Our journey with guest blog posts continues! This time with See Jen Dance, a very special blog written by a very special woman. I love how many people inspire me in the dance community. Jen, take it away….
Howdy! Stefanie has graciously asked me to share my perspective with all of you. My marketing background can’t pass up an opportunity for shameless promotion, so here we go.
I’m a recently “retired” competitive and performance ballroom dancer, which is odd to say because I’m only in my thirties. However, I remain an active west coast swing competitor and community member; attempting to travel to competitions monthly. I also work as a marketing assistant for the dance studio I’ve called home for the last five years.
However, like many syllabus ballroom steps, there is more to me than meets the eye. For the past 31 years, I’ve been living with Type 1 diabetes.
Let’s get a few questions out of the way, shall we? (And yes, I’ve been asked these in some way shape or form.)
1) But you are so thin, petite and active [and insert adjective here]? How can you have diabetes?
Um, thanks? Type 1 diabetes (and Type 2 for that matter) can affect anyone – big, small, young, old, tall and really, really short. (Hi!) Please don’t let the media or Dr. Google tell you otherwise.
2) Oh, so you take insulin. Do you have the bad kind of diabetes?
I didn’t realize there was a good kind of diabetes, so yes? No – not really. Diabetes is a manageable chronic condition. But it’s just that – a chronic condition.
3) My grandmother’s sister’s cousin twice removed had diabetes and [she controlled it with diet and exercise and it went away] / [lost her foot/eyesight] / [died last year].
<sigh> Oh boy. We’re gonna leave that one alone. I assure you – I have all of my toes.
4) So – have you rhinestoned your insulin pump yet?
No – but I really want to.
I initially started to dance because I wanted a creative outlet, but then it became way more interesting (and productive!) than heading to the gym three times a week, so I jumped in headfirst and competed in my first pro/am after only three months of working with a teacher. I was on stage performing five months later. I’ve competed in a number of pro/am competitions since then, spent enough money on lessons, dresses, shoes, and travel than I care to admit, and have made great lifelong friends.
I began my blog, seejendance.com, in 2012 to add my online voice to the large pool of athletes with diabetes. (No one blogged about ballroom dancing. Everyone runs marathons or climbs rocks for some reason.) My blog is a place for advocacy and awareness and much of my audience are T1s, T2s, or T3s, but every now and then, I throw in a funny adventure featuring my instructor or some crazy competition experience.
The tricky part with taking on such an active hobby with an “invisible illness” is finding the balance between maintaining perceived normalcy and sticking out like you have two left feet (literally). On one hand, I can go in with the attitude that “diabetes can’t/won’t stop me… I CAN do anything I want… including wearing two yards of spandex and fringe with my insulin pump as well hidden accessory.” (Been there, done that.) It keeps the rude questions and stares to a minimum if caring for my health goes unnoticed. In spite of my efforts to be discreet, I’m not always successful – particularly when a low blood sugar prevents me from finishing a class or rudely interrupts a private lesson.
I’ve tried a variety of treatments to accommodate the needs of competitive dancing. I’ve been a pump user for nearly 10 years, but have been known to switch back to multiple daily injections when a show or competition is on the horizon, both for practical and cosmetic reasons. My control suffers briefly, but I work closely with my doctors to figure out the best temporary substitute. Plus – after being connected to something battery powered 24/7, a “break” is appreciated. No matter how I try or what method I use, it’s always a bit of a crapshoot. You deal with the stress of training and competing as a healthy person; now add the stress of managing a chronic illness on top of that. (I never said I was sane. 🙂 ) I will admit that my desire to perform, compete, and prep were bigger life motivators than trying to maintain my blood sugars. After all, dancing made me happy, even when it was stressful. Diabetes… is just diabetes; there is no reward. (I take that back… keeping all of your limbs is definitely, definitely a reward.)
People with diabetes often speak of their “team.” Usually it involves their medical team, or a family member or significant other. I often include my instructor as part of my team. I know my relationship with my instructor is unique for a pro/am duo. I think, as a ballroom community, we tend to think of our instructors as these elusive beings that teach us to dance for an hour a week, but you can’t be friends with them outside of the studio settings. It makes sense for most pros to want to keep their personal lives private and separate from their student base in order to please everyone. However, when it comes to condition management, it makes more sense to share the intimate details of it with the people who see me the most often. It’s comforting to know that he does his own research on how he can help me live better. (And dance better, of course.)
We often read about how dance has helped lift the spirits of those that are downtrodden. Or that it’s cheaper than therapy. (Well… I don’t know about that. It’s more fun than therapy, that’s for sure.) Those with chronic conditions are often reminded about the physical complications that can be brought on over time. Very rarely do we talk about the mental and emotional toll “being different” can be, particularly when “well, you don’t look sick.” We don’t always have a safe way to escape its constant nagging.