- News & Features
by Stacey Cahn, Chief Correspondent, CreakyJoints
Dawn Gibson—@DawnMGibson—founder of “Spoonie Chat”, has never been at a loss for words. At 37, grappling with Spondylitis, this self-described “pugnacious and scrappy” woman from the Detroit suburbs is a Twitter chat creator with a loyal Twitter following of more than 3,500. The smart and savvy Gibson launched a Twitter chat for nerds of color, “BlerdChat” (Blerd= Black Nerd), in the spring of 2013 (“everybody is welcome”), and soon followed with “Spoonie Chat.” Inspired by “The Spoon Theory,” an analogy to explain how one lives with chronic pain developed by Christine Miserandino in her book You Don’t Look Sick, Gibson broadened “Spoonies” to include anyone with a chronic illness or invisible disability. Gibson’s journey of adjusting to the “new normal” after her 2002 Spondylitis diagnosis resonates with her “membership.” That’s what Gibson calls her followers in “Spoonie Chat” because they are all members of the same club. “I was handed a fistful of pamphlets and left to figure it out,” Gibson recalls of her diagnosis. Feeling alone and abandoned, Gibson muscled through excruciating pain to go to college and work. Another gut punch came in 2012 when she lost her mother to a rare complication of Thyroid Disease. The pain is still raw but Dawn stays focused on her Twitter agenda. Each Wednesday night from 8pm-10pm Eastern Time, #SpoonieChat heats up with members responding to posted questions along with inspiring, positive tweets to encourage each other, especially to take care of the body and the soul. On average about 50 members participate in any given Spoonie Chat. There are often tweets about diet; Dawn is an avid gardener and she lives with her aunt who helps her to plant and harvest fresh vegetables. You can also find tweets about four-footed friends. Like many of the members, Dawn has pets, two little “yapper dogs” who are ex-officio members.
Each “Spoonie Chat” also ends with an affirmation. Dawn’s spiritual tone reflects her work in the Episcopal Church ministry before she was sidelined by her illness. And yes, she was hesitant to “come out” and speak about her vocation. Dawn notes, “there’s a lot of social baggage around religion” but it’s inspired her to reach out to people who feel completely ground down. “My faith has helped me believe that everyone is important.” In fact, Gibson is “on call” for people in need; it’s not unusual to find her tweeting, chatting, and talking on the phone at odd-hours, all on her own dime and she does get donations from time to time but financial support is a challenge. A self-described “health activist”, Gibson is also pushing hard against the current crackdown on prescription painkiller abuse that’s making it difficult for legitimate pain patients to get the medications they need. “It’s not okay to make chronic pain patients suffer,” Gibson declared. @DawnMGibson is working to end the stigma and isolation associated with invisible illness, one spoon at a time.