disability planning

High Spending During Manic Episodes (Canada)

“I’m diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (essentially bipolar and schizophrenia combined). I actually manage my money really well for the most part. The only time I don’t is when I’m manic, at which point I sometimes experience the characteristic ‘extreme overspending’. I can follow this phase by giving everything away. This leaves me in debt, with nothing to show for it. Given that I manage my money well the rest of the time, what are my options? I live in Canada.”

Dear Letter Writer,

I adore how articulate you are, how you blow out of the water the stereotype that we are somehow inept, lol. Yes, some brain glitches can have the symptom of extreme spending—not in the standard American way of constant overconsumption, but with a clearly delineated start and end point, corresponding with other signs of biochemical imbalance.

I’m sorry your body has given you this very tough experience, and the financial woe that can accompany it.

Given that you are already fully capable of managing your finances very well when this symptom is absent, my recommendations are as follows, depending on which apply.

If you are at risk of spending any positive net worth…

…do set up a disability trust. This has several benefits:

  • It secures your savings. Set up appropriately, the trust will leave you unable to spend without another person’s assessment, approval, and signature.
  • In many provinces, assets in a trust are exempt for the purpose of receiving provincial disability payments, social housing, and other benefits. If there are periods you become unable to work standard hours, the trust allows you to access support without running through your cash.
  • While having most of your assets in a Trust, you can still keep some cash in an accessible account, for your day-to-day living (and even for some of those splurges anyone enjoys once in a while).

Your trustee or co-trustee can be a nonprofit agency, a family member, a neighbour, etc. The advantage to a family member or neighbour is lower cost, i.e., these folks may be willing to serve in this capacity at no or very low charge. On the other hand, using the more costly services of a nonprofit agency eliminates the possibility of squabbles with your favourite people. This is an important matter to consider—many happy relationships have been devastated by the anger of one feeling “controlled” by another they once wisely gave power to. Depending on your thoughts and behaviours during your trickiest periods, it may be worth paying a fee to have a stranger/professional manage it.

A trust is a complex matter and should be explored with a lawyer; let me know if you’d like to talk about that further.

If you are at risk of accessing credit during symptomatic times…

  1. Contact an advocate in your province. You can find one here. It may take you three or four tries to find an advocate who has the expertise to answer this question or the time to research it well, but pursuing this bright human being will be well worth it. When you find the person passionate enough to determine the answers relevant to your province, ask what your options are for legally preventing or limiting access to credit. If no option is identified, ask what your options are for releasing liability after the fact.
  2. I would also set up financial tracking software and share it with a trustworthy, dependable person. That is, I would say to my trusty friend, “Tammy, I need help preventing overspending during manic periods. I’m going to track my spending daily. Would you be willing to check my tracking software from your own computer daily? If everything looks great, it is. If you see a period of time with no entries, please check on me, as I may be in major spending mode And if you see a major spend that seems irrational, please return the product on my behalf. Here is a physician’s letter you can present at the store/auto dealership in those instances.” You might look at giving this person power of attorney.
  3. If your friend, peer support person, or family member agrees to do this, hand-write this instruction and give them a copy. If during a manic period, you argue their actions, they can show you a letter from yourself. (In my worst years, it helped me a lot to write letters from my healthy self to my struggling self. I would write something like, “Dear Joon, I know you want to stop taking your medication now, because you feel good. Please continue taking them. Here’s why…” A letter from my healthiest self to my not-healthiest self worked wonders. When I legitimately couldn’t trust some “professionals”, I could always trust me.)
  4. Ensure that whatever arrangements you make can be changed during your next period of sound mind. For example, maybe you and Tammy are best friends today, and she provides excellent support for three years. What if you two have a fight? Or she disappears? Or becomes overwhelmed with parenting a new infant such that she Just. Can’t. Do. It. Ideally, you are able to revoke powers and assign new assistants each time you are well.

If (when) you have cash…

…do put it into an RDSP account. This isn’t in response to your question about preventing spending. It’s to tap into the best investment option available to people in Canada who have a disability. I can’t help but plug it at every opportunity! I think an RDSP is great because it basically acknowledges that people with disabilities have extra costs, and also may not have the same income opportunities as others. It’s a unique and awesome opportunity to “make up for” those major losses you’ve incurred via your symptoms.

Letter Writer, I hope any of these ideas and leads are helpful for you!

5 thoughts on “High Spending During Manic Episodes (Canada)

  1. Thanks again for taking the time to address my situation! What a wonderful blog!

    After doing some additional research it seems that starting a trust with a family member as a trustee to protect my life savings is probably the way to go. It would be far to easy for me to access a traditional RRSP or any other type of savings account during a manic episode. However, I’m not sure that I would qualify for the Disability Tax Credit and therefore wouldn’t be able to take advantage of having a Qualified Disability Trust or a RDSP.

    Truth be told, I never really even considered applying for the DTC. While the people closest to me acknowledge the fact that I have a mental disorder, they don’t really treat me as if I am disabled. My father especially, will say flat out that I am not disabled and continue on by citing all of the rich and successful people that have similar conditions. Which on the one hand is incredibly motivating and inspiring but at the same time, it can be so unbelievably challenging to be expected to function as if I don’t have this condition. Or to have to live up to the ‘end of the bell curve’ so to speak, full of people who made it big while being diagnosed with a similar disorder.


  2. Dear Chester,

    How lovely to find your reply! I’m really glad this was helpful to you at all.

    The concept of disability is very tricky! Are we “disabled”? Or just “having an additional challenge to work around”? Or “differently abled”?

    Your father is sure right that many people with these issues have been very successful! Disabled does not mean ineffectual, useless, unable, etc. In a subsequent reply, I’ll post a couple of more links from my blog related to that.

    I, too, did not apply for the DTC for many, many years. For one, I couldn’t see how I’d be eligible. For two, I wasn’t earning enough for it to be of any benefit. When the RDSP came it, I was finally motivated to apply…and I was approved!

    The vast majority of the time I don’t consider myself disabled. I’m aware, though, that I have a genetic vulnerability to some pretty serious symptoms. If I take great care of myself, I’m symptom-free…but, taking care of myself takes 20-30 hours per week over and above the basics. That’s one of the primary criteria most disability programs use.

    When I look to disability resources, I can’t comfortably use the word disabled, so I “translate” it to things like, “Do I need way longer than most people to do things? Do I need to opt out frequently, and take respite days? Do I need to be in silence and near a kitchen to function well?” When I share the true answers with disability programs, it is they that deem me disabled—regardless of whether I would use that word or not.

    The Disability Tax Credit is a weird one. Even after recent “improvements” to honour brain quirks, its application form has always sounded like the DTC is intended for people with very limited sight, hearing, control over their own body, etc. However, the DTC (and the RDSP) is definitely also available to people affected in behaviour, thinking, perception, etc. It’s also available to people whose conditions ebb and flow, such as our stuff, multiple sclerosis, etc. Finally, most people with Aspergers and schizophrenia have distinct physical symptoms—for example differences in stool patterns—and require a LOT more downtime/physical rest than other people do. All of this kind of thing would go into an application. A skilled (vs unskilled) advocate will be familiar with how to submit a solid application that includes all relevant information, for a successful outcome (immediately or upon appeal).

    I’ll do a post about all that one day too 🙂

    So good to have you here with us!


  3. I am struck by how thorough and well-crafted your response and solutions are, Joon! Particularly the hand-written letter to yourself and the physician’s letter for a friend to present. I hope others that can use your wisdom find this post!


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