Can Bipolar Disorder Symptoms Contribute to Hoarding?

Credit to 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.

Why Should You Chart Your Moods if You Have Bipolar Disorder?

Credit to user Selbe Lynn. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Mood charts can be valuable tools if used properly. The charts provide a quick reference guide to how your moods and medications affect your daily life.

Among other things, they can track:

  1. The date.
  2. Mood scale.  All mood charts intended to track the effects of bipolar disorder have a mood scale, with most ranging from -3 (low mood) to +3 (elevated mood). 0 is the baseline, indicating “normal” or stable mood. You record the most intense mood at the end of the day by placing a dot or an “X” in the appropriate box. If you suffered from both mania and depression, you would mark two dots or “X”s. This gives you an easy graph to track exactly what moods you’ve experienced, providing both a way to examine patterns in your moods, and an early warning system for potential mood episodes.
  3. Weight. The chart I recommend, used by the National Institutes of Mental Health, recommends that you weigh yourself on the 14th and 28th of each month. This makes it easy to track whether your medications are packing on the pounds, or if your diet is actually working.
  4. Menstrual cycles. Premenstrual syndrome symptoms can interfere with mood, weight, and cause irritability. It’s a good idea to know when a dip in your mood is due to a visit from Aunt Flo.
  5. Sleep. Most mood charts have spaces to mark down how many hours of sleep you received the night prior. A lack of sleep might be a warning about a manic episode.
  6. Medications. Usually, mood charts also encourage you to write down your medicines, the dosage, and whether or not you’ve taken them. This can help you actually take your medication on time.
  7. Alcohol and drug use.
  8. Anxiety and irritability.
  9. Notes. These are records of life stressors or therapy sessions. These notes can be a brief mood diary.

But why should a person chart their moods, if the above list wasn’t enough? There are several reasons:

  1. Simplification. Your mood is affected by a great number of things, among them sleep, medication, and life stressors. Because there are so many factors involved, it is easier to chart than to keep a diary, or remember everything between doctor’s visits. The best part is that you can take your charts with you to psychiatrist and therapist visits!
  2. Keeping track of patterns.  A quick visual guide enables you to easily see patterns in your moods, and warn for potential mood episodes before problems develop. If you track your moods and keep notes, you can identify your own personal triggers for episodes.
  3. Empirical data. A mood chart definitively shows the effects medication, exercise, and sleep has on your mood. Collected over a period of time, the data makes it easier to pick out specific reasons behind your mood changes rather than just relying on feelings.
  4. Social Security disability evidence. Because mood charts can show exactly how intense your mood swings are, you can use them to demonstrate how your episodes interfere with your day-to-day life.

Mood swings from bipolar disorder–from the grandiose highs of mania to the deep despair of depression–can be intense and unpredictable. Using a mood chart is an easy way to learn potential triggers to mood episodes, understand the impact of medication, and keep track of other factors such as weight and sleep. Charting your moods can help bring order to an irregular disorder.

PNWA Conference Report


finalist ribbon1.jpg
The Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association conference tag, with a black finalist’s ribbon outlined in gold. Protected under a Creative Commons license.

From Thursday, July 20th through Sunday, July 23rd, I attended the 2017 Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association’s conference. It was a meeting of writers of all genres, from memoir to middle grade to fantasy. I participated in the PNWA literary contest back in February with chapters five and six of my memoir, Committed, and placed as a finalist. I also judged the science fiction category, reading up and making comments on 280 pages of others’ works.

The conference was an absolute blast. I made several contacts who I will gladly call friends, and attended classes to improve my craft and ability to market my book. I was overwhelmed at first by what’s required to market my book, according to the experts–Facebook and Twitter parties, and blogs with over 120,000 followers–but I quickly rallied to learn about how to structure author websites, how to research facts properly for memoirs, and how to edit my book properly. I pitched to nine agents/editors, and received requests for a partial manuscript from five of them.

