Regression to the mean is a well-known phenomenon. Extreme performance is usually followed (or preceded) by average performance. We don’t hit home runs every day. We don’t lose every penny on Wall Street every day. Those are extremes, but most of the time, people perform closer to the mean (average.)
From a bipolar standpoint, regression to the mean is nearly incomprehensible. Many of us spend fairly little time in between high and low, so we hardly know what average looks like. Coming up from a depressive episode, “normal” seems really awesome – it appears to be an extreme in context. Likewise, coming down from a manic episode, “normal” appears to be utterly dull and relatively sad by comparison.
I know I have a warped conception of normalcy. I can tell that I’m out of touch with reality in part because I can’t figure out normal or average, simple concepts that everyone around me seem to grasp with no effort. I was just telling my therapist about being frustrated by not realizing that I’m having a mood episode until I’m in the middle of it (if then). He pointed out that much like someone who is delusional, the way I feel when I’m manic is real to me and seems normal and rational at the time. But if I saw anyone else doing the exact same things, I’d know that they were doing something weird. I just can’t see it in myself. That’s why I was grateful that my husband pointed out my irritable and distracted driving recently – I need his help to recognize that I’m out of line.
This regression to the extremes has a dramatic effect on my self-image. I’ve blogged about this a bit before with respect to the Imposter Syndrome and having a hard time accepting praise, and it’s due in part to becoming accustomed to performing at the extremes. It’s very difficult to reconcile extraordinary accomplishments one day followed by underwhelming underachievement the next. It makes me regularly question my intelligence, abilities, and skills. It makes me impulsively decide to quit everything in fits of utter demoralization, only to realize a few days later that I’m so amazing at everything that it would be criminal to give up at anything. Over and over. (I’m not quite that great, but you’ve heard of grandiosity that goes with mania? Yeah. That.)
For me, the regression isn’t to the mean, it’s to the extreme. I’m always moving between sheer brilliance and utter stupidity. The net effect is that I don’t know what to make of myself. I can’t trust myself. I don’t know what to expect of myself at any given moment, and can only see myself at the extremes. My regression is too severe to know my mean.