It’s quite cold today. Since it’s the middle of February, that should come as no surprise to anyone, but it did to me. For the last few weeks, the weather has been unseasonably warm here in the Willamette Valley. Now, it never gets as cold here as it does in many other parts of the US during this time of year…right now my home state of Montana is buried under a mountain of snow…but there is usually a sharper nip in the air and heavy rain clouds on the horizon during the month of February. If we’re lucky, we even get a surprise snow flurry towards the end of the month. This year, though, it’s almost as though winter made its exit only moments after arriving. The daffodils are even blooming. It’s always been so amazing to me how one season changes into another. One day, it’s cold and blustery, then gorgeous and sunny the next.
When I stepped out into the chill this morning, I thought about Jane. When she awoke on this date 476 years ago, she too walked out into a frigid early spring morning, but while I was headed to my unremarkable desk job, her destination was death. You have to wonder, what does that do to a person? What is their state of mind knowing, without a doubt, that their life is over? How do you even begin to imagine it?
I did imagine in. Well, I tried to anyway. I had to, for the sake of Jane’s story.
I knew from the beginning that Jane’s story had to be written in her own voice. I would never be able to get readers to connect with her if I wrote in the third person. It’s just not as effective. The experience had to be intimate. The reader needed to know her thoughts. In order to do that, I had to allow Jane to take up residence in my own mind. I had to make myself feel what she was feeling. I had to make myself think what she was thinking. Oftentimes, it was pure torture.
As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression naturally, I’ve always honed my avoidance techniques. You have to be able to push aside that negative voice in your head. That’s not to say you never confront it – full avoidance only buries the problem – but you have to learn to shut it up. While I was writing The Raven’s Widow, I had to give that voice a measure of control it had not wielded for a very long time. Instead of shaking off those yucky feelings, I had to sit in them. It took its toll.
By the time my novel came out – one year ago today – I was taking therapy sessions. I don’t blame Jane. Truthfully, I probably should have done it a long time ago, having faced multiple tragedies in my life, but it took Jane’s tragedy to get me there.
I share this story in honor of Jane’s death. My instinct was to write an article about her life, or about visiting her execution and burial site, but that information can be found on just about any Tudor-focused website today. Instead, I wanted to shine a light on her mental plight. Why? Because it’s universal. Not everyone will die on the scaffold, but at one point or another, every single person on Earth has struggled with sadness, with grief, with fear, with uncertainty.
Mental health is a tough subject. We avoid talking about it because we don’t want people to think there is something wrong with us or that we are crazy, but the truth is that it touches ALL people. Maybe if we talk about it more, it won’t be so taboo. Maybe society, as a whole, will finally stop demonizing it. Maybe, just maybe, shows like The Tudors will have more compassion, rather than using the usual trope of maniacal laughter and finger painting the walls with feces to show a nervous breakdown.
I set out to write Jane’s story with the goal of dismantling many myths about her life, but in the end, my only hope is that it inspires compassion. Not just for Jane, but for the many Janes in our lives and in the world. Kindness and sympathy – a fitting tribute to a woman denied both in her lifetime and beyond. And, if you are struggling, please don’t be afraid to ask for help.