Diabetes Victoria Blog
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Suzie Byatt is on a mission to connect and empower people living with type 1 diabetes through the almost lost art of handwritten letters.
Picture this: you open your mailbox to find a letter in careful handwriting on beautiful stationery; the thoughtful words expressed by someone from across the globe who understands exactly what it’s like to live with type 1 diabetes. The penpal in question was matched with you based on your aligned values and circumstances and has become a cherished friend.
That’s the experience Suzie Byatt and her sister Zoe are offering through Type One Writers, a penpal service for anyone, at any age, living with type 1. The duo pride themselves on building community and both understand how challenging and isolating living with type 1 can be.
“Zoe was diagnosed with type 1 when she was 16,” Suzie explains.
“We’re from the UK and she was showing all the typical symptoms, the four Ts.
“It was a shock because we didn’t have any awareness or knowledge about type 1 diabetes but after a bit of research it turns out it had skipped two generations – all our grandparents parents had it.”
Zoe set up Type One Writers in 2018 to connect people across the UK living with type 1.
“It was open to anyone with type 1 diabetes, but she was focusing on kids with type 1 and parents of kids with type 1,” Suzie says.
“She thought it would be a great idea to create a stationery pack and match people with a penpal.”
Almost two decades later, Suzie was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
“I wanted to have a baby, so I went to the doctor for a preconception screening,” Suzie recalls. “I was diagnosed and told I was probably type 2 based on my age, which was 35 at the time.”
While she waited for further test results, she was told to assume she was now managing type 2 diabetes.
“I was really determined to reverse it. I’m vegan and I have a vegan dietician and with her help I managed to get my blood sugar levels under control quickly, without insulin,” she explains.
“A few weeks later I got a call on a Friday evening at 6pm, my doctor was quite urgent on the phone and said ‘you need insulin, you’re type 1’.
“I had been treated like I was responsible for having type 2 diabetes and I had caused it, so in a way I was relieved, but then it hit me that it would be something that I would be living with forever.”
“I didn’t know anyone with type 1 apart from my sister, and I didn’t know anyone pregnant with type 1, so I did feel isolated.”
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t directed by anyone in my care team to Diabetes Victoria or anywhere I could seek support. I felt quite alone and I wanted to feel closer to someone who could relate to me.”
While balancing her work as an art teacher, artist and yoga teacher, Suzie started working with Zoe on expanding Type One Writers. She wanted an opportunity for herself and others to connect with people who understood the daily joys and battles.
“I wanted to revamp it so that I could feel more supported, a little selfishly,” she admits.
“When my son was born, I also decided that if he is diagnosed one day, I want him to feel there’s an amazing community he can be part of, and it doesn’t have to be through technology. This is something that’s personal and tangible and it’s a process that’s mindful as well – which can be great for your blood sugar levels!”
The bespoke, illustrated stationery sets Suzie designed and her process for connecting members are both lovingly considered.
“When someone signs up, they let us know if they are happy to be matched with someone from another country, if they would prefer someone of a similar age, or if that’s not necessary,” she explains.
“I will do everything I can to find that person the best match based on their preferences.
“So far the people that have signed up don’t mind, they’re just really excited to write to someone and connect and support each other.”
The stationery starter pack is comprised of two pieces of writing paper, two postcards, an envelope, stickers, and a handwritten welcome letter from Suzie.
“My background is in design and art, so this was a really lovely way for me to give back to myself and to the diabetes community,” Suzie says.
“The artwork I’ve created empowers me, so I hope to evoke the same feeling for everyone who receives it.”
Suzie recently made her first match – two parents of children living with type 1.
“Both of their sons are 10 years old – one parent lives in America and one lives in Australia,” Suzie explains.
“I’m hopeful there will be synergy between them and they will have a lot to talk about. “I feel excited that they care enough about this venture that I’ve started and have put their trust in me to find the perfect person.”
Type One Writers membership is open to Type 1 warriors of any age (including parents of Type 1 warriors) living anywhere in the world. For more information, visit the Type One Writers website.