Keith Vander Wees’ life journey has taken him from northern Ontario to Germany and Israel, and he’s also spent a lot of time exploring his own inner world.
His book and new podcast, both titled Struggling To Be Well, takes audiences through his internal battles and experiences dealing with schizophrenia.
Vander Wees is a 65-year-old Thunder Bay native who now resides in Toronto. He is an artist, musician, author, and most recently, a podcaster.
The idea of the creation of the book was born through a conversation with his brother, after Vander Wees posted a poetry book.
“He told me that I had a fairly interesting life and that writing and publishing the book might help some people,” Vander Wees said.
In Struggling To Be Well: My life story and triumph over Schizophrenia, Vander Wees talks about growing up without knowing he has schizophrenia, how his life has many obstacles, and how having a major breakdown was the moment of moving back on track.
The book takes a deep dive through his life in Thunder Bay, the bands he has performed with and the travelling he did. It explores how he ended up being homeless, his time in Germany and Israel, and his return to Toronto.
In the process of writing his life story, Vander Wees was learning a lot about himself. After finishing the book, he realized it could help a lot of people. He wanted to help break the stigma around schizophrenia.
According to CAMH, schizophrenia is a mental illness that can affect how an individual behaves and feels. The mental illness can appear later in the individuals’ lives but can be found in their late teens and early twenties. It tends to affect males earlier than females.
The head of an advocacy group for complex mental health issues said people get the wrong idea about people who have schizophrenia.
“We get our perceptions (about schizophrenia) from movies, sitcoms and negative articles highlighting something bad that they did,” Chris Summerville, chief executive officer of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, said.
There are various misconceptions about individuals who have schizophrenia, such as them being violent, having split personalities or even both. Summerville said people only need to meet one person with schizophrenia to understand that none of it is true.
“I want people to understand that it’s not their fault,” Vander Wees said.
He has now been recording and uploading a podcast called the “Struggling to be well podcast.” He is now five episodes in.
The podcast is intended to explain the chapters and portions of the book. It allows the readers and listeners to get more details about the events he experienced in his life, and spread awareness about schizophrenia. The podcast has no set end date and will continue until Vander Wees thinks that there is nothing else to cover.
“Just the feeling of having the book in my hand, it’s something that I created, it’s my life, it’s my life put into words. It’s an accomplishment.” Vander Wees said. “It really makes me feel that I’ve done something in the world.”
Vander Wees is now working on making music once again, along with creating art alongside episodes for his podcast.