At age 15, Nitika Chopra was covered from head to toe with painful psoriasis, a condition she was diagnosed with at the age of 10.
“I always felt different in life. I was kind of chubby, and I wasn’t great at school, and I was one of the only brown kids at school. Psoriasis felt like another separation between me and everyone else who was quote-on-quote normal,” Chopra tells Healthline.
Her condition also caused her to struggle with finding a purpose.
“I was in a low place and I remember praying and asking God, ‘Why am I here? I don’t want to be here anymore,’ and the message that I got back was clear as day and has guided me through everything I have done. The message was: This is not about you,” Chopra said.
The sentiment helped her cope for years, even when she was dealt the diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis at 19 years old.
“I was in college in my dorm room and I was trying to open the bag inside a box of cereal and my hands just wouldn’t work. I had never had any mobility issues, but when I went to the doctor I was told I had psoriatic arthritis,” recalls Chopra.
Over the next seven years, her bones began to deform rapidly to the point where she couldn’t walk without severe pain in her feet. At 25, she saw a rheumatologist who prescribed medication to help slow the degenerative process. She also sought out holistic and spiritual healing, as well as psychotherapy.
“Healing is not linear. I still have psoriasis, though not in the way I did, but it’s a lifelong journey like it is for a lot of people with chronic illness,” Chopra says.
One speaking gig changed everything
About 10 years ago, Chopra was partaking in a life coaching program when she felt the desire to share her perspective with the world. She started a blog in 2010, landed her own talk show, and took on a public persona as a crusader for self-love.
“All these things started happening but I wasn’t focusing on chronic illness. I was afraid to get into my illness because I didn’t want to seem like I was looking for attention,” she says.
However, that changed when she booked a speaking gig in the fall of 2017. Although she was hired to talk about self-love again, she chose to focus on the topic as it relates to the body, health, and specifically chronic illness.
“That event really shifted my confidence around talking about it because afterwards there were 10 women who asked questions and 8 of those women had chronic illnesses from diabetes and lupus to cancer,” Chopra says. “I spoke to those women in a way that I didn’t know I could in public. It was from the deepest part of my truth and I could tell that I actually helped them in a way that they felt seen and less alone.”
An opportunity to connect, learn, and offer support
Her latest avenue to help others is by partnering with Healthline to hold Chronicon, a one-day event taking place on October 28, 2019 in New York City.
The day will be filled with a welcome message from Chopra, musical performances, and panels and sessions all related to chronic illness. Topics include dating, nutrition, and self-advocating.
“It’ll be just like a fun house all day, but grounded in vulnerability and truth, and some really powerful speakers as well,” Chopra says.
One of the event’s speakers, Eliz Martin, will talk about how she deals with people not understanding the level of pain she endures from multiple sclerosis (MS), and how she manages shame associated with her condition.
Martin was abruptly diagnosed with MS on March 21, 2012.
“I woke up that day unable to walk, and by late that evening a diagnosis was confirmed after viewing a MRI of my brain, neck, and spine,” Martin tells Healthline.
She went from being an independent, successful career woman to being on disability and living with her parents.
“I found myself struggling daily with mobility and using an arm crutch or wheelchair… but the most affected area of my life has just been living with a chronic illness. It’s something that will be with me forever. That’s a hefty diagnosis,” she says.
Martin joined Chronicon to help alleviate the load.
“All the time I hear from fellow friends who have MS how it really can be isolating,” says Martin. “Chronicon is bringing a sense of community that is tangible — it’s a place for us to gather and connect and learn and be supported.”
Breaking the cycle of isolation
Fellow speaker and style icon Stacy London is also partaking in the event for similar reasons. During Chronicon, she will sit down with Chopra to discuss her journey living with psoriasis since she was 4 years old, and with psoriatic arthritis since her 40s.
London will also discuss mental health, along with the pain and trauma that comes with having a chronic illness.
“The problem with a lot of autoimmune diseases [and chronic diseases] is that they wear you out, and there are times where the idea of having something deadly is more a relieving thought than, ‘I am going to have to manage this my whole life,’” London tells Healthline.
She says Chronicon can help turn feelings of isolation into ones of hope.
“It’s such a brilliant idea when you think about how many millions of people around the world suffer from chronic disease that leave them homebound or struggling — whether it’s mental or physical or both. At Chronicon, you won’t feel alone anymore. You may not have the same chronic illness as someone next to you, but to look at them and say, ‘Girl, I know what that struggle feels like’ is amazing.”
Chopra agrees. Her biggest hope for Chronicon is that it helps break the cycle of isolation.
“For those in a space of thriving with their chronic illness, they’ll meet people and feel less isolated and motivated to thrive even more,” she says. “For those who are struggling with their chronic illness, they’ll feel less alone and cultivate deeper relationships in their communities.”
“When I’m struggling with my illness, I shut people out, but I hope Chronicon gives people the tools and support of our community so they can go into their own relationships [more confidently],” she says.
Buy your tickets for Chronicon here.
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, and human behavior. She has a knack for writing with emotion and connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.