At this time of year more than ever, we need happy things. Holly March, a decade after her breakdown, talks about how to spot suicidal feelings and how we can help lessen the urge for others.
February is the month with the highest suicide rate. I mentioned this in another article and felt like it deserved a bigger shout out. All year ‘round people feel suicidal but here’s the kicker: you might not even realise you’re that low. You might not realise it because you're not thinking in terms of picking up the blade, but you can be suicidally low or depressed.
If you ever wonder “would they be better off if I simply wasn’t here?”, or “if I died would anyone notice?”, or even just “everyone would have so much more fun if I just stopped showing up”, you are having medically classified suicidal thoughts.
I am ten years post mental breakdown and have been diagnosed with Chronic Clinical Depression (among other things). I might not know how to write publishable romances yet, but I know depression.
I know that people think “I can’t be depressed, my life is so good”. I’ve sat and told myself I have it too easy to be depressed. Depressed people have horrible parents and had bad childhoods, and my childhood rocked. Depression is a total bitch and it can grab anyone, for a short amount of time or for all their life. It does not discriminate. It does not let up. It wants to kill you, like a demon in your blood, and you have to remember that when you hit rock bottom.
You have come too far to let this demon win.
You have books to write, stories to tell, other people to entertain and to save.
Because more than once when the words have blurred from tears and the pain is pushing in on my head, my life has been saved by romances. I sit up at all hours, phone inches from my face, clicking ‘next book in series’, and these books save my life. Since my breakdown I read romances and fluffy fantasy with no main character deaths. That’s all. I can’t cope with anything where I love a character and they get killed off for emotionally-manipulative, bullshit reasons.
Romances are safe.
But here’s the kicker. They also need to be inclusive. Suicide rates in the LGBTQIA+ community are agonisingly high. All it takes when you are already suicidal is a careless piece of linguistics to push you over the edge of “wow, they really would be better off without me”. I recently caught an old article of mine using the term “both genders”. There are more than two genders. That kind of erasure is habit to a cis person in a cis world, but we can do better.
Cis people: How many of your characters are LGBTQIA+? How many are trans? Are they in happy relationships of their own or are they a subplot about breakups? How many writers do you RT or follow on social media from books that aren’t aimed at your sex or sexuality? Big publishers have a nasty habit of lumping LGBTQIA+ into a genre. That’s even more bullshit than putting all history in a genre!
Is someone who likes Bernard Cornwall gonna love Julia Quinn?
So if you write historical fiction, make sure you’re supporting other authors who write historical fiction, whether it’s the same sexual orientation as yours, or written from a binary or non-binary perspective.
Big up asexual romances too. They are very rare in an era of sexual expression where enjoying sex is seen as a way to show emancipation from traditional gender norms. If you don’t want to write sex scenes, have your characters cuddle and then you are being supportive of asexual people who want to read romance without being confronted with a social pressure that you cannot have love without sex.
There is no excuse. If you know how it feels to be alone, to be grazing your knuckles on rock bottom, you need to be aware of how it feels to be part of a traditionally marginalised group. Branch out. Straight people can read LGBTQIA+ fiction―*le gasp*― without objectifying by just reading gay men having sex―*bigger gasp*.
White people can read a book set in a black community in Georgia―KM Jackson’s As Good as the First Time is like sinking into a bowl of warm pecan pie mix! It’s pure immersion and for someone on the welsh border it is cultural music! Or enjoy stories of the American Civil War for their own sake as masterpieces (who else has the next Alyssa Cole Loyal League book pre-ordered? So excited!). I know I’ve mentioned Michelle Osgood’s incredible paranormal Better to Kiss You With series before. The second is the first book I’ve ever read which includes exchange of pronouns on meeting someone new, which needs to become general etiquette.
Now, as I’ve said before, I am white as all hell. I’m Celtic Welsh. But I started writing a series in medieval Morocco with nearly entirely black Ghanaian―in the way of the medieval empire not the modern country―Arabic, and Moroccan characters. This was wrong of me.
It is important that people are writing #ownvoices characters. No matter how much you nail the paradigm of someone from a different gender identity or ethnic background, it is not your place to tell the story of what it means to belong in it. Have diverse characters, but leave space in publishing and querying for people from those backgrounds. The minimal space traditional publishing leaves for characters who are not cis, straight, and white needs to be reserved for writers from marginalised backgrounds. Until the wonderful day when kids ask “what does marginalised mean?”
You do not need to write alternate history like Snowspelled’s Stephanie Burgis to be inclusive. Do your research. There have been people of African and Arabic descent in Britain, for example, since before there were English people.
Ta, Romans and their trade routes!
And despite attempts at erasure there have been trans people recorded since a roman emperor declared herself a woman. In a patriarchal world, a trans man is disgustingly perceived as a threat to masculinity and a trans woman is harder to dominate and force into baby-making. Fighting transphobia = fighting the patriarchy. Do not let the media once again try and suggest that women are nothing but vagina and breasts. Our identity and worth are more than that. Do not let toxic masculinity make trans men be belittled for not behaving like asshole alphas. Fight stereotyping.
As for reading, well…
If you are white-knuckling to dawn, and you know you’re not going to be reading for arousal in your own kinks and tropes and wheelhouse, branch out. Good writing and storytelling is universal. I really hope I am not coming across as patronising. I have Aspergers and I have been accused of it before. I know depression, and I know that discovering something new can fascinate just long enough to keep the Black Dog at bay.
And buying books changes demographics. It makes publishers unable to say “this won’t sell because it’s not cis-het white neurotypical”, and that means that more people get signed on, more people achieve their dream, and more people can pick up a book that reflects them.
They don’t feel alone.
And gods, with the February sleet and drizzle and western politics drifting ever right, we need our romances to help us believe in humanity as a whole. Everyone deserves to be represented, to know they’re not doing this on their own.
Help others by helping yourself, you know? And it isn’t charity, because you’ll get new favourite authors in return. New stories to love. New worlds to explore.
You can find out more about PHS Assistant Editor, Holly March on Twitter, and at marcherwitch.com.
What are your tips for getting through suicidal nights? How do you ensure you are an ally to all writers? Comment below or chat to us on social media.