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Bipolar Disorder and impulsive spending sprees

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Written by Aditi Sahu

Impulsive Spending and Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder where a person experiences fluctuating levels of energy and moods making it difficult to lead a balanced life. People with bipolar disorder have majorly two alternating phases- 

  • Mania or hypomania: elevated mood
  • Bipolar Depression: the depressive low

For many bipolar people, when they start to get hypomanic, manic, or hyper manic, they have poor impulse control which results in a variety of situations like being sexually promiscuous, fast driving, making poor business decisions, drugs, etc. Their decision-making is impaired and they start making poor judgments in various departments of life including ‘money’ which leads to excessive spending. Many people end up spending thousands and sometimes lakhs of rupees within minutes! Whether rich or financially unstable- these obsessive spending sprees are not a good sign and one must not be casual about it. Binge spending is actually one of the symptoms psychologists look for when diagnosing bipolar disorder. 

Manic phases take different forms in different people. For people whose high phases turn into sudden purchases or excessive shopping, the common mindset is that they feel they have more money than they actually do, and regular limitations to spend seem negotiable. At that moment, that decision feels absolutely justified in their heads. Bipolar people end up buying more than they can afford or in more quantities than required in these elevated phases, which they later regret causing distress and making them feel guilty. 

Kay Redfield Jamison described her manic phase in her book ‘An Unquiet Mind’ where she writes, ”When I am high I couldn't worry about money if I tried, so I don’t. The money will come from somewhere, I’m entitled, God will provide. Credit cards are disastrous, personal cheques are worse. Unfortunately for individuals with Bipolar Disorder anyway, mania is a natural extension of the economy. I once bought 12 snakebite kits for a sense of urgency and importance. I bought precious stones, elegant and unnecessary furniture, watches, and totally inappropriate siren-like clothes. During one spree in London, I spent several hundred pounds on books having titles or covers that somehow caught my fancy. I imagine I must have spent far more than thirty thousand dollars during my two major manic episodes.”

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What can you do to prevent impulsive spending?

Money management is a challenge for most people with bipolar disorder. What one must understand is that these are simple tips to keep oneself in check, but real improvements can only happen with the right treatment. Being consistent with your treatments and consulting your psychologist at regular intervals to analyze the progress should solve half the problem. Here are a few other ways to tackle impulsive money spending: 

Have a healthy lifestyle.

It is important to understand and accept that your body would need extra attention and care as compared to your friends when it comes to habits. Avoid alcohol or any other recreational drugs. Eating healthy, exercising, and maintaining a good sleep cycle is crucial for your health and pays off in the longer run. 

Make someone in charge.

Create a basic outline of your expenditures and explain it to someone who cares for you and you can trust. Tell them to check up on you in case they find you overspending. They can also check up on you regularly to see if your finances are running as planned. A lot of people set minor penalties to hold themselves responsible.

Only keep credit/ debit cards with a low spending limit.

Avoid using credit-based apps with a post-payment system. Ask your caretaker/ partner to keep a check on your net banking activity. 

Learn more about financial planning.

There are a plethora of books and youtube channels that are guiding people on better management of their finances. You can also take a master’s class or an online course to understand more. 

Have a supportive group of caretakers.

Most bipolar people who have been successful in tackling their manic spending sprees have a very strong and reliable circle of people that keep them in check. 

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Take the first step

While these everyday hacks do prove to be extremely helpful in keeping oneself in check, Bipolar Disorder can only be fixed through treatments and therapies. “Many bipolar people tend to trigger their manic phases as it quote-unquote “feels elevating”, but it is not good at all for your overall well-being and day to day life as you are unpredictable and irrational during these episodes,” says Dr Arun. Also if you are someone who experiences sudden mood shifts and ends up spending a lot of money then we urge you to get yourself checked. You may be suffering from a mood disorder like bipolar disorder. The faster you act, the better are the chances to treat it before it gets worse. 

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