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Dancing with Diabetes

My name is Georgia, and I am a dance graduate testing out the waters on what steps, career wise, I want to take next. However, growing up I was constantly dancing, learning lots of different styles, like Latin and Ballroom, contemporary, ballet, hip-hop and the list goes on. I was part of a dance school in Kent called Instep where I danced and taught and spent most of my teenage life and loved it. I then moved to London to study dance at UEL on their Urban Dance Practices course. Here I studied a range of urban styles and got the opportunity to learn from some of the creators and pioneers in the hip-hop dance industry. Now, I am currently studying my masters at London Studio Centre on their Dance Producing and Management course. I’ve always loved dance, but it’s always been a hobby, since starting my higher education I realised I had a love for the management and ‘behind-the-scenes’ part of the dance industry, and that’s where I will continue my studying and career.

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 15 years old, preparing for my GSCE’s at secondary school and dancing almost every day of the week. I was always moving, exercising, always doing something, so when I started to feel super-exhausted, always thirsty, and started to lose weight. I knew something was up.

However, I pushed through these symptoms and just put it down to growing up, the change in hormones, and just ‘school life’ as a teenager. I wasn’t going to miss out on dancing just because I was ‘tired’. But it was a lot more than that. To begin with, I got ill with tonsilitis, so we just thought it was an extreme case, but we were very wrong! I was constantly emotional, I found I started to cry about everything. I found that although I wanted to keep dancing, I was just too tired and felt so exhausted. I would get home from dance, eat, and fall straight asleep. I started to lose a lot of weight, becoming malnourished and developed dark shadows around my eyes. I loved dancing and school, but it got to the point where I was ‘sofa-ridden’. My mum would go to work and come back, and I would be in the same spot, either asleep or watching Friends. I was so thirsty, and craved sugar. But because my blood sugar levels were so high, I become so dehydrated and developed thrush in my mouth. The point where my mum realised, I had to go to the doctors was when she said I smelt like pear drops, like the sweets. This is a common symptom and when my mum realised this I went to the doctors. They couldn’t get a blood test because I was so dehydrated, so I had to then go to A&E. I was so weak and tired I don’t remember much. I just remember being in the ICU, on a drip and a doctor testing my blood every hour. I was then handed all this new information, taught how to keep track of my blood sugars, and told I was now diabetic. But all I cared about was that I was going to miss a dance show, dropping out of that was the worst feeling ever.

Now, I’m no doctor but I can give you some sort of insight to what Diabetes is. There are two types of diabetes, Type 1, and Type 2.

Type 1 diabetes develops if the body is unable to produce any insulin and isn’t preventable. This causes your blood sugar levels to rise too high which will then lead to symptoms of craving sugar, feeling thirsty, peeing A LOT, fatigue, losing weight very quickly, persistent thrush, blurred vision, and having cuts or grazes not healing. Type 1 diabetes is controlled by injecting insulin and monitoring your blood sugar levels by pricking your finger with a small needle.

Type 2 diabetes is very similar to Type 1 diabetes but can be controlled more through diet changes and different medications. Type 2 diabetes is often linked to being overweight or inactive, or having a family history of type 2 diabetes. The difference between the two is people that have Type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin. Whereas people with type 2 diabetes don’t respond to insulin as well as they should. Through diet changes and weight loss, those with type 2 diabetes may be able to reach and hold normal blood sugar levels without medication.

Diabetes is extremely draining, like an extra job you must do but don’t get paid for. But my experience so far with my diabetes has been a physical struggle, but a lot more mental. For me, when I first got diagnosed, I was petrified. Petrified of never dancing again, putting on weight, being unhappy, being covered in bruises, and just scared that I wouldn’t be able to deal with it and control it. And do not get me wrong, I struggled, and I still do struggle now, but it’s my life now. But in reflection of my journey with diabetes and dance, I have realised a lot of how I felt was frustration. I used to get frustrated if my sugars went low during class, this would mean I would sit out for 15 minutes and eat something sugary and a carbohydrate and by that time was up, I would then have to go back into dancing straight away after eating, which then led to me feeling full and missing out on routines and steps. As a diabetic, the experience of fatigue used to floor me, especially if I hadn’t controlled my blood sugars very well that week. I spent a lot of my dance years afraid of testing and injecting around people, to avoid questions, to avoid people cringing because they have a fear of blood or needles, and to just avoid this extra responsibility I had been blessed with. After all, I just wanted to dance and forget about that!

My advice for other dancers with diabetes would be to put yourself first. Do not stretch yourself too far. Make sure that everyone you’re working with or alongside knows you have diabetes. This can be triggering or a bit too much for you but doing so could literally save your life. Also decide whether you are comfortable with people answering questions. Personally, I don’t mind, as it will help you and other understand this disease. And take your time. Diabetes is extremely exhausting. It can be draining, repetitive and you could get frustrated. Don’t be angry at yourself, this isn’t your fault and don’t apologise for having to test your blood/ inject insulin at times. It’s literally your lifeline. Dancing and exercise can cause blood sugar levels to drop, so making sure you keep track of this and testing regularly will help you regulate your sugar levels.

Looking back, having diabetes has taught me a lot. Taught me how to look after myself and be independent. I hope this helped someone out there, whether you are diabetic or not.


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