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Chronically Ill People Around the World Are Connecting Through 'Spoonie Card Swap'

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As an advocate, parent and member of the chronic illness community, Denise Archilla knows it’s all too common to feel alone when dealing with chronic health challenges. So she’s working to build “spoonie” connections, one mailbox at a time.

Archilla created the Spoonie Card Swap, which matches people with chronic illnesses together so they can send each other cards. Anyone with a chronic illness can email their name and address to Archilla, and she will give them the name and address of another spoonie. They can then send their match a homemade or store-bought card. No two people are connected with each other — Person A will send a card to Person B, Person B will send a card to Person C, and so on.

Archilla’s initial connection to the chronic illness community was through her work as a pediatric clinical social worker, specializing in patients with cystic fibrosis. She later worked as a teacher and had many students with health challenges. After searching for programs to help chronically ill teens transition to adulthood but coming up empty, she started a life coaching business, called Chronic Connection.

As Valentine’s Day approached in 2016, she was searching for a way to make the holiday fun when her friend mentioned a “mug swap” she had seen online. Archilla liked the idea but wanted to do something as low-cost as possible, and Spoonie Card Swap was born.

In addition to her work with the chronic illness community, Archilla is currently searching for a diagnosis for her own chronic health challenges. She also has a son who has dealt with health issues and a daughter with dysautonomia and a hypermobility spectrum disorder. She told The Mighty she feels one of the most important benefits of the swap is connecting people in similar circumstances, who are often misunderstood and isolated.

A card swap is just a simple way to do something for a fellow spoonie — which always feels good — and to have your day brightened by a card in return,” Archilla said. “Also, by giving to someone else, I believe it helps young people who are struggling with their own value in a ‘well’ community to have an action to do — giving a gift that will help make someone else’s day special, helps you feel valued too.”

People from all over the U.S. have participated in past swaps, and even a few people from England, Canada, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and Scotland have signed up. Archilla said swappers are allowed to continue corresponding with their “match” after the initial swap, though she encourages everyone to do what’s comfortable for them.

Some people exchange social media information to keep in touch, and some friendships have even evolved; recently Archilla saw a post on Twitter from someone who said they met their best friend through the swap.

Especially in the age of technology, and with so many young spoonies unable to get out and about socially as much as they’d like, getting mail from someone who understands life with a chronic illness or disability can be a great gift,” Archilla said. “I think we all enjoy getting something fun in the mail, too!”

For more information and to sign up for the next swap, visit the Spoonie Card Swap website.

Thinkstock photo by lolostock

Originally published: July 20, 2017
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