Drawing Strength: Cartoons As Medicine
“There’s a cartoon in there somewhere!” This is
my usual response to family scenarios, relationships, work, health
issues and a general “day in the life” of any of us. Have
I always responded this way? Definitely not.
Cartooning was never anything I had planned to do. It was nothing
I would have labeled an alternative career. It wasn’t even
a skill or talent I was aware I possessed, much less worked on developing.
Of course, I hadn’t planned on getting ill either. Nor had
I planned on ending up in the hospital, going through endless hours
and days of testing and lab work, anxiously awaiting results. When
all the doctors reached a consensus on the diagnosis (spinal meningitis
and a pituitary tumor), it was a relief of sorts. Medically categorized,
I knew I could deal with the implications and complications presented
to me. What I couldn’t predict was the extreme fatigue, dizziness,
visual disturbances , severe depression and debilitating pain. I
was prescribed various medications to provide some relief. To the
frustration of the medical staff and myself, none were effective.
I decided a positive attitude and strong faith were going to have
to be my illness-conquering tools. I prayed for guidance and strength.
God answered my prayers by handing me another tool to use. It was
an unexpected one. The medicinal power of humor.
Now, I had always heard the line that “God must have a sense
of humor” or that “ A merry heart doeth good like a
medicine.” I just never figured I’d have to put those
words to work. I began smiling at staff and patients alike. In fact,
I started smiling about everything. And I laughed. “You need
a spinal tap.” Smile. “Time for some more lab work.”
Smile. “Just one more MRI.” Smile. I was sure my mind
over weakened matter approach was going to be effective, although
my developing sense of humor was met with more than one suspicious
look. Even my family questioned my newfound technique. I suspected
my medical chart was reviewed to see if I was on some sort of prescription
drug whose side effects included “smiling at inappropriate
times” and “laughing while in pain.”
With that kind of review (and 13 years as a professional social
worker), I anticipated they would send me upstairs for a psychological
evaluation. Instead, I was wheeled down the hall for an electroencephalogram
(or, more simply, an EEG). All those wires glued to someone’s
head would in most patients induce fear, anxiety, or at least a
visual flashback of Boris Karloff playing Frankenstein. For me,
it triggered my first cartoon.
When I presented my drawing to the technicians, they laughed out
loud and taped the cartoon to the wall. It was all the incentive
I needed. My endocrinologist witnessed my new addiction to white
copier paper and black marking pens. He decided my cartoons deserved
a special place in my medical records.
Once released from the hospital I self-prescribed cartooning as
a tool for healing and recovery. I found immense enjoyment in this
new venture and noticed a behavioral change in myself. As I returned
to my corporate day job, I found that I couldn’t wait to get
home in the evening to my drawing board. I decided to pursue cartooning
and an old passion of mine –writing- as a combined new career.
Single and self-supporting at the time, I knew it would require
determination and a lot of hard work. Some people encouraged me.
“Go for it! Now is the time!” However, most people said,
“Are you crazy? You can’t do that for a living! It has
nothing to do with your degree. You aren’t formally trained.
You’ll have to abandon those restrictive suits, uncomfortable
shoes, mundane meetings and your beeper!” I would smile and
offer a laugh in response. “I LOVE what I’m doing!”
That usually finalized the inquisition. I also knew that when God
bopped me on (and in) my head with this cartooning gift, it was
for a reason. I knew that the plan for my future included using
the tools of art and humor to assist others in their journeys. And
that was a powerful motivator and source of inspiration.
As I made the transition, I loved how I felt. I loved how my physical
health was improving by leaps and bounds. I loved how my sense of
humor spilled over into other facets of my life. I felt hopeful,
optimistic, energized and spiritually excited! And the best part?
I loved the way sharing my cartoons and smile brought a lift to
others. I started going to hospitals and clinics, passing out cartoons
to staff and patients alike. My phone started ringing off the walls
with requests from people who wanted me to mail a cartoon to someone
with an illness, someone going through a tough family situation
or difficulties at work, someone having a birthday, and yes, someone
who has suffered a death in their family. The response was so great
, I decided to gather all my cartoons in book format, and released
my first book, “…You Never Asked For This!”
It’s been thirteen years since I was hospitalized. I’ve
been published widely in the U.S. and Europe and recruited as a
speaker. And yes, there’s still an itsy bitsy spot in the
pituitary gland where the tumor USED to be. I laugh and know that
having hormones that go astray is not necessarily a bad thing. In
my case, I let them go to work(or play) for me.
The last time I completed a medical form requesting any pertinent
past or present medical conditions, I filled in the blank with Endocrine
Microadenoma: i.e., Pituitary Tumor: Cartoon Storage Area.
A sense of humor has helped get me to this point. It’s going
to accompany me wherever I’m headed and whatever I do. Combined
with a happy regiment of sound nutrition, herbs, regular exercise,
meditation and music, I’ve have never been more enthusiastic
about the future . Not one day passes in which I don’t laugh
or find something humorous about myself, or life, or work, or my
family…and yes, even about my health. God has given me an
incredible gift and each day I feel blessed to share that gift with
others. What was a life threatening illness I now term a life affirming
experience. Positive changes in physical, emotional and spiritual
health are wonderful side effects of incorporating humor and laughter
in our lives. I discovered life’s best medicine can begin
with a prayer and a smile and an openness to change and growth.
And that is one BIG blessing!
c. Jo Lee Dibert-Fitko
Ms. Dibert-Fitko’s work has appeared in over 100 publications
A graduate of the University of Michigan, she has been a featured
speaker in Michigan,Ohio and Illinois as well as a consultant on
the healing art of humor. She is receiving local and national acclaim
for her cartoon/coloring book book,”…You Never Asked
For This!”(Infinity Publishing 1-877-BUY BOOK) as well as
her poetry book, “Evening Palette”. Accolades include
Charles Osgood (CBS News),Dr. Patch Adams and Duke University Health
and Humor Association(NC). Jo Lee has been a registered social worker
for over 25 years, featured in newspapers throughout Michigan ,
as well as radio and Public Television. She is a member of the American
Association for Therapeutic Humor, Saginaw YMCA, Flint(MI) Institute
of Music, Flint Festival Chorus and the Small Publishers Association
of North America. She fondly refers to her pituitary gland as the
‘cartoon storage area”.
Jo Lee may be reached at (989) 652-3174 or GF942@aol.com
Her book may be purchased through Infinity Publishing
(Toll Free 1-877-BUY BOOK),Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Online or via the author.