Duckie May

@duckie-may | contributor
Author, mom, wife and living with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder
Duckie May

What Bipolar Disorder Looks Like in Pictures

I typically use words to express my emotions, but for this project I used my camera. For several days, I found different ways to express myself, and I took self portraits to illustrate my experience of living with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. The following images illustrate the emotions I experience as a person living with mental illnesses. I can’t sleep tonight. Hypomania is inspiring me to write all night, but I will probably throw it all away tomorrow once the depression hits.   My mind is moving so fast, and I can’t sit still. I can’t stop moving or slow down. I haven’t slept in two days.   My medication saves my life every day, and today is no different.   My son needs me, but I am too depressed to be a parent. I feel so guilty for ignoring him, but I am in the pits of despair and I see no way out.   It’s midnight and I have to clean. I can’t stop organizing and cleaning.   I can’t get out of bed today. I feel lost in the ocean and it hurts to exist.     I feel like I’m just below the surface. My cries for help go unheard as I drown in the water.   Dinner needs to be made, and my daughter needs me. But I just can’t today. I am too drained and devastated.   I appear calm on the outside, but I am screaming on the inside, and no one can hear me.   I feel like I’m suffocating and my heart is breaking again. I can’t breathe.   I feel so empty today. I have a void that needs to be filled so I will search for a purpose and meaning among the ruins and ashes.     The mania is pouring down around me, and today it feels like I am melting into a pile of chaos.   The kitchen is messy, but I can’t clean today. My depression is so fierce that I probably won’t eat or move from the couch. The house is in shambles and so am I.

Duckie May

The 'Other' Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

When people think about bipolar disorder, they often only think of the phases of depression and mania; however, bipolar disorder is much more than simply being sad or excited. The other symptoms of bipolar disorder often go unmentioned, and many people still don’t quite grasp the reality of it. One symptom that impacts me the most is apathy, which is totally losing interest in everything. When I am apathetic, I no longer experience the emotion of joy. I can be participating in my favorite hobby, watching a favorite movie or even eating a favorite food and I will feel completely apathetic to it. I will experience no rushing emotions of pleasure. Typically when I am apathetic, I force myself to do things with the hope of sparking an emotion of joy. Most of the time I feel no joy, but still continue to participate in the activity anyway. Another symptom I experience on a regular basis is under or oversleeping. When I am restless I will often jolt awake about 30 times a night, constantly interrupting my sleep, which is typically one of my first signs of an upcoming manic episode. I also tend to oversleep when I begin to feel depressed. I will sleep for 12 hours overnight and then still need an afternoon nap to make it through the day. Isolation is another symptom of bipolar disorder I routinely experience. I will get the urge to delete everyone’s contact information, delete my social media accounts and hide in my room. This leads to hurt feelings and missed opportunities. I have learned over the years that instead of turning everything off, I simply take a break and then restart when I feel better. This has saved me from ruining many projects and relationships due to my urge to isolate. One interesting symptom I experience is under-eating. When I am depressed or manic, making a meal seems so time-consuming and requires so much effort. I will often eat “depression meals,” which are simple eat-while-in-bed meals such as a sandwich or pieces of cheese. When I am manic, I often experience the symptom of focusing on goal-oriented activity. This can be anything from cleaning my house to writing or baking. I will become obsessed with a task and devote my time and energy to this task until I am worn and broken. If I am writing, I will not stop to sleep or rest. If I am cleaning, I will spend all day rushing around the house finding new things to clean and arrange. I can sometimes be found rearranging the pantry at 3 a.m. or coming up with a new groundbreaking business plan that I then abandon a week later. Because of the sudden end of mania, many of these goal-oriented activities go unfinished or are thrown away once the depression episode starts. Pressured speech is another symptom I experience frequently. Often, while manic, I will become so chatty that I will hold multiple text conversations at once while talking to my family and anyone else who is willing to listen to my rambling. With pressured speech, I feel like I have to talk because the thoughts in my head are so frequent. I often talk so quickly that I will leave thoughts behind as I jump to new thoughts mid-sentence. Usually when I have pressured speech, I am talking about a new project or opportunity. At this time, my new obsession has completely taken over and it is all I can think about or talk about. Bipolar disorder is more than just being sad or excited. The numerous symptoms I experience impact my daily life and influence how I think, act and interact with the world around me.  These “other” symptoms of bipolar disorder are often left out of the conversation, and they need to be talked and written about more. Perhaps if people understood the complexity of bipolar disorder, they would become more understanding and compassionate to those of us living with it.

