It's not an easy book to read. Grief, sadness, frustration, anger, guilt, despair, misery — and deep, deep anguish — they're all contained in this unforgettable story of loss and renewal. How can I put it? Let's just say Ginny Dennehy's potent Choosing Hope is not your typical summer beach fare. In fact, you might not be able to sleep all that well after reading it.
Doesn't matter. If you're a parent, or a grandparent, an uncle or aunt — or even a mentor, friend, or confidant to teens and preteens — well, then you have no choice. For the good of those kids — for your own education about mental health issues and the dangers young adults are subject to in our oh-so go-go 21st century — you absolutely... need.... to... read.... this... book.
Mental illness isn't cool. There's no pink ribbon or red wristband or fancy t-shirt with a clever "we can beat it" slogan splashed across its front to stand in solidarity with. No. Mental illness is usually fought in the trenches of loneliness through a fog of ignorance against a backdrop of indifference. It's society's last accepted prejudice. A seemingly self-destructive condition that invites abuse by its very pathology.
And yet mental illness runs rampant through our culture. For many teenagers haltingly moving through life and into the new high-pressure world of sudden adult-ness, mental illness is a daily fact of life. And clinical depression, it's now abundantly clear, is the most common mental malady among the under-25 set. Did you know that in Canada, depression-triggered suicide is the second biggest killer of young people?
Yeow! Shocking, no? An astounding statistic. Scary too. But of course, that could never happen to you and/or members of your family. Right? I mean, mental illness happens to others. Like murder or rape, depression-related suicide occurs elsewhere. On the news, you know. Not in your own home. Not in your own backyard....
Ginny Dennehy thought she had a pretty safe life going too. Sure, she'd experienced some hard moments as a child. But the cosy little world that she'd built up at Whistler with husband Kerry and their two young children (one of each of course — a boy and a girl) was everything she'd hoped family life would be. "My generation of women was told that we could have it all," she says. "Career, family, sports, love — it was all within our reach." She sighs. "For a while I actually thought I'd pulled it off..."
There was very little warning. One moment Ginny's son, Kelty, was a happy, outgoing 17-year-old hockey player with a flair for fashion. The next, he was a quivering mess of contradictory emotions and ballooning insecurities. It was almost like he'd become possessed. Like some evil, malignant force had taken over his spirit.
At first his parents weren't too worried Dennehy tells readers. But as things got stranger, and Kelty descended further and further into the snakepit of teenaged depression, Ginny quickly realized just how little the medical profession knew about this silent killer. And the more she got involved, the more she understood how much her son's sickness was exacerbated by the shocking lack of knowledge among teachers, counsellors... even psychologists and psychiatrists!
The 17-year-old Kelty committed suicide in the spring of 2001. Then just eight years later, her daughter, Riley, died of a heart attack in Thailand. And Ginny's life — and the life of her extended clan — would never be the same again.
Choosing Hope is the story of this harrowing journey. And Dennehy doesn't hold back. With the help of veteran journalist Shelley Fralic, she offers her readers a unique (and surprisingly honest and self-critical) glimpse into this horrific, nightmarish, heart-shattering segment of her life.
It's a seriously sad story (and there's a lot more to it than I've alluded to in this space). Indeed, it's hard to fathom how one woman could experience so much grief and pain in one lifetime and still bounce back. But she did. And she did it with such verve and enthusiasm that her family's fundraising-and-awareness work (mostly through the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation) is already making a difference for young depression-afflicted teens across Canada. And that's where the sunshine really sparkles in this tale. That's where the hope resides.
Still, I'll let Ginny tell you that part of the story. After all, it's her healing journey to recount...
You can find the book (Greystone Books) at Armchair Books.