I’m Sorry, But I Can’t Apologize

I came across a review of 22 Scars today (odd that it was published all the way back in July), and possibly for the first time, it bothered me.

The reviewer, who goes by Addy, does note that they felt the book was important to discuss, but then goes on to explain why they weren’t able to finish the book, and the impact it had on them.

You see, Addy has suffered from depression, and has in their own words self-harmed in the past. And they pointed out that, whilst the cover, title and description were a pointer towards what they were to find within, nothing prepared them for the graphic – almost analytical – detail with which I describe Amy’s self-harm. For Addy, it was triggering, almost to the point of relapse.

Believe me when I say the potential for harm was something in the forefront of my mind when writing this novel. The last thing I want is for someone to read my words and inflict worse harm upon themselves because they were ‘inspired’, or triggered. As someone whose arms are littered with scars, some from over fifteen years ago, there were points in writing Amy’s story when I wondered if I’d gone too far. Points where I was tempted to cut again myself.

I very, very nearly did.

But this story was something I had to write, and I believe that there was no other way to write it. To gloss over the reality and the brutality of self-harm, would be to do a disservice to both those who hurt themselves and those who love them. It may seem at times that I linger on the cutting – relish it, perhaps – but in truth, this is my attempt to portray it in as succinct, matter-of-fact way as possible. By deliberately avoiding Amy’s thoughts and emotions during these scenes, by focusing solely on the act itself, I was recreating the numbing horror of cutting one’s own skin open, of watching blood well and trickle, and the frustration that comes with never quite releasing the inner emotional pain.

Some people have argued that I could have included a trigger warning at the beginning of the book, or perhaps chose an alternate cover. This was something I also deliberated over excessively. My original title for the novel, A Gothic Symphony, would not have led to any kind of forewarning at all. A different cover might have lulled readers into a false sense of security (see Cut by Patricia McCormick). And a trigger warning would simply have told people to avoid the reality of the book – which is to avoid life itself.

And you may well disagree with me. As a first-time indie author, I crave validation; it’s what makes me keep going. But I don’t need it. We can disagree – I don’t have a problem with that.

But I can’t – and I won’t – retract what I’ve written. As Addy points out, it’s too important to ignore. I’ve suffered from depression since my early teens, and it’s never gone away. For many people, it never does. And those people need to know they aren’t alone.

And the ones that love them … they need to know what it’s like. They absolutely must understand the compulsion, the frustration, and the despair that contributes to self-harm. Because without understanding, those in despair will only sink deeper.

So I’m sorry, Addy … but I can’t apologize for 22 Scars. I am sorry if it upset you – I truly am. And the same goes for anyone who has ever been upset by my words. I really, truly hope you can get past it and live a full life.

Because there are so many people who can’t. And that’s who this book is for.

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