Conversation with FairWay Woods Senior Jerry Dyment

If you had told Jerry Dyment ten years ago that he would soon be living on long-term disability, as one of the first residents of Cool Aid’s FairWay Woods facility for seniors at risk, he wouldn’t have accepted it.

He was a successful entrepreneur who had once had partnerships in two grocery stores, a father of three, an active community contributor in the Toronto area, and a former church elder and Sunday school teacher. How could he possibly have predicted that a “new start” in BC would end with a diagnosis of severe bipolar disorder at the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s Eric Martin Pavilion?

Jerry had been given the diagnosis once before, after he asked his brother to check him into a Mississauga, Ontario hospital. But the bipolar label didn’t make sense to him then and he refused to let it stick. “I just didn’t know what it was. I understand manic-depressive, but how the hell can I be manic-depressive?” he recalled. His biggest fear was that they would commit him for psychiatric treatment.

It wasn’t until he immigrated to BC, where the bipolar diagnosis came up again, that Jerry realized things were never going to be the same. “I moved here from Toronto, and I was hoping to get restarted in a small business of some kind and unfortunately, or fortunately, I ended up in the hospital and they sent me to Eric Martin,” he recounted, sitting at the table in the patio garden outside FairWay Woods.

This time he got it; a new phase of life had begun.

A decade later, at 66, Jerry is wiser — a man you can tell has not been defeated by his condition, who has instead learned more about himself by adapting to a radically changed mode of living. He’s not a businessman anymore, but he is a family man still.  He continues to contribute to his community in new ways… none of which would be possible without the stable home base he’s found at FairWay Woods in Langford.

One of the things he’s had to confront is booze. Alcoholism and drug use are, for many, ways of coping with underlying problems. Jerry didn’t see his use of alcohol as anything but a normal, even cultural trait. He remembers as a teen, growing up in Prince Edward Island, watching his uncles imbibing out of a brown paper bag by the threshing machine in his grandfather’s barn.

“You learn those habits, that’s what my doctor says. I guess my Dad — I’d seen his habits — so you just carry on… It’s hereditary in that sense.” But liquor, it turned out, was a self-administered antidote for a serious disorder that would not go away.

But neither his bipolar diagnosis nor continued bouts with alcoholism are going to ruin Jerry’s life — not now. The first thing you notice when you enter his third floor corner unit at FairWay Woods is the collection of framed photos on a small hall table. Children and grandchildren are clustered together in this crowded space — reminders that he’s connected to a network of people he cares about, and who care about him.

Without a place to call home — a secure kitchen, living and dining area, bathroom and bedroom — that kind of simple shrine to family would not be possible. That’s why the Victoria Cool Aid Society thinks facilities like the 32-unit FairWay Woods are so important: you can’t begin building a life until you are in a place you can call your own.

Jerry agrees. “For me there couldn’t be anything better,” he said of FairWay Woods. “It’s totally perfect. In fact, the whole health and social system opened its arms to me and I need to always be willing to make it part of my life.”

Residents are provided one meal a day and have access to facilities that include a TV-computer room and a fitness room. Jerry is also thankful for the staff at FairWay Woods. “We’ve got people here who’ve got years of experience in the field,” he said. “People can come here and be safe; I can come here and be safe.”

His own experience with Cool Aid has convinced Jerry to volunteer so the organization can do more. He noted that Cool Aid is part of the Coalition to End Homelessness in Victoria by 2018. Said Jerry, “We’re working at raising $4 million to get the housing in place that gives people someplace to live.”

It’s a big challenge, but Jerry knows better than most that we have to begin somewhere.