The On and Off Switch That Dan Lambton Can’t Control

Lead singer of Real Friends discusses his struggles with bipolar disorder.

Posted Jul 11, 2018

“Swallowing the feeling

Counting cracks across the ceiling

Never reached the depths of them before

Finding flaws in every format

I know but haven't shown that

I could pick myself up off the floor”

–“From the Outside” by Real Friends

Dan Lambton, founding member and singer-songwriter of the band Real Friends, has bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder marked by manic episodes in which an individual can experience intense feelings of elevated mood, often accompanied by impulsive and out-of-control behavior. “With the manic episodes I feel invincible, like nothing can touch me–that any idea seems like a good idea. Anything I come up with seems like the best idea I’ve come up with, that I can do anything–creativity through the roof. My mind is firing on all cylinders all times of the day,” Lambton says. “You just feel confident. You feel as if nothing can stop you. There are just all of these ideas and all of this productivity and creativity and just always feeling so alive and so in tune with everything around you.”

Photo by Megan Leetz
Source: Photo by Megan Leetz

In fact, Lambton wrote much of Real Friend’s new album Composure while he was in a manic state. “The record we are releasing definitely came out of a manic episode. Before, I’ve been able to create—but not at that accelerated rate. We had written a decent amount of the record in the studio, and I was just off the walls,” Lambton describes. “Whatever was being thrown around, I would take it and run with it and be able to do whatever, whenever, however. Whereas, in the past it would take me a little bit of time–some songs longer than others–to come up with.”

Unfortunately, Lambton’s manic episode came with a downside. Specifically, he describes engaging in impulsive behavior, such as excessive spending. Further, although he was feeling “invincible,” he appeared agitated to others, causing stress in his social environment.

“You can’t get me to sit still at all. There is a lot of energy–a lot to be around–very stressful to be around,” he explains. “With other people seeing it from the outside–they can’t keep up. Not much of it makes sense–just overall confusion, not knowing what’s going on, not knowing how to approach the said person.”

Moreover, like many people who struggle with being bipolar, Lambton’s manic episodes were only part of his mood instability. He also suffered from depressive episodes during which he would feel depressed, withdrawn, and low on energy.

“It’s the complete opposite. You don’t want to do anything. Nothing is appealing. Just wanting to be nothing–a fly on the wall–no social interaction, no nothing,” he says. “It’s not wanting to be a part of anything–literally just staying in your bed and lying there and being OK with it. There’s nothing else that seems appealing, so you might as well just lie there. You don’t want to be a part of anything. Nothing gets you that satisfaction. Nothing gets you any feeling....So why bother if nothing’s going to produce any sort of results for you?"

And in contrast to his manic episodes, in which he felt free and creative, during his depressive episodes, Lambton felt that he was paralyzed with anxiety and rumination about even the smallest details. “I get a lot of anxiety when I don’t want to do anything and I force myself to do things. I’ll feel as if I don’t want to be there anyways, so I just get put in this anxious mindset to where I analyze everything that I do, and I just kind of pick it apart way too much. And just everything seems to not really make sense to me,” he explains.

Many people who struggle with mood disorders such as bipolar turn to substances like marijuana and alcohol with the intention of soothing their manic and depressive episodes. Unfortunately, this often backfires, and substance use may actually trigger or exacerbate their mood disorder.

“When manic–I used to smoke a hell of a lot of weed, which is what partially triggered my last manic episode. I was smoking to basically a psychotic state.…I smoked a lot regardless of the mania, but then that definitely put it into high gear with my use. It was all times of the day,” Lambton explains. “It would just energize me instead of bringing me down. Because I was smoking to try and be able to chill out and take it easy, but then it just got to a point where I would be smoking it and I just couldn’t stop. I would be firing on all cylinders all over the place. It would have been the same when I was depressed.... Weed was always a crutch regardless of whatever state I found myself in.”

Not only did Lambton struggle with how to manage his manic and depressive episodes, but also the episodes felt unpredictable, causing even more of a sense of instability. He explains how one of the songs on the album Composure called “From the Outside” examined the unpredictable nature of his mood.

“It’s an on and off switch that I can’t control. You never know when it’s going to hit. And you never know what you’re going to be dealing with,” Lambton says. “We put out a song the other day called ‘From the Outside’ that’s going to be on our next album, that tackles just general uncertainty–not knowing what’s going on with me, how I can curb it and what would be good or bad for me–weed, alcohol, medication etc. And just dealing with the big question of what is wrong with me?”

Eventually, Lambton was able to seek out help in understanding and managing his bipolar disorder. But seeking help was not a linear process for Lambton. He describes having been fearful of medication to manage his mood because he did not know whether medication would work and whether he would lose his creativity.

“I still struggle with taking my medication because I get scared sometimes that it might not be working out. About a year ago, some of the medication I was on wasn’t the friendliest to me. So, I had a lot of times where we’d be playing and I’d be fearful of forgetting words to songs, or not knowing what to say to the crowd,” he recalls. “I was at such a productive place that I want to be able to be that productive all the time when that’s not possible. So, I come down on myself a lot because I don’t know if I will ever be able to be that enthusiastic or productive about anything ever again.”

He credits his band mates for initially confronting him, and eventually he sought out therapy that he feels was helpful. “I think there were a lot of interventions,” he describes. “Especially with the band sitting me down and being like, ‘You are out of control right now.…You’ve been off the rails lately. What the hell is going on?’”

He feels that one of the most important steps he took was being willing to share with people what he was experiencing, rather than others having to guess based on his behavior. “I just felt incredibly f*cked up beyond my control. And I had no idea what was going on. And so it was just hard for me in that regard to communicate what I was dealing with to other people–because I had no idea what could be happening,” Lambton explains. “If I’m not able to communicate how I’m feeling or what I’m going through, then how are other people supposed to be able to help me or empathize or sympathize with what I’m going through?”

As a result of his willingness to explore therapy and be open with the people in his life, Lambton has been better able to understand his condition, and help educate others. “We were able to do group therapy with the band, where they were able to get a little more educated with what I was going through and a little insight into why I would act the way I did. Giving reasons rather than excuses about what I was doing,” he explains.

At the age of 27, Lambton has only struggled with bipolar disorder for the last two years. And he is honest that while he is optimistic about the progress he’s made, he is far from settled in terms of his treatment regimen. And as Real Friends plays the Vans Warped Tour this summer, he has a healthy respect for how powerful bipolar disorder can be and is being cautious about how he manages his mood.

“The meds definitely helped to get me out of the manic state. And, I hope, the meds will help me kick whatever depressive funk I’m going through right now. I don’t really have an answer for keeping it in check or keeping it under control,” Lambton says. “I don’t know that anybody really does in these kinds of situations with bipolar disorder.”