Type 1 Diabetes Portraits

The highs and lows of living with Type 1 Diabetes

Linguistics and English Language PhD student Mirjam Eiswirth created an exhibition based on interviews and conversations that she collected for her PhD research on language variation and interaction, as well as how people talk about Type 1 Diabetes.

On 3 February 2020, a small edition of the travelling exhibition “Making the Invisible Visible” was presented at the Edinburgh Diabetes Day to more than 100 diabetes researchers. The exhibition is a collaboration between Mirjam Eiswirth, who collected the data for her PhD study, and Alex Lorson and Alpo Honkapohja (all three in PPLS), who are creating the art works. Once the exhibition is completed, it will travel from venue to venue.

Edinburgh Diabetes Day

Talk about Type 1 – The Highs and the Lows

Mirjam Eiswirth collected interviews with 16 different people who live with Type 1 Diabetes and invited them to have conversations about their experiences with each other. For her PhD, she analysed how the participants organise their conversations, how they tell stories and show that they are listening.

At the same time, the conversations show how different everybody’s experience of living with Type 1 Diabetes is, and how different the participants are: from a university administrator with 40 years of diabetes experience who took early retirement to better look after herself, to a newly diagnosed 30-year old re-training to work in child-care, who lost his younger brother to Type 1 Diabetes when they were both in their twenties. The conversations also show the many challenges, frustrations, but also moments of joy in the everyday life of a person with Type 1 Diabetes.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Nearly 5 million people in the UK have Diabetes – 10% of them Type 1, where the body has stopped producing insulin, and 90% Type 2. Diabetes is considered an invisible or hidden disability: you wouldn’t be able to tell that someone has Type 1 Diabetes from just looking at them. People with Diabetes can do everything everybody else can – it’s just that they need to pre-plan a lot more and constantly do mental arithmetic and make decisions about what to eat or how much insulin to inject in order to keep their blood sugar levels within a range in which they feel good. They need to do this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no breaks or holidays. That makes Type 1 Diabetes a very demanding chronic condition. You can find out more about diabetes on the Diabetes UK website.

Diabetes UK

Making the Invisible Visible

This exhibition makes the invisible in two ways: with portraits showing different people who live with Type 1 Diabetes in different situations and contexts on the one hand, and comic strips illustrating recurring themes and narratives across the 40 different conversations.

The portraits are being created by Alpo Honkapohja, a postdoctoral researcher here in PPLS, for whom art is a big part of his life. His works shows how living with Type 1 Diabetes means something different for each of the participants.

Alex Lorson is working on the comic strips and has created the banner for the exhibition. She is a linguistics PhD student here in PPLS and has also been creating art since her childhood – currently she is illustrating the experiments for her PhD study herself.

Developing the exhibition

The portraits and comic strips are being developed by the artists, based on the original interviews and conversations. Of course, all participants have consented to their data being shared and used for this purpose. As somebody who lives with Type 1 Diabetes, I help them with technical details where necessary – and in order to get a wider perspective, we organised a small workshop with two of the original participants and the artists in January.

The kick-off of the travelling exhibition was on 3 February at the Edinburgh Diabetes Day, the first meeting of a new research network here in Scotland. Throughout the day, our banner and 8 pieces of art – 4 comic strips and 4 portraits – were on display, and the 100 conference participants were invited to leave a note in our guestbook and take some of our postcards with prints of the art. We’re already planning further collaborations and exhibitions in Edinburgh and beyond!

Until late spring, Alex and Alpo will finish the planned portrait and comic series, and from the summer onwards the full exhibition can start travelling across Edinburgh, Scotland, and hopefully Europe.

Stay tuned on Making the Invisible Visible website and get in touch via email at makingtheinvisiblevisibleT1D@gmail.com

Making the Invisible Visible

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