Essay On My Book Is My Friend Bipolar

Don’t be another victim and let bipolar excessive spending ruin your life.

Protect your family. It is never too early or too late.

One of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder is impulsive and irrational spending.

Bipolar expert, Dr Ronald R. Fieve, describes bipolar excessive spending in his book Moodswing like this: “the lifestyle of the manic-depressive who is in a high tends to be a glorious scattering of money”.

This “glorious scattering of money” can take many forms:

1. It may be wild shopping sprees with a self-medicating overtone.

2. It may be crazy investments when our bipolar grandiosity is telling us we can do no wrong.

3. It is not always about a spending spree – Patty Duke did her share of wild bipolar spending, which she describes candidly in her autobiography – but the best example of how bipolar screwed up her relationship with money was Patty asking two strangers she literally met in a parking lot to become her business managers (no prizes for guessing how that worked out!)

4. It may be extravagant gifts to family, friends or charity – again arising from manic grandiosity.

5. Or in some very distressing scenarios, it may be spending a fortune on travel, hotels, pornography, prostitution, champagne and lingerie in an extra-marital affair, cybersex, or whatever outlet manic hypersexuality can find.

6. Gambling more than one can afford, for example on horse racing,
online poker or the Vegas slots – another nightmare scenario for one’s
loved ones.

7. It may even be . . . ? The truth is the variations are endless.

In The Spending Spree, by Jeff Wuorio, in bp Magazine, Spring 2005, a variety of destructive examples are described.

My personal experience is that it is excessive spending and hypersexuality that are the two absolute hallmarks of bipolar disorder.

Even though I
had done a variety of truly crazy things (you can read about them in About Me)
it was my describing a $5,000 shopping spree I went on in Grad School that finally led to my psychiatrist correctly diagnosing me – and saving my life!

PLEASE NOTE: If you have been having a spending episode – or several – and your finances are in bad shape, please go now to our page onBipolar Debt.

If you are out of work and are having trouble making ends meet, you should consider whether your bipolar disorder is severe enough that you would qualify for bipolar disability payments from Social Security.

Bipolar excessive spending vs compulsive shopping

Until that fateful day when my psychiatrist started to help me understand my mood disorder, I had known I had a problem with money. Fortunately I was a high earner and so could get away with more. Basically I thought that I was just another shopaholic.

So how do we tell the difference between manic or bipolar spending versus “ordinary” compulsive spending?

This question was addressed in a research study by John M. Kuzma, MD and Donald W. Black, MD, “Compulsive shopping: When spending begins to consume the consumer”: “Bipolar mania and excessive spending related to a compulsive buying disorder are relatively easy to differentiate:

The manic patient’s unrestrained spending sprees correspond to manic episodes and are accompanied by euphoric mood, grandiosity, unrealistic plans, and often a giddy, overly bright affect.

The compulsive shopper’s spending occurs year-round in a pattern suggesting ongoing preoccupation.

The compulsive buyer may feel happy (or powerful) while shopping, but these transitory emotions are usually followed by letdown or guilt. The compulsive shopper is distressed by his or her activity and will often hide the evidence.

Not so for the manic, who may boast of his or her spending, display the evidence, and try to convince family and friends that the purchase is necessary or fits into some grandiose scheme. “Who doesn’t need two BMWs?” a manic patient said.”

I wasn’t a compulsive shopper! What I was doing was bipolar excessive spending – and finally understanding that changed everything.


Just like in a similar section section on our webpage on bipolar infidelity, I know some of these suggestions may seem extreme. Once again, I can only say that my own terrible choices about money and sex when I was manic have taught me to be very cautious about playing with fire – please don’t let bipolar excessive spending burn you or the people who love you.

These precautions are ideally agreed to ahead of time, before you face runaway bipolar excessive spending. Regardless of whether you a bipolar person, or closely connected to someone with bipolar, YOU NEED A PLAN! At the very first signs of bipolar excessive spending OR THE ONSET OF A MANIC EPISODE, this plan MUST go into effect.

– Restrict or monitor Internet use. This is to avoid both online shopping and gambling, and sex related activities such as pornography or cybersex. It may also help prevent the bipolar person from isolating and retreating into themselves too much.

– As much as you can, take cash, credit cards and ATM cards for safekeeping. If things seem like they could get really out of control, also consider taking the car keys (I told you you may not like it!)

– A dear friend of mine is married to a lovely bipolar guy. He is a musician who has a long history of substance abuse as well as his bipolar. My friend manages their money by giving him a monthly allowance. He has an ATM card to access this account at all times, but if he goes off his medication or seems to be getting hyper, she cuts off all other access to their finances. This way he always has some autonomy and dignity but can’t get them into financial trouble.

