Haidee Merritt got Type 1 diabetes at the tender age of two and says, "What began as a few doodles represents a lifetime of personal struggles and experiences. My cartoons are a way to confront and accept things that are sometimes hard, and to communicate with others."
For me, Haidee's cartoons are an escape hatch -- a get-out-of-diabetes-jail pass.
Here follows my third "Book View:" a short interview with an author and brief review of a book that offers an intriguing proposition.
Q: You have a rather dark sense of humor. Have you always?
Haidee Merritt: Maybe not always, but I've worked hard at shaping it, so thank you. MAD magazines were floating all over my house growing up; my favorite strip was "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" -- just dripping with sarcasm.
In relation to my cartoons, I just reached the point with my diabetes where I honestly couldn't imagine what else could happen. After a lifetime with it, there's almost nothing you can do but sit back and watch your fate unfold. You might as well grab some popcorn and get ready for the feature presentation.
I don't say, "all hope is lost!" and mope around drinking maple syrup. I choose to laugh at the screen. It's my way of coping. It's like I'm standing there looking this thing right in the eye and saying, "Impress me, I dare ya. Bring it on."
Q: You got Type 1 diabetes when you were two. What are your most vivid memories of having diabetes as a child?
Haidee Merritt: It was a frightening and often embarrassing way to grow up. My most vivid memory is from a crisp autumn morning, coming back to consciousness, strapped between my mother's thighs as she smashed maple sugar candy down my throat. There was a crowd of spectators and I wanted to run behind a building; down an embankment to escape and hide. My mom said, "If you go down there I'm not coming after you." I just remember crying, needing her but wanting to run. There was no place to escape from it.
Q: You've had diabetes now 38 years. What have you learned in all that time?
Haidee Merritt: Hah! I just turned 40 and here I am doing a diabetes retrospective! There are no two days that are exactly the same which means there's no coasting, no shifting into automatic-pilot for a diabetic. Every day -- every minute of every hour of every day -- is a tweaking, an adjustment, a refining of the skills you have learned to keep your body functioning. In my book there's a cartoon that says " ... it's a full-time job you're not paid for." Seriously, your life can revolve around just monitoring and reacting to this disease.
I feel that diabetics, as individuals, are a collection of our own experiences. Sure, there are certain levels of understanding we all can reach, formulas and guidelines we can be taught, but our response to things, our emotional reactions to certain circumstances is singular. I've learned that the titles I grew up with -- being a "good" or "bad" diabetic -- really set people up for failure. I now believe we need to exist in the area between the two extremes [in order] to have the endurance and resilience to cope long-term.
Q: You say the cartoons in your book are the expression of personal struggles and experiences, and that drawing them helps you confront and accept things. Tell me more about that.
Haidee Merritt: It's about expressing and owning my diabetic voice. I want people who are reading about the book not to assume this author/illustrator simply pities her life and wants to spread gloom and doom. Admittedly, there's bitterness below the surface -- and okay, above the surface ever-so-slightly -- but that's fair.
It's important to own the experiences we each have -- calling those experiences horrific or depressing or tragic, or beautiful, gratifying, redeeming. It isn't healthy in my opinion to minimize trauma or personal emotions. What each of us is going through is our own reality. It's empowering to embrace the crap flicked your way. It makes you stronger to claim it [and] conquer it.
Q: What made you create the book -- particularly since you self-published it?
Haidee Merritt: It's a way to share my diabetic heritage in a way I enjoy, through telling a story in pictures -- the oldest form of social media. This book is a glimpse of insight from a person who has never known life without diabetes. Frankly, I think it should be required reading and that diabetes institutions from far and near should embrace it.
Q: Which is your favorite cartoon and why?
Haidee Merritt: "Simple Pleasures" is my favorite. The expression on the guy's face makes me smile. I feel as though I successfully captured the feeling with that one.
Also, I say that phrase -- ah, the simple pleasures -- to myself rather often. For example: having a meter in each of the bathrooms of my house; flipping the cap off a new bottle of insulin ("It's Miller Time"); the security of having more than one box of test strips in the fridge; the week between injections of Vitamin B -- oh, the pure joy of it; the moment after I place a new insulin pod on my body and I know there are three days I don't have to think about it; getting your special meal delivery first on the plane. I could go on and on you know.
Q: Which is your second favorite cartoon and why?
Haidee Merritt: "Whoopie Pies" is a favorite because it's clean in message and ink. I think it's effective in how it's happy and fun -- the very name of the thing, the very shape of it -- while at the same time we're denied the happiness and fun.
Q: What feedback have you gotten from readers?
Haidee Merritt: I have to say, gratefully, that it's all been positive. I think it's refreshing just to say that things bother you, or you struggle with your disease or that other people do too. Owning and embracing these struggles is courageous and what could be more optimistic than courage in the face of fear and uncertainty? I think critics need to have a different perspective.
Q: You say, "Diabetes isn't a disease it's a lifestyle." What do you mean?
Haidee Merritt: To me a disease involves a diagnosis, precise treatment and a cure. The reason I call diabetes a lifestyle is because it's unpredictable and erratic. There are countless variables that affect a diabetic and [diabetes] doesn't go away. You wake up with it, you live with it; you go to bed with it and do it all over the next day. That's a lifestyle.
Q: What don't people "get" about diabetes?
Haidee Merritt: That it constantly screws with your head. It makes you doubt yourself, question yourself, redefine and reexamine yourself at every turn. It's not a static condition. It morphs and makes your body continually change. It's an emotional disease as well as a physical one. It's a social disease as well as an intensely private one. It's a struggle. It's not a disease you can beat in my opinion; it's a disease you have to join. I hate not having the option.
Q: You say, "You can't throw a rock anymore without hitting a diabetic." Are you jealous?
Haidee Merritt: Funny, but there is some sort of possessiveness. Hmmm... not jealousy, but it's definitely more personal now that the disease is so rampant. I feel I wear some kind of label, where maybe I have more market value as a diabetic than personal value. Let's just say everyone either knows or is related to someone with diabetes these days.
Book Review: "One Lump Or Two? Things that suck about being diabetic" by artist/writer/wise-cracker Haidee Merritt is for anyone with diabetes who needs a time out. I'm not talking about the time outs that parents give misbehaving children. I'm not talking about sticking you in the corner and making you reflect on your sins. I am talking about the type of time out everyone with diabetes craves and needs -- time to get away from tending to your diabetes, laugh and feel validated by a cartoon that expresses the enormity of this sometimes exhausting, overwhelming condition. As the author says on her closing page, "I'm sure your diabetes sucks too. Save your energy for those who understand."
What I like most: As Groucho Marx said, "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me." While I'd prefer not to belong to this one, I get to enjoy that I "get" every cartoon and it "gets" me and my life with diabetes. Haidee's voice is cynical, sharp, smart and relatable from a woman who's not pussy-footing around.
Strengths of this book: You can read it all in less than a half hour or savor one cartoon a day to save your sanity. I limited myself to two with every meal. It made everything go down easier.
Haidee's work can be found on DiabetesMine as the resident Sunday funnies creator.
Riva is the author of "50 Diabetes Myths That Can Ruin Your Life and the 50 Diabetes Truths That Can Save It" and "The ABC's Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes." Visit her web site Diabetes Stories.com.