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Talking Bipolar disorder with Stephen Nawotniak
Episode 412th February 2022 • Love your Diagnosis • Lainie Chait
00:00:00 00:33:22

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In this Episode of Love your Diagnosis, I talk with Steve about his diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.

After being hospitalised from a major depressive episode and potentially being diagnosed with depression, someone in the hospital realised that it was bipolar that Steve was living with, not depression. That was a life changing experience for him, as he mentions in the interview that being on anti depressants when you have bipolar can lead to a form of mania.

He fells lucky to have been diagnosed correctly and has turned that diagnosis into an empowering situation to assist others.

He has incredible insight into this diagnosis and shares what he did to be empowered by it not become a victim.

Thanks Steve

Link to Stephen's website

You tube clip called: Bipolar - What I Wish I Knew When First Diagnosed

If you would like to donate to the running of the podcast ad free I would be so grateful.

You can get my book here which is a raw and honest dialogue of how I went from completely using allopathic medicine to manage a diagnosis of epilepsy, to only using a small amount of medicine and managing the rest with lifestyle choices and other wonderful plant medicines and supplements

Also you can sign up to my quarterly newsletter below where tips and resources will be shared for you about different topics of wellness that you can feel into and decide if they are right for you. Knowledge is power.

If you have a story that you think other people will benefit from and you would like to be on the podcast then contact me at

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A little side note:

These shows are meant to create food for thought for people going through similar situations. Planting seeds of information about things that perhaps you never knew could and might assist in treating and managing the symptoms associated with your diagnosis.

Alternative treatments are out there to be used, alongside allopathic medicine, or instead of.

That part is completely up to you, but gaining knowledge is the first part in empowering yourself back to health.


Lainie 0:00

Welcome to the love diagnosis podcast. Today's guest is Steve Nowotniak and you're all the way from where Steve?

Steve 0:10

Buffalo, New York, USA. Well, well,

Lainie 0:13

well, New York. Yes. You've got that kind of accent. I've been interviewing a few Americans today and there are little little differences in accent.

Steve 0:23

Yeah. Yeah, I'm a lot of people when I say New York think New York City. But I'm near Niagara Falls. So it's kind of it's about six hours east of New York City.

Lainie 0:35

Okay, great. Thank you. I would have probably thought that myself. No. Now, Steve, you have a very interesting and quite common diagnosis, which is bipolar. Now, I would like you if you can to let me know when you were diagnosed with it. And how long ago that was and a brief description of what that looks like for you living with it.

Steve 1:03

years old in August of:

Lainie 2:43

okay, so these are both things that you've been diagnosed with bipolar and hypomania.

Steve 2:48

No, no, hypomania is one of the symptoms of bipolar. So bipolar is when you have like low depression, and then high is mania. Yeah. Okay. And so I just tried to explain it in a way that if you make it a little bit more relatable,

Lainie 3:08

Now, what was your life like before then, like, when did you know in your life that something just you just didn't feel quite right? Like before? Then we active were you eating? Well, you know, did you were your social?

Steve 3:23

a mental illness. in May of:

Lainie 4:33

Why did you do that? Why did you need to set the alarm to tell you to do those things?

Steve 4:38

Because I didn't have a lot of energy. And it was it was really difficult. And I was trying to I was trying just to pull myself up by my bootstraps and just kind of make myself do it. And like I said, I mean I got my ego when I was 14 I built my own master's degree. So I and I've always had times where I've had different levels of down, but I've always been able to pull myself up i out of it. So I was just thinking, how do you make yourself keep going through the day? Even if you're feeling down? I did

Lainie 5:06

people around you kind of notice this about you and comment? Or was it just something you lived with on your own? And it was your own little demon in a way.

Steve 5:16

I mean, people knew that I can have up times and downtimes. But you know, my parents always say, that's just Steve. And, you know, I always did come out of it. So So before that, before I was hospitalised with depression, I had always come out of it. So there's different types of bipolar that exist. My specific type is called rapid cycling. So I can have it for a few days to a week, and they can switch back and forth. So typically, they'll say, you can be in a state for a couple of weeks. But for me, it can it ends up it can be a couple days at a time,

Lainie 5:51

that sounds a lot nicer than a couple of weeks, doesn't it?

