Author shares experiences and finds release


When she was a kid spending summers in Maine, Amy Mercer would take part in a traditional clothes-and-all jump in the lake after the Fourth of July parade.


Mercer recalls the first time she made that jump — how the weight of the clothes pulled at her, how hard she had to tread water just to keep her head above the surface.


That’s how she describes living with Type 1 diabetes, how it requires constant monitoring of everything from diet to blood sugar to mundane body functions such as yawning.


A columnist, essayist and soon-to-be memoirist, Mercer, 38, artfully chronicles the frustrations, the pokes, the pricks, the myths, the drudgery and the limitations that are part of living with Type 1.


“Writing is the way I process all my issues, and diabetes is obviously one of the bigger issues,” she says.


With every piece she writes, there comes a satisfaction of contributing insight and information — both of which were lacking when Mercer was growing up with Type 1. When she was diagnosed at 14, the main source of information was the magazine Diabetes Forecast, geared toward Type 2 diabetics — those who acquire diabetes largely through poor diet and aging.


She writes of coming face-to-face with a frighteningly dull and strange world in its pages:
“When I flipped through the pages of Diabetes Forecast, my stomach sank. Staring back at me from the front cover was an old man. The topics covered in that issue meant nothing to me.”


“That’s the time when you don’t want to live by any rules or regulations,” Mercer says in her Charleston, S.C., home. Working on a coming-of-age memoir has her wondering how her teenage years would have been different had she not needed so much structure, discipline and constant attention to nutrition and diet. Was she robbed of the chance to be wild, or did her pushing back against her illness suffice?


“I remember going to support groups with these kids, and their parents were so over-protective, doing their shots for them … and I just thought, ‘I can’t live like this.’ So I definitely rebelled against that. Because I couldn’t bear to live like that. … I went through a lot of reckless years where I was rebelling against this need for control.”


The disease still carries a sense of frustration that writing helps cure. The biggest for Mercer is the confusion people have with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.


“We share the label ‘diabetes,’ and people assume you have Type 2 because that’s all anybody knows about, she added. “The public perception of diabetics is obese, unhealthy Type 2s because that’s what you see in media all the time. That’s the hugest myth that drives me most crazy. I wish there were two different names to distinguish the differences, because the differences are huge.”


Married with two children and pregnant with a third, Mercer is at no shortage of material — past, present or future. Through writing, the chronic illness becomes tolerable.


“Once I write it, I feel so much better.”

 

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» Amy Mercer’s blog, Dreaming of Water, is at alsmercer.wordpress.com.



Joe Tougas has written for the Blueroad Reader, the Mankato (Minn.) Free Press and Minnesota State University Today.