– Some advise cutting up cards but this can be a problem. For example, a non-bipolar spouse will still need to pay bills and buy groceries. Finding a way to divide finances works better.

– Watch both email and snail mail very carefully as at the moment the credit card companies are constantly sending out credit card applications and those seductive little checks.

– If you are lucky enough to have any kind of portfolio, you may need to confide in your investment adviser or broker. Although they are bound to carry out the client’s instructions, a heads up can encourage them to insist on written instructions and a face to face meeting. You may even be able to agree that they will notify a spouse, doctor or other appropriate person if any unusual transactions are requested.

– In extreme cases it may be necessary to arrange for a power of attorney.

Bipolar treatment contracts

One way to handle the delicate issues around bipolar excessive spending is through a bipolar treatment contract. A bipolar treatment contract is an agreement a bipolar person makes with their loved ones when they are well, to handle any bumps further on down the road.

The folks at Real Mental Health provide excellent information about bipolar treatment contracts and a free downloadable sample contract.

The morning after

When I was in high school I once had to write an essay for a language arts exam with the title Living it down, after living it up.” I do not remember much of what I wrote, but over 30 years later that phrase keeps coming back to haunt me.

When somebody finishes a manic episode marked by bipolar excessive spending, their normal reasoning may return, but because of the bipolar roller coaster, this return to rationality is often marred by serious post-manic depression. In other words, just as our mind has cleared enough for the consequences of our bipolar spending sprees to sink in, we get hit with the double whammy of severe depression.

We are at our lowest ebb, but must face up to the shame, embarrassment, and economic consequences of our bipolar excessive spending.

I have noticed that what little writing there is about this experience (good examples are Patty Duke and Kay Redfield Jamison), tends to be witty and amusing. It is as if the only weapon we have left to help us cope is this wry self-deprecating humor. And of course some of our crazy manic purchases ARE funny – who could forget Kay Redfield Jamison’s purchase of 12 snake bite kits? Or her buying 20 ill-assorted books by the publisher Penguin so the “penguins could form a colony”?

It is funny and tragic all at the same time. However, we do need PRACTICAL TOOLS to help us cope. Don’t let bankruptcy become another bipolar symptom. You CAN overcome bipolar excessive spending:

Use the system that saved me – a combination of tools such as mood charting, a wellness plan and a treatment contract.

Quotes on bipolar spending sprees

Bipolar excessive spending is one of the two textbook symptoms of mania (along with hypersexuality) and appears in all the lists of red flags to watch out for. However, usually that is the end of it. Most books and websites mention the subject, but there is rarely any detailed analysis or practical advice.

Interestingly however, there are plenty of illustrative quotations, going back a couple of hundred years . . .

[Mania’s] premonitory signs are . . . . unusual acts of extravagance, manifested by the purchase of houses, and certain expensive and unnecessary articles of furniture. – BENJAMIN RUSH (1745-1813)

I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered. – GEORGE BEST (1946-2005)

When I am high I couldn’t worry about money if I tried. So I don’t. The money will come from from somewhere; I am entitled; God will provide. Credit cards are disastrous, personal checks worse. Unfortunately, for manics anyway, mania is a natural extension of the economy. – KAY REDFIELD JAMISON (1946- )

Weekly $25,000 shopping binges at Barney’s and “high end” boutiques for clothes I barely wore were the norm. So were lavish meals with friends where I picked up $1000 tabs. These high-priced activities were within my limits because I was extremely successful financially, a testament to my manic behavior, not to mention my involvement in illegal activities. – ANDY BEHRMAN (Author of Electroboy)

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” Charles Dickens

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” Charles Dickens

Nearly 1 percent of people suffer from bipolar disorder (sometimes referred to as "manic depression"). Bipolar disorder is a mental illness major mood swings of mania (bipolar I) or hypomania (a less intense form of mania called bipolar II) and depression.

We see in the press that Catherine Zeta-Jones has admitted herself to a hospital for treatment of what has been identified as bipolar II: This form of bipolar disorder can produce considerable distress as well as difficulty meeting life's demands -- but without (yet) resulting in a full blown manic attack.

People with bipolar disorder, I or II, with good treatment, self-care and supportive family and friends can -- and do -- live full and productive lives. Without effective treatment, bipolar disorder can have a devastating effect on the person and their family, relationships and work.

What Might Bipolar Disorder Look Like to Family or Friends?