Steve 5:55

Every method has its own challenges. So what I find challenging with the rapid cycling, is that, number one, the ups and downs and trying to figure out how you're feeling can be exhausting, because I always had to kind of keep an eye on how I feel I can't just go with the flow. I explained having hypomania kind of like being higher, like having a nice buzz and being over caffeinated, right? So for me, the cycle would be like, having a buzz, and then going up and being a little drunk, and then having a hangover, and then having a little bit of sobriety and then having a buzz and then getting drunk like, like that kind of swing is kind of what it's like. And so I might be in one state for a few days. But then it's like, it switches into another one, it switches into another one. So it's weird.

Lainie 6:52

It kind of explains what an addict might go through, you know, but but they're consciously taking a substance to feel that way. Whereas your chemicals are taking you on that journey without the external substance. Yeah, interesting. Yeah. Is there a story you can share that actually took you from going I can't do this anymore. And I need to see someone about this. What was that turning point that epiphany, that story?

Steve 7:19

Yeah. Well, actually, I didn't go, Hey, I have a problem. I need to go see somebody. I actually got into such a rut that I had to go to the hospital. And I was in hospital for about a week. And while I was in there, I was diagnosed with a bipolar condition. So it was there was not Oh, I think something's wrong here. I need to go see somebody it was it was I was, I was pretty low. And I hurt myself. And it was it was a it was a very dark time.

Lainie 7:47

So if it wasn't, you weren't experiencing a rapid cycle, then you were experiencing something much longer that you couldn't bring yourself out for the first time?

Steve 7:56

Yes, yeah, this this was a low that was lasting for about a month. And that one I couldn't pull myself out of I had no idea. I had no idea. And then as just like when you're in having a flu, and you have that mind fog, where it's hard to think critically, the same kind of thing was happening with the depression, to the point where I didn't even know how to ask for help. I didn't know how to ask for out ask questions. I was just getting through the day and existing.

Lainie 8:25

So you you admitted yourself into hospital? And then what tests did they run at the time when you were in there? I mean, was it? Was it one of those, you know, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest kind of scenarios with where you were putting the cell by yourself? Or was it not that extreme?

Steve 8:41

The way it worked for me. So first off, I went in with the diagnosis of depression. But when I was talking with one of the nurses, I was telling the nurse, I just can't keep an even keel no matter how hard I try. And it was from that statement, they decided that it's probably not depression, that it's probably more bipolar. And so I was diagnosed with that and given medication for bipolar, which I'm lucky that they did that out of the gate, because most of the times what will happen is people will get diagnosed with just depression. And then you take antidepressants, which pick your mood up. But if you're bipolar that can push you into a mania. So you need to have a mood stabiliser to kind of act as a ceiling to keep you from ramping up too much. And so I was very fortunate about being able to have that diagnosis off the bat.

Lainie 9:30

Good because that's what I was gonna ask you were you did you go through a grieving period after you were diagnosed because I know with a lot of people who are diagnosed with something and then given pills and sent on their way, there's this kind of fear and this part of your life that you've kind of got to say goodbye to because now you are this person. Did you go through that after you left the hospital?

Steve 9:52

Yeah, I had. There were two parts to it. On one token, there was a little bit of a relief To say that there was this thing that was influencing what I was experiencing. So it wasn't a matter of personal weakness. It wasn't a character flaw. There was this thing that was influencing stuff. And that thing could be addressed and worked with. So there was relief in that part. There was also shame, because now oh, I'm one of those crazy people. So all that stigma associated with mental health and mental illness came crashing down on me. And then there was a sense of anger around why do I have to have this thing and being mad? And then so deciding that you know what, if I'm going to have this, I might as well be an expert in it. That brought me to becoming an occupational therapist. And I can tell you about that story a little bit later, but, but I'm an occupational therapist, and it was actually my education of occupational therapy that helped me shift my focus from coping with symptoms of an illness, to managing a condition for fulfilment. And those two paradigms, those two outlooks are very different. And they lead you in different journeys.


