In this blog Daniel Evans explains that one of the main frustrations of having an illness such as bipolar disorder Type 1 is that, when particularly severe, a critical symptom is that you don’t feel like you have it.

Manic episodes are often written about in theatrical terms – Messiah complexes, the belief you can jump off tall buildings and fly, spending money like a millionaire, etc. These are colourful and cognitively dissonant enough to perhaps be identified, or at least be an entertaining narrative plot twist in a series on Netflix.

But what of a mania that not only do you believe you do not suffer from, but that unconsciously you are constantly striving to reach because it actually helps you to perform at your best?

Working in the music business

I built my career working at the highest levels of the music business, as a manager of famous musicians.  For many years I experienced great success in the field, despite suffering from untreated bipolar disorder, and largely swinging in and out of varying degrees of manic episodes.

I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 20, in the midst of a deep depression (when a back injury ended my hopes of a career as a concert pianist).  At that time (2008) “bipolar” was just another psychiatric buzzword to me.  I ignored the diagnosis, not exploring any further treatment options.  Eventually I suffered two major breakdowns: one in 2016, the other in 2019.

2010-2016 was a period that I term the “golden years”.  I worked for a top company based in New York, where I was the protégé of a great man who had essentially invented many aspects of the music business as we know it today.  Instilled with an enormous sense of loyalty and devotion to his company, I worked directly for his next-in-line – an incredibly creative and talented individual – in a culture of total workaholism.  The job felt to me like a new lease of life, and I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.  It was high pressured and stressful, but I loved it and lived for the job.

During this time, I was addicted to working, feeling physically nauseous if I was not actively creating business opportunities.  I would wake up three times a night to check and respond to emails; once I was banging on the office door at 5am to be allowed in to make sales calls to Europe.  In my most grandiose states, I’m sure I was extremely irritating, and at times I possessed a hair-trigger temper if I felt that people were not keeping up with my current creative inspiration.  But, by and large, I was acclaimed for being this way, even celebrated as ‘eccentric’ (something of a badge of honour in the classical music business).  I saw all of these traits as entirely positive: my quasi-religious devotion to my clients, projects, and creative ideas was inspired by a ‘mania’ that was to be encouraged – a performance-enhancing drug.  “Manic Me” was the best version of me, and the higher my mood went, the more successful we all were.  “Must create fans” would be my mantra.  “Time spent not selling is time wasted” was another.

Stress-induced episodes

I eventually suffered a nervous breakdown in 2016.  I was treated as an in-patient on several occasions, with an unsuccessful cocktail of anti-depressants, and only survived due to a very close circle of bewildered but steadfast long-term friends.  From this point onwards, it was patently obvious to all around me that my moods were wildly unstable, but – when questioned by doctors – I would vehemently deny any episodes of mania.  In truth, under stress-induced episodes I could behave like a lunatic – infused by bitter and all-consuming paranoias and feelings of impending doom, coupled with a sharp tongue, spending money like it was water, making inexplicable decisions on the whim of a sudden flash of inspiration, drinking to excess in order to silence my constantly racing thoughts, and continuing to work ludicrously long hours on very little sleep…

By 2018, I had started two companies at once following a spur of the moment ‘inspiration’ to move to Berlin – a country in which I did not speak the language, and only had one friend for support.  In both working roles I was once again the paid hype man, endorsing products, convincing investors, and promoting my clients.  Throughout this time I was a slave to my mood swings, often deeply affected by the heavy weight of depression, and largely an unstable paranoid mess – but as ever I kept working incredibly hard through all this as I had been trained to do, and fortunately the precarious house of cards on which my mental health was based had not yet entirely collapsed.

However, careening from one mood swing to another was a recipe for chaos, and eventually my professional life entirely imploded almost overnight in May 2019.  Following this, I rather lost touch with reality for several months.  It was only after a disastrous night involving breaking into our house in order to “stop my girlfriend from killing me” (part of my delusion that there was a global conspiracy to eradicate me from the earth – a particularly unhelpful feature of my ‘mixed state’ that year) – that I finally submitted and paid for a private psychiatrist.  With his help, medication, psychotherapy, and the support of my titanically strong and endlessly wonderful girlfriend (now fiancée!), and endlessly loyal long-time friends, I am proud to be able to say that I have now been entirely stable since the autumn of 2019.

Since then, having “acute case of severe bipolar affective disorder Type 1” diagnosis reconfirmed and fully explained to me, I have been able to look back and evaluate my experiences over the decade since I was first diagnosed at the age of 20.  In my particular case, I’m sure that the stress of my fast-paced and demanding work environment was not suited to my bipolar brain – something I will certainly hold at the forefront of my mind as I begin to move forwards professionally once more.  But it is also clear to me that – aside from normal work pressures – the more I could access the mania, the better it was for everyone in my professional sphere…  Had I therefore always been profiting from the symptoms that (with hindsight) were threatening to overthrow me?  Who was I – or who could I be – without it?

It can pay to be manic

I have come to realise that, in any fiercely competitive industry, it often can really pay to be manic – being harder working, more creative, infused with electrical currents of inspiration that can be passed off as passion, eccentricity, or even visionary genius.

It is also an unfortunate truth that, in the performing arts industry in particular, there is very little active support for or conversation about mental health and wellness.  Going forwards, I therefore intend to advocate and speak out on behalf of performers and other industry professionals who might be suffering from similar mental battles: we all have a voice that deserves to be heard – both on and off the stage.

Daniel Evans