Game-Changer: a Healthy Mindset 

In 2019 Kevin Bergin was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (or PsA), in addition to spondylitis (characterised by active inflammation of the spine and sacroiliac joints that connect the lower spine and pelvis). His diagnosis came 15 years after first experiencing pain and fatigue. Kevin is a software engineer working in the world of video gaming and a certified Living Well with Arthritis course leader. Here he tells us how adopting a healthier mindset, as well as lifestyle changes, was a game-changer in helping him to manage and accept his condition. 

“On bad days, I’d limp to work and struggle for most of the day.”

Unexplained flares 

It took 15 years for me to finally get my diagnosis so, for many years, I didn’t realise that what I was experiencing was inflammatory arthritis and that stress could be a factor. When I was at my worst, the flare-ups were debilitating. At the time, I was working in a start-up in computer gaming. The industry can be stressful – basically, if your game doesn’t succeed, your entire business can collapse. So, without a doubt, I believe stress would have played into those flares. 

Initially, I was told that I had a bulging disc. I had severe pain in my hip and lower back. Even walking was, at times, exceptionally painful. Sitting waiting for the bus to go to work was agony. On bad days, I’d limp to work and struggle for most of the day. I remember the pain in my hip was so intense one day that I had to leave early and go take anti-inflammatories (since then, I got a standing desk which has been life-changing). 

…although I didn’t want to die, as such, it’s like I cared less and less about living.” 

Breaking point

“The stress at work intensified and, along with that, my condition worsened. The GP ran blood tests but they somehow (incorrectly) came back clear. I had red flags, such as pain around my ribs and it was so confusing to me as I was still in my twenties. Not yet having the diagnosis, I didn’t yet appreciate that this was joint pain. The pains were stabbing ones, but they’d also trigger a feeling of not being able to breathe at times. 

“It was a huge struggle, mentally. If you’re waking up in pain most mornings, it kind of colours everything in your life. Everything becomes negative. The traffic is terrible, the weather is terrible and it’s really hard to see the positives. It’s almost like putting on a pair of glasses that colours everything with a negative hue. I struggled so much at that time; and although I didn’t want to die, as such, it’s like I cared less and less about living. Life had become almost meaningless.” 

“…before the diagnosis, there was always this hope that whatever I had could possibly be cured.”

The diagnosis: a blessing and a curse 

It was years later – 15 years after my first symptoms – that I finally received my diagnosis. I went to another physiotherapist and this one noticed some signs. I had good mobility (I’d adopted yoga and lifestyle interventions at this point to help manage), yet I was still in pain so this was a clear sign that there was something underlying. We also both noted that things were worse for me in the mornings, but that walking would help loosen things up [a classic feature in inflammatory arthritis].  

The diagnosis helped, but it came as this combination of being a blessing and a curse. You finally have the answers, and everything starts to makes sense. It all clicks into place and there’s a great sense of relief with that. But then there’s the downside; before the diagnosis, there was always this hope that whatever I had could possibly be cured. The diagnosis confirms that this is a chronic condition and a burden that you will have to carry for the rest of your life so that can be tough to swallow.”

“…thinking of the things I can do in spite of the condition, rather what I can’t do because of the condition.”

Cultivating a better mindset 

Through trying to find ways to live with pain, I found a lot of things helpful, but mindset became probably one of the most crucial. I learnt that the only thing you can control is your response to things. Mindfulness and meditation really helps, but also thinking of the things I can do in spite of the condition, rather what I can’t do because of the condition. 

I discovered a type of philosophy known as stoicism [based on the principle that there is very little that we have control over in life, but what we do have control of is our own thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and actions] which had a massive impact on how I felt 

My advice to anyone in this situation is that, if you find yourself in those negative mindsets, where you’re in a bad place, just stop yourself and start to work on your thoughts and beliefs. Also, practising gratitude is something that I find very helpful too – focusing on all the things that I do have, rather than what I’m lacking. These experiences were so impactful that they spurred me on to write a book on the subject, called Strength through Pain. 

“If I’m feeling sore, I’ll go gently, so I’ll tailor [my walk] to how I feel, but I’ll still make sure to show up every day.”

Setting goals & showing up 

“Having some sort of physical goal, no matter how big or small, is another thing that I find is very beneficial to my mindset. Seeing myself make progress with my walking is something that I have control over. It helps you to get over the idea that it’s completely hopeless. Running is totally out of question for me, but that doesn’t bother me because I’m achieving something else with my walking.  

