At a Glance:
Title: 64 ½ Days of Life
Medium: mixed media; wood, wire, safety needle caps, acrylic paint
Media Listened to During Creation: episodes of the Office, Hamilton (Yes, again. Something about it makes me work productively!), and Ed Sheeran.
The assignment for this piece of art was to create a larger work out of smaller pieces. The title 64 ½ Days of Life comes from the number of syringe safety caps attached to the frame with steel wire—each of these represents one shot of insulin, culminating to enough to keep me alive for sixty four and a half days. Although it is not the defining factor of who I am, a dominating part of my life is spent navigating how to live with Type 1 Diabetes, sometimes referred to as Juvenile Diabetes.
This conceptual piece innumerably represents what it’s like to live with Type 1. The erratic composition relates to the chaos and unpredictability surrounding self diabetes care, the difference in accumulation across the piece represents how difficulties in blood sugars often come in waves, my numbers being affected by anything from carbs, to exercise, sickness, hormonal changes, menstruation cycles, temperature changes, and even other necessary medications. However, even with all of these elements represented, what I’m really concerned with addressing in this piece is the disparity between the reality of Type 1 and the societal perceptions which result in harmful and false stereotypes.
We’ve all heard the jokes. “Peter has thirty candy bars, he eats twenty. What does he have now? Diabetes.” The assumption behind jokes such as these is that diabetes is caused by a lack of self-care. Information commonly circulated includes the ideas that diabetes is caused by an excess in sugar, a lack of exercise, and an excess of body fat, but these assumptions are resoundingly false. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that for an unknown reason targets the beta cells of the pancreas, rendering it unable to produce insulin, and thus leaving the body unable to regulate the levels of glucose in the blood. In simpler terms, my immune system attacked my pancreas, destroyed the part that produces insulin, and now I have to “think like a pancreas,” doing the job of a normally autonomic organ, 24/7 without break, in order to keep myself alive. It requires no special diet, continuous injections of insulin, perpetually counting carbs to calculate the dosage required, and overall, ignoring the ever-present fear that comes from the knowledge that only my own efforts are keeping me alive.
What I’m doing in this piece is visualizing the stereotypes of diabetes that almost always obscure the reality. The reality of Type 1 is harsh. It was easy to translate the constant finger pokes and pen needle injections into equally harsh images: rough wood, rusty chicken wire, mangled steel wire, and jaggedly smashed plastic caps. Not every moment of everyday living with diabetes is this harsh, but it’s not an easy way to live, and certainly not earned. The struggle that people with diabetes experience is virtually unknown to the public because of the prevalent stereotypes and images of sugar whether it be ice cream sundaes, chocolate cupcakes or funfetti birthday cakes. Again, this was easy for me to visualize. I simply took the spirit of these stereotypes—fun, party colors that generally aren’t understood to be serious, and obscure the rough visuals, so what the viewer literally sees happening in 64 ½ Days of Life is the false information covering up a harsh reality. I know that this piece will not eradicate the false information surrounding Type 1 Diabetes, only time and effort on the part of educators can do that. But if this piece can illuminate even one person on the realities of this incurable disease, then it has served its purpose.