Convinced they have found a way back to what might be termed “normal life”, they then want to share the lessons they’ve learned to help alleviate the suffering of others.
Self-help writer Katie Piper has suffered more trauma than most. In 2008, this once budding TV presenter was the victim of a brutal rape and acid attack that left her with terrible facial disfigurement. She was 24.
To all intents and purposes, she felt her life was over. In the aftermath of the attack, she wrote a note to her mother asking her to kill her.
But Piper, who would never go back to any semblance of a normal life, reached instead for something extraordinary. Undergoing a great many plastic surgery procedures to rebuild her face, she was the subject of a 2010 Channel 4 documentary, Katie: My Beautiful Face.
Bafta-nominated, it was subsequently screened in 15 countries around the world, and it elevated her into both spokesperson and inspiration.
Overcoming and overachieving
She set up her own foundation to work with fellow victims, and wrote several books, self-empowerment tomes with titles like Beautiful, Things Get Better and Confidence: The Secret. All were bestsellers.
In 2015, she even secured a notional happy ending when she got married.
Now the mother to two young daughters – Belle is almost four, Penelope nine weeks – she has just written another book, From Mother To Daughter: The Things I’d Tell My Child.
“I wanted it to be grittier, and edgy.”
Ostensibly merely yet another mother-and-baby guide to file alongside all the others, Piper’s stands out directly as it is informed by what happened to her.
“I read a lot of parenting books while pregnant,” she says, “but I found they were all the same thing, full of eating and sleeping routines. This book is different, I hope.”
She’s right; few parenting books feature chapters on how to deal with trauma and anxiety.
“I wanted it to be grittier, and edgy,” she says.
For a new mother with barely four years on the clock, Piper set herself quite a task in attempting to write about how to negotiate parenting children of all ages. This is why, she points out, she had help.
“Oh, I absolutely had to have a lot of input: from a psychologist, from case studies. And of course my mother’s involvement.”
Her mother, Diane, is listed as co-author, and brings to bear her own wisdom, not only on having raised children herself but also what it’s like to weather the fallout of what happens when your grown daughter is so violently attacked.
The book is at its most affecting in the passages that reprint what had hitherto been Diane’s private diaries, kept in the months after the event.
“My mother is a very quiet and private person,” Piper says, “and so a lot of the things she went through at the time, we’ve never discussed. Reading her diary entries was quite a shock.”
But also, she insists, a useful one. This singular horrific event in Piper’s life continues to inform everything she does, publishers keenly aware of its lingering fascination and a not inconsiderable resilience.
Reliving the nightmare
In an ideal world, Piper says, she would leave it all behind.
“It is unhealthy to keep reliving it, and I don’t just want to churn out stuff that is already out there, but I suppose it’s a balance of catharsis and closure, and of me getting perspective. But you can definitely get sick of it,” she concedes, adding: “I’m not comparing myself to Oprah, but she has had a terrible past herself, and I find that anyone who works in self-help has to travel down that path towards healing.”
Inspired by the former talk show host, she is now about to embark upon her first nationwide tour, with a show entitled What’s In My Head.
Piper may be a veteran of public speaking, but not the sort of two-hour stage show that involves not only a lecture on surviving unconscionable ordeals but also features music, dancing and special effects. She laughs as she confesses to anticipatory nerves.
“A lot of those American self-help gurus who have done these kind of shows have really helped me,” she says.
“And so I wanted to do similar. I don’t want to talk graphically about everything that happened, but rather to put my experience into context, to talk about mental health in general, and coping mechanisms, that sort of thing. It’s definitely new territory for me, but I hope it helps people. I hope it inspires them.”
From Mother to Daughter by Katie Piper with Diane Piper is out now. Piper’s show, What’s in My Head, tours the UK from 13 March to 13 May