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The Three-Minute Rule

Anxiety is a dreadfully fearful and isolating experience. How do you best communicate your needs to others, when you can’t quite figure out how to communicate your own needs to yourself?

As a way to manage my anxiety when I am with company, I devolved an unsophisticated, yet highly effective rule: ‘The three-minute rule’. The three-minute concept is painless, easy to administer and can help manage symptoms of anxiety – particularly when you feel an attack approach. Of course, this is just something that I use in certain high-anxiety situations and it perhaps isn’t fitting for everyone… but hear me out!

When I have moments of anxiety, I panic because I’m panicked. I often worsen my experience by overthinking: I imagine that people are going to think I am bizarre, or if I tell others that I am anxious people may believe I am fishing for attention. In those times, all I want is just a few moments to myself to try and calm myself down and relieve myself of the mental vertigo I suffer when my world is spinning out of control. I am sure we have all experienced moments where we’re feeling a little low then suddenly the people around you charge at you with an abundance of sympathy and fussiness. Sometimes people’s fussiness – even if it’s out of love – can make your experience more difficult, that’s why I started using my rule.

I tell my friends that in the times that I start to feel overwhelmed or anxious, that I just need three minutes to myself. Three minutes is just about long enough to be alone with yourself in your head and calm down a little, but short enough not to look completely withdrawn. Often there will be times where you need much longer to yourself – the three-minute rule doesn’t replace your need for uninterrupted, periods of healing space. However, the rule is a no-fuss way to try and manage anxious symptoms as they come in social situations – particularly if you are like me and gag at the idea of being fussed over.

I explained my three-minute rule with a friend just the other day. My friend suggested other ways we could communicate the three-minute rule – like holding up three fingers, a sign that is enough to show that I require space. The three-minute rule itself isn’t just advantageous for those who suffer with anxiety, but anyone who starts to become heated and overwhelmed. It is always beneficial to take a moment to deliberate over what you are going to say or consider how you respond in high-pressure situations. Everyone can benefit from those ‘no questions asked’ three minutes.

If you struggle to tell people how they can best help you when you have symptoms of anxiety, the three-minute rule can be a simplistic but valuable way to communicate your need for breathing room. It does not replace the need for space when you have particularly challenging anxiety, and it would probably not be suitable when you are experiencing an anxiety attack – however, it is an uncomplicated way to help you find peace and explain your mental health needs to those around you. I highly recommend you have a chat about the idea with your friends – it could be something useful for them too!

If you have overpowering symptoms of anxiety and are finding daily life challenging, consider visiting your local GP for advice. There are a variety of places that have great resources; you can find these on the contact page of the blog.

'Losing My Dad'

'Losing My Dad'
By Chelsea-Ann MacVicar

Losing a parent is one of the most difficult parts of anyone’s life. I lost my Dad, Jim, last year when I was 16 years old - and my life hasn’t been the same since. The night we lost him, I felt like I was dreaming and I hoped it was all just a nightmare - I didn't want to believe it.

My dad was a very kind and thoughtful man who was there day or night for anyone who needed him. He was there for everyone who needed any kind of help in life. My dad wasn't the kind of person who would take money off you or expect anything in return if you needed a favour.

My dad was a huge Greenock Morton fan and Sheffield United fan. He ran the away game buses and kept everything flowing. In honour of him, his good friend took over and has kept the supporters bus going in his memory. The fans on the bus never stop thinking of my dad; people mention him a lot and constantly speak of how genuine and kind a man he was.

Along with being a fantastic person to others, he was my dad. He taught me everything that I needed to know from being a toddler to a teenager. He wasn't my biological dad, but he took over the role of being a father to me when I was a just a few months old - and for that I am so grateful. We were very close and he treated and loved me just the same as his other daughters. Him and I had a very special bond over football; we spent every Saturday together at the home and away games. We were both Greenock Morton season ticket holders for a number of years, but when he passed I decided to give it up.
My Dad, Jim, at Sheffield
Looking back now, there are many things I regret. I regret not telling my dad about what was going on in my life as much as I should have, and I am disappointed that I never took any pictures with him. All I have left of us two is one video where he was joking around with me. He put me in our garage to show me my supposed ‘17th birthday present’… a toy car!

