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.