Oh, absolutely. Which, really, one of the reasons that I'm doing this podcast is to help patients or Well, let's not call ourselves patients, to help people, you know that finding answers to the things that are not quite right with them. And speaking to people who have actually like, done the research, they've done the work for themselves, they can they can give people information and life hacks to help get through similar situations. So the power of communication and getting the message out there because with for myself, when I was diagnosed with epilepsy, I knew no one I didn't know anything about epilepsy, I didn't want to talk about it. I got on the forums, and it was all a bit doom and gloom for me. So I did it myself, I isolated myself from thinking that I was sick. Yeah, and wanted to find answers instead of more problems. Absolutely. So did you leave the hospital with a couple of prescriptions?


Yes. And the thing about anti psychotics is that they don't, it's not like you take them like antibiotics for a few days, and then you're done. Like, it can take a few weeks for the, for the the chemistry to get into what's called a therapeutic level, to the point where you start feeling the difference and are able to start working with it. From a from a physiology point of view, it's like there's a blood brain barrier around the brain. So it's got to work through that membrane before it gets there. So that's one of the reasons why it takes some time for it to for it to build up and work. But the medicine does, it's not like you take the medicine is done. My experience has been the meds soften the symptoms. So they're not as intense. But then you got to, but you still gotta learn how to live with it. But life still happens, you still have your ups, you still have your downs, I still have times where I'm feeling the slight depression, anxiety or hypomania. And I have to create a lifestyle that supports me in addressing the needs of those states, while being able to engage in meaningful activities and find fulfilment through those


awesome which they call holistic, holistic management approach. So could you share then Steve, some of the lifestyle, things that you needed to address in order to keep the symptoms down? Even more than the medicine was doing for you?


Yeah. So what I find is that really, there's three parts, there's three pillars, if you will, that I have found from my from living a life holistically. So pillar one is called, it's called psychological flexibility. And that's having tools that can help my mindset shift my relationship with the discomfort associated with the symptoms into a more empowering state. It doesn't necessarily make it all go away, but it helps me relate to it in a more empowered versus victim state. The second thing is being coming in more clear on what are my passions, what are what are my values, what are the things that are meaningful to me, so clarity in that. And then the third step is the lifestyle piece, which is living that out. And from an occupational therapy point of view, I look at so one thing is called sensory integration. And that is being able to purposefully and mindfully weave activities that can give pleasurable or calming input into my body, like through sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, movement, or pressure, right? So if I can, if I can weave those kinds of things in and purposely use those to help calm me, that's a piece


Does chocolate calm you.?


Absolutely I will confess that I've done some emotional eating, which gave me a short term fix, but you know, then I gained weight and it didn't always help. So I'm working on shifting out of that.


Plus, I might add that sugar is probably not great for someone dealing with a brain, you know, that nervous system condition as I know myself. Yeah. Anyway, side note. So, so So what are some of those sensory integrations that work for you?


When I'm feeling anxious, what I find it's helpful is pushing my feet into the floor, pushing my bottom into the chair. Basically, anything that I can do that helps give pressure. Another thing that can be helpful, it's like in the States, we call it Under Armour. It's a brand. It's like a compression shirt, you put it on and presses in on you.


Oh, is that like that weighted blanket?


thing as well, you know, about the weighted blanket is something that people use, yep. Yeah.


Okay, and compressions meant to do what just like ground.


So the pressure gives your body that sense of where it is in space and time. And it's almost like a hug, you know, like, instinctively, you know, sometimes when we're feeling uncomfortable, whether it be emotionally, like we want a hug, right? That pressure can be held can help us ground. Now as far as how to get that easily. If you've done sports, where sometimes they'll give you that, that active wear that wicks the the wicks the sweat away from you, to help you stay to help you stay dry or warmer. If you're doing outdoor gear, that kind of compression shirt is what I'm what I'm referring to, it doesn't have to be this special thing. It could just be like a compression sports gear.


So that's fantastic. So that's some of the lifestyle stuff that you've done. So sensory integration, what about diet, because with nervous system stuff, but I will take it back to that comment about the sugar. Because I know with brain conditions and neuro conditions, sugar is gonna amp up is gonna probably add and correct me if I'm wrong. Add to that hypo mania state. Just that's just how sugar works, caffeine, things like that


It gives you that restlessness.


