Will's Choice: A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recoveryby Gail Griffith, David Schaffer (Foreword by)
In the early hours of March 11, 2001, seventeen-year-old Will ingested a near-fatal dose of his antidepressant medication, an event that forever changed his life and the lives of his family. In Will's Choice, his mother, Gail Griffith, takes us down the very personal road each of the family members traveled to renew Will's interest in life and to/b>/b>
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In the early hours of March 11, 2001, seventeen-year-old Will ingested a near-fatal dose of his antidepressant medication, an event that forever changed his life and the lives of his family. In Will's Choice, his mother, Gail Griffith, takes us down the very personal road each of the family members traveled to renew Will's interest in life and to regain their equilibrium in the aftermath of his self-destructive act. Griffith intersperses her own finely wrought prose with dozens of letters and journal entries from family and friends, including many from Will himself, allowing us to bear witness to Will's attempts to explain what even he cannot fully understand: why he did it.
A memoir with a social conscience, this book not only examines one family's struggle to overcome depression and an attempted suicide, it lays bare the social, political, and economic challenges that American families face in combating this most mysterious and stigmatized of illnesses. In Gail Griffith, depressed teens have found themselves a formidable new advocate. And in the evocative and fiercely compelling narrative of Will's Choice, we all discover the promise of a second chance.
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A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery
The Bears Downstairs
10:00 AM, March 11, 2001
A mother's sixth sense is attuned to her child's atmospherics like a cat before an electrical storm. I sensed something wrong the instant I opened the door to his room. Normally, there were heaps of clothing, towels, and books strewn about. This morning it was preternaturally clean.
In the split second before reason takes over from reaction, I felt trouble on my skin. A branch from the blossoming pear tree in front of our Dupont Circle row house scraped rhythmically against the glass, tapping in code: Trouble, trouble.
"Willo, I want you up now so you can say good-bye to Jane." I used the tone that leaves no room for equivocation -- the tone a mother uses to coax a teenager out of bed.
It was Sunday morning and Will had been up late watching college basketball with his stepsister, Jane, who was home from college for spring break. Usually, I am loath to wake a sleeping teenager on a weekend morning, but I knew Will would want to see Jane off before she and her roommate embarked on the eight-hour drive back to school.
"Will" -- I crept closer to his bed -- "Jane's about to leave. You need to go downstairs now if you want to say good-bye."
Just as I reached the edge of his bed, he lurched violently to one side. I caught a glimpse of what looked like saliva bubbling around the corners of his mouth. I grabbed his shoulder and rolled him toward me. His skin was clammy, his color yellow-gray, and he was sweating profusely.
"Will?" I tensed and my heart accelerated as I grasped one side of his head. I tried to look into his eyes, to see his pupils. "Will, are you okay?"
He sounded like a recording underwater when he tried to respond. I felt his pulse: his heartbeat was off the chart. He mumbled something about needing to "get out of this bubble wrap." Dread scaled up the back of my neck.
"Oh, God, this is not good," I thought out loud.
Will had been battling clinical depression since fall, but I was convinced he was much better than he had been just months before. That Sunday morning, March 11, 2001, as I geared up to do battle with whatever was afflicting him, my first thought was: encephalitis. Not suicide. En-ceph-a-li-tis.
Certain viruses affect the brain in ways that render patients tangled and disoriented. My son was certainly disoriented. And feverish. He was delirious. It could be a terrible case of the flu. Or how about meningitis?
There were all manner of ailments I knew nothing about.He could have contracted any one of them. That was it. It was the flu. Or maybe it was a drug interaction with an antihistamine; something he might have taken for seasonal allergies was causing havoc with his antidepressant medications.
I tried to raise his head by placing my hand behind his neck; his eyes lolled back in his head and he moaned.
"Okay, that's it!" I said under my breath, and ran downstairs to get my husband, Jack.
On the way downstairs, I bumped into my stepson, John: "Something's going on with Will. Would you go sit by him while I get your dad?"
My husband was loading the last few items into the car for Jane's trip back to college. I grabbed him and took him aside and said, "Something's wrong with Will."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean physically, something is terribly wrong -- like a virus or something. He's delirious and foaming at the mouth."
"I'll be right there. Just let me get Jane off."
I raced back to Will's room, where John queried me: "What's up with Will?" John's voice was panicky. He was clearly unnerved by Will's appearance. I saw the fear and bewilderment in his eyes and thought, "No time for guessing -- we have to act."
"I don't know, sweetie, but I think we need to get him to a doctor or the hospital quickly."
John and Will were just half a year apart in age and had been close friends since they were preschoolers, long before Jack and I married in 1999, when the two boys became stepbrothers. John leaned over Will's bed and implored, "Hey,Will, do you know where you are?"
Will babbled, "She can wear whatever she wants."
John and I exchanged glances, incredulous. "Huh?"
Jack bounded up the stairs, and I ran past him in the hallway on my way to our bedroom to pull on some clothes. "We need to get him to the emergency room!" I shouted.
I grabbed jeans and yanked a sweater over my head and heard Jack and John in Will's room trying to coax him to his feet. The boys managed to lumber down the hallway, but at the top of the stairs Will balked. He wouldn't go any farther.
"I'm afraid of bears and I won't go downstairs," he uttered. Jack and I looked at each other, perplexed, for half a second.
Will wouldn't budge. He couldn't be coaxed. He repeated the singsong phrase, "I'm afraid of bears and I won't go downstairs, I'm afraid of bears and I won't go downstairs," three or four more times.
The freakishness, the otherworldliness of the utterance propelled our collective anxiety into the stratosphere. There were no family histories of encounters with bears. This imaginary juggernaut, this bear phobia, came from some dark cave in Will's head.
We managed to reach the bathroom at the end of the hallway.Will collapsed on the tile floor. Straining and pulling, we maneuvered him into our bedroom and laid him on the bed.
Jack's ex-wife, Charlotte, had been downstairs helping Jane pack up for school and get on the road. Now, she dashed upstairs to see how she could help us. I passed Will's tennis shoes to Charlotte and she struggled to put them on him, while John and Jack wrestled him onto the bed. I grabbed the phone on the bedroom dresser and dialed 911 ...Will's Choice
A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery. Copyright © by Gail Griffith. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Gail Griffith has spent most of her career as a coordinator, fundraiser, and advocate for international humanitarian programs. She is a member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and has served as the patient representative to the Food and Drug Administration's advisory committee on possible links between antidepressant medication and suicidal thinking in teenagers. She lives in Washington, D.C.
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