Real Life Stories: Sherry aka Wanda

Sherry grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba as Sheryl Anne Noonan. Sherry was always a kind, gentle soul with a great talent for the visual arts. At the age of 26 she had a nervous breakdown and struggled with mental health from that point on. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. At the time she was living near her sister Patricia’s family in Boston. Sherry was brought home to Canada by her father and committed to Guelph Mental Health Centre for treatment.

After being released from the mental health centre, Sherry found it difficult to stay with family—it always ended badly and she would find her own solution. The medications for her mental health had terrible side effects and inevitably she would stop taking them. When she was not on medication, Sherry’s mental health made it nearly impossible for her to live with relatives, so she always ended up back where she felt more independent. Her father tried buying a small bachelor apartment for her, but she couldn’t manage to take care of the place by herself and ended up back in the hospital again. For most of the 40 years after her breakdown she stayed in a series of hospitals, shelters, group homes and rooming houses. Sometimes the family knew where she was staying, but many times the search would start anew.

Once, when she was staying at a group home as a transitional living solution, Sherry intercepted a note that suggested she was going downhill (off her medication) and recommending re-commitment to “999 Queen”, today’s CAMH. Not surprisingly, Sherry took off and changed her name to Wanda Newham, so that they couldn’t find her and lock her back up in the hospital with the awful medications.

When the privacy act came into play, it became nearly impossible to find Sherry if she had made a move, as was often the case. The shelters were no longer allowed to tell her family if she was staying there. The seven years before she passed away were very frustrating, as her sister Patricia would come to Toronto for a visit and try to camp out by the shelters to see if she could find her. It wasn’t that Sherry didn’t want to see her sister, she just didn’t want the hospital to commit her and make her take medications. She was not able to think straight, to do her artwork while on the schizophrenia drugs, so why would she want to take them?

Savard’s recommended that Sherry, as a high needs mental health patient in the shelter system, be given a long term room at Strachan House. She spent her last seven years living there and being taken care of by the wonderful staff. By sheer determination of the social work staff, Sherry was re-united with her sister in October of 2012. Patricia was overjoyed that Sherry was found and that she could visit with her again.

Sherry’s family was saddened by the aging she experienced in those lost years—Sherry had severe cataracts and could no longer see well enough to do much artwork. Patricia spoke with doctors about getting Sherry’s eyes fixed, but there was not much hope that a mental health patient like Sherry would agree to such a surgery in a hospital. The family spent Christmas (Sherry’s favourite holiday) with her and then had another visit in the spring of 2013, about a month before she suddenly passed away.

Sherry is not suffering anymore. She is in a safe, heavenly place where she can see again to do her artwork. By providing a safe, stable place to live, Strachan House gave Sherry the chance to have some dignity during the last years of her life. Homes First helped Sherry where many others could not.

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