What Mental Illness Is—and What It Isn’t
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What Mental Illness Is—and What It Isn’t

Looking at mental illness through a new lens can help you gain empathy and understanding—both for others and for yourself

By Mary Ellen Alward, Representative

It’s not lazy.

It’s not intentional or predictable.

It’s not understandable or explainable.

It’s not having the will or energy to do basic self-care, like taking a shower or brushing your hair.

It’s not just learning to care less, or to care more.

It’s waking up some days and being paralyzed with a fear or anxiety that you don’t recognize.

It’s not being able to get out of bed.

It’s being unable to control how much energy you have to give to simple tasks .

It’s being unable to eat, because it is too much work to think about what to eat or having the energy to make it.

It’s not judging people when they just can’t do something, even if you don’t understand why

It’s not assuming that things are as they seem or as you think they are.

It’s wanting to not be left alone with your thoughts. 

It’s thinking about a single conversation for hours, or days, or weeks.

It’s physical pain.

It’s exhausting thoughts.

It's feeling like you want to crawl out of your skin.

It’s always wanting to be alone. 

It’s knowing what’s wrong but not knowing how to fix it or change it or even talk about it.

It’s wanting to be with people but being crippled with anxiety about what could happen, what could be said, or who will be there.

It's cancelling plans at the last minute.

It’s not something you just turn off, and you don’t know when it will turn on. 

It’s intrusive thoughts.

It’s a racing heart. Nausea. Headache. Tense muscles. 

It’s being afraid to say something or speak in public.

It's manageable for some, and not for others.

It’s being afraid you will say too much because you are impulsive.

It’s being easily offended because you have a lot of emotions just under the surface.

It’s being a sensitive person who sees others’ emotions and carries the weight of their feelings. 

It’s being a perfectionist, not because you want to, but because your stress is lowered when you’re in control.

It’s imagining every scenario possible so that you are prepared to respond.

It’s tears, anger, sadness, and pain.

It’s practising conversations for hours or days before you have to have them.

It’s wanting to always be with other people so you don’t have to be in your own head.

It’s needing people to be kind, patient, understanding, and gracious.

It’s wanting to talk without judgement or suggestions.

It’s knowing that everyone experiences things differently and needs different supports.

If you can relate to any of these, you are not alone. There are so many resources for you to access help. The Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), counselling, national, and provincial programs and hotlines and many more.

Ask for help. Demand help.

If you don't know where to find help, please reach out to your doctor, friends, family, supervisors, pastor—anyone.

Remember: You are loved, and you do not need to do this alone.

4 Mental Health Resources to Help You

  1. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, CLAC has a number of resources and interactive tools available to help you at My Health and Wellness.
  2. Stronger Minds features videos and quick reads from mental health experts, activities to help you gain resilience, and ask-an-expert videos in response to questions.
  3. WellCan offers free well-being resources to help Canadians develop coping strategies and build resilience to help deal with uncertainty, mental health, and substance abuse concerns.
  4. Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support provides free online resources, tools, apps, and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals.
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