SALT LAKE CITY — As a 30-year-old newlywed, Megan Griswold was eager to build a sturdy foundation for her marriage and finish her studies as an acupuncture student.
Then her husband of one year was arrested for soliciting an undercover cop, and the life she’d begun building for herself crumbled. What followed was a decadelong effort to recover and redefine herself, all aided by dozens of forms of self-help, therapy and homeopathy. Her “memoir in remedies,” "The Book of Help," from which she'll be reading on July 18 at the King's English, is a recollection of that effort.
“When you're in a position to try some of these things, it can be hard to know what’s the right thing. How do you figure out if it's legit or (if someone’s a) charlatan? How should it feel?” said Griswold, who now lives in a yurt in Wyoming. “I don't think I'm alone in that; I was just crazy enough to write the list down."
Griswold’s search for healing ranged from learning to surf, to reading tarot cards, to traditional Chinese medicine, with plenty of conventional therapy in between. While 89 kinds of therapy — each detailed with a short chapter of its own — may seem like a lot, Griswold got started young. From an early age, her mother led and encouraged her and her older sister into trying different kinds of therapy and practices to achieve inner balance and peace, including getting a past-life reading at the age of 8.
“I was taught to look outside myself for help. That’s something I feel like I'm in a great position to think about and talk about and why I feel qualified to talk to people about, because there are so many things to try (to get through difficult situations)," she said.
Throughout the book, Griswold also grapples with her maturing relationship to her parents, particularly her mother, who had been the lens through which Griswold developed her identity as a curious searcher and who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during the course of the events in Griswold's book. The diagnosis, and the resulting changes that they wrought in her mother, brought about a shift in the way Griswold viewed the world and interacted with her family.
Griswold said striking a balance between honoring people and portraying them accurately was one of the most difficult aspects of writing her book. It would have been easy to rake her husband over the coals for his arrest and the events that followed, for example, but that would not have been a complete picture of him as a person, she said, nor would it have been interesting. Similarly, Griswold hasn’t portrayed herself as a wronged woman or a victim. In one chapter, convinced her ex-boyfriend cheated on her, she hides in a bush across the street from the home of the person she assumes to be the other woman — an admitted low point in her confrontation of her own isolation.
That experience and others underscore an important point for Griswold. "The Book of Help" is a memoir, not a self-help book — though it did top Amazon’s list in that category earlier this year — and one she hopes people connect with broadly.
"I have this idea that the thing we like least about ourselves most endears us to one another, and I think that's the overwhelming response — people saying that they really relate to it,” she said. “People have challenges all the time and I think putting material out there that helps them be nicer to the parts they like least about themselves, because they’ve heard somebody talk about not only their challenges but the humiliating positions they put themselves in to get through them — it helps people feel seen, somehow."
Since "The Book of Help" was released in January, Griswold said she has been overwhelmed by the response she has received. People have shared stories of their own challenges, and the sometimes extreme lengths they went through to conquer them. Although Griswold’s journey was one toward wellness, she doesn’t feel that she was unhealthy at the time so much as making the best choices she could with the experience and wisdom she had at the time — a lesson she hopes readers will remember.2 comments on this story
“I don't think that people going through something intense should feel like they're unhealthy for not knowing how to deal with things," she said. "It's incredible to have a story that's in your head be read and have people be intimate about their situations.
“It feels like I'm just an ambassador for these words and I want them to be read and enjoyed and hopefully people feel moved."
If you go …
What: Megan Griswold book reading and signing
When: Thursday, July 18, 7 p.m.
Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East
Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of "The Book of Help" from The King's English.