Change isn’t always something that we can see happening. Parmenides of Elea, one of the oldest recorded philosophers in western history, denied the very concept that anything in the world was changing. He argued that all change was just an illusion, a misconception brought on by our flawed senses. This was in opposition to earlier thinkers like Democritus of Abdera who argued that the universe was in a state of constant change, but that much of it is difficult to see.
For me, I’ve noticed that it’s particularly difficult to track change in my own life. Knowing that I’ve changed is not so much about achieving a particular milestone, but rather how I react when I’m tested. If I want to control my temper, for example, I’m not going to know how much progress I’ve made in that regard until I encounter something infuriating.
I’ve been trying to measure the change I’ve made in my own personal happiness, in my calmness, in managing my anxiety and stress. I’ve mostly just felt ‘okay’ for the past couple of weeks. It’s been strange coming to terms with having no crisis in my life (whether real or imagined).
But I had a new test just this weekend. On Friday night, I found myself wracked by constant nightmares. All of trivial, silly things, but stuff that nevertheless wound up with me struggling to get a moment of sleep at all. Last night, my anxiety seemed to well up in my chest. I found myself afraid without cause. The familiar added panic crept in. The concern that my anxiety would leave me without a night of all-too-precious sleep only made it harder for me to find rest.
In the first case, I didn’t handle things well. It was a somewhat-novel experience, though, so I’m doing my best not to beat myself up about it. In the second case, it was something familiar. Rather than lay there and focus harder on trying to sleep (a singularly counterproductive strategy), I thought over the stress that was keeping me awake. I confronted it, rather than attempting to push it aside. I got up, browsed a forum for a few moments, wrote a few notes, and lay back down to sleep.
That’s all it took.
Yes, I ended up going to sleep later than I may have liked, but at least it was good quality sleep. What’s more, I would have been up late regardless if I had not done at least something to deal with the source of my anxiety.
It’s not much, but it’s a start. It’s a point of change. It’s a good feeling to have some kind of confirmation that I’m getting better. It’s something I can count on, in a manner of speaking, and something that my analytical brain can measure. Change used to often make me anxious, but this is a change I can be happy about.