Who are you without your anxiety?

On face value, it seems like a simple equation: depression and anxiety are making my life painful, so I want to reduce or get rid of those feelings. But change is rarely simple.

When you are working to change entrenched patterns, you almost inevitably come up against a particular roadblock: fear of who you will be if you change. Who are you without your anxiety, your depression? Maybe there feelings and patterns have been around for a while, and the thought of letting go of your sadness or worry means letting go of a part of your identity, a core part of self. Or perhaps that sadness or worry feels intertwined with some other, more desirable part of your personality, something you don’t want to go away. Sadness feels like a crucial ingredient in connection with others or in creativity, anxiety feels tied to ambition or achievement.

You don’t have to become a completely different person when you heal your anxiety or depression. Feeling happier doesn’t mean you have to turn into a relentlessly cheerful and optimistic person. Feeling more peaceful and calm doesn’t mean you turn into a completely carefree person who arrives late to everything and never makes plans.

You don’t have to throw your sadness and worry out the car door, leave them abandoned on the side of the road. Those things are a part of you, and you can and should make a space for them, without letting them run your life. You don’t want to shove them out the door, but you don’t want to let them drive anymore either.

If you engage in therapy or some other change process, you will still be you, all the parts of you will still be there. The change comes in the way those parts relate to each other. Rather than driving the car of your life, your sadness will be be sitting in the back. It can still have its feelings and voice its opinion, but a different, wiser part of you is listening and making the decisions, deciding when to turn, when to speed up and slow down. But your sadness can still play a Smiths song on the stereo, make sarcastic jokes, and feel melancholy.

Fears of losing yourself, losing your identity, are real. Change is scary. When those fears arise, reassure yourself that you aren’t going to leave any part of you behind.