My dad was a joker, but he was also a thoughtful and hands-on father. My dad taught me to do my best in school even when I didn't like it. After he passed away, I completely ignored school because he wasn't there to motivate me, and now I regret not completing my final year. I also didn't go to my prom because I couldn’t have my dad there, but that I don't regret because I know that I wouldn't of enjoyed myself.

The toughest thing about losing a parent is not having them around to talk to when you need them most, or having them there to witness moments in your life. If I could speak to my dad just one last time, I’d tell him that I love and miss him very much, and that I hope I can make him proud.

I lost my dad when I was 16 years old; I'm now 17 and life still isn't the same. I am now in full-time College working in Care, making it up to him when I let him down by leaving school. I stopped attending football games at Cappielow because I couldn’t find anyone to share that experience with, but for my dad I would like to start going again, in his memory. I know that I should return, as that’s what he would’ve liked.

I am still carrying grief with me since my dad passed away and sometimes I feel that things won’t get any better or easier. To get through the hard times when I think of him most, when I’m doing something or going somewhere, I think to myself that he's still there with me. I advise anyone who is dealing with a parent’s death to talk to someone about how you feel, because it’s something that I didn’t do. I find it very difficult to open up and find someone to talk to when I need a shoulder to cry on. However, keeping my grief inside just made me feel angry and hurt; sometimes I cried myself to sleep and other times I lashed out and punched furniture. I believe now if I open up and speak about my feelings towards my dad’s death, I could help myself deal with life without him.

I will always love and remember my dad, and I am working now to come to terms with his death. It will be a long journey, but by opening up I hope I can finally find myself some peace, and make my dad proud.

Silence and Serenity

Oh blog, I have not forgotten you – I am just so busy. I know, saying you’re busy is such a boring thing to say but I have been consciously trying to keep myself from having any free moments, until today when I finally have the time to reflect and write just for myself (and you, of course).

 When I’ve not been working, I have been socialising or having adventures but I’m dedicating much more of my time now to finding balance and peace. Peace is very much my goal in life. Of course, I love trying wonderful, exciting things like reaching new heights in my career and being active – but I’ve recognised my happiness lies in the quiet moments of contentment.

The other day when I was climbing a munro, I just felt so calm – and I want to feel that moment at some point everyday. Whether it’s being in the company of someone I love and just softly enjoying being happy, or spending time in the sea - just feeling at one with the world.

I encourage you all to look for what makes your heart feel complete joy, as cheesy as it sounds. Nothing is quite as great as just feeling wonderful energy. Your happiness is so important, and you very much deserve it.

Where Did My Confidence Go?

Lately, I’ve received messages from friends who have recognized that my ‘Insta-Game’ is not as strong as it once was. If you are not well versed in low-brow millennial speak, it effectively means I have not been posting frequent, valuable content on Instagram. Instagram was a social media platform that I was rather fond of, but I was often taken aback by its competitive nature and the sad comparative feelings that follow.

Now, this is not an opinion piece on ‘Is Instagram good or bad for your mental health?’ - the topic has truly been exhausted and I doubt I have any comment to contribute that you haven’t already heard. Still, I have been paying attention to my thought patterns lately and I recognized myself falling down a negative space, and perhaps the Instagram link has re-emerged.

Last year, I was a girl on fire. I felt wonderful, I thought I looked pretty and I radiated confidence. I posted content that made me feel good. If I uploaded an image of myself, it was an image that I felt beautiful in just as I was – I didn’t want to keep up with everyone else because I accepted that I couldn’t. My best offering was myself. Recently however, I’ve been plagued with negative feelings about how I look. I have not gained weight, there have been no radical changes to my features – but I don’t feel as confident as I once did. I make less of an effort with fashion, I shun the opportunity to be in photographs, I avoid nights out and I am stuck in a pattern of wishing myself different… a little bit more toned, a little less freckly. In my mind there’s been a vanity-themed Cluedo game running overtime… where did my confidence go?

With the homecoming of the reality show ‘Love Island’, where startlingly attractive single people all date in a villa, there have been a lot of jokes made by females that they feel their self esteem has been lowered by seeing an abundance of alluring women. I think to myself: perhaps I’ve drawn these comparisons too, after all I have become an addict to this reality TV show – however, I don’t feel quite compelled to put down the biscuits and hit the treadmill after watching. Although, there is an obvious link, and it’s working on me unknowingly. A lot of us females do compare ourselves, often subconsciously. A TV show which fails to represent diversity, can quickly have us thinking – ‘so this is what beauty is’.

