Every Friday, we send out a weekly roundup of what’s new on Blood & Milk along with articles you may have missed from the archives. We also include an interview with an inspiring woman, and this week we’re excited to feature Nitika Chopra. To get the newsletter, sign up here.
Nitika Chopra is an entrepreneur, founder of Chronicon, and woman on a mission to inspire radical self-love.
You’ve lived with chronic illness for more than 30 years, and describe the loneliness and pain of this kind of diagnosis. Are there any tips you wish you would have known for communicating your illness—and needs, emotional or physical—to others?
I had to do a little bit of emotional work internally before I was able to adequately communicate about my illness to others. To me, that looked like going to therapy, getting a coach that supported me, and being part of a supportive community of people that “got” what I was going through.
To anyone out there who’s struggling to set boundaries, work through emotions or reconfigure a new relationship to their body: know you’re not alone.
Sometimes it takes inner work—perhaps with the help of a therapist or coach—in order to gain the emotional equipment at the core of effective communication, like setting boundaries or expressing your needs. Remember: There’s nothing wrong with you if you need a hand learning these skills! Gaining support from an outside expert or joining a community of people who “get” your experience can really help strengthen self-empowerment and self-advocacy, which also boost strong communication.
What’s something that having a chronic illness has taught you about your body and/or your mind?
It took me years to understand that my identity wasn’t my disease.
Sometimes it felt devastating to separate my identity from the crippling pain I was in, since it was my constant companion. If you’re in that place right now, where it’s nearly impossible to see your condition as separate from you, just know I completely understand. I’ve been there.
In my early 20s, I started attending coaching workshops and trained to be a life coach, which was super intensive. I remember this particular moment in my life when I was once urgently invited by my voice coach to audition for a role. Even though I loved singing, I had to decline the offer because it would take me hours to exfoliate and moisturize myself in order to present myself there. I realized that I would miss this opportunity because of my psoriasis—and possibly countless opportunities in the future for a similar reason.
At that moment, I ended up coming to the understanding that I did not want my psoriasis to define me: only I had the power to accept what I let it mean.
Over time, I started to fill my life with things that had nothing to do with my health. To me, this looked like learning about anything that brought me joy; connecting with people that didn’t know me only as the “sick girl”; expanding my interests and hobbies; and generally allowing myself to explore my identity aside and apart from my disease. Soon, I realized that my condition was only a piece of me—not who I was.
Over 133 million Americans live with chronic illness and yet, it’s not something we discuss regularly. What can we do, whether we suffer from chronic illness or not, to help change the narrative and ensure sufficient support for this huge portion of our population?
Current conversations in the media around chronic illness are generally all marked by sadness or pure inspiration, often making those of us with chronic illness seem pitiable or like heroes for getting through our pain. But every single person I know with chronic illness is multi-dimensional. So many of the women I know have PhDs; are mothers; or are entrepreneurs, all while managing their health.
Being chronically ill and living a full life are not mutually exclusive—even if the world is set up to have us think that it is.
The wildly incorrect idea that chronic illness is a moral failing also prevents many people from actively speaking up and seeking support. To change the narrative, we need more visibility to elevate what life with chronic illness actually looks like, which will lead to more acceptance and the de-stigmatization of this vibrant community.
As you mentioned, sufficient support is missing for the nearly 133 million Americans living with a chronic illness. Most of all, we need systemic change. Awareness shouldn’t be happening for awareness’ sake. We need real, comprehensive change in our healthcare systems and change in our actual family systems—where our bodies and minds are impacted on biological levels.
In the meantime, many marginalized communities have had to take their own stand for societal progress. Founders like Sarah Herron (SheLift), and Chastity Garner and Cece Olisa (CurvyCon) have asked for a rightful place in the world by carving out their own spaces — and have gained substantial recognition and respect. That’s exactly what I want to do with Chronicon.
I so admire your ability to put pain into action and community for others with Chronicon. Can you share with our audience what Chronicon is and who might benefit from the community?
Thank you so much for those kind words! The idea was inspired by the loneliness in my own childhood after getting a diagnosis: I don’t want anyone to have to go through their chronic illness journey alone.
So many people with chronic illness feel stuck and excluded in a world without support. Here at Chronicon, you’re part of a community that creates a true sense of belonging. We cheer you on through all the ups and downs of your chronic illness journey —including personal dreams that go beyond your diagnosis.
Chronicon is all about making the best of our conditions, together. No matter how you’re feeling or what you’re going through in your chronic illness, Chronicon is designed to uplift and inspire you through targeted workshops, virtual conversations and personal development tools.
Last year, I organized our first in person event Chronicon Live in New York City which featured leading figures sharing their experiences living with chronic illnesses alongside doing visionary work. This year, we pivoted to launch Chronicon to an online community platform to make sure everyone can find support and solidarity from the comfort of their homes.
On your website, you talk about self care being your saving grace on your most difficult days. What does self care mean to you, and how do you practice it?
Self-care catalyzed my self-love journey, which did not happen overnight. It is something I have to actively invest in even now! Self-care empowered me to change my trajectory and make the choice to be more committed to my happiness, healing and personal growth.
To me, self-care is as small as the act of taking a bath and as big as the act of showing myself radical self-compassion on the days I’m struggling. Overall, it simply means investing in yourself. Sometimes, this means making hard choices that are better for you in the long run, like setting boundaries with family members. Other times, it can feel easy and fun.
During especially difficult periods, I love practicing a journaling practice, whether that’s writing out a bunch of my favorite things or brainstorming innovative ideas. It helps me to focus on the positives surrounding me and my potential instead of listening to negative chatter inside my head. In terms of my body, I love the simple act of painting my nails with cheerful, pretty colors. It gives me something tangible to appreciate about my body, even while being in a lot of pain.
In my darkest days, these small self-care activities give me hope and push me forward.
What’s something you’re hopeful for in 2021?
2020 was marked by instability and unforeseen constant change. Especially for those of us living with the daily unpredictability of chronic illness, life recently has felt like a wild and out of control rollercoaster.
This year, my hope is for a world in which we can create sustained stability, especially through community care. I am committed to helping the chronically ill community find new tools and skills to achieve sustained stability—even during times of major upheaval—through the resources, workshops and expert advice we bring to Chronicon.
We are all stronger when we love, heal and work together.
Thank you, Nitika!