So did you do a lot of research into changing your diet or understanding that what you were eating and drinking, were contributing to the bipolar maybe or is for you was it a completely separate issue,


it's a little separate. It's not like my, it's not like my food causes me to go, hypomania. What can happen is if I if what I'm learning is my body has a rhythm to it. And things that helped me regulate my body's rhythms helped me things that spike my rhythms, get me continue to cause the internal restlessness. And so, like, one thing is, is trying to have the same time roughly that I go to bed and wake up. So I have some, especially when I wake up, that's I find really important because that helps give me a natural rhythm and a routine. From an eating component. What I've actually started to do is intermittent fasting, because I want to lose weight, and it helps me regulate my blood sugar level a little bit more and I'm actually finding that the intermittent fasting is is helpful. I feel I feel like I'm a little bit more regulated.


You mean in your in your brain?


Personally, just like overall feeling feeling a little clearer. I've tried different things but but right now I'm trying intermittent fasting, it seems to be helping.


Yeah, I did it for two and a half years, it reset not only my body, but also reset the way I look at food. I'm trying something different now. Because to me, I'm always you know, I don't think you should ever try something the rest of your life, you know, because your body changes your hormones change, we changes people, so does your body and what it needs. So yeah, I did it for a while and I found it very helpful for my brain actually, I didn't realise that I could go the whole morning and actually still be so switched on mentally before I did that. Yeah, I just thought I needed like most people what what weird, sort of grown up to believe that you need you know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you need it for your brain function. So yeah, and everyone's different. So there is and people are learning that now there is no one size fits all for anything. So you're still on medication now?


Absolutely. I find that it's a cornerstone, I need it and I'm going to need it for the rest of my life and I work in a psychiatric hospital and and I've seen a lot of people get stabilised then get out in the community then go off their meds and then have a break and then have to come back and then gets and I've just seen a lot of People keep turning over and not really spinning their wheels not really getting not really continuing their trajectory really just kind of going back and forth, back and forth. I don't see meds as being the only answer. So I'm not looking at taking my meds to make all the yucky stuff go away. I don't look at it that way. I look at it, where How do I take it So it can, like I mentioned in the beginning, just soften my symptoms enough for me to be able to live and do the things that are important to me. That's the purpose for meds. They're not to make all the yucky stuff go away.


So those symptoms you experienced in your 20s gone now, you just you still have kind of a flow of up and down. Yeah,


yep. still have a flow


But you manage it!.


Yeah. And what I'm finding is that some of it is pain tolerance, in the sense that I become, just like when you work out, you might have body soreness when you work out physically. And it can be really bad in the beginning, but then kind of you get used to having some body soreness, so it doesn't stop you anymore. It's just kind of there in the background. So one of the things that I have found, is to be able to relax in some of that emotional discomfort. And that it can, it just kind of exists. But instead of focusing on it, where it's like up in front, and the big thing that I'm focusing on, what I find is by shifting my focus to my activities, or the things that are meaningful to me, or mindfulness, where I'm where I'm focused on the activities that are going on around me, I can shift that discomfort into the background. Like if you're listening to the radio, if you focus on the music, it's right there, and you can hear the words and all this stuff. But if you're doing your homework, or you're cooking, or you're doing an activity, the radio is still playing, but it's shifted into the background. So you hear the noise, but you're not really always aware of everything that's being said or done. So I said, that's the analogy that I put with the emotional discomfort associated with the symptoms.


That's great. That pretty much sums up mindfulness, really the The mindfulness approach to things. So you've you've taken what is what was the very challenging part of your life, dealing with all these symptoms and this diagnosis, and you've turned it around and you're starting to help people you've you're the author of a book called differentiate diagnosis from personality. Is that correct?


Well, there's two books that I have written. The first book is bipolar life hacks. Keys to loving life with a bipolar condition. And the second one is handbook for healthy living with a mood disorder. So those are the two books that I've written


great. And, and you turn that into becoming an occupational therapist and wellness coach to assist people with bipolar or just people in general,


people in general. my heartstrings go for people that are working with bipolar because I, I can relate to that. But the skills and tools such as mindfulness, such as having a routine, all those skills, such as gratitude, all those skills and tools to help me work with the discomfort of the bipolar symptoms. Those are good for everybody. It doesn't matter if you have a condition or not. So just like diet, and exercise are good for everybody. But if you're an athlete, the need for it is more evident. Or if you have diabetes, the need for it is more evident. But they're good for everybody. So same kind of thing. These These tools are good for everybody. But if you have a condition, the need for it is more evident.


