Will's Choice

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-03-22
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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On March 11, 2001, seventeen-year-old Will ingested a near-fatal dose of his antidepressant medication, an event that would forever change his life and the lives of his family. In Will's Choice, his mother, Gail Griffith, tells the story of her family's struggle to renew Will's interest in life and to regain their equilibrium in the aftermath. Griffith intersperses her own finely wrought prose with dozens of letters and journal entries from family and friends, including many from Will himself. A memoir with a social conscience, Will's Choice lays bare the social and political challenges that American families face in combating this most mysterious and stigmatized of illnesses. In Gail Griffith, depressed teens have found themselves a formidable advocate, and in the evocative and fiercely compelling narrative of Will's Choice, we all discover the promise of a second chance.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. David Shaffer ix
Prologue 1(270)
1 The Bears Downstairs
2 Pulled from the Wreckage
3 Tunnel Vision
4 Like Mother, Like Son
5 Lethal Secrets
6 Broken Hearts, Deep Wounds
7 Lost Horizon Ranch
8 California Rocket Fuel
9 Calamity and Clarity
10 Time, Sweet Time 271(26)
Epilogue: In Will's Own Words 297(4)
Megan's Biography 301(2)
Acknowledgments 303(4)
Organizational Resources for Families of Depressed Teens 307(6)
Suggested Reading and References 313(4)
Endnotes 317


Will's Choice
A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery

Chapter One

The Bears Downstairs

10:00 A.M., March 11, 2001

A mother's sixth sense is attuned to her child's atmospherics like a catbefore 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 felttrouble on my skin. A branch from the blossoming pear tree in front ofour 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 usedthe tone that leaves no room for equivocation -- the tone a mother usesto coax a teenager out of bed.

It was Sunday morning and Will had been up late watching collegebasketball with his stepsister, Jane, who was home from college forspring break. Usually, I am loath to wake a sleeping teenager on aweekend morning, but I knew Will would want to see Jane off beforeshe and her roommate embarked on the eight-hour drive back toschool.

"Will" -- I crept closer to his bed -- "Jane's about to leave. You needto go downstairs now if you want to say good-bye."

Just as I reached the edge of his bed, he lurched violently to oneside. I caught a glimpse of what looked like saliva bubbling around thecorners of his mouth. I grabbed his shoulder and rolled him towardme. His skin was clammy, his color yellow-gray, and he was sweatingprofusely.

"Will?" I tensed and my heart accelerated as I grasped one side ofhis head. I tried to look into his eyes, to see his pupils. "Will, are youokay?"

He sounded like a recording underwater when he tried to respond.I felt his pulse: his heartbeat was off the chart. He mumbled somethingabout needing to "get out of this bubble wrap." Dread scaled up theback of my neck.

"Oh, God, this is not good," I thought out loud.

Will had been battling clinical depression since fall, but I was convincedhe was much better than he had been just months before. ThatSunday morning, March 11, 2001, as I geared up to do battle withwhatever was afflicting him, my first thought was: encephalitis. Notsuicide. En-ceph-a-li-tis.

Certain viruses affect the brain in ways that render patients tangledand disoriented. My son was certainly disoriented. And feverish.He was delirious. It could be a terrible case of the flu. Or how aboutmeningitis?

There were all manner of ailments I knew nothing about.He couldhave contracted any one of them. That was it. It was the flu. Or maybeit was a drug interaction with an antihistamine; something he mighthave taken for seasonal allergies was causing havoc with his antidepressantmedications.

I tried to raise his head by placing my hand behind his neck; hiseyes lolled back in his head and he moaned.

"Okay, that's it!" I said under my breath, and ran downstairs to getmy husband, Jack.

On the way downstairs, I bumped into my stepson, John: "Something'sgoing 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 orsomething. 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 upwith Will?" John's voice was panicky. He was clearly unnerved by Will'sappearance. 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 doctoror the hospital quickly."

John and Will were just half a year apart in age and had been closefriends since they were preschoolers, long before Jack and I married in1999, when the two boys became stepbrothers. John leaned over Will'sbed 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 onmy way to our bedroom to pull on some clothes. "We need to get himto the emergency room!" I shouted.

I grabbed jeans and yanked a sweater over my head and heard Jackand John in Will's room trying to coax him to his feet. The boys managedto lumber down the hallway, but at the top of the stairs Willbalked. He wouldn't go any farther.

"I'm afraid of bears and I won't go downstairs," he uttered. Jackand I looked at each other, perplexed, for half a second.

Will wouldn't budge. He couldn't be coaxed. He repeated thesingsong phrase, "I'm afraid of bears and I won't go downstairs, I'mafraid of bears and I won't go downstairs," three or four more times.

The freakishness, the otherworldliness of the utterance propelledour collective anxiety into the stratosphere. There were no family historiesof encounters with bears. This imaginary juggernaut, this bearphobia, came from some dark cave in Will's head.

We managed to reach the bathroom at the end of the hallway.Willcollapsed on the tile floor. Straining and pulling, we maneuvered himinto our bedroom and laid him on the bed.

Jack's ex-wife, Charlotte, had been downstairs helping Jane packup for school and get on the road. Now, she dashed upstairs to see howshe could help us. I passed Will's tennis shoes to Charlotte and shestruggled to put them on him, while John and Jack wrestled him ontothe 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.

Excerpted from Will's Choice: A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery by Gail Griffith
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