Update: Jenni recently wrote a 6-part series on life with chronic pain for Well Community. Check it out.
ChronicBabe.com is an online community for young women with chronic health concerns who want to be their best, despite the challenges of their illnesses. It focuses on everything from inspiration and spirituality to fashion, relationships and nutrition.
Jenni Prokopy is the 38 year-old Uptown blogger behind this website, and she writes from personal experience. In 1997, at the age of 25, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia — a painful illness affecting the muscles, joints and connective tissues in the body — among other chronic conditions. The reality of her illness, the misconceptions about chronic illness that she frequently encountered and the lack of good resources on her conditions were frustrating and painful at times. But rather than complaining, Jenni started reminding herself that she is a creative, passionate, generous, driven person — a real “babe” — who happens to have a chronic illness.
Today, Jenni uses her experience, as well as her background in writing and motivational speaking, to run the blog, share stories, network and give advice to other “ChronicBabes” in Chicago and across the nation. She set out to create a resource that all women living with chronic health conditions can look to for support — and she has succeeded in ChronicBabe.
Fortunately for Well Community, Jenni also works as a freelance writer, and is a frequent contributor to our site. We think she is an inspiration to women in Chicago and a great writer, so we sat down with Jenni to discuss chronic illness, tips for overcoming health challenges and living in Chicago.
Jenni — Why share your message and your story through a blog?
When it comes to pain, you can cry, or you can laugh. I choose to laugh, and find other ways to cope with chronic pain. This is a condition I live with day to day — sometimes hour to hour — and creating a helpful resource, from my experience, is a great way to get outside myself and keep a healthy perspective. Plus I believe in service, and helping people gives me a lot of self worth, perspective and gratitude.
I started in summer 2005. I wanted to share those tools with other young women like me, because no one was really writing specifically for us. I threw myself whole-heartedly into the project and I'm so grateful I have the opportunity to help so many people!
Do you find that young people with illnesses are going online for help and support?
Yes. Online resources are becoming more and more common, and young people are going online to get information, share their experiences and know that they are not alone. Additionally, a lot of research shows that people with chronic pain find it difficult to be completely honest with their health care providers, because they fear that perception that they are lazy or complaining. There is no need for that fear in an online forum.
Most people think of older people when they think of chronic illness. What is it like to be a young person living with long-term health concerns?
When you are young and sick, you are like an invisible patient and you run into a lot of disbelief. People can’t see what you are going through, so they often do not take your pain seriously. This is especially hurtful because when a young person is sick, your doctors may also struggle to see what is wrong, and that makes it difficult to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.
How do you respond to people who doubt or belittle your pain?
Some folks are well-meaning but ignorant, and I can give those folks some leeway; they often see the error of their ways if you explain your situation, and go on to be awesomely understanding. But there are other folks who are just plain blind to the experience of others. For them, I sometimes give a snappy comeback. A recent “blog carnival” on ChronicBabe.com with lots of reader feedback and stories actually covers this. Check it out.
Is it ever hard to open up personally to your readers and the general public?
There are certain aspects of my life that I don’t share on the site. It’s either too complicated or sometimes sad, or I just need to push through it on my own. That said, it is often the most difficult topics that are the most helpful to readers and others going through the same thing.
What are some examples of popular topics that are discussed by your readers? Do you have any favorites?
The most controversial: health care reform.
The most sensitive: Disclosure of invisible illness, especially at work.
The funniest: A personal tale from a reader who had sex while wearing a heart monitor. We love to look at humor in every aspect of ChronicBabe-dom, too.
Any funny, memorable or noteworthy reactions to your blog?
People always react strongly to the name. They either think it's awesome, or bizarre. I can usually gauge a person's openness by their reaction. And I love seeing other people online calling themselves ChronicBabes: Even though the ChronicBabe "brand" is my trademark, the idea that women think of themselves that way is fantastic, and I love when I see that!
Has writing your blog benefited your health in any way? How so?
Yes! Writing ChronicBabe helps me every day. I meet incredible women who support and inspire me, and I get a wonderful sense of value from being able to help them, too. Writing about my experience helps me keep a healthy perspective, and it's a gift to be able to work on something so fulfilling. It lifts my spirits on days when my symptoms are at their worst.
What is your go-to wellness tip?
Honor your body's signals. If you're tired, rest. If you're hungry, eat something healthy (or drink a big glass of water). If you're hurting, do what your doc says to do — or whatever you know works based on previous experience. Just don't push through feeling bad; often, your body will tell you what it needs. Also, be creative in finding treatment solutions and creating a healthy lifestyle. Make use of great local resources, like Galter LifeCenter’s terrific pools and gym, or the free and cheap classes through the Chicago Park District and Whole Foods for wonderful cooking classes.
Also, never settle for less than incredible medical treatment, if you don't have to. Be creative in finding treatment solutions and creating a healthy lifestyle. Finally, practice everyday gratitude.
What do you like to do for fun on the North side?
When I'm not working, I love to read contemporary fiction, make jewelry, watch movies with friends, listen to new music and cook healthy, tasty meals. I love eating sandwiches at Beans & Bagels on Montrose Avenue, buying hand-crafted goodies at Lill Street Art Center and drinking Half Acre beer.
Anything you would like to add?
And folks can email me at email@example.com with questions, article ideas, or whatever they feel like sharing.
Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series featuring North side residents who share their passions — from antiquing to puzzles to the news of the neighborhood — with the world via their blogs. In the sea of more than 100 million U.S. blogs and a true “world wide web” environment, we’ve discovered that we don’t have to go far to find interesting people and topics — they are right here. We’ll profile a new local blogger each month, so be sure to check back!
Photo by Steve Matteo Photography