Mumbai-based IT professional Snehal Nandagawli hated the sight of the glucometer and the idea of checking blood sugar levels when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 11 in 2001. She managed to accept the fact that she had to take insulin shots four to five times a day, but for some reason, she wasn’t just ready to accept that she had to prick her finger multiple times throughout the day as well. Despite strict instructions from her doctor, she was not okay to use the glucometer for frequent blood check-ups. But when her doctor gave her an ultimatum that if she wanted to continue dancing with diabetes, she had to prick her finger and check her blood glucose levels frequently, she was left with no other option but to agree to it.
Snehal, now 31, has always been passionate about dance. Her parents also supported her passion and enrolled her in Bharatnatyam classes when she showed an interest.
But her diagnosis put a question mark on her passion.
“I had the typical symptoms of diabetes but unfortunately, during that time, even a lot of doctors were not aware that kids could also have diabetes. I had frequent urination, extreme thirst and extreme weight loss. After three months, I became really sick and was not able to eat anything. Doctors were not sure what was wrong with me,” she recalls, adding that she did several blood check-ups and then was put on medications for typhoid for a while. Her doctor recommended hospitalisation but asked her to do one last blood check before it and that included a sugar test. “My blood sugar level was over 600. He quickly guided me and referred me to another doctor, who specialised in type 1 diabetes. I was immediately hospitalised for a week,” she says.
Type 1 diabetes and mental health
As she was very young and not able to understand what was happening, she says it was easier for her to accept it. Also, she has always been a ‘bold and happy-go-lucky’ person, as she calls herself. It was more difficult for her parents to accept her condition, she says. “When the doctor said that I would have to take injections for my entire life, I took it like any other routine activity like brushing my teeth. But I could see that my parents were worried and scared. I was more worried seeing them. Initially, my mom used to give me insulin injections for a month and then I learned how to do it myself,” she adds.
Can you be a dancer with diabetes?
Her diagnoses didn’t put a full stop to her dancing. As her doctor had recommended against hardcore exercises, her parents were also worried when she got back to dancing. She says her mother would accompany her to the classes and wait out for an hour or two until her classes got over.
“I had discussed my condition with my teacher as well. Everyone in the class was understanding and supportive. When my sugar levels would go low, they would ask me to take a break and have my sugars or snacks,” she says. She continued her training in the Indian classical dance form for seven years and has done several stage performances. She adds that the rehearsals can sometimes be difficult as they are usually two to three hour long, compared to the stage performances. “Before performing, I ensure my blood sugar is under check – slightly on the higher end because there is an adrenaline rush when you are performing. But I ensure that my sugar levels do not go beyond 160,” she says.
She believes dancing helped her get on track with her diabetes management. “I could see the changes. Slowly and gradually, I could learn to check my blood sugar on my own. The hatred I had towards the glucometer started reducing.”
The other part she says she hated about being diabetic is the diet. Being a foodie, it took her a couple of years to understand why she was not allowed to eat certain food and why she had to follow portion control strictly. Eventually, she overcame that as well.
During the covid-19 induced lockdown, she took to Latin dance. “In college, I got interested in Latin dance but couldn’t take it up. During lockdown, I decided to take up my wish and do it. Now I am well-versed with salsa, bachata and kizomba,” she says. Snehal has done a couple of performances with her dance community at the weekly editions of Latin Twist, hosted by AntiSocials and at Wagle Estate Social.
Ask what keeps her going and she says, it’s her support group Blue Circle Diabetes. She says helping others suffering from diabetes and receiving help from them have been her driving force, apart from dance.
She is also an avid trekker, a marathon runner and travel junkie. When she goes out, she always carries pouches of glucometer, a box of sugar, insulin injections, food and snacks. She has travelled to Rann of Kutch (Gujarat), Goa, Hampi (Karnataka) and other places in India and took her first international trip to Switzerland and Italy last year. As food can be a challenge while travelling abroad or to the interior parts of the country, she carries enough food with her on her trips or requests restaurants to customise some meals and she adjusts her insulin dose accordingly.
She observes that there is more awareness about diabetes now and she tries to also initiate dialogues and normalise type 1 diabetes by taking insulin shots boldly in public. “It is the support that I get from people around me that helps me stay emotionally strong,” she concludes.
Mumbai-based IT professional Snehal Nandagawli (31) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2011 at the age of 11. She hated the sight of glucometer and the idea of checking blood sugar levels. But when the doctor gave her an ultimatum that she must prick her finger multiple times a day if she wanted to continue dancing with diabetes, she agreed. Such is her passion for dance. She continued training in Bharatnatyam for seven years despite several challenges — such as taking frequent breaks to have snacks when her sugar levels dropped. Apart from dance, she also loves travelling, trekking and running. A ‘bold and happy-go-lucky’ person, she doesn’t shy away from taking insulin shots in public and hopes to break the stigma and initiate a dialogue about type 1 diabetes. She says she is motivated by the support she gets from the people in her life.