I’m finally growing up. Here’s how I know that’s true.
A major function of any field of science is the observation of change. Experiments are designed to manipulate variables and hypotheses are formed to predict the effect of that change on something or someone. Setting aside views on the origin of man, “change” is the basis of evolution, the notion that, over time, things will become different: shorter, taller, live longer, run faster, etc.
Just as a scientist in a lab will manipulate a variable to monitor the change it causes, a scientist in the field (a doctor, for example – at least a good one) will monitor change to determine the variables that are shifting. Dealing with chronic pain over the years, I visited many of these scientists and underwent many treatments. Each time we would see if the variables that were manipulated by therapy or medicine caused the change we were hoping for. We would do scans, X-rays, blood tests, etc and compare the new ones to the old ones, hoping to see some “change” that might explain something.
Even before I officially began to transition (look at that – another word for “change”) my gender expression, I was battling hormone imbalances. The doctors I was working with encouraged me to watch for changes: mood swings, hair growth patterns, new muscle aches and pains, breast tissue development, (did I mention the mood swings?!?). As the process has gone on, we have kept records of measurements of my hips and breasts and body hair. Measurements are simply a way to put a value on any specific thing. If one measurement is different form the last, we have observed change (I know it sounds obvious, but bear with me here!)
During these all of these exams, one of my least favorite questions was, “On a scale of one to ten, how bad is the pain.” I never felt like I had a standard to measure the pain against and often thought of pinching the doctor and saying, “If that’s a ‘five’,” then kicking him in the groin, “and that’s a ‘ten,’ I’m about an ‘eight’!” I liked most of my doctors, so it never came to that, and I understood what they were doing: they wanted a measurement, even my subjective measurement of the level of pain I was experiencing. If their treatment could take my self-reported pain from and eight to a two, we were on the right track.
We measure and monitor the changes in things that are important to us. There is a doorframe that has the height measurements of my kids through the years. We have kept reading and writing evaluations in order to monitor their progress. I know many parents with special needs because they have children who are incredibly special. They have totally different scales and expectations they employ in monitoring change, but usually watch for it much more closely and celebrate it more deeply than the rest of us.
As I dig deeper and deeper into the behavioral sciences, I’m becoming more and more intrigued by the idea of being able to “measure” something. Being able to put my depression on a scale. Seeing anxiety on a graduated slide so I can know that a “3” is manageable, but a “6” is a warning sign. When we have ways to measure and predict it, change is not something that we fear; it simply is part of our everyday life.
What sneaks up on us is the change that we can’t measure, the shift in life that we can’t predict. In my own experience I have always seen this type of change as the root of fear, stress and anxiety and in that sense, it needed to be minimized to the greatest degree possible.
But as I slow down and let my heart and mind breath a little bit, I also see that this quality of being immeasurable and unpredictable is at the root of things like faith, joy, hope and love.
We might be able to measure our expression of love or how effective we are at communicating it, but how do I measure what I feel for my kids, my granddaughter, my friends?
In the last year I have seen my openness to change, my “vulnerability,” lead to some of the greatest steps forward in my life. I find value in mysteries. I see beauty in places – and people – I have never seen it before. Granted it has opened my heart to hurt and my mind questions and frustration; but change has been the wheels that my journey is riding on.
When change is positive and causes something to get bigger, or stronger or better in any way, shape or form we call it “growth”. It’s not the things that I can measure in quantity or quality that I see as evidence of my growing up; it’s my willingness to embrace the things I will never fit in a box.