Today marks the first birthday of my support group Squeaky Joints. When the group was started, Peggy (my co-founder) and I never dreamed what would come of this group. Our vision was to have a place where the few friends we had made on Facebook, with RA, could get to know each other more. I remember when we got to 50 members, some being loved ones that wanted to understand more, we were excited. I remember being proud that we had support for ourselves and the friends we had made. I had no idea what was in store for us.
As we watched in amazement the group grew. Members added each week. A few months in we had 200 members! Quickly people started calling themselves Squeakers. They referred to the group as Squeakerville. In the group there was talk of getting shirts and awareness bracelets. Peggy and I soon sprang into action. We consulted with a local artist and created a logo and filed for a trademark. It reflected our personalities perfectly. We designed awareness bracelets of purple (autoimmune) and blue (arthritis). We weren't in it to make a profit. We just wanted people to have something to wear while they weren't on Facebook that reminded them that they had support. That they were loved.
Jan 1, 2012 we launched our website http://squeakyj.com/. By now we had 300 members! The Arthritis Foundation was starting to take notice. I was invited to be on the committee for the 2012 Greater Hartford Walk. I shared my story and soon was asked to be an Ambassador.
By now I was in awe of the group dynamic. There were so many people just like me! Some ahead of me on their journey, some just getting diagnosed. All needing validation that this disease sucked. We shared our pain, our heartaches, loss, and fears. There was something else though. There was laughter, excitement, love, and support. We shared our triumphs and dreams. We shared what inspired us, what got us out of bed in the morning. We all had become one big family. We just happened to have RA.
In May we had our first Squeaker event. The Arthritis Walk. Peggy flew out from CA with her son Max, other Squeakers came from NH and MA. 9 people total from this support group were in attendance! It was a perfect day. To actually hug these souls that we had poured our hearts out to for the last 8 months. It's a memory I will cherish forever.
As I reflect on the past 365 days I am proud. We are over 500 strong and growing. We may be large in numbers but you wouldn't know if you stopped in for a visit. Everyone is welcome and Peggy and I work to make Squeaky Joints your "safe place". You can stop in, vent about your pain, share a laugh, and not worry about what people think. It's a closed group and we have a zero tolerance policy for judgement and bullying. Squeaky Joints is your haven.
Now for a mental note "I must start to dream bigger!" I can't wait to see where this next year takes us!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SQUEAKY JOINTS!!