During regular trips to the hospital, Sam Livermore began writing letters of love and support to strangers. What she didn’t realise is that her letters of love were actually to herself. Now she’s heading the #ShareTheLove movement to put smiles on the faces of strangers
I have an autoimmune type of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis. I was diagnosed when I was 27 and had many years of misdiagnoses and investigations including unnecessary surgery. For a time everything was sort of OK, although I wasn’t happy. My days seemed to be a loop of work, food and sleep. I was still in some pain and had a lot of fatigue. One morning I was getting ready for work and I slipped getting in the bath. I fell on my hip at the curved end of the bath. It was extremely painful and within half an hour it was severely swollen. I could barely move. The next day I had to have a steroid injection and the consultant ordered a bone density scan. It showed my hip had small pit holes all over it and if this had been left undiscovered for another few years it is quite possible a fall would have broken my hip.
I was off work for almost six months and was referred to a physiotherapy group at the hospital. The group was specifically for people with my condition and it was a blessing to know I wasn’t alone. But I soon noticed how angry some people at the group were. I had been through that anger before; angry at life, at doctors, at myself for being in so much pain. I went to this group for three years before it began to be difficult be in a room with such unhappy people. Although it was helping my physical health it was not good for my mental health.
One day I was in the waiting room. I was having a bad day, not looking forward to the session. I left a note on the magazine table: “I hope you have a good day”. Writing that, and the thought that someone waiting for their appointment would see it cheered me up a little. I started leaving notes every time I was at the hospital. I would write: “Everything will be ok, just believe it”, and, “Smile, it will make you feel a little better”. After a couple of months, I wrote a longer message and put it in an envelope saying open me. I left it in the hospital corridor on the way to physio. On the way out, it was gone!
I continued writing these letters until one day, maybe four months later, I was writing a letter without even being conscious of what I was writing. As I read it back, I realised I was writing to myself. This was an epiphany, I realised that this whole time I thought I was writing to strangers, I was actually writing to myself.
I shared this with my friend and I could see what a powerful process this was. As time went on, more friends got involved. I would have friends over to write letters at my house to leave in our local area. It was such a healing process. I started to feel energised and more able to cope in the world.
I knew that every message I said to someone else was also a message to me, sometimes I wouldn’t realise I had needed to know something until I read the letter. It’s now almost six years on from writing that first note. Over the last three years the impact of writing letters has changed my life, it really has made me fall in love with myself. Just like an old fashioned romance of exchanging love letters with someone, I have fallen in love with me. I left my job in education as I could see how unhappy it was making me. I have researched and trained in more holistic methods of health care, Emotional Freedom Technique and Reiki and also trained as a life coach.
Three years ago I started the #sharethelove movement, encouraging others to write anonymous letters to strangers. It’s so much fun going to events and festivals and leaving love letters around the event. It’s even more fun to get other people to come and write them too and encourage them to go out and leave it for someone in the wider world. What I love the most is when people come and say to us at events that the letter they found was just what they needed to read. When people tell me that they found a letter at event the year before and they have been writing letters since then really fills my heart with love. In that moment I know that all the pain I was in was worth it.
Even though I still have physical damage to my body, the way I respond to it has changed. I manage my energy so as not to get into fatigue and when I’m feeling a little lost or unsure about something I ask, is there something I need to know right now? Then I write a letter to someone knowing that I’m also writing it to me.
Find out more on www.sharetheloveletters.com.