Great. And people can find you at yes. Which I'll put a link to in the podcast notes. I also want to ask, yeah, I asked everyone this, would you say that you love your diagnosis?


I would say I'm learning from my diagnosis. And I and I would say that I, in the very beginning, I looked at it like an illness that I had to recover from, and like I got sick, and how do I go back to the way I was that was when I was in the very beginning. I've since let that go. I've now taken it to be a this is a journey of personal understanding and reflection, getting to know what it's like being in my own skin. And so now it's a journey of self improvement and growth versus coping with an illness. And that has shifted, that has really shifted it. So now I see my condition as a teacher, and it's causing me to have to learn skills and tools and grow as an individual so I can do more.


Fantastic. That's great, really. And do you have any tips or little parting words that you can give to anyone that is dealing with bipolar?


Sure. So the first thing I would say is, number one is you're not alone and And I actually did a YouTube video, which are on the six things that I wish I knew when I was first diagnosed with bipolar condition. And that is, so anyways, we can if you want to put a link on that, in this after YouTube, having that video that goes into one of the things that I've learned so, so you're not alone, there are definitely stuff that can be done. And we can be on this journey together.


Fantastic. Because there is a bit of stigma around it just because it's a bit unpredictable. You know, and people don't like unpredictability too much. There is a bit of stigma around that. And in your books do you do you kind of try and quell some of those stigmas?


I do have in bipolar life hacks, I do have a little thing on stigma. And what I have found is that there's really two types of stigma. There's community stigma, which is how the world might look at somebody with that label a little differently. But even more impactful is self stigma. And that's where I start to see myself differently because of a label. Now that's different than having a honest self awareness of strengths and weaknesses or challenges like, like having that that is important. But making choices just because of a label is not necessarily empowering.


Yeah. different sounds? Well, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Because then you then you identify with the label, and become the label instead of just becoming the person with condition walking alongside, or the


Yes, and the perception of the label, versus getting to us the reality. Now, the other part that I do have, I feel like I have a responsibility, also to say is that I need to take ownership of my behaviours, I need to take ownership of how I present myself to others, and and how, even if I'm feeling uncomfortable on the inside, I still got to take responsibility for what I do. Because there are people that have been negatively influenced, if I'm if I'm not being responsible. And so you know that that's a reality that happens to


and how do you learn that? Because that doesn't come that doesn't come naturally for people like that comes with, I guess, age and wisdom. But how what what is a suggestion for people that haven't yet kind of mastered that? How would you suggest people with bipolar take start taking responsibility?


I think one of the pieces is being what I use, and I can and where I go back to is my experience. And what I found that works for me, you know, exact Yes. But I find number one is people that I trust, giving permission to speak into what's going on. I'm not saying everybody in their aunt can tell me everything. And some people, you know, sometimes it's just I'm just having a bad day doesn't mean I didn't take my meds. It's just I'm having a bad day. But there are some people like my wife, like some co workers, that I may say, Does it seem balanced? Does it seem objective? Or does it seem like I'm off? And I let them speak into me? Like that makes sense?


Yeah, they like sounding boards.


Exactly. And they challenge me if I'm, I'm seeming like I'm coming off a little bit, just to challenge a quote and question it and to be open to what they have to say. But it's having some key people.


Great. That's really good advice. And thank you so much for sharing your story, Steve. It's, it's an important one. There are a lot of people that experience bipolar disorder. I guess it's not a disease, is it? It's a disorder?


Yeah, I call it a condition just because that's just what I call it. But yes, Bipolar disorder is how it's referred


thank you so much for taking the time to be on the podcast. I'll put up all the links to your books and where people can find you. And, yeah, good luck continuing to empower people and managing your condition.


Thank you so much. Thank you for doing this. This is awesome. I think it's so important what you're doing. Awesome.


Thank you Steve,. We'll we'll stay in touch.




All right. Bye. Bye.


All right. Bye now.