Which brings me to my next obvious link: the unachievable over-editing of female bodies. With social media and an image editing application - a little nip and tuck is within everyone’s grasp. We can all now represent ourselves in whatever fashion we want to, it’s just miserable that so many of us elect to conform to what we think is the image of beauty. After discussing with one of my friends recently the trend of women manipulating their images to have the ‘Kim Kardashian’ big hips and a tiny waist, I discussed how it did not make me feel better about my body type, despite having broad hips and a petite midsection too. I have the body type that many women give the illusion of or try to achieve, but I have the unsightly, realistic version – the one that comes with cellulite on my thighs, tiger stripes on my bum and ill-fitting clothes. The lack of representation of women with cellulite and stretch marks, perhaps too, is what makes me feel in many moments as ‘not attractive enough’.

I understand many of you will be hearing the tiny violins, and I apologise if it seems I have invited you all to my pity party. Some people think I am ‘lucky’ to have my body type and to be really tall with blonde hair. But most of my life I have heard comments that ‘tanned, petite brunettes are stunning’. It’s harder to see beauty in yourself, especially when you are constantly drawing comparisons. Over time it can become ingrained that if you don’t look like the popular ‘trend’ of beauty, you are not attractive. Visually, I’m essentially a big sunflower – but why would I want to be a sunflower when roses are the notoriously beautiful ones?

I believe all people should be able to style themselves however they like and do whatever makes them feel good. But am I the only one who is tired? Surely it’s not practical that we all strain to look the same with all of the same features? There’s a lack of diversity that I have always known, but when I am not making the effort to repeatedly acknowledge it – it manages to brainwash me all over again! Kim Kardashian is whom I would regard as today’s icon of ‘beauty’, but that doesn’t mean we are not gorgeous human beings because of our own ways. It’s cliché but it needs reiterated time and time again that all races, all sizes and all people with all kinds of features are beautiful in their own way. The beauty standard changes as time goes on - once we believed stick-thin models were the most beautiful, now it’s women with specific curves. We can’t expect ourselves to constantly evolve how we look to keep up with what the media and society regard as ‘gorgeous’.

When I round up all my thoughts, it becomes clear. I started to withdraw myself from social media because I thought I couldn’t keep up with all these tan, curvy brunettes, and that I was always going to be the lanky woman with freckles. The vanity Cluedo gives it up: I have been indoctrinated once again.

I addressed my toxic thinking just last year when I had noticed the brewing of low self-esteem through comparing myself. The argument I make is not new, and we all know that there are constant endorsements of unrealistic beauty standards – we have all heard this argument before. However, the sad reality is, if you don’t make the effort to stay aware of what’s going on, you could be influenced subconsciously by the repetitive images of what’s ‘beautiful’ just through exposure to it.

So starting from now: I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop dodging photos with family and friends. I am going to wear the things that I used to wear that made me feel good, and go forward intentionally oblivious to what other people are doing. I need to reaffirm to myself that the qualities that make me different, are what make me enchanting.

In a garden full of roses that I will never look like, I’ll just stick to being the sunflower.

The Bipolar Millennial Woman

Being Bipolar as a millennial is gruelling. I am 22 years old, trying to navigate my professional life, social life and dating life - so mentally I’m always somewhere between Tramadol and Zopiclone. It’s challenging trying to keep up in the digital age anyway, never mind trying to keep up when I’m having - what feels like - an identity crisis. Fortunately, we’re in an age where mental illness is social media popular and everyone totally understands mental health… well kind-of.

I didn’t pick a more familiar unipolar depression or an anxiety disorder out of my mental health lucky bag, so I pulled the short straw in terms of an illness that has sympathy or understanding. I can employ some of the lessons for depression and anxiety to myself, because my illness is an umbrella of mental illnesses - I get depression and anxiety too! So when it’s one of those social media days like ‘Mental Health Awareness Day’, I can really take in the indispensible teachings that I find on social media to cure myself of my Bipolar Disorder. For example: the Instagram quotes.

‘Smile’. - Innovative, well mannered, inspiriting – I always like a reminder.

