I Created a Community For the Chronically Ill. I Didn't Expect It to Save My Life.

I was diagnosed with my first autoimmune disease (psoriasis) at the age of 10, and a second (psoriatic arthritis) at age 19. Over two decades later, I used my lifetime of experience to build Chronicon, a community and platform for others living with the pain and isolation of a chronic illness. To be able to turn my greatest challenges into a beacon of hope and support is a gift I will never take for granted.

However, in 2021, two years into building Chronicon, I found myself having to lean on the very community I'd created to help others.

I had just gotten hit with an extreme case of COVID-19. I had an intense two weeks of being totally brought to my knees with symptoms. Once I recovered I thought I was past the worst of it — but I could not have been more wrong.

I woke up a month later, on Thanksgiving morning, and realized that I was completely disoriented and seeing double. What followed was months of physical changes that were scary, debilitating, and confusing. I was brought back to a place of isolation that I hadn't felt since I was a child living with a severe case of psoriasis, an inflammatory skin condition, and psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory joint condition that left me unable to walk without severe pain for many years.

For the six months following Thanksgiving, I spent most days completely terrified. The double vision persisted. Then I lost my ability to smile, and was unable to be around too much sensory stimulation — which is nearly impossible in New York City. I eventually lost my ability to speak and swallow, and there were countless weeks when I could barely get any work done because I couldn't function.

I had been through a lot of health challenges throughout my life, and some aspects of this experience — the physical pain, having to advocate for myself at the doctor, the uncertainty, the long wait for answers, and the massive hit to my self-esteem — felt all too familiar. But in many ways, this time was also very different. Mainly because for the first time I wasn't navigating it all by myself.

As a young kid and into my 20s, I carried so much when it came to my health. My mother was always right by my side, but I still had to shoulder most of the burdens that came with my chronic illnesses alone, as they were only happening to my body. As a result, I learned to hold isolation, pain, and daily devastation when I should have been learning how to play hopscotch or enjoying a sleepover with friends.

But because of my personal history, I'd created Chronicon and built our app; I never want anyone to have to experience the loneliness that comes from living with a chronic condition. (The National Health Council says over 133 million Americans are currently living with a chronic illness, which is almost half the population of the United States, so there's no reason any of us should be walking around feeling like we're the only ones.)

And during my most recent health episode, I didn't. The most remarkable thing about this time in my life was that I had to actually use the platform that I built for others, and I got to feel the love and care from our members in such a deeply transformative way.

Interacting with the community made me feel rejuvenated and filled with so much more purpose. It motivated me to want to show up to every workshop I held — even during the months when I could barely write a simple email, when I had a hard time speaking and our guests had to lead our conversations more than usual. Being with these incredible people reminded me of the greater reason I was even alive, all while my body was making me question everything.

As my symptoms continued to worsen, my family encouraged me to visit a neurologist to get some testing done. We discovered that my experience with COVID triggered a rare neuromuscular disease called myasthenia gravis, and I began a journey toward getting my life back.

Once I finally got a diagnosis, Chronicon's community members were the first people I told outside of my close friends and family. I was sitting alone in my apartment terrified with tears filling my eyes, and I wrote them a blog letting them know why things had been so challenging for several months. The response was an outpouring of love from members around the world and a deep understanding that we never have to shoulder the burden of our health by ourselves ever again. It was truly a gift and an honor to see that sometimes our greatest moments of pain are able to fuel our purpose.

I knew that having a network of kind, thoughtful, smart, funny, and supportive people at your fingertips could be powerful. I've always thought that it would have been life-changing for me after getting my first diagnosis at the age of 10. But what I couldn't have known was that it would be life-changing for me again, all these years later.

Nitika Chopra is the founder and CEO of Chronicon and The Chronicon Foundation, which are dedicated to empowering individuals with chronic illnesses. With a personal journey marked by psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, Nitika turned her experiences into a force for change.