herself from suicide by setting up One Million Lovely Letters, a website calling out to anyone in the world who is feeling down or needs a little lift, wherein Jodi will write them a letter reminding them that they are wonderful.
“In one hour I set up the website, then within an hour of putting it on my Twitter and Facebook I had like a hundred emails, and it kind of hasn’t stopped since. I thought five or six people would want a letter, but suddenly letter requests were coming from countries I’ve never even heard of. I’ve now sent over 14,000 letters and I have 1,400 letters in my inbox to be written, that grows everyday.”
Jodi tells ALN how it was nothing like she had ever experienced before her illness: “I was working in Levi’s and in a pub, but you don’t get to communicate with people from Manamar and Bolivia!”
Soon enough, a book publisher heard about what Jodi was doing and asked if she would write about it all. On February 27, 2014, a little over a year since launching the website, Jodi’s book One Million Lovely Letters will be released.Each letter is personalised and Jodi excitedly shows ALN all the different paper and cards she uses. She says: “I write them all on my own, but I kind of like doing it by myself. It’s my little thing.”
Sending letters all over the world doesn’t come cheap – even sending post within the UK costs 60p for just one first class stamp. Due to the unpredictable nature of Jodi’s illness she is unable to work so she receives benefits; she uses this money carefully so she can continue sharing her kindness with the world.
“I pay my rent, pay for food, pay for cat food, then anything else goes on stamps and writing. That’s what I’ve done since it all started and that’s what I will continue to do until hopefully, one day, the book does okay. That’s all I want you know, to be able to go to Paperchase and buy nice things and buy good bread.”
Sometimes people will reply to Jodi’s letters with a few stamps to say thank you, and recently Paperchase sent her a pack of writing supplies, which Jodi said really helps.
There has been a lot more publicity around mental illness recently, leading to some celebrities talking about how they have suffered with it, too.
Jodi thinks this is a really positive step: “One in three people suffer with it. So, the more we talk about it the more people become aware of it. Depression isn’t like a rash where you can see it noticeably on someone. It will be the person you least expect, the person that’s really happy on the outside but they’re crumbling inside.”
“The more people that come out and say they’ve suffered and they’re okay now they are on the other side, gives hope to the people that are suffering.”
“I get some of the worst possible things coming into my inbox every day, but one of the major things is loneliness.”
Jodi explains why more and more people are feeling lonely: “Its not only the people out in the sticks; it’s people that are in the middle of London. We are all so insular and need to get everywhere in a hurry, everything becomes anonymous.”
Jodi’s illness helped her understand this feeling: “My life went from busy busy busy to nobody. Nobody was calling, nobody was knocking the door, everything became very lonely – so these are the letters I can connect with the most.”
She describes to ALN the general style of a letter to someone feeling lonely: “‘Some strangers are to be feared, granted, but there is a world of people out there and we’ve kind of told ourselves that we’re not allowed to speak to them, but what if we did? What if the person sitting next to you on the tube is thinking ‘I wish someone would speak to me’. What if you did? We don’t need to be scared of everything all the time.”
“There are bigger and scarier things than a person sitting next to you on the tube. The world is waiting for you, just go and get it! Go out there and find your little bit of sunshine. Go and join something. Go and do something. The only person that can hold you back is you’.”Jodi likes to think of her letters as reminders of things people already know: “I envisage my letters in people’s pockets, or in people’s wallets, on fridges or dressing tables.
“Some people are only having a dark day, so they only need it for that time. Some are having dark weeks and some are having really dark lives and I’m hoping that sometimes they can look at it and be like ‘it’s not that bad. Things are going to be okay’.”
Some of us may be suffering with mental illness, or we may have a friend that we know is going through a tough time. Jodi suggests that confronting it head on isn’t always best.
“Just let them know you’re in the wings. You don’t need to put it in their face and be like ‘you’ve got a problem’ because that makes it worse. You just need to let them know you’re there if they need you.”
Through One Million Lovely Letters, Jodi has shown how good she is at being there for other people, but it’s important that she has people there for her too: “I have a good group of friends and an amazing mum. It sounds cheesy saying my mum’s my best friend, but she is the most incredible person I have ever known in my entire life. She knows the darkest depths of me and the cool bits of me. She’s like my lovely letter, all the time.”
When Jodi is not writing letters, it is more often than not because she is ill. “Usually in the mornings I’m really sick so I can’t do anything,” she explains. “Some days I can go out which is cool but there’s so much I have to take into consideration now like noise and balance.”
“Home is my safe place, if anything goes wrong here, if I pass out, it’s okay, whereas if I pass out in Asda it becomes a massive issue,” Jodi adds with a laugh. Her office where she writes is just as you may imagine it would be for such a happy-go-lucky person – pretty little butterfly ornaments hang on the wall, while paper and pens are scattered around with a cat or two wandering across the worktop.
As she was performing poetry just before she became ill, ALN wanted to find out if that was something Jodi is intending to go back to if her recovery progresses.
“I’ve performed a couple of times since, but One Million Lovely Letters is like my light bulb. It was like ‘ah so this is what I’m supposed to be doing!’ Poetry is something I like to put on a shelf and come back to. It’s nicer to have it as a side thing than as a main thing.”
With her sights set on continuing to encourage the world with her kindness, ALN leaves Jodi to write some more heartfelt letters.
To find out more about Jodi’s story you can get her book from all major bookstores and on Amazon from February 27.
If you are someone who needs a little uplifting, send Jodi an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and see what wonderful words you receive in the post in return.