I found myself shaking my head in agreement as I read the cartoons in One Lump or Two, Things that suck about being diabetic, a book of comics about life with diabetes by the cartoonist Haidee Soule Merritt. Merritt was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of two, and as a veteran of this disease (diagnosed at the age of four), I found myself laughing while reading, and identifying with Merritt’s unique portrayal of a diabetic’s life. Merritt says, “In case you haven’t heard, diabetes isn’t just a disease, it’s a lifestyle. I’ve been living and coping with type 1 diabetes long enough to know it sucks. If you think it’s easy–then you’re not doing it right. Grab a seat and let me enlighten you . . .”
Throughout the volume, Merritt catches tiny “diabetic” moments with her wit and sarcasm – things like blood geysers or eternally cold feet- that we diabetics know all too well. Some of my favorite cartoons in the book were those that captured what I’ve experienced in my own daily diabetes care – like the fact that diabetes is a full time job and the all too familiar panic of low blood sugar. Merritt is both brave and funny, and she isn’t afraid to shine light on the dark side of this disease. She focuses a major portion of the comics on complications, insulin as a tool to survive, and other ugly realities of diabetes.
One Lump or Two? doesn’t claim to be any more than it is, a purely humorous take on the day in and day out of diabetes, and it’s a perfect place for diabetics to turn when they want to see someone poking fun at the various aspects of living with this chronic illness.
I had the liberty to ask Haidee a few questions, and I’m excited to share her responses with you.
What is your diagnosis story?
My diagnosis story is more like family folklore that’s trickled down to me from my parents and siblings. I was hardly more than 2 years of age, a toddler, when doctors were able to finally give my family the name of what was wrong with me. Up until then I’d been rushed to hospitals with grand mal seizures and monitored by EKG machines. Unfortunately, because I was unable to communicate my symptoms with adults, it was thought that perhaps I was epileptic. There were countless other possibilities as well. My parents say I had a supernatural thirst for water and I would drop to sleep during activities like crawling up stairs.
When it was finally clear that I had diabetes mellitus, it was anything but relief that my parents felt. The doctors at Children’s Hospital in Boston gave them very little in the way of support or optimism; in fact, they suggested my parents consider placing me in a group home, recommended few pictures be taken of me, and suggested that my brothers not be allowed to get attached to me. My life expectancy, they said, was seven years or less. Again, this is the family folklore that has possibly changed over time. It is, however, what I consider to be my diagnosis story.
Has humor always been your coping mechanism?
Humor has always helped me cope, yes, but not necessarily with diabetes. I guess you come so far with a disease or condition and you think ‘Surely, nothing else could go wrong?’ and yet it does. It’s like a never-ending source of material you can either smile or cry at, but either way you’re going to have to handle it. That’s clearly why some of the cartoons have dark humor in them. The cartoons, those specifically, are used as an exploratory tool. Perhaps they make you a little uncomfortable but they also get you thinking.
Which is your favorite cartoon and why?
I’m a big fan of the Whoopie Pie cartoon. It’s a simple drawing that gets the point across really fast, as though sudden joy and exhilaration over something delicious is suddenly and unexpectedly SNATCHED from within inches of your mouth. It makes me smile every time. Diabetes is always playing tricks on you like that.
How did you come up with the title “One Lump or Two?”?
I think you’d be surprised how many people DON’T ask me that obvious question—this might even be an exclusive for ASweetLife! Clearly this is a common enough question that people ask all the time when offering someone coffee or tea: “Do you take that with one lump of sugar or two?” But I actually took it from the Def Leppard song ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me.’
Halfway through the song the singer screams: Do you take sugar? One lump or two? It should be noted that they’re a British band; this probably isn’t as strange a thing to scream at an audience over there as it might be here. I think it’s safe to say that that song is chock full of lines that either absolutely crack me up or make me cringe with discomfort. Here’s another funny line to make my point: I’m hot sticky sweet, from my head to my feet yeah. Yup, this song gives diabetics lots to work with; I’m still trying to get it as a ringtone for my phone.
What’s the response been like to the book? Humor and laughter are universal, but some of it gets dark…how has the diabetes community handled that?
This book has been a labor of love. Clearly, it hasn’t topped any best-seller list and it’s not difficult to keep stocked in bookstores either (sigh). Since getting the book published last winter I have come to understand much more clearly who this book is for and what this book is for.
The target audience is the diabetic individual and, secondly, the diabetic community as a whole – response from them has been fantastic, very encouraging. One needs to understand the book isn’t just me complaining about life with diabetes or how the disease has wrecked my life, but instead a way to accept and embrace those hurdles. It’s like the antithesis of denial. And realizing you’re not in it alone is very comforting; commiserating with, or showing empathy for, other people in the same situation as you seems to almost define us in today’s world.
So there you have it – a very irregular comic book about a very irregular disease. I would like to note that the comics are certainly not for the light of heart. Merritt does not hold back, and she shines the light in the darkest places of this disease- including the bedroom. This isn’t a “kiddy comic,” it’s real and sometimes it hurts.
For more about Haidee, visit her website www.haideemerritt.com.