“What I’m focusing on myself right now is showing up for that walk every morning. I take a photo of myself on that walk every morning and I post it up on Instagram. I’m not focused on how many followers I have but, instead, on making that commitment to show up and do a walk. If I’m feeling sore, I’ll go gently, so I’ll tailor it to how I feel, but I’ll still make sure to show up every day.  

I’ve achieved over an entire year of daily walks so far. I’ve posted 407 photos of those daily walk. I’ve actually racked up around 1,700 kilometres. My long- term goal is to eventually reach 40,000 kilometres. That is the circumference of the planet so, essentially, my goal is to have walked around the whole planet at some point. I call it my 30-year goal! The logic is that, if I can walk today, I can probably walk tomorrow and the next day and the one after that, and that is kind of how I approach it all.” 

“…what you sometimes don’t get is any understanding of the emotional toll and weight of it all.”

Putting emotional supports in place 

The support is crucial, but it’s important to find the right type of support, in that it’s one that works for you and your personality. Were all different. For one person, it could be reading a motivational book, or going to talk to someone whereas, for someone else, it could be immersing themselves in a hobby or something they enjoy 

“Another thing to mention is getting overwhelmed. Often, after your diagnosis, you get all sorts of advice on the next steps, but what you don’t sometimes get is any understanding of the emotional toll and the weight of it all. That’s why catching yourself in a negative spiral is essential. You need to remind yourself, “I can choose what to think right now”, and to find the emotional support you need through this tough time.  

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Your whole identity becomes arthritis but remember, you are not your condition. Of course, it’s good to find out more about your condition, but also, it’s important not to get buried in it. So, yes, jump in the hole of reading and discovering everything you can about it but, also, make sure that you can get out of that hole again.” 

What you do day-to-day is going to have an impact on your health and wellbeing.” 

Validation from self-management course 

“Last year I became a leader on one of the Arthritis Ireland’s Living Well with Arthritis. The course validated everything that I had learnt about managing my own condition up to this point. It was also very fulfilling seeing the impact that the course had on people. If you’ve been recently diagnosed, I would say sign up 

The course offers a lot of actionable information, such as setting very specific and achievable goals for the weeks ahead. It’s all about getting the ball rolling, and then gathering momentum, but starting slow is essential because you can’t go at full speed when you have a chronic condition. 

It’s all about making small changes and building on those and turning them into consistent daily habits and you can feel the benefits over time. There is such a breadth of information and something might really strike a chord with you. Hearing other peoples stories is great too, where you can find these interesting overlaps in experiences. Interacting with others in a similar boat breeds empathy and understanding.  

“An important take away from all this is that your health and your fitness and wellbeing is not the responsibility of your doctor. You are responsible for yourself. At the end of the day, it’s your body and only you know how it feels. What you do day-to-day is going to have an impact on your health and wellbeing. Having arthritis is not hopeless. There is a lot of hope out there. Everyone has challenges and limitations, but it’s what you do in spite of the condition that matters. For me, that’s about showing up every day and doing what I can.” 


Disclaimer: All content and views expressed in Kevin Bergin’s book, Strength Through Pain, are his own personal views and not those of Arthritis Ireland.

Arm yourself with an action plan like Kevin’s 

Self-management is all about being active in your own disease management rather than being passive. If you feel ready to take the next step in addressing health behaviours in order to improve your quality of life and the management of your arthritis, then start here! 


  • Reduce your pain and reclaim your life by signing up for our free 6-week Living Well with Arthritis and Related Conditions self-management course (offered as both in-person or online events). Developed by Stanford University, this award-winning course will equip you with a variety of tools and techniques to help self-manage your condition. This course has been proven to help people living with arthritis (and related conditions) to manage their pain and fatigue by developing a healthier lifestyle.  


  • If pain is a challenge for you right now, consider signing up to our free 6-week Behind the Pain online course, starting in the summer and led by an accredited psychotherapist. 


  • If you are inspired by Kevin’s commitment to daily walks, then why not embark on your own walking programme? Try our 6-week gentle walking plan. 



  • To find out more about ‘lifestyle medicine and arthritis, including physical activity, rest or sleep, stress management and other practical habits that will help to positively impact your arthritis, tune into our podcast with Úna Martin and Dr Kate McCann on our Inflammation Nation Podcast.