Duckie May

How Smoking Cannabis Helped Me Process Trauma

As a long time consumer of cannabis, I’ve found the benefits to be incredibly helpful in maintaining my bipolar disorder. In addition to medication, therapy and self-care, cannabis has allowed me to stay balanced in life and cope with my stressors. One particular experience with cannabis has helped me tremendously. Several weeks ago, I was smoking cannabis when I suddenly became overwhelmed with my emotions. I had recently identified a lifelong trauma I had been experiencing, but hadn’t yet faced the emotions that came with that discovery. But on this night, I found myself so overwhelmed with emotions I went inside my house for privacy. My emotions exploded and I began to sob uncontrollably and moan with the pain I felt in my heart. I grieved the love I was never given and I grieved the relationships that were forever tainted with pain and emotional abuse. With the help of cannabis, I felt my walls come tumbling down and I began to process the trauma I had experienced. For the first time, I was seeing myself from the outside looking in and I was able to recognize the abuse for what it was. That night, I grieved the relationships of abuse and sobbed about my ongoing pain. I accepted that my abusers weren’t accidentally hurting me but were actually intentionally causing me pain. On this night, I became rigid in my decision to cut off contact with these people and I was finally able to protect myself after all these years. Smoking cannabis on this night helped me process my trauma and I had an eye-opening discovery. The emotional episode allowed me to release the years of pain I had experienced and accept the experiences I have endured have been the result of emotional abuse. Medicating with cannabis has greatly helped me in my battle with bipolar disorder and it’s allowed me to process emotions I struggled to process before. With the help of cannabis, I have finally identified my trauma and am now better equipped to protect myself. As cannabis has become more accepted and even legal recreationally in my region, I hope that more people will find cannabis to be beneficial for their health. The help of cannabis has been incredible and I am so grateful that it allowed me to think clearly and develop boundaries that I had failed to do so before. Cannabis allowed me to process my trauma and I will forever be grateful for that experience.

Duckie May

Bipolar Has Made Simple Tasks Impossible

As a young child in school, I found myself excelling in most subjects. The adults around me encouraged me to succeed and I had big dreams for when I grew up. Unfortunately, it all fell apart once my mental health symptoms began to appear. My mood shifts from bipolar disorder caused me to have fluctuating grades and my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) caused me to shy away from opportunities I could have experienced. By the time I reached high school, I found myself barely passing and holding the school record of 67 truancies, due to mania and depression . I graduated with a diploma but I gave up on school. Several years later, I attempted to go to a junior college. Throughout the course of a 10-year period, I dropped out and returned seven times. Many classes had to be retaken due to my failing grades. I am three classes away from my degree in psychology and I’m not sure I will ever return to finish my education. Now, at 34 years old, I find myself completely incapable of reading a full-length novel. I cannot sit down and watch television; I usually watch no more than one movie a year. The complexities of a novel or movie are too complicated for my mind and my constant anxiety makes it impossible for me to focus. I have made many attempts over the years to watch a television show and many of the series I have started consuming have gone unfinished and are hanging in limbo in my entertainment library. Having bipolar disorder , GAD a nd borderline personality disorder (BPD) has greatly impacted my cognitive abilities and has made simple tasks impossible. While many people are enjoying a good movie or book, I am manic , pacing the house and obsessively cleaning. As an author, I have found it impossible to tackle a project of more than 2,000 words. I view writing projects as a piece of metal being struck with a hammer and my words make the piece a sculpture. But I cannot handle a big piece of metal; it is too much. My books are short children’s books and poetry. I have written dozens of articles but cannot manage to write a full-length novel. I believe if I had support and medication as a child, I would have gone far in my career and may have achieved my dream of being a professor of psychology. If I didn’t struggle so much with mania and anxiety , I might be able to read books and watch television. My life is far from over and hopefully with time and professional help, I will one day be well enough to read books, finish school and watch television. Maybe in time, I will be able to write a full-length novel. But for now, I will focus on sculpting out smaller statues that my cognitive ability can handle at the moment.

Community Voices

Do you feel the urge to lie down when you become depressed?

