Diabetes Forecast

Blogger Lee Ann Thill's Postcard Project

By Lindsey Wahowiak ,

Lee Ann Thill, 39, an art therapist and vocal health blogger who lives with type 1 diabetes
An art postcard campaign during American Diabetes Month in November 2011
To connect people to others who care about diabetes and to share handmade art with a personal message of support

Lee Ann Thill, of Magnolia, N.J., organized the campaign through her blog, The Butter Compartment. More than 500 people participated, with each making and receiving a hand-crafted diabetes-themed postcard. The result was a cross-country support system run through the mail. You can check out the diabetes postcard project here.

Project: For World Diabetes Day, I had been thinking about a project that would link people using the mail in some way, and having something handmade. When I was a kid I went to diabetes camp, so I always had a group of friends from camp, and during the school year we communicated through letters. In my early teen years we started decorating our envelopes. All these letters were just works of art. That was my only connection to other people who had diabetes. I just loved the experience of looking into the mailbox and finding a letter from one of my friends and having that sense of connection.

We all have ready access to that now because we're online—we're reading blogs, we have Facebook, but there's something different about having something physical in your hands that someone else took the time to create.

Response: There ended up being just under 530 people, and that includes entire families. It ended up being a word-of-mouth project that people posted about on their blogs. This year people just e-mailed me their addresses and I made a spreadsheet. They told me a few basic things if they were interested in being matched with someone [like them]: type 1, type 2, family member, a child, boy or girl. There were some people who wanted to send multiple postcards. In the end, it seems like people have been really happy with it.

I was delighted with the range of all the different places and all the different kinds of artwork. It was very exciting. There's a bunch that are collage, and people used test strips and all kinds of diabetes supply materials that they cut from test strip boxes and that sort of thing to create different designs. People did really cool ones. Some were computer art so they were really kind of fancy and interesting. I'm kind of a handmade-art girl so I'm always impressed with what people can do with digital art. The theme was to just include the blue circle [a global symbol for diabetes]. The range of ways that people figured out how to make the blue circle was really astounding.

Work: I'm an art therapist. My specialty is working with people who have diabetes, but I work with people who have all kinds of medical-related issues—run-of-the-mill psychiatric issues, eating- and body image–related problems, and people who are having issues related to life transitions (phase of life, going from high school to college, college to work, being single to being married)—those kinds of big life changes that seem really happy but can also come with a lot of stress.

Passion: I'm an artist also—I started Diabetes Art Day [annually, September 1] because I wanted to get the community engaged in art making. As an art therapist I'm very big on advocating for the healing value of art making, for its potential to give people insight and also as a cathartic experience, and also as a way of relaxing and just coping with diabetes.

As an art therapist, I have come to find the beauty in all artwork, even a scribble. I see the energy and the heart. So when I look at all the postcards, it's like trying to pick your favorite snowflake. They're all beautiful and they're all different.



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