The highlight of the conference was a woman named Maria (pronounced Maraya) Philips, and how she showed her faith in my memoir. Now, I didn’t know this woman from Adam before the conference, but she is the marketing manager at PNWA and taught two classes. She heard my pitch, and immediately spoke with an editor, Lynn Price, of Behler Publications. Maria later caught me in the hallway and said, “Lynn Price is expecting you!”

What a shock! Unfortunately, Ms. Price ultimately rejected my manuscript, but to have someone enjoy my story enough to use their clout with an editor was supremely satisfying. I thank Maria for her faith in me, and recommend the conference for networking opportunities for anyone in the Seattle area.

4 Ways to Educate Someone About Mental Illness

Note: This post has been translated into French by Stephane at Espoir Bipolaire! Click here to read the French translation!

How often have you heard an insensitive–and inaccurate–remark about mental illness? How about something like, “the weather can’t decide whether to be hot or cold. It’s so bipolar!” or “these basketball players need to talk to each other. They’re so schizo!” These expressions are stigmatizing because they connect mental illnesses to undesirable behaviors.

It’s not your job–and it certainly isn’t fair–to have to educate others about mental illnesses. But, if you feel the need, how do you approach someone who uses terms of disorders in a healthy way? These four tips will hopefully help.

1. Is Engaging Worth It?

Credit to user Flixel David. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

First, figure out whether you want to engage the person. You’ll be opening yourself up to criticism, especially if you have a mental illness yourself. If you’re dealing with a stranger in a crowded place, it may not be worth it to correct them. However, if you’re dealing with a well-intentioned friend, feel free.

2. Watch Your Tone

As difficult as it is to not become defensive, try. Coming across as positive and kind will go a long way towards educating the ignorant, because they’ll be more likely to open a dialogue with you rather than getting defensive themselves. It’s not fair to have to police  yourself like this, especially when tempers are boiling hot, but if you want to correct someone, it’s better to not go on the offense.

3. Get Personal

Try to use “me” statements such as, “When you say things like that, it really hurts me.” If you’re comfortable talking about your mental illness, tell a bit of your story to demonstrate the effect of their words on you.

4. Offer Resources

Hopefully, the person you encounter will be open to discussion. If so, then you can offer them resources which they can use to educate themselves further. Websites like, for the National Alliance of Mental Health, are a good starting point. You want to make sure your resources are as comprehensive as possible.

Again, it’s not fair to have to educate anyone about your struggles with mental illness, and it’s certainly not pleasant to have to police yourself in order to engage with someone. But, the more you educate, hopefully the less you’ll have to deal with insensitive remarks in the future.

Have you ever educated anyone?

How Mental Health Affects Personal Hygiene

Hygiene is extremely important for health and morale-related reasons, but mental health conditions can negatively affect self-care. Keeping up a routine of frequent bathing can be difficult for many people suffering from bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, schizophrenia, and dementia. Teeth and hair brushing are burdensome for the mentally ill; indeed, getting that done on a daily basis is hard for me as well.

During my stay in the mental hospital, patients had to request that they be let into the shower, which was locked. The nurses required us to be dressed by eight a.m., but didn’t require oral care or hair brushing. As a result, my normally-straight hair became ridiculously tangled, to the point that I described it as a mass of Brillo pads piled atop my head.

Credit to user Niklas Gustavsson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Self-neglect is one of the major symptoms of depression, and can easily be tied into mania as well. Body odor, soiled clothes, and poor oral hygiene are all signs of something going very wrong in a person’s life. Loss of motivation, a lack of self-worth, and social isolation all contribute to poor hygiene.

One way to help remind yourself to wash is to have soap and other supplies readily stocked. Fresh towels, even if it’s difficult to do laundry, are essential to cleaning oneself. People who care about you can help keep you on task as well by asking if you’ve had a shower lately. And you don’t need to bathe everyday. Showering every day strips the oils from your skin and hair, drying them out. So just get a bath in when you can.

Hygiene can be hard to maintain, especially if you’re in the throes of a mood episode. But it’s crucial to managing moods. Best of luck engaging in self-care!