When I am depressed, I feel like I have to lay horizontally. The undying urge is strong and I always know I am becoming depressed when I have an urge to lie down. #BipolarDepression

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Duckie May

Bipolar Disorder: I Know I'm Depressed When I Need to Lie Down

I can always tell when a bipolar disorder depressive episode is starting. I begin to feel uneasy. Slowly, a dark fog overtakes me and I begin to slip away more and more. I stop caring about everything. I throw my art away, I don’t show up for meetings and I begin to ignore life. The project I had been concentrating on is over. I don’t even have the strength to put the supplies away. I just walk away. I then begin to feel myself melting. Like a candle in a sunny window, my shape begins to slip away into a puddle. My body feels heavy and I move slowly. Gravity pulls on my body and I grow exhausted within minutes. The weight of my body is miserable and the urge to lie down begins. As I feel myself melting, I begin to develop a strong and undying urge to lie down. There have been times when I am in a store, at the library or driving when a depression hits and the urge to lie down is so intense, I contemplate doing so in public, on the grocery store floor. It takes all of my strength to leave the shops, get in my car and stay upright as I drive home in a race against the clock. I know in only about an hour, I will transform into a sobbing melted puddle of pain. So I drive home promptly and then get through the front door where I start to strip off my sunglasses and shoes down the hall as I crawl into bed and reach my final form of melting into the mattress. At this point my body feels like it weighs a thousand pounds and I have no physical energy, so I spend the next hours upon hours staring at the book shelf and crying off and on. While I am holding perfectly still lying in bed for hours, my mind is racing with depressing thoughts and negative self-talk. The urge to lie down is so strong and it is sometimes the only thing in the world that feels good. Melting into the mattress and wrapped in blankets soothes my soul and rocks me to painless sleep where I can pretend to not exist for a few hours. My heavy body is at rest and the only thing I can do is breathe. For hours, days or sometimes weeks, I remain in bed until I have to go to the bathroom. Then, I sometimes crawl because I don’t have the emotional strength to walk upright. The urge to remain horizontal is powerful and the bed calls to me. The noise of my brain rattles while I lie horizontally and breathe my way through the day. I grow guilty for not cleaning the house or running errands. My children can be heard playing down the hall and all I can do is lie perfectly still in bed for hours upon hours. Then, one day, all of a sudden, I get up. I shower, get dressed, eat, clean the house and restart again. I pick up where I left off and I continue on as if nothing had happened. But my bed shows otherwise as the indentation in the mattress tells how long I spend lying in bed. Once the feeling of needing to lie horizontally passes, I go back to not wanting to lie in bed and I return to being productive. I go back to my normal life. The urge to lie down always comes back though, as is the nature of bipolar disorder, but in the meantime, I enjoy my life vertically while I can.

Community Voices

Did you grieve the childhood you lost because of living with Bipolar Disorder?

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Duckie May

Grieving After a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

I remember when I first received my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. At first, I was full of relief to finally have an answer. I had finally found a doctor who would listen to me and my suspicion was confirmed. Getting a diagnosis was incredibly validating. But I also found myself grieving, too. A few weeks after diagnosis, I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling and looking for the cameras that were watching me. It was then that I understood how truly sick I was and an overwhelming sadness took over. I sobbed into my pillow as I tried to explain to my husband but he didn’t understand. My grief was unique to mental health and bipolar disorder. I found out I had a lifelong illness and with that, I also found out that I was “wrong.” Everything in my life was wrong. I realized my perception of reality was different than everyone else. Often, my sadness would take over and my world was different. Where others saw color, I saw black. While everyone experienced joy in their childhood, I experienced the devastation of depression over and over. I felt like I would never get to enjoy some of the basic experiences of life because my mania and depression often got in the way. I missed out on friends, sleepovers, sports, decent grades, college acceptance and even a stable traditional professional career. I missed out because of being so overtaken with my mental health. I will never get that time back. Eventually however, my grief transformed into acceptance and I began to accept my life. My life experience is different than a person with a “healthy” emotional well-being and I have come to accept that. I have learned to be OK with living differently than others. I have learned to fall in love with the life I have, even though it is different. Did you grieve the childhood you lost because of living with Bipolar Disorder? I have also learned to accept my past and the missed opportunities I had. While other kids may have been playing games, I was writing or painting. My lonely childhood made me learn to be comfortable with my own company and my deep emotions made me explore writing even more, which has now lead me to a professional writing career as an author. Had I not experienced what I have, I would not be where I am today. The grief of getting a bipolar disorder diagnosis was a painful, but also a necessary, step in my process of learning to live my life. I grieved my missed opportunities and the life I could have had if I hadn’t been born with bipolar disorder. But in the end, I learned to accept the life I do have and move past grieving what could have been. I need to live for today.

