(I've started to post quick illustrations to inspire people to write cards on Instagram. This was the most recent.)
When I was living in Kentucky in the middle of nowhere, I was starving and I didn’t know it.
I was 27, had been in a relationship for 5 years but I was having massive trouble committing to it. I felt totally unable to make most decisions. I was chronically anxious — a feeling of constricted breathing in my chest. I was consumed by sadness, addicted to my phone, and art was something that didn’t happen for me much, even though I had recently graduated from a 4-year college for painting.
Interestingly, our mom had the exact same issue when she was in her twenties, and went to a place called Madonna House in Ontario, Canada.
The mission of the community is to take in young people who are having trouble figuring out what to do with their life.
I figured if it had helped my mom, maybe it would help me too.
Going there took me a huge act of faith. I drove up to Canada, all by myself. A three-day drive. My phone stopped working after I crossed the border. Looking back, I’m amazed that I ever figured out where Madonna House was! 😳
Each visitor is assigned to a vital task to keep the community functioning. I was assigned to the Gardening Crew (and boy was I glad!). Madonna House produces about 90% of their food on their land: I raked leaves for compost, picked apples, and processed black walnuts. I got to do something I loved and believed in, surrounded by positive young people also searching for their place in life.
I was surrounded by people, 24/7. The female visitors all slept in one dorm house, each on our small twin bed, with our personal belongings all fitting easily underneath.
We didn’t have cell-phones. We sat around during tea time and read books or newspapers, played board games and sang around the piano.
Within a week, I felt a tremendous amount of weight lift off me. I hadn’t realized it before, but I hadn’t *really* laughed for a couple of years. Within a few weeks, I felt not just happy, but JOYFUL. Giddy even. Actually, I don’t think I have ever been happier.
I felt like I had been seeing life through a cell-phone screen, and all of a sudden, the scales fell from my eyes, and I was able to connect with people, seeing and loving them for the unique individual they were.
I realized that I had been starving myself socially – by living so remotely, and not having daily contact with people. I learned that I needed to WORK alongside people every day to be happy.
So I moved back home, to South Dakota, and a friend-since-first-grade invited me to park my Tiny Studio in her backyard, where I lived with my dog Lucy and cat Luna right up until my accident. I took a job working construction for Habitat for Humanity and got to work with people every day. I got to live with a few women I loved and could have deep conversations with. My anxiety quickly melted.
The fact that lack of socialization was the #1 reason for my misery in Kentucky shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Studies say the more time we spend with our families and close friends the better. We are social animals. It’s just a fact. We need other people just like we need nutritious food.
Really there is no substitute for real-life contact with other people. I’m not even going to try to say that you can replace it with card writing. The amount of time spent with positive people is the number one indicator of happiness.
HOWEVER (Here’s my weekly pitch for card writing 😆):
I think card writing can be a stepping stone. If you are somewhere isolated, sharing your pain with a close friend through letter writing can help you feel more connected. I don’t think it will replace physical contact, but it is a good and accessible place to start.
I also think that healthy relationships should include card writing. Cards can sit on your friend’s desk, to bring beauty to their space and remind them they are loved. Letters can be saved, and be read again and again.
Grace and I exchange cards. Not all of the time, but it’s meaningful when we do (even though we text each other back and forth all day). She and I both love knowing that our words will be there for the other in the event that either of us get hit by a bus. (Or a telehandler, as the case may be. 🤪)
I’ve exchanged letters for years with some of my closest friends, and things I’ve written to them have left a deep impression on ME.
Someone I love is now in prison, I am exchanging letters with her. I know that letters bring great comfort to the inside of her prison cell, And I love getting her letters in turn. She doesn’t have access to good mental health care, and writing to her is something I can do to make her feel loved, heard, and a little less alone.
We’re SO lucky we know how to write (it hasn’t always been this way!). Writing enables us to put our thoughts into words which helps us process the highs and lows of life as we live them. Writing is a form of mind reading that exists somehow outside of time (finding a letter from someone years later can have as much meaning as when you first received it.) It’s a tool that helps us pause and reflect. It’s a gift that money cannot buy, and no thing can replace it.
So I hope you treat yourself to writing a letter to a friend this week. Make a cup of tea, turn on some inspiring music, snuggle in, and enjoy being able to share your thoughts with a friend.
Rooting for you always,
Tiny (and Snail)
a.k.a. Leah and Grace