Clothed with compassion: the Sock Project raising awareness about chronic autoimmune disease
ABOVE: Jessica Baird turned the very disease that caused her pain into a global community of love and support.
What began as a simple way to bring a ray of hope to her battle with a chronic disease turned into a movement to bring light to people experiencing autoimmune diseases around the world.
The Sock Project sends pairs of fun, colourful socks to people diagnosed with chronic autoimmune disease–inspiring courage and compassion, one pair of silly socks at a time.
Jessica Baird, founder of the Sock Project, was diagnosed in December 2017 with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a painful inflammatory arthritis that directs the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissue. AS painfully fuses the spine and pelvic joints. One percent of Canadians–about 300,000–live with the autoimmune disease, estimates the Arthritis Society of Canada.
An AS diagnosis is chronic, causing Jessica to leave her job as an elementary school teacher to begin treatments. Her friend, who was diagnosed with Lupus, encouraged her to buy a pair of fun socks to wear to medical appointments. A simple way to lighten the recurring doctor visits.
Ever the schoolteacher, Jessica recalls, she added a twist to her friend’s idea and asked friends and family for a pair of silly socks whenever they asked how they could support her. One of her first pairs of socks, which came from a best friend, declared, “Fight like a girl.”
What Jessica didn’t expect, however, was the depth of her community’s kindness: a personal note of encouragement to give her hope and courage came with nearly every pair.
As the kindness grew, the socks multiplied. Soon enough, there wasn’t a walk-in closet big enough to store the compassion Jessica received–or the 10,000 pairs of socks.
Jessica began sending the socks to others she knew battling chronic illness and autoimmune diseases. Word spread, and she would receive messages on social media requesting a pair of socks for a family member or friend. Now, the Sock Project has sent over 8,000 pairs of socks worldwide.
“There’s something beautiful about this,” Jessica says. “We have a larger, wider–global community.”
Jessica turned the very disease that caused her pain into a global community of love and support.
“Walk a mile in my socks, walk a mile in my footsteps together, and we’ll get through this together as a community,” says Jessica.
“It’s also about compassion,” she continues. “People are being empathetic, and helpful, and listening–but they’re also being compassionate–which means that you’re going out into the world and doing something and expressing love and kindness.”
That’s why Jessica carries a backpack full of socks with a flag that reads: “Humanity matters, no one is left behind.” Her flag sparks conversations with strangers, and she often listens to their life stories. She says the Sock Project is about more than socks, but about story and self-expression.
Currently, there is no cure for autoimmune diseases. It is essential, Jessica explains, for everybody to be aware of these illnesses because although they are not very well known, they affect every aspect of life. At the time of the interview, storms were rolling through Ottawa, and Jessica explained that even weather fluctuations cause arthritis to inflame.
The Sock Project has raised over $60,000 for research. From partnering with Imagine Dragons in their upcoming Love Loud Festival tour to working with members of Sesame Street to releasing a documentary about AS, the Sock Project’s impact is only growing.
Jessica hopes her story will not only raise awareness about autoimmune diseases but that she can inspire others to love people in their communities and to be compassionate–because you never know what someone might be struggling with.
In one of the many workshops she hosts, Jessica gives children a pair of white socks and fabric markers and asks them: Who are you? What do you believe in? Why? One child’s creative expression had a lasting impact on Jessica.
On one sock, the child drew the earth and, on the other, a vine. When it was their chance to share, they explained that we are all connected on earth through the vine, and we hold each other up together.
In Jessica’s experience, compassion has a domino effect. The Sock Project has inspired children to use their piggy bank money to buy socks; inspired university students to genuinely listen to their peers’ experiences with chronic illness; given parents ways to support their children through diagnoses; inspired everyday people to write notes of encouragement to strangers.
It’s compassion that sparks revolutionary love, Jessica says.
“Love loud–love louder,” Jessica concludes. “That is the message here, and at the end of the day, it’s about loving wholeheartedly and appreciating all people.”
If you or someone you know is battling a chronic disease, reach out to Jessica through social media @therealsockproject, and she will send you a pair of socks. To donate to the Sock Project, or to send a pair of socks with a note of encouragement, visit https://the-sock-project.webnode.page/.