Duckie May

Why Weight Gain Caused by Bipolar Medication Is Worth Is

The first time I discussed starting psychiatric medication with my psychiatrist, I told him that I would promptly throw away any medication that would make me gain weight. My priority in the office that day was to prevent weight gain at all costs. My sanity was second. My diagnosis of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder impacted my eating habits from being too depressed to eat, to self-inflicting starvation for self-harm and self-sabotage. People commented on my weight loss as if I had been working out at the gym when instead I was starving myself. So my insistence that day, that first day, was to not gain weight because while I could not control the chaos of my life at that time, I most certainly could play with my weight gain. For three years, I stuck to the weight neutral medication regimen. I was hospitalized five times, my medications were adjusted each time and I was miserable but thin. My breaking point was in April of 2019. At the time, I was in a near constant manic state and had been waking up 20 to 30 times a night if not sleeping at all for weeks. Unsure of what to do with my medication which was “an ideal cocktail,” the doctor in the hospital put me on 50 milligrams of an antipsychotic with the intent of helping me sleep as it was a sedative. The difference was gradually and after a few days on the medication, my life began to change. The medication felt magic and everything finally made sense after all these years. I had been in a hole my whole life and for the first time, I was climbing out. Only on a small dose I still felt halfway in the hole, so I went to my psychiatrist to raise the dose. I was warned by him and nearly everyone I came across that weight gain was a side effect. But I didn’t care. For the first time, I felt alive. I was out of the hole. Every day that passed, I climbed out more. Once the dose was raised , I was able to step away from the hole. The warnings of weight gain continued. As the weeks passed, I noticed my hunger increased. I found myself digging in the cabinets multiple times a day and getting seconds at dinner without hesitation. But food tasted better and my new love for life caused me to start cooking and baking and thus, snacking and sampling even more. My waistline grew as my hunger for life grew and I no longer self-inflicted starvation as some warped desperate way to slowly off myself. I ate food and it was good. Now, five months later, I have gained weight, and I can honestly say I don’t care at all. Well, I don’t like that I’ve outgrown some of my clothes, however that’s more of a hesitation to spend money rather than mourning my lost thinness. For the first time in my life, I am far from the hole. I enjoy my days now and I live in the moment. My stability has to come first and the weight gain is simply reality. I can mourn my lost thinness, but I won’t. There are many worse things in the world than being fat and being emotionally unstable and miserable is one of them. Fat bodies are beautiful too and I have began to fall in love with myself, fat included. My happiness is far more important than my weight and I am glad to be fat and happy and no longer thin and miserable.

Duckie May

Why Weight Gain Caused by Bipolar Medication Is Worth Is

The first time I discussed starting psychiatric medication with my psychiatrist, I told him that I would promptly throw away any medication that would make me gain weight. My priority in the office that day was to prevent weight gain at all costs. My sanity was second. My diagnosis of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder impacted my eating habits from being too depressed to eat, to self-inflicting starvation for self-harm and self-sabotage. People commented on my weight loss as if I had been working out at the gym when instead I was starving myself. So my insistence that day, that first day, was to not gain weight because while I could not control the chaos of my life at that time, I most certainly could play with my weight gain. For three years, I stuck to the weight neutral medication regimen. I was hospitalized five times, my medications were adjusted each time and I was miserable but thin. My breaking point was in April of 2019. At the time, I was in a near constant manic state and had been waking up 20 to 30 times a night if not sleeping at all for weeks. Unsure of what to do with my medication which was “an ideal cocktail,” the doctor in the hospital put me on 50 milligrams of an antipsychotic with the intent of helping me sleep as it was a sedative. The difference was gradually and after a few days on the medication, my life began to change. The medication felt magic and everything finally made sense after all these years. I had been in a hole my whole life and for the first time, I was climbing out. Only on a small dose I still felt halfway in the hole, so I went to my psychiatrist to raise the dose. I was warned by him and nearly everyone I came across that weight gain was a side effect. But I didn’t care. For the first time, I felt alive. I was out of the hole. Every day that passed, I climbed out more. Once the dose was raised , I was able to step away from the hole. The warnings of weight gain continued. As the weeks passed, I noticed my hunger increased. I found myself digging in the cabinets multiple times a day and getting seconds at dinner without hesitation. But food tasted better and my new love for life caused me to start cooking and baking and thus, snacking and sampling even more. My waistline grew as my hunger for life grew and I no longer self-inflicted starvation as some warped desperate way to slowly off myself. I ate food and it was good. Now, five months later, I have gained weight, and I can honestly say I don’t care at all. Well, I don’t like that I’ve outgrown some of my clothes, however that’s more of a hesitation to spend money rather than mourning my lost thinness. For the first time in my life, I am far from the hole. I enjoy my days now and I live in the moment. My stability has to come first and the weight gain is simply reality. I can mourn my lost thinness, but I won’t. There are many worse things in the world than being fat and being emotionally unstable and miserable is one of them. Fat bodies are beautiful too and I have began to fall in love with myself, fat included. My happiness is far more important than my weight and I am glad to be fat and happy and no longer thin and miserable.