A devastating illness could have ruined Sam Peacefull-Day’s life.
Aged just 41, the hard-working author and housekeeper was left immobile after a post-viral illness paralysed her legs. The future could have been very bleak.
But Sam, who has just turned 56, has actually found a new kind of peace. In tackling the transverse myelitis, a nerve pain condition which hit her like a truck after she contracted flu, she has found ways to cheat her brain and make life work for her.
She has also launched a new business, which slots neatly into life and brings her real joy – repairing vintage and antique teddy bears.
Sam, a grandmother to an eight-year-old, was living in Burleston, between Puddletown and Tolpuddle, when she became an overnight sensation with a series of books entitled Cooking With Ganja. It was the first book of its kind in the UK.
Her recipes, which featured two different measures of the drug for medicinal or recreational purposes, were a hit – she sold 45,000 copies. She also worked as a housekeeper in private homes – her life was chock-a-block when she suddenly fell ill.
Sam, who now lives in Old Poundbury with husband Dave, 55, said: “I just lost the use of my legs and it was like a rug had been pulled from under me.
“The flu virus attacked part of my nervous system which left me with numb, heavy legs. I still live with pain all the time and only painkillers help.
“But seven years on I discovered horse riding again, and that gave me the tools to achieve more than anyone thought I could.
“I just looked at this beautiful horse and was so determined to ride again. It took three people to get me on a horse but I loved it. It was like learning again, like a child. My brain was stuck in a pattern of telling me, I can’t move, I’m in lots of pain, but the determination to ride helped me move that out of my head. I saw this beautiful horse and that stirred neurons in my brain and in doing that new nerves are formed to pick up the job – it’s called neuroplasticity. It just takes something to ignite your passion and the ability to block out the pain grows piece by piece.”
Today, Sam loans a horse called Tom from Rosewall Equestrian in Osmington. She’s totally smitten.
She said: “I started riding him and fell in love with him, we’re part retired together. He’s taken me to levels I thought I’d never reach. We did six jumps in a row, which is a big thing for a 25-year-old horse and an old girl like me. People said to me, ‘you can’t gallop, you can’t jump…’ but we’ve done it all, him and me.
“We don’t like pain, me and him. But riding takes my mind into another place where the pain takes a back seat.”
She added: “It’s not a complete miracle but the brain is very clever and if it’s something you absolutely love it’s possible.”
At the same time that Sam was rediscovering the joy of horseriding, she was running a small business selling kitchenalia at a store on Lyme Regis. A keen car booter, she would buy and sell items for the household.
One Sunday she saw a Paddington bear and couldn’t resist him. She bought him for £20 and took him home.
She said: “He needed some clothing and an eye repair and a good clean, which I did. Then I took him to sell on my shelves at Lyme Bay Antiques and Crafts and he sold for £95.
“I thought wow, and that’s what kicked it off. Now I search the auctions and boot sales for really old, knackered bears and I challenge myself to repair them.
“A lot of it is matching old furs, old colours. I use donor bears and bought lots of books and just immersed myself in bears. My most comfortable place is sitting in bed repairing them, that’s why they’re called Lazy Bears. I do cleaning, repairing and rehoming.
“I get to hear some lovely stories through what I do.
“Once I bought two bears at the boot sale and repaired them to put in the shop. They didn’t sell until over a year later, when a lady came to the counter and told us they were her bears. I met her the next week and handed them back to her. She said ‘I should never have given them away…’ so if you do get rid of your bears, make sure you’re ready to part with them.
“Last year I had three Merrythought English bears – one had its nose chewed by a dog and I spent ages repairing it until I thought it looked right. A young girl of about 12 and her dad came in and she was allowed to buy any of the three but she wanted the repaired one because she said that was the special one – that really touched me as she could see the beauty of it.”
It’s been a long 14 years of tackling tough challenges, but Sam now feels that with Tom, Dave and the bears she is happier than when she was fit and well. The illness forced her to make many changes, but one of the biggest is allowing herself to celebrate what she can do, challenge herself as much as she can and just enjoy achieving – knocking down the obstacles one at a time.
She said: “I don’t think I’ll ever be mega rich but I’m just glad to have something I can do again.
“I have a new website and I’m going to make a new collection for the website. They are all originals – none the same.”