creative non-fiction hope

GROWING OUT OF YOU | Amy Holford shares how hope ebbs and flows when struggling with mental health (cw: anxiety and depression)

Creative non-fiction

content warning: anxiety and depression

by Amy Holford

My days look different to how I dreamed them.

You watch me one morning as you shuffle, pulling on your pants. Amy, you say. Amy, look at me. I look at you. Not because I want to, but because it’ll be easier than staying focused on a middle distance, somewhere between the drawer handle and the wall. You should get out today, you say. I know, I reply. You leave for work. I stay with my arm hanging out of the covers. Drip, drip, drip, go the hours of my life.

My cousin wants me to visit her in the Lakes. 

Oh no, I don’t think I can, I don’t have a lot of money at the moment-

Well why don’t you just borrow some-

I can’t, honestly, Mum and Dad are already- and I don’t have loads of time with work and I promised dinner this weekend with-

Can’t you just put it off ‘til next week? I haven’t seen you in ages-

It’s just I can’t really afford it…

Ok.

Months later. I’m lying in bed with you, and you’re stroking my hips and my breasts, and I know you seek comfort, to give me comfort, too, but I don’t think I deserve it, and I’ve just cleansed and moisturised, I have work in the morning, we had curry for dinner, I really just want to do nothing. Maybe tomorrow, I offer, knowing full well that I don’t think I can be arsed then, either. You lie on your back, ask me to switch off the light. I kiss you goodnight and lie awake, gazing at the deep blue of the night sky and smelling the faint aroma of chicken from the chicken factory on the industrial estate, and in between the blinds is an infinite space and I’m trapped, a caged bird…

Before long, the sheer force of keeping my eyes open exhausts them closed.

The bathroom door is ajar and I know I only have to walk four steps between the bed to make it to the sink, and brush my teeth, and have a shower, and then it’s just some more steps to eat breakfast, but staying in bed is easier, and I’m already stressed about who I am and scrolling Pinterest as if I’ll find answers there and if I’m showered I’ll just get asked what my plans are and no, there are no plans, just chilling, no plans.

I read the text from the safe cocoon of my bed. The blue light is cold on my eyes. Happy Birthday to me, she texts, at 11:57pm, and I can feel my own face drop as if it’s not really mine, I realise I’ve forgotten her birthday and didn’t tell her I wasn’t coming out. 

Oh God, I’m so sorry, I thought I’d texted you, I’ve been at work all day, have an amazing time, I’m sorry-

I don’t hear from her in a while. I can’t say I’m surprised.

After some time, I stop going out. Ever since those drinks in the bar where I felt like I was going to scream or cry or vomit or lose my breath, and we were only laughing and eating burgers, but I was thinking if I don’t leave now if I don’t escape I’ll be trapped here forever. 

I don’t mind it when my friend Dan picks me up in his car and we go for walks though. 

I asked him why I felt this way. 

He said, it sounds like anxiety, mate.

I’m gazing at myself in the mirror of the dance class and my hair looks stupid and I look stupid and oh god what were you thinking doing a dance class you look ridiculous you’ll never be graceful and they’re pushing you to the front of the line to prance across the room and Jesus Christ, seriously, are you really going to do this even though you feel and look like shit? and then I’m running out towards the door and like a honing beacon or a dog that’s terminal I find the best place to die and I flee to the showers and lock myself in and I’m crying silently, shaking, like all the tension in my body is dying to escape and my fingers are tingling and I can’t get my breath and in the olden days someone might have just called this a crisis of confidence but

I apologise to the teacher, and I’m just crying, and he’s looking at me with this weird false sympathy because I reckon he’s just never felt this deeply and I think, I’m not getting any help from you, thanks

I don’t think I’m very happy, I tell you. I know, you say. 

What can I do?

EVERYONE OUT OF THE KITCHEN I HAVE ENOUGH THINGS TO DO WITHOUT YOU ALL BICKERING

Mum it’s fine, honestly you don’t have to get so bloody stressed-

Mum is sweating and her eyes have gone cold and hard like they do when she’s stressed and she’s not looking at anyone and talking to herself and then I’m gritting my teeth and wondering why we can’t just have Christmas dinner with jazz music tinkling in the background and champagne glass in hand like in the movies, not where do you think your Dad is, eh, look at all these dishes and I’ve been slaving away all day every year I bet he’s mowing the bloody lawn again and I say, Mum it’s fine, I did all the peeling anyway.
It occurs to me all the time that I feel like she looks.

“Lucy says knowing who the anxiety is when it comes beckoning around the door of the cage, recognising the signs of its oncoming and to accept vulnerability is vital, like a sunrise after a night storm.

It’s a kind of hope I want to breed, make into lively creatures, wings beating.”

I’m sitting in the waiting room at the hospital for my colposcopy and there’s a question on the admittance form about mental health

Do you suffer from anxiety or depression? Do you take any medication?

