Can Bipolar Disorder Symptoms Contribute to Hoarding?

hoardin
Credit to flickr.com user Logan Ingalls. Used with persmission under a Creative Commons license.

Can bipolar disorder symptoms contribute to compulsive hoarding? In my case and many others’, the answer is a definite yes.

People with bipolar disorder may have difficulties cleaning the house in either a depressive or manic episode. When depressed, low energy can contribute to a hoarding problem. People suffering from a depressive episode may also purchase items to make themselves feel better. When suffering from a manic episode, the inability to focus is the largest contributor to a messy house, and, in some cases, compulsive hoarding. Anxiety around throwing items away may also occur in either episode, but especially mania.

My story is no different. I fell pregnant when I was a twenty-two year old newlywed, which kicked off my bipolar disorder and a nine-month long manic episode. Given that I was unemployed, and that my husband and I had recently moved three thousand miles away from home and had no family or friends in the area, I was left alone in my apartment to stew.

I became obsessed with providing for my baby on mine and my husband’s limited budget. I dove through the complex’s dumpsters, searching for baby items, and found enough to stuff a room full. Even if the stuff was broken and mismatched, I shoved them into the baby’s room until we could no longer close the door.

At this time, I was also obsessed with feeding my family. When I was small, there was rarely enough food to go around, so I was determined not to let that happen to my new family. I found a job working a daycare within walking distance, and used the giant cans they would throw away from making lunches to grow carrots from seed on my apartment’s balcony. I bought soil at a farm for pennies on the dollar. I also bought food, enough that my husband I could not possibly eat it all. The fruits and vegetables I stuffed our refrigerator with rotted, and all the bread molded.

I also hoarded craft supplies, including old clothes I’d intended to sew into baby or doll clothes later. I had dozens of needles, reams of colored paper, and several balls of yarn–and I couldn’t knit.

The only way to treat the hoarding was to treat my bipolar disorder. Thankfully, with medication and therapy, I stopped hoarding all together. My mother threw out everything in the baby’s room that I had dug up from dumpsters, and helped me start from scratch. My carrots never grew past shriveled, little things, so I threw the garden out as well, and grew flowers instead. And I’ve pared down my craft hoard significantly.

There is hope for bipolar-disorder-induced hoarding. Treating the symptoms of one mental illness will help with the other.

Author: Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs weekly at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. She also blogs monthly at the International Bipolar Foundation website (IPBF.org). Her work has been published in the anthology, How the Light Gets In. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.

6 thoughts on “Can Bipolar Disorder Symptoms Contribute to Hoarding?”

  1. Dear Cassandra,
    I suspect my mother could be a bipolar as she exhibits the same symptoms described above. May I know what sort of treatment & medication you had that cured your condition.
    My mum is 78 years old & sadly she’s been living in a mess & depressive all her life.
    I would like her remaining years to be happy & hope to understand how she can be treated. Thank you.

    1. Dear Jane,
      I’m so sorry to hear about your mother’s troubles. To sort of answer your question, I have tried several medications over the years, but the one that helped initially was valproic acid, also known as Depakote. To stop hoarding took me several years of medication and therapy, and I still struggle with it when I am unstable. If you can, I would recommend getting your mother to see a professional psychiatrist who can offer a definitive diagnosis and treatment. Best of luck to you and yours, and I hope that your mother improves!

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