As a child thinking ahead to what my life would be like when I was an adult, there were a few things I expected I would have by the time I turned 30: a cute little apartment of my own in a big city (check), a good job (check) and people I loved (check). I did not expect to have a bum disease for which there is presently no cure, but I ended up getting that one, too.
Rheumatoid arthritis had sooo not been a part of my life plan, and given how well other parts of my life were going at the time my immune system went berserk, I felt understandably frustrated and jerked around. I also felt unheard and underrepresented. As a young single woman, there are plenty of books and magazines out there offering tips to help me get ahead at work, look better, date the right person, etc., but there's not much in the way of guidance about being sick and young and single. Most of the books I found about rheumatoid arthritis - and there weren't that many -- were mostly devoid of any personal accounts by people under the age of 40, even though statistically there are plenty of us out there who are dealing with RA. As far as I was concerned, this was a big problem.
Never one to sit back quietly, I began my blog and began writing this column for MyRACentral.com. I also began finding a whole lot of other young women and men out there who were feeling just as frustrated that the word "arthritis" only conjures up images of the old and infirm. Most people have no idea that rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis, and that it is an autoimmune disease. When it comes to RA, unless you happen to get it, you probably don't get it. In my column, RA: The Loser Disease, I wrote about this and asked the question, how do you get people's attention about RA, particularly on a large scale given that most people with RA don't look sick?
Well, the answer is simple: what you do is start a grassroots awareness campaign and make a lot of noise.
After reading my column complaining about RA's lackluster status, Santa Monica-based jewelry designer Tiffany Westrich contacted me. Recently diagnosed with RA at the age of 37, she, like me, was inspired to turn her frustration into action. Thus, the Buckle Me Up campaign was born. Tiffany designed a bracelet to let people know that RA is not a geriatrics-only disease, and the two of us are teaming up and enlisting as many like-minded folks as we can to start changing the face of rheumatoid arthritis.
Here's how it works: The young arthritis awareness bracelet is called "Buckle Me Up!" and has a young, trendy design to SCREAM the message that arthritis has a young face. It is unisex to show that it can happen to anyone. The buckle closure helps to illustrate that RA makes daily tasks like putting on a belt difficult, and it's often embarrassing to have to ask for help. The concept behind this is that you should turn to someone else and ask them to "Buckle Me Up!" and help spread the word. And because money talks, $12 from each bracelet sold goes to benefit arthritis research (currently to the Arthritis Foundation), so the more worn, the more people will begin to learn what rheumatoid arthritis is and who it affects. To date, people from 20 states and Canada have joined the campaign!
The official launch party for the campaign will be held in Santa Monica on June 7th after the Arthritis Walk. Up until then, the bracelet is available at a "sneak peak" discount of $35 (not to worry, $12 from each sale will still go towards arthritis research) through June 6th. After that, the retail price for the bracelet will be $54. Currently, the bracelet is available in brown, but it will be available in black shortly, and plans are in the works for a faux leather version for those who prefer their bling to be vegan. You can also purchase a matching pair of earrings with the bracelet to have even more RA glam.
We are planning to take the bracelet and message on the Ellen show (fingers crossed!) so that more and more people will begin to understand RA and stop saying things like "But you are too young to have arthritis." This is just going to be the beginning of the campaign -- there will be even more exciting ways to get involved in the future.
So if you are feeling frustrated about RA's sad, sad profile, join us in raising awareness and let's start rebranding RA! We can all be a part of making this happen!
For more details on the bracelet, the launch party, and to help get the Buckle Me Up campaign on national TV, click here or visit www.jewelrymessages.com or The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Published On: May 27, 2009