A poignant Ghandi quote that certainly wasn’t penned by Ghandi. – Liberating. Yes! – I should choose happiness.

I can also extend myself to meditational quotes, for when I am manic.
‘Breathe’ is real punchy. Instagram proves pretty educational. I’ve certainly acquired the understanding that: breathing = good. Not smiling = bad.

From all the various, trendy things I have endeavoured to teach myself in order to control my illness - I have to say that talking is really important. Sometimes I see a quote that says ‘just talk about it’. I enjoy those quotes. Sometimes I message my friends asking if I can call them so I can talk about it and they respond: ‘can’t you just message instead?’ - which is perhaps a little fallacious. Should the inspirational quote be edited to: ‘Just DM me about it?’.
Now, how do I find the right emoji for - ‘I’m going to kill myself’?

These kinds of decisions in my digital life are more burdensome than the navigation with the illness itself; wearing a label is totally enervating. It’s testing enough trying to live with Bipolar Disorder; it’s a different breed of cat trying to learn how to best present myself as the show-stopping ‘Bipolar Mimi’. For example, in dating: do I mention my Bipolar Disorder on my tinder profile? Should I attempt a joke? Should I mention my Bipolar Disorder in a way that makes me more desirable?

I have Bipolar Disorder, when I am manic I am addicted to sex.
I have Bipolar Disorder, when I am depressed I am withdrawn and thus will not be needy.

Or should I go for something that everyone puts on his or her Tinder bio to be relatable but just drop it in like:

Here for a good time, not a long time. (I have Bipolar Disorder)

There are countless possibilities but I have certainly found that telling people I have Bipolar Disorder is vital. I had an ex-boyfriend whose family were ignorant and certainly weren’t pleased that out of all the women he could’ve brought home to mum, he brought back a Bipolar one. The stigma I faced and the fact that they were so appalled that they weren’t pre-warned about my illness, has changed the way I approach dating and I now feel it’s mature to mention my contagious disease illness. It’s like – if I have IBS, I would need to tell my boyfriend’s family about it as soon as I meet them just in case they aren’t okay with having someone like that in their house. So the next time I meet a boyfriend’s family, I’ll be upfront. Practicing what Instagram taught me: if I’m depressed, I smile. If I’m manic, I’ll breathe.
 ‘Hi, I’m Mimi and I have Bipolar’.
Except if I’m manic, and my cognitive isn’t too great, it’ll be:
 ‘Hi, I’m Bipolar and I have Mimi’.
 If I’m depressed I’ll probably not be there at all. But I guess both situations make a convincing case for calling the police: ‘My son’s dating a Bipolar!’, like calling a dog warden to collect a rabid, stray dog.

Living with stigma can be wounding sometimes, the notion that people have already made up their minds about you and your illness despite not genuinely knowing you – can make me feel kind of sad. (Or if I’m off my medication, kind-of seriously, impenetrably depressed). I’ve absorbed the ability to channel this upset into something more constructive: like resentment. I could always just spitefully give birth to their grandchildren. You know how people say that you shouldn’t use children as weapons, well… what if I do? I’m not venomous, I wouldn’t cut visitation rights or hinder relationships – I mean: I could just breed an army of bipolar children. Bipolar Disorder is indeed hereditary, so I could just have lots of them for extra special Bipolar power.

Seriously though, when I do feel sorry for myself – I think: what a shame that my partner would have to date a Bipolar. Imagine him telling his friends about me when we meet. See, I’m quite lucky that a few guys think I’m pretty so I sometimes get the ‘How is she still single?’ comment and that I ‘must be crazy!’. My unfortunate, future man would then have to ratify that: yes, she is indeed, actually crazy.

I am not exclusively crazy because of my Bipolar Disorder, it’s also exacerbated by the fact that I am just a sensitive girl. One of the common triggers for episodes, for example, is stress; but then my star sign’s Cancer – so everything in life is disquieting, emotional trauma. I am reasonably sure that even though I have been writing somewhat satirically, I’ve inadvertently hurt my own feelings 5 times and had to take breaks to again ‘breathe’. I know what you’re thinking: ah yes, certain psychosis symptoms – delusions… she believes in horoscopes. No, I just legitimately believe in horoscopes. I thought I was imprisoned in a grisly nightmare by being sensitive and Bipolar, but ultimately Gemini and Bipolar is the real hard work. I am permanently battling an identity crisis trying to deal with a mood disorder, I couldn’t imagine also having a star sign that is cosmically destined to make me split.