Because bipolar disorder involves both depressive and manic states, either mood problem can herald the recurrence of the condition. But I will focus here about what you might see during an emerging manic or hypomanic episode. In fact, mania typically progresses from excitement to hypomania and, if not controlled, can escalate to mania. So what you will see first is probably hypomania.

Over the course of days to weeks, your family member or friend starts sleeping less and less. He or she seems to have rather unlimited energy and is full of ideas. At first, the person may be funny and pleasant to be around, but soon that mood will become more irritable and unstable. Your loved one may start drinking more or using drugs secretly -- a very common problem in people with bipolar conditions. If the person was on medication for bipolar disorder, he or she has probably stopped taking it (causing the problem to come back) or will want to discontinue because it can dim the feeling of excitement, a very desirable, though problematic, feeling for someone with this illness.

Money may be missing from where you keep it or from your bank account. Bad judgment is common during a hypomania, or in a full manic state: Your loved one may spend money recklessly and engage in risky behaviors, including casual (and unprotected) sex, gambling, driving at high speeds, and frequenting neighborhoods and settings where no good is known to happen. Your loved one may accuse you of being boring, oppressive, or ruining his or her life or hopes. As time goes by and if the illness is not treated, the excitement mounts and a person will be unable to get anything done; behaviors can become progressively more threatening to the safety and wellbeing of the family. Commonsense talk seems to go when you try to reason with the person who is now ill.

What Can You Do?

Faced with mounting evidence of serious problems and a family's efforts at reasoning defied, with worry and love driving them, a family may want to push harder, insist that their loved one faces facts -- does something! Tempers can escalate and each side digs in more deeply.

The first thing you can do is what not to do, which is to not get into fights with your loved one. This may be the hardest prescription of all. What can work is a combination of listening and leverage. There is much to say about this, which I do in my book for families. I believe that all behavior, even illness behavior, serves a purpose. We just may not know yet what it is. By listening and asking questions, you may find out -- not by crossing swords.

Leverage is about a family being a two-way street: You get and you give. As a family or friend, what supports are you providing? Like a cell phone, money, car, even a place to stay. These are leverage points that can be used to negotiate for what needs to be done. What does a loved one need to do -- ultimately in their interest -- to continue to receive money, use the car, or stay together?

Avoiding a fight is not the same thing as being disengaged. In fact, it's staying just as involved -- in a different way. It is hard to not get into a fight, you may need help.

The second thing, therefore, is don't go it alone. Mental health problems, including addictions, are among the most common medical problems that exist. That means that there are others -- in your extended family and among their friends and co-workers -- who have been down the same road.

Who can you confide in? Is there a spouse, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, friend, or someone who has had a depression, addiction, traumatic disorder or other mental problem and is open about it (and, thankfully, more people are)? That's someone to turn to. You can turn to a primary care doctor or clergy, someone who has known your loved one for some time. Families can turn to school counselors or employee assistance programs at work. Advocacy organizations, like a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Mental Health America (MHA), are terrific resources that I almost always suggest; these organizations are staffed by experienced and trained people. NAMI has families who have been there. These organizations provide information and referral, by phone or in person. And they are free!

Don't go it alone. This lesson has been learned with every persistent illness, including diabetes, colitis, cancer, Alzheimer's and countless other conditions. Mental disorders, including bipolar disorder, are no different.

Third, learn about the mental health system of care, its treatments, its rules and how to work with and bend the rules. I am not talking about going to psychology graduate school. I am talking about becoming an informed and vocal advocate for your loved one. Health care in general -- not just mental health -- now demands informed and assertive families and consumers.

Fourth -- and this is also hard, but no different from illnesses of all sorts -- you will need to think of managing the illness as more of a marathon than a sprint. Managing all but short-term illnesses (like infections or broken bones) means taking a long view. Sticking with it.

A family's morale and determination will be tested. "Never, ever, give up." While often difficult to predict, a person's involvement in care or their illness improves. Mental health professionals have seen this again and again. You need to know this. Don't lose hope, don't give up. Take the long view, in your mind and with your efforts.


Recovery is a word that does not only apply to addictions. Recovery is about having a life of meaning, purpose, dignity, relationships and contribution. It is what we all want, and it is possible with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, and the many other faces of mental illness.

As we watch how Ms. Zeta-Jones manages her illness, there may be much to learn from someone so talented -- so successful, and yet ill -- about how to not let bipolar disorder, or any mental or addictive disease, derail or destroy a life or a family.

Dr. Sederer's book for families who have a member with a mental illness, The Family Guide to Mental Health Care, is now available.

The opinions expressed here are solely mine as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.

For more by Lloyd I. Sederer, M.D., click here.

For more healthy living health news, click here.

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