I tick no, because Mum is next to me and I don’t think she knows how to have that conversation

When I get into the room and sit on the chair I can feel my heart racing and my blood pumping around my lungs and I’m trying not to cry but there’s a man about to look inside me and tear a piece of me out and check for cancerous cells and I feel so awful and scared and

You look a little nervous, don’t worry, I’ll be in and out in a flash

It feels like I’m lying there for half an hour while the doctor sprays my insides and the nurse asks me about my career

I’m filling in a form on the dining table hoping nobody can see it. Writing about the dreams where I’m crying and screaming and how I fantasise about being in a car crash so I’d have a decent excuse not to work and not to do anything or write music or achieve my goals and get mine and do it all and on a scale of one to five, how likely are you to harm yourself?
I only tick number 3 because ticking 5 feels a little bit dramatic

I stub my toe and I blame myself entirely for being so fucking useless and I hate myself, I really do, I can’t even walk around properly I mean for fucks sake

I’m sitting across from a therapist and she has one arm, and I think to myself, well, I’ll take advice from you, that can’t have been easy, and I long to ask her about it but I don’t because that would be disrespectful. She writes down everything I say on a whiteboard and points to it like, you’re really rather hard on yourself, and I nod in awe, and she gives me photocopied print outs about anxiety induced low moods, and about always falling down the same hole, and I don’t cry, but I feel like it, because that’s how I feel, just like that panda, yeah, who keeps falling down the same hole because his eyes are always focused on the end of the street instead of the path 

When I think about you, my love, I don’t feel completely alone. You hold me like a sparrow that’s flown into the conservatory, and it is profoundly moving, because I know I might fly again one day.

I’m at the dining table, and I feel nothing. I have occupied a small, dining chair shaped blank in time and space, and everything is grey, an overcast cloud, my head is foggy and heavy, and Mum is asking me, what’s wrong, what’s happened? And I say, nothing, finish my dinner and leave, and for the first time I don’t feel guilty, because I do, I feel nothing, but I wonder, do you ever feel like this, Mum? Do your feathers ever feel heavy?

Mum is on the computer and she is trying to do work (or play solitaire I’m not sure) and she’s clicking, clicking, clicking, and suddenly she just goes FOR GODS SAKE WHY WON’T YOU JUST WORK and everyone tenses and I go to help her but she just slaps my hands away and she’s groaning and I tell her to wait, and she says IT JUST WON’T DO WHAT I WANT IT TO and I think, sure, round peg, square hole, metaphor for life, and then I can feel it. I see her, at her chair, feathers trussed, of her own making, of her own doing, and I think, I came from you. When did I grow away from you?

I’m learning how not to predict the future, isn’t that funny?

My sister drops me off at therapy. She’s shouting at the other cars and swearing even after I cry about you being so understanding and patient with me, and she goes, aw. Then later she blames me for making her late and doesn’t say it like she always used to but I can hear it in her tone, that I’m selfish, I’m a freak who needs therapy. Instead I try to calm her down, maybe just for my own sake, but she tells me to shut up, so I say bye, deciding I don’t need that right now, stronger for that decision, and she drives out of the carpark. Lucy, who administers the CBT, is asking me about my family and if I have a safe space to discuss my feelings and I think about crying in sis’s van and I say, no, and that makes me sad.

I’m slowly reading a book about women who run with wolves, and so I dig through the damp earth of my self and tear out the parts that no longer serve me with brutal ferocity

I’m still sad, still overthink everything. Lucy says knowing who the anxiety is when it comes beckoning around the door of the cage, recognising the signs of its oncoming and to accept vulnerability is vital, like a sunrise after a night storm.

It’s a kind of hope I want to breed, make into lively creatures, wings beating.

I think I have bashed the anxiety into submission, but I know I’ll probably have to live with this. It’s ok, I think. Light pokes holes through the grey clouds and I thank Lucy, even if the treatment was less of a treatment and more of a friendly chat, but I drive home feeling hopeful for the first time in a long while. When I get home, I smile at Mum. The worry evaporates from her features a little, and Dad looks relieved, but he still doesn’t ask me even though he told me in the middle of all of this that he used to come home after work and cry on the side of their bed, and didn’t even tell Mum. 

I hold them close. Sure, I’m scared for the journey, scared for knowing and unlearning and working on myself, but how does any bird fly after an injury? Gratefully. Hopefully.

I was growing out of you once, now I’m ready to grow back in.


Amy Holford | @YVAOfficial |  YVA Quiet Days Blog | @YVA_Music
Amy is a 29 year old singer-songwriter who performs under the name YVA and is at the beginning of her writing journey, having written her first as-yet-unpublished novel The Dreaming Room a couple of years ago and obsessing over how to make it better. She spends her time recording, writing short stories and sporadically opining via her blog, while simultaneously flirting with new ideas and occasionally making coffees for middle class Londoners and the odd builder with a fifty pound note.