We caught up with Katie Lamb, UK-based artist and diabetes advocate. After two decades of living with type 1 diabetes, the 22-year-old “has seen it all” in terms of the emotional ups and downs of diabetes. Somewhere along the way, though, Katie realised that, by translating her experience into art and sharing it over social media, she can support children and youth as they face similar challenges along their diabetes journeys.1
Roche Diabetes Care: Your art captivated us right away, Katie. When and how did the connection between your art and diabetes first develop?
Katie: Art and diabetes have always been connected for me. When I was little I would draw a picture for my nurse before every single clinic visit. I was determined for her to build a whole gallery of my artwork!
Art began as a place for some positivity in diabetes. It provided me that space to work through some of those emotions that I just couldn't identify as a child. I don't think I ever predicted it would become what it is now in my life, but when I was little, I knew I wanted to help people with diabetes.
Art helped get me through many tough times over the years and, when I first started posting my artwork on social media at the end of 2019, I kind of stumbled upon this community accidentally. That’s when I understood that art is also a way to empower and support other people. It’s very difficult to put into words something as abstract as diabetes, so art has become a really powerful tool in my advocacy.
Roche Diabetes Care: Emotions play a relevant role in diabetes management since they can impact your blood glucose levels. What’s your experience with overcoming emotionally challenging situations? In what ways did your art help you?
Katie: Towards the end of school, I became quite overwhelmed and struggled with my emotional well-being, more than at any other point in my diabetes journey. There were so many changes happening all at once. I was leaving school, I was going to start university, which meant moving to a new city. Leaving my paediatrician to go to the adult team was also a really big change for me. I think at that point I was just tired of diabetes – I'd been doing it for 16 years and was just exhausted from the whole thing. But I struggled to communicate that with my diabetes team at the time – or with anyone, actually. Even though I was privileged to have so many supportive people around me, communicating that I wasn’t doing well felt impossible.
I realised one night that I did have the tools to say this - it just wasn't with words. I could pick up a paintbrush. I got some paper and I put it all down, and then took this painting to the clinic. It was a very strange moment of saying: “I need you to just look at this painting, because I think this is what I need to share with you.” This opened up a whole new conversation, and it allowed me to see what I was feeling and allowed my team to have this insight into what was going on.
Roche Diabetes Care: Why did you start displaying your art on social media and how did the community respond to that?
Katie: I'd been following a couple of people with diabetes on social media for a while, but I had been very much outside of the community. I knew that there must be people with diabetes online, but I was completely unaware of just how vibrant the community was or how many incredible things were going on in that space. During university, I thought I'd give it a go and post some drawings as I’d learnt that this is my way of communicating. Digital art was not something I’d ever done before – it was a pretty “new media” for me – and it really took off.
I started doing these portraits of people in the community. I think there was something empowering about seeing other people turned into artwork, shared on all these platforms. Very quickly lots of people were contacting me and saying: “Hi, could you draw me?” Then, when the pandemic happened, I was grateful that I already had this community because I spent lockdown, almost full-time, making these commissions of portraits of people living with diabetes, or showing off their technology, with quotes behind them sharing their stories. This was such a powerful form of peer support and I was so lucky to have found it at that time.
Roche Diabetes Care: Why do you think it is important to be an advocate for people with diabetes?
Katie: For a long time, the voices of people with diabetes, and especially those of children and young people, remained unheard and completely overlooked. I attended my first event as an advocate when I was 17. I remember sitting in this room talking to professionals and realising that no one had asked a single young person with diabetes what they wanted. That sparked this interest for me thinking about who else is talking about us without us, and how we can introduce some more creativity into these spaces to open up that communication.
I've been privileged to act as a voice for young people, to listen to all of these stories and take them back to research steering groups, national audits and national youth programmes to try and make sure that people with diabetes, and especially young people, are in the centre of our care. Giving people with diabetes a platform is important to fight the stigma or misinformation that’s out there so that we can live in a culture that allows people to be empowered when living with diabetes.
Roche Diabetes Care: What would be the one piece of advice you’d give to someone with diabetes struggling with mental health issues?
Katie: Diabetes is so much to carry, and it's totally understandable if that becomes too heavy, but I think the act of being able to say “Hi, this is really heavy and I need somewhere to put this down” is an act of strength and bravery. I found that people with diabetes struggle with self-compassion. We’re not always as kind to ourselves as we should be, and there’s a lot of pressure, normally from ourselves, to be this “perfect diabetic,” and I think often good enough is good enough. Trying your best is what you really need to do. There's no such thing as “a perfect diabetic” – especially because numbers don’t define your worth and there's no moral value to these numbers. It’s important to make sure that you’re kind to yourself every day, but even more so when you’re finding this burden especially difficult to carry.
This content is part of a paid collaboration with Katie Lamb. This content is not, and is not intended to be, relied upon as medical or mental health advice nor is it intended to be relied upon for any medical/mental health diagnosis or treatment. Roche is not providing medical or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical/mental health questions you may have. Do not ignore medical/mental health symptoms, medical/mental health advice previously obtained from a physician or other qualified healthcare professional, or delay in obtaining medical/mental health advice based upon this content.
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