We’re riding in a car back from the university to work. Me and a couple near-strangers that I agreed to teach a course with. We’re passing the Wisla river as a Coldplay song starts to play on the radio. A song I like, a song that somehow seems significant. Is it one of those songs that helped me move through some difficult shit at some point in the past? But I never really listened to Coldplay. Oh, I remember. I got a link to this song once in an e-mail from her.
It’s weird I only remember it after a while.
The notion of identity as something shared as opposed to personal is relatively new. In his 2016 BBC Reith Lectures, Kwame Anthony Appiah have the example of Rosamond in George Eliot’s Middlemarch “almost losing the sense of her identity” on discovering that the man she loves is devoted to someone else. Such identity is utterly personal, Appiah argues, while what we think of as identity today – nationality, race, religion, sexuality – is composed of characteristics shared with many others: it is social. 
I have a problem with this understanding of identity as social. Yes, I am a social being. I have a nationality written into my ID, I share what some people call ‘race’ with so many others; I share a lack of religion with some people, and a pattern of sexual attraction with others. Is this me, though? Does any of these things really describe my identity? Do all of them combined make me who I am?
I have a problem with this way of thinking because such identity doesn’t feel personal at all. The characteristics I listed are parts of my life, but I fail to be attached to them. I fail at the need to defend them. To be honest, some of them even feel accidental at times.
An identity, for me, is a personal sense of who you are. I need it to be personal to be able to get attached to it. To take pride in it, or to feel strongly about it in any other way.
I’m thinking about identity because I’ve found myself in a strange place in my life; a place of shifting identity. I’ve been shedding my old skin for a few years. Slowly letting go of my habitual depression, and of the longing for someone who would handle it on my behalf. Of some thoughts that made me miserable. Of things I thought I liked about myself that were actually things I thought others liked about me. I’ve been shedding this skin, and fidgeting uncomfortably at the thought, “but I’ll be naked once I’m done.”
I have this sort of fear that, once I let go of my old habits and my old state of mind, there’ll be nothing left of me. I’ll be a walking piece of meat. No spirit, no beliefs, no special characteristics.
It’s true, I’m late with growing a sense of my own identity. I’m terribly late.
But I need a sense of it. And on better days, I’m certain that I will be able to grow it. I’ve already told myself that I’m not my depression. I’m not a fear of being alone. I’m not just someone who makes me miserable. I’m not what somebody else may want me to be, and not what I think they want me to be. So… at least I know what I’m not.
The thing with growing a sense of identity, though, is that you cannot just get rid of everything that troubled you, everything that you disliked, and which made you feel unhappy. You need to outgrow these things, but at the same time replace them with something new. Something valuable. Something you want to be there. Something you want to be.
My fear of being left with no sense of personal identity goes quieter when I remind myself about that. Indeed, how could I stay skin-less if I already know the tissue needs replacement? I will be there once I’m done shedding the old skin, and I will help myself regrow it. The new one will be more comfortable, I’m sure.
I know this may all sound rather terrifying. But honestly? It’s the best crisis I’ve ever had. Even if it’s scary, it holds a promise of letting me become more of myself. More of the person I want to be. It feels like life in its very essence, the way Anton Czekhov put it: terrible and marvellous .
 Michael Amherst “Go The Way Your Blood Beats. On Truth, Bisexuality and Desire”
 Anton Czekhov “The Steppe. The Story of a Journey”