Jodi Ann Bickley launched a unique kindness project from the darkest point in her life
A woman who sends handwritten letters to strangers has spoken about how it makes people feel seen in a fast-paced and anonymous age.
Jodi Ann Bickley began the One Million Lovely Letters project after hitting rock bottom in her own life. Going through a bad bout of ME in 2013, the 29-year-old writer was struggling with suicidal thoughts. But then she randomly caught sight of an app on her phone that made her laugh.
“I thought, if I’m in this horrible moment and I can just crawl a little bit with this laughter, then maybe there’s someone out there who’s feeling a bit rubbish too, and maybe I can help them,” she explains, appearing on Radio 4’s Saturday Live show this weekend.
“I set up a website saying if you’re having a really rough time, email me and I’ll hand-write you a letter. I thought one person would reply and overnight, 200 did.”
Four years later, and Bickley, along with some helpers, is now juggling over 12,000 requests and has just released a second book about her extraordinary venture.
“I’m making a gift for somebody, something to be treasured,” Bickley says, explaining the singular appeal of her project.
“When someone has written a letter specifically for you, and has dedicated that time to you, it makes you feel special and seen. In a world where we’re so fast-paced and almost invisible to one another, a letter is a way of saying, ‘I see you and I care for you’, and I think that’s really important.
“Every single letter request I get through is a life story, it’s not just someone saying ‘oh, I’m sad,’” she adds. “These people will have written me pages and pages about their lives.
“To write them a letter back is a privilege. It sounds really cheesy to say out loud but I feel lucky to be able to connect with them.”
Bickley still suffers with anxiety and depression, and she says the letters are a way of helping her, too.
The author receives a lot of replies, which she used to paste on the walls of her house.
“When I’d had really rough days where I was really at the bottom, I’d just have to look up there,” she says. “And even though I wouldn’t let myself believe it, it was there in black and white that these people were saying my letters had changed things for them.”
The enterprise gave her hope, she says, that even after having the worst possible time, the strangers she communicated with could thrive; something they illustrated through a long chain of correspondence and updates.
When Bickley first began the project, she took the weight of everyone’s problems upon her, and stayed up writing through the night trying to fix things.
But she’s since recognised that she can’t do that. Instead the requests are “a mountain” to be “chipped away at”, she says, and her responses are a way to make people feel less alone.
“Instead of me trying to fix them, I am going to be there,” she says. “I’m going to be a pal. I’m going to be a hug in an envelope.”
Images: Instagram/ @jodiannbickley