Acceptance Through Art

WRITTEN BY: Alyssa Arns


Choosing to focus my senior project on Type 1 diabetes was an easy decision — or so I thought.

I’d already lost my opportunity at obtaining an internship for the semester, so completing a senior project was the only option I had left. For almost a year I’d been saving used supplies for the perfect, yet to be determined, project. And because I’d already created a piece centered on Type 1 in another class, I figured it would be easy.

With a pill bottle stem, an empty Dexcom box base, syringe tuners, and what I wished were tubing strings, a guitar was born!

Or rather: “a guitar” was born. My baby could not actually play music, but it was something I was proud of. Though it may have seemed silly to have so much pride over a “guitar” with strings of the same pitch that made only the slightest of sounds when plucked, I’d never been able to condense my feelings about chronic illness into a medium other than writing until then.

Now, this piece would become one of the cornerstones of my senior project.

Or so I thought.


There was so much to say that I had no idea where to start: inaccurate portrayals and stereotypes of T1D in media; the exhaustion that continually comes with constant analysis of blood sugar trends; education on the disease itself. Not to mention, I had to find some way of making this thing play music! Despite the stubbornness rooted in one hundred percent of my being, it was clear that was not going to happen.

With the pressure that came with the project (mentor meetings, deadlines, decisions), I began to stress out. Not only that, everything I wanted to say became an expression of anger.

I’m so mad that people don’t understand.

I’m so mad that I have to do this in the first place.

I’m so mad that I can’t figure this out, and my pump is beeping at me!

I’m. So. Mad.

When I began working on my project, I wanted to transform all of my supplies; I wanted to make them new and beautiful. I was sick and tired (of being sick and tired, but actually) of viewing the disease with such hatred. Hatred was turning me into the green eyed monster—or something else entirely. Whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty.

I continually questioned what I was doing and why — my frustrations with chronic illness were quickly turning into an existential crisis. But I had to make decisions. I had to produce something, or I wouldn’t graduate.

Eventually, I realized I simply had to share my experience. I had to provide an understanding and fill the gap that I knew existed. Even if I couldn’t find anything beautiful in that.

I began stringing syringes on wire to hang from the ceiling. Lancets and syringes became tacks for my cork board. Test strips became carpet. Insulin vials became flower vases, as did pill bottles. The Dexcom instruction manual was revised into block poetry.

I quickly began filling the installation space with furniture: a bed, vanity, keyboard; a rug and bedside tables. Details like dirty laundry, empty Omni Pod and Dexcom boxes, and drawers filled with pill bottles, my glasses, and pens started to create a lived-in space.

Slowly I realized I was creating an abstract installation of my bedroom.

The video my friend and I had been filming was to be projected on the wall, juxtaposing my daily Medical Routine and my daily Everything Else routine. The song I wrote and composed with the help of two friends would be played via Bluetooth to fill the space musically.

Suddenly, my project was coming together. To the surprise of me.

All of the anger I couldn’t translate, had to be translated into something else. It is all too easy to be consumed by anger — and my final project showed me that even though I wasn’t able to find that “beauty,” that Whatever-It-Was-I-Thought-I-Needed-To-Make-Art wasn’t necessary.

All I needed was my experience and a desire to share that with others.

A woman approached me during the presentation, someone I had never met, and she told me of her own experience with chronic illness within her family. She said to me, “We see you. We hear you. We love you,” before hugging me goodbye.

Something I never considered at the beginning of this process was how we are all united as humans — and in the end, that was what was so fulfilling.

When I first started my project, I tore myself apart: what made me different from other people; how others didn’t understand; why I was beginning to feel so exhausted.

In the end I learned that a lot of people feel similarly and have their own experiences to show for it, and instead of focusing on the divisions that drive us apart, we should be focusing on what unites us. It showed me just how many people understood, and how we can support each other. And for others who may not have had such a wide view of what chronic illness is like, now they know a little more than they did before. Additionally, we can’t fault people for things they don’t understand if we aren’t willing to open up and share understanding ourselves.

I hope to continue making art in the future, and to continue sharing my experiences in ways that broaden understanding and open the doors for others. It’s so easy to hide underneath the piles of test strips we build up on the daily, but it’s just as easy to share that little strip with the butterfly (or lack of butterfly!), spread your wings and share your colors. More often than not, people will want to fly with you.

Thank god for my friends who collaborated and fly with me daily.

Alyssa Arns

Alyssa Arns is a recent ASU graduate with degrees in English and Interdisciplinary Art & Performance. She hopes to continue making art that opens doors for others and provides understanding for her fellow humans. She was diagnosed with T1D in 2010.