Leaving Her Behind: Why We Need to Let Anxiety Kidnap Who We Were

The following contains conversations regarding anxiety and may be triggering to some.

I kidnapped my past self. I grabbed her fiercely by the shoulders and implored her to listen. I screamed at her inevitability, begging them to leave. But I wasn't angry at her; I sobbed sadly as she let go of my hand. We always assume we have to carry all of the past versions of ourselves—but we don't. So, when I finally let go, it genuinely felt as if I was observing someone I love die in front of me.


It was a freezing November evening. My body rested upside down on my bed, pressed against the headboard next to the open window. My bare feet touched the textured wall of my studio apartment that had been slabbed with cheap white paint every time a tenant left. I kept imagining how I would be one of these layers of paint. 

I was enveloped in an obscene amount of sweat despite the freezing wind chill. I barely had control of my breathing as warm salty tears fell into the corners of my mouth and down my cheeks. It felt like too much. I had switched colleges, to a new major, and therefore felt behind the curve. The career I had been working toward, in many long nights and years, was no longer what resonated with my heart. A few friends had walked out of my life too smoothly, and I was continually getting rejected in job applications. It was coming down to the wire, and I wasn't sure if financially I'd be able to stay in New York City. On top of that, I wasn't taking care of myself; I continued skipping meals due to the anxiety and an unhealthy desire for a different body image. 


To summarize, my physical and mental state felt weak. But as the blood was rushing to my head I realized something: all the time and energy we put into working at a skill—whether it be college, relationships or a career—doesn't dissipate when we let go. It doesn't evaporate into the air with my ego; it stays in the muscles in my fingers and the memories in my heart. The things we do that are now behind us, and in the present day, are building blocks to the person you see in your head—good and bad. Pick apart all those experiences into the finite details. Just because you embrace a different experience—in a career or person—doesn't mean what you've done goes to waste. It's never a waste. The lessons you’ve learned and idiosyncrasies you have apply to what you will do. Even complementary colors make the most beautiful pieces of art. 

Holding onto our past, at first glance, seemingly appears to be the easier route, but I can promise you it's not. It's blinding you and impairing your vision of what you can and will become. Think of all the new versions you'll meet and the people who will interact with that version of you. It's thrilling, horrifying, and filled with lessons on the path to becoming the best version of yourself. Sure, roll your eyes. But the best version of yourself doesn't have to be ten years from now, just the person being the most open and compassionate in the present—today. Because truthfully, that's all we have. If I only have today, why am I dwelling on what once was or thinking the best of me only resides in the future? Sure, I will know more and understand more, but it doesn’t make me better or worse, just different.

When do you know you should? When you feel as if you're destined for something new. As if the path you're running has reached a fork in the road, or ended altogether. Do you have this vision in your head, and it scares the sh*t out of you? Good. Because it's time to let go of the one thing stopping you—yourself. I used to think it was my anxiety stopping me, and while it's a notable roadblock, anxiety wasn't the engine in my own car faltering. That engine was this past expectation of who I thought I was going to be. I was making my current self feel like a facade or feel bad about how I looked and acted or achieved, when in truth, I had conquered so much. The rejections and walkouts were taking me a step closer to what I had been asking for—it just wasn’t on a path I recognized or planned.


Yes, sometimes you need to pull over and fix your engine, or your transmission, whatever. So, let your anxiety fill you up, just for a minute. Let it breathe and occupy your chest. Close your eyes, listen to what it's saying. Mine usually says it wants an experience that imprinted on me negatively, so I let the anxiety kidnap it. I allow anxiety to take her hand, making room for what’s to come.

Written, Subject, and Photographed by Sarah McKinnon. 2019.

Edited by Brittni Roberts