How I cope with my mental health diagnosis

After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Colm talks about the things he does day-to-day to look after himself

Written by Colm Caldwell


Getting diagnosed with a mental health issue can be a scary experience. First comes the question of what is the issue, then often the denial and then hopefully, in time, some acceptance. I personally lived with depression for about two years. Before I was diagnosed, the stress from my depression resulted in me experiencing two psychotic episodes. From there, I was involuntarily admitted to Tallaght psych unit. I was soon discharged, then received my final diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Nothing helped me more in my recovery than that final diagnosis. Knowing what the issue is helped me to understand how to move forward.

Understanding my impulses

I always had issues with impulses. Those impulses could lead me to bad states and decisions like ending up in unnecessary arguments or fights, drinking too much and taking things I probably shouldn’t. My impulses generally made me act irrationally and in a way I didn’t necessarily want to act. Once I got diagnosed, those impulses did not go away. However, they became understandable, and understanding is half the battle. I grew to understand those impulses are a symptom of my manic episodes. Understanding lets you catch yourself when the impulses take over. It gives you a chance to re-evaluate on the spot. Sometimes this re-evaluation is successful, sometimes it’s not. A diagnosis does not solve the issues you face. It does, however, let you improve on those issues little by little, one step at a time.

On the flip side of those impulsive and manic days, is the depressive days. These days are often not shared equally. Mania and depression both come in bouts. Something can set you off on a manic or depressive train of thought, and without outside influence, it can be incredibly hard to derail those thoughts. So, you must be able to recognise those thoughts and learn how to counteract them. Whether your method is mindfulness, medication, talking to friends, therapy or exercise, stick to it until it works for you or until you’re sure it doesn’t.

Your mental health does not define you

How you see yourself and your condition, post diagnosis, is all down to your personal perception. I believe you have to understand that your condition doesn’t define you, whilst also recognising it is intertwined with you. Dealing with this reality is all about coming to know what sets off your symptoms and in response, finding ways to control the things that set you off. For me, this is trying to resist taking psychoactive substances, alcohol or otherwise. It is also giving time to myself, to reflect on my day or week, so that I can assess situations where I may have become too impulsive. Often I will have this reflection while on a walk to get myself some exercise while I’m at it. Through this reflection I can understand how I let myself lose whatever amount of control I lost, recognise the particular actions that worsened the situation rather than better it, and from there, be mindful of it all and try to do better in the future. I usually also write down an account of the experience, in some form or another. Writing things down helps you get things out of your head without even having to speak to anyone. It helps you keep track of where you can improve and have improved. Even your word choice with what you write about will reveal some interesting things to you. History is written and not just spoken for a reason. Use this essentially free resource to your advantage.

Learning to do my best

The main thing I’ve learnt from my turbulent last few years is that I am not perfect, and I never will be. I’ve learnt I can only do my best. So, for me, ‘doing my best’ mainly consists of the points in the previous paragraph. Reflection, exercise, limitation of substance intake and writing, also known as mindfulness, healthy living and a cathartic release. My way is certainly not the way for everyone. I suppose what I hope people take from this article is a sense that most things genuinely do turn out okay in the end, as long as you give yourself the time to figure out what makes you tick. You just need to listen to your emotions, learn how to take in what they tell you and then simply grow with that knowledge. I often make mistakes and I often take steps backwards, but from those mishaps I know where to plant my feet next. A diagnosis will undoubtedly change your life, but your reaction to the diagnosis decides whether the route you take from there is positive or negative. No matter how difficult things get, choose positivity.

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