Progressive Prison Ministries: The First Ministry in the United States Created to Provide Support for Individuals, Families and Organizations with White-Collar and Other Nonviolent Incarceration Issues. Greenwich CT & Nationwide

Friday, January 30, 2015

With A Little Help From My Friends, By James Dyer - Guest Blogger

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With A Little Help From My Friends

By James Dyer - Guest Blogger

James Dyer is a Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and a schizophrenic. He is courageously speaking the truth about  a topic that is often stigmatized. Our mission at is to bring compassion and light to people who 
suffer in silence . - Jeff

My name is James Dyer, and I am an addict, an alcoholic, and schizophrenic.

How often does that last diagnosis get lost in the shuffle of the diseases that inevitably lead to jails, institutions, and death?  How often do I try to relate to people why I am having a bad day, only to get squeamish uncomfortable and unsympathetic answers in return.  Why must I make people so uncomfortable by being sick with a disease that has yet to gain the respectability of addict or alcoholic?

I will share my story.

I got sick with schizophrenia at  nineteen, and was treated improperly until I was twenty-one.  Those years were hell.  And yet I am one of the lucky ones, because I had the gift of desperation.  I reached out and said that I wanted to kill myself, and was making plans to do it.

Straight to the psych ward.

Prescribed: Zyprexa, (astronomically high dose leaving me near comatose, it is an anti-psychotic) Lexapro, (an anti-depressant) and most importantly NO MORE ADDERALL.

That was what made me so sick so fast.  People underestimate the danger of amphetamines for ADHD.  I faked the symptoms because I liked the high of Adderall, staying up for three days at a time, ostensibly doing homework, but more often smoking pot to take the edge off the speed. A word to the wise: do not try this at home.  I learned the hard way.

I am human.

I want love.  I pursued the sensual feeling of love through the pills, the bottle, and the pipe.  Why is this more acceptable than psychosis?  It is because psychosis scares people because they don’t understand.  Let me enlighten you.  Please.

I am a romantic, and painfully shy.

I see the world as though I am living in a novel, seeing metaphors and backstories of conspiracy everywhere.  I see connections in philosophy because of this, but there is no off switch when I leave the classroom.

Luckily I got help again just over Christmas break 2014 in a rehab in Florida. I was put on a new regime of drugs, some abusable, and some definitely not.  I go to recovery meetings and they tell me that if I work the program then I won’t need the pills or the therapy: the very system that keeps me from slipping into a waking nightmare.  I brush these comments aside.  What else can I do?  I am not understood, and that romantic streak in me goes another day without connection, except from some of my chosen classmates who are willing to shoulder the burden with me.  I want to carry it myself but it is too much.  I love my comrades.

I am human.  Do not be scared of me.  Please.

I crave justice: I marched in Ferguson for Michael Brown, and stormed Times Square for Eric Garner.  I love my family beyond description, as well as my pet bird of 15 years named Sydney.  I am human.  I have a life that is worth living.

Sometimes.  And sometimes, the answer is that it is truly not worth living except for the hope of tomorrow.  Hope!  Such a beautiful idea;  I live on hope, like a car running on fumes.

I should have gone to jail many times, but for my sneakiness, street smarts, and let’s not forget that I am affluent and white!  Imagine what I would have gone through in jail…isolation, lack of proper medical treatment, and the stigma of the convicted felon once released.  But then again I am used to stigma.  I wear it like a badge of honor.  I am James, I am an addict, an alcoholic, and schizophrenic, HEAR ME ROAR!

I roar to the night, I roar to the day,  spread my message on blogs and in school assignments!  I wrote my Master of Divinity thesis on Psychosis Liberation Theology, gaining a Credit with Distinction as graded by both the Reinhold Niebuhr chair and Dr. James H. Cone, the founder of Black Liberation Theology.  I have a high functioning brain, but it is oh so fragile.

I have set my sights on becoming a VA psychiatric chaplain, because I understand what a doctor never will.  How many people have told me, “I can only imagine…” how true, and how inadequate.  I connect with other people that are mentally ill because they know my pain.  They know what it is like to have your Central Nervous System, the master of operations of the body, the master in the Hegelian sense, perverted into a slave because it thinks thoughts I never want to think.  Many times I do not want to own “I think therefore I am,” because I am ashamed.  And this could land me in jail if I do not comport myself sanely in front of officers of the law.

Absurdity you say?  It is a lack of the system’s ability to feel compassion.  Institutional racism is a problem, and so is Institutional prejudice against mental illness.  To some WE are willfully allowing ourselves to be possessed by demons that others fear with every fiber of their being lest they turn out this way.  If you want to be scared for me, just look in the New York Times for stories about medical treatment at Riker’s Island, where I could end up if I mess up just once, at the wrong time, in how I dose out my medications.  That is if I don’t get my addictions under control.  All of these are treatable illnesses, but they are treated like crimes!

I have one indisputable law I must live by: a fact, beyond the human concepts of right and wrong.  It is this: I will be taking an absurdly large regimen of pills probably for the rest of my life.

And I am grateful: grateful to be in recovery, grateful for a loving family that has unfalteringly been by my side and helped in every way, sometimes to a fault.  I am grateful for not being in jail for driving drunk (or other crimes I dare not admit here) because I just needed to escape it all.  I am grateful for modern medicine, and the spirituality I am learning here in seminary to back it up and sustain me in the tough times, of which there are aplenty.

In closing, I ask, I entreat, I beg of you to go to a NAMI meeting.  (National Alliance for Mental Illness)  Please educate yourself about my demons.  If schizophrenia boggles you too much, learn about autism, another misunderstood and prevalent illness.  Please do this because I am tired of hating myself because I feel internally what the world sees of me; a raving lunatic that is a danger to society.  I am human.  Love me.  Love my brethren.  If you walk in and act in love you could be rewarded by a deeper friendship and bond than you could ever imagine now.

This is my story of disability, of illness.  Forgive me…  But understand me.  I need your forgiveness because I torture myself with my own conscience and do not know how to forgie myself.  I have so much to give, so much love to share, that I ache bodily with the desire to be of service.  And I can, just let me blossom on my own schedule, “With a little help from my friends.”

 James Dyer is currently a Master of Divinity candidate at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, with a focus in Christian Social Ethics. He is a graduate of the The Masters School and SUNY Purchase, and has served as a maintenance worker, a chef, and as theater staff. 
James can be reached at: 914-325-6783.


Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director

(o) +1203.769.1096
(m) +1203.339.5887

Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
(m) +1203.536.5508

George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats

Michael Karaffa, Advocate, Disabilities




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1 comment:

  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing and being so open and raw. You are bringing attention to something many people are too scared to even think about, let alone try to understand. Keep speaking up, even when people make you feel discouraged. There are people who are listening.