Despite my countless hindrances and difficult times, I’ve gotten to an amiable stage where I feel I’m in control. I don’t commonly experience episodes, partly because I’m dosed up on lithium where my happiness capacity is at an 8 and my sadness capacity is at a 3 (perhaps allowing a 2 when I watch a movie where a dog dies). Truthfully, the real quandary is maintaining a harmonious, stable life despite all that I have thrown at me as a millennial woman. My most valuable advice to others with the illness is to stay committed to treatments and self-management, and try to be watchful of your illness because awareness is imperative to recovery. I’ve gotten to a positive place where I – Mimi Black – have control of my vivacious life, but I will continue to peer over my shoulder to ensure manic Mimi Pink or low Mimi Blue doesn’t show up uninvited to my party.

London, UK

I'm Great! But I Want My Insurance To Cover Suicide

On a scale from one to ten, how uncomfortable does it make you feel when I tell you that I want my life insurance to include cover for suicide?
Insurance is all about risk assessment based on probabilities. They essentially assess their charges on: how probable is your death? How probable is your death certain means?

It’s like with car insurance, there is a no claims 'reward' because it’s essentially proving that a car accident with you is not so likely. On the flip side, someone who crashes their car recurrently will have more costly insurance, as it seems reasonably likely they could make another claim. It would be ludicrous for this driver not to have an insurance that would cover what is probable to happen.

I was looking at different life insurances, as I would like a fund for my family to help them pay for my funeral costs. I considered that my insurance could be more costly as I have a history of mental illness, and after all that Bipolar Disorder has already gifted me – it is indeed an incurable, life-long illness too. I discussed life insurances with suicide cover on social media and was met with a few challenging responses.

‘Why would you need this? Are you planning your suicide?’
No, I certainly do not have suicidal intentions and I would like to think that I am going to live a long, wonderful life. However, mental illness can be so complex and unpredictable, and with a personal history of mental illness, suicidal thoughts and tendencies – wouldn’t it be nonsensical if I found myself cover that did not assure a pay out for suicide?

‘If you prepare your life insurance to include suicide, aren’t you just preparing for suicide?’
I think what’s most problematic and would answer all of these questions is that so many of you still regard suicide very much as a choice. It’s difficult because in teaching those who are suffering from mental illness and who want to take their own lives, we tell them ‘there are other options, there is help available’. But only when you have been in your darkest mental moments will you realise how ‘option-less’ your mental health makes you personally feel. As healthy, rational individuals – we can make comments and put a lot of effort into trying to prevent deaths of this type with our logic, but the very nature of mental illness is that it’s hard to understand and empathise with because everyone’s fight is so personal.

I understand that in some ways many people will feel if I ensured my own life insurance has a cover for suicide that I am somewhat enabling myself if I end up seriously mentally unwell in the future and want to take my own life. Life Insurance policies, which cover suicide, have a waiting period to avoid those who are planning on immediately taking their own life but want the financial cushion so they do not burden their families. It is normally a year or more before the policy will cover suicide, which arguably could be a positive influence for those with suicidal intent. I recognize that you may view a policy, which covers suicide, as one less block to stop my suicide because my financial affairs would be in order. However, if I’m already in the negative mental space where I am making plans for my suicide – money is hardly going to be a key motivator for me to take my own life, as my mental illness has already consumed me and pushed me. The issue is not all the things that ready me for suicide or ‘enable’ my death like financial gain for my family or having my funeral arranged; the issue is that my mental illness has become deadly.

With anyone who suffers from an illness and pays for life cover, I’m sure you find it only sensible to have an insurance that covers that illness. Someone with a history of cancer would want a cancer death covered, someone with a heart disease would want all cardiac related deaths covered. The difference that so many of you see in these comparisons is that either consciously or subconsciously, you have viewed mental illness as imaginative, or viewed suicide from mental illness as a choice. The ignorance of this view is stigmatising, and whenever I see someone who has battled mental illness take their own life, I truly view that as a loss of life to mental illness – not a ‘selfish decision’.

We all need to consider how we think about suicide from mental illness, and especially how we discuss it. Eradicating the stigmatisation of the topic does not mean you are enabling or encouraging suicides, but rather you are helping make those people who are struggling feel more comfortable to discuss suicide and their relationships with their own mental illnesses.

As a currently healthy, sane individual who has previously been in dark, bottomless places before I think it’s reasonable to ensure that the insurance on my life is fully comprehensive and I can’t ignore the high probability that I may tragically lose my life to suicide. It’s not a pleasant thought, but it's time to accept that suicide as a result of a mental disorder, is less of an option and more of a tragic, untimely death by a mental illness.

With educating ourselves on mental illness and suicide, we are removing that stigma and allowing ourselves to better support those who are struggling - which is key to preventing mental illness related deaths.

Information and support on suicide can be found on these links:
Mind UK

If you need help in the UK you can call Samaritans for free on 116 123.
For other international help pages please see the 'Helpful Places' tab.

London, UK

'Busy Thoughts': You Need To Do Nothing

I’m a very driven individual, and when people ask: ‘do you work yourself to the bone?’ I respond boldly – ‘No, I work myself to my last nerve’. I take on too many projects, I say yes to virtually everything and even when I am unwell – I am a bed-bound bonfire. I work vigorously on my laptop with my fingers creating small fires from the friction on the keyboard. I am unquestionably… a liability.

I wasn’t always a self-proclaimed workaholic. In fact, quite contrary – I was often found lying in bed with a boyfriend eating ice cream and practicing my own niche of being a professional nap artist. Now, I can see the link. When I am very content, I can become quite complacent and I slow down to enjoy my life – which realistically, everyone should. Although, when I am lacking something, I work myself into a bottomless exhaustion.

I discovered that when you are busy, all you can think about is being busy; you never need to observe what’s really going on with yourself and your life. You know that feeling when you’re ready for bed at night, but having a bit of trouble getting to sleep, so you think about everything? I had become so scared of those moments of being alone with my thoughts that I drowned by brain out with a tidal wave of – not always meaningful - productivity. My logic was: if I have one thousand things on, I can avoid anything undesirable in my life because my brain will be saturated with ‘busy thoughts’.

'Busy thoughts', are both a dream and detrimental. Busy thoughts are great when you are perhaps having a bit of a rough patch, you have a bit of grief or you are just a bit bored; they keep you going and motivate you to channel your energy into something important. Busy thoughts, however, can also serve as a blinding distraction. Addressing how you are feeling and reflecting on what is going on in your life may sound like a simplistic and natural notion, but it doesn’t come easily to all of us. I know that I enjoy ignoring what’s going on in my mind and subdue myself with busy thoughts, until my unrealised issues manifest as a hideous, unavoidable monster. I habitually become so distracted that I forget to really take care of myself by just setting aside the time to do nothing.

I was horribly sick with the flu recently, and whilst I was bed ridden, bingeing episodes of Black Mirror like no tomorrow, I could not switch off my brain and rest. I was plagued with the thoughts of all the things I had to do, all the things I wanted to do and I thus - I kept subconsciously working. I was unwell for sixteen days, and I suppose the reason it took so long to feel better is because mentally, I was exhausted and it cried out from my body. I realised I had run myself into the ground, because my body was wishing for help and rest. I don’t always get that physical warning, which is scary as I am just poising myself for a breakdown.

Having bipolar disorder, I have experienced the red-bullish, sleepless nightmare that is mania and the ‘busy thoughts’ really do not compare. However, running yourself into exhaustion is always bad news – you create the perfect breeding ground for your unattended problems, and your once small issues will surface like vermin when you are drained. I know my illness well enough now to realise that if I take on too much and become stressed, I am tempting a bipolar episode, so realistically – with my recent bout of flu – I have to thank my body for reminding me of the importance of rest.

After taking some time off over Christmas, I feel energised and ready to conquer the world again. Nonetheless, this time – I’m going to reawaken my professional nap artist alter ego from time to time, because it really is exhausting work being exhausted.

Don’t be afraid to take a break to recharge your batteries, it doesn’t mean you’re lazy or wasting time – it honestly just shows that you’re mature enough to seek out balance in your life, giving both your mind and body a little TLC. Set aside a moment, even a day in your calendar, to have no plans and just rest. It’s small, but it’s life changing.