Ririe teen who tried to take her own life wants others to know suicide isn’t the answer
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Editor’s note: This is part one of a four-part series where eastern Idahoans share their knowledge and experiences with mental illnesses, in hopes that other people in similar circumstances can get the help they need.
RIRIE — For most of us, Oct. 2, 2018, was a typical day.
But it was different for Wendolyne Green, then a sophomore at Ririe Junior-Senior High School.
She was planning to end her own life.
The good news is things didn’t go how Wendolyne hoped they would at the time. The bad news is that her experience is not unique.
Many people in eastern Idaho are struggling with poor mental health, addiction, self-injury and suicidal ideation. This week, EastIdahoNews.com is highlighting some of these problems to let others know that there is help.
Here is Wendolyne’s story.
A typical upbringing and dealing with mental illness
“I felt like I had no one to go to.”
Wendolyne’s hometown of Ririe is a small agricultural town of fewer than 1,000 people. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else, and anonymity isn’t an option. She was one of just 335 students during the 2018-19 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
She describes her upbringing as good. Her parents had divorced when she was 2 years old, but her needs were met, and she was loved and cared for by her father and an older sibling.
Despite this, during her teenage years, she started to struggle with her mental health. She thinks it started with seasonal depression, but eventually, it morphed into more serious problems, such as an eating disorder and self-injury, and it continued to get worse.
The catalyst for her suicide attempt was a bad breakup during the summer after her freshman year. It’s what she describes as an “unhealthy relationship” that affected her deeply.
“I’d never told anyone that I was depressed or anything, except for him,” Wendolyne said. “When we broke up, I felt like I had no one to go to.”
Wendolyne spent the summer trying to keep her mind off the heartache she felt by running two to three times daily, working overtime and spending plenty of time with friends.
But seeing her ex-boyfriend spending time with another girl, while Wendolyne struggled to move on, was challenging. And since Ririe is a tiny community, the new couple attended the same school and church as Wendolyne.
“It was like an everyday nightmare. There is no way to escape it,” Wendolyne remembers feeling. “What hurt was they were together, and they were happy, and I wasn’t.”
She said she kept her feelings to herself because she felt embarrassed. Wendolyne didn’t believe anybody would understand what she was going through, and she figured nobody could make the pain stop.
Even though she was still doing things that injured herself, such as cutting and undereating to cope with the pain, the relationship coming to an end was her breaking point.
The breakup triggered suicidal thoughts, something she had experienced before but never acted on.
“The days went by so slow because I was just trying to make it through another day. It was like, hours seemed like months and days would never end,” Wendolyne said. “I would try to stay up late so I could … sleep in so I wouldn’t have to be awake so long.”
For many people, such as Wendolyne, suicidal ideation begins with depression. Robert Stahn, the owner of Well Spring Counseling in Idaho Falls and member of the Community Suicide Prevention, said that when a person is feeling depressed, their clarity of thought decreases, their mood darkens and they feel sadness.
“They see the world around them as dark and gloomy,” he said. “So you can see that as a person feels depressed, when it is substantial, then it is very reasonable that they would be thinking of leaving this life because there’s a lot of pain that is involved with staying.”
Each year, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide worldwide, which is roughly one death every 40 seconds, according to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
They also state that an estimated quarter-million Americans become suicide survivors each year. Thankfully, Wendolyne falls into that category.
Wendolyne’s suicide attempt
“I just cried.”
It was a Tuesday, and about four weeks into her sophomore year. Wendolyne went about her day by going to school, followed by a church activity that night. But the entire time, she thought to herself that even if she wasn’t hurting at the moment, it didn’t mean the pain was gone.
Instead of getting help, there are often people who experience depression or suicidal thoughts but keep it to themselves because of pride, shame, their family culture or because they think they “should” be strong enough to deal with it on their own, Stahn said.
“It just depends on what their framework is that they’re operating from,” he said.
When Wendolyne got home from her church activity that night, she didn’t say a word to her family. Instead, she showered, got in her pajamas, cleaned her room, cried for a bit and prayed.
She then took four heaping handfuls of a prescription medication she had sneaked from her dad’s room the night before. She was unsure what it would do to her body, but she knew if she took enough of it, something was bound to happen.
“(In my prayer), I asked that I would be able to go to heaven safely and get there and that I wouldn’t be in pain anymore,” Wendolyne recalls. “Then I laid down. I tried to fall asleep, but that buzzing feeling (inside me) kept me awake. I just cried.”
At some point during the night, Wendolyne came to the realization what she’d done was a mistake. She was rushed to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, where doctors told her loved ones they weren’t sure she’d pull through.
“I was terrified. (I felt) like, ‘If I’m going to die, I want to die, and if I am going to live, I want to live.’ I didn’t know how it was going to work,” Wendolyne remembers thinking as she laid on a hospital table feeling paralyzed. “It felt like my body had died. But I was still there.”
A price to pay
“You go through all of the emotions.”
Wendolyne’s memories surrounding the traumatic experience are hazy, but she knows she died twice, had two 20-minute rounds of CPR performed, and her heart was defibrillated 18 times. There was a 4% chance that she would survive coming off ECMO, which is a life support machine that acts as an artificial lung.
After being in a coma for a week, there was an even smaller chance that she would wake up with no mental deficits.
Trying to take her own life had an impact on those around her.
“You go through all of the emotions. You’re angry that the person did it, then you’re worried because you don’t know if they’re going to survive,” said Brandi Slachter, Wendolyne’s best friend’s mom. “You’re sad because you don’t want to lose them. Then it turns to you’re angry because of the circumstances that drove her to it.”
An intense 24 days later, Wendolyne was released from the hospital, but her life was forever changed.
“When I woke up, I wasn’t mad. I was frustrated with the complications of it,” Wendolyne said.
When hospital personnel were taking Wendolyne off ECMO, they nicked an artery, but they didn’t realize they had until three days passed without oxygen flow to her leg. She was immediately taken into surgery, where doctors performed a fasciotomy and cut both sides of her leg open to relieve pressure from inside.
The calf has four muscle compartments, and she lost three and a half of them. She now has limited foot motion. Part of her right foot, including her pinky toe, had to be cut off. To drive, she’ll have to have a car with a left gas pedal or hand controls.
Wendolyne had to relearn how to walk. She can’t feel her toes, she’s covered in scars and skin grafts, and a metal brace constantly supports her right foot.
“Learning to walk was one of the hardest things ever. They (hospital personnel) wanted me to walk like 3 feet … and I would get so angry because I would walk 3 feet, and they would treat me like I just ran a marathon,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘It’s literally nothing. I used to go running. I used to go swimming. I just walked 3 feet and that’s it.’ It was really hard for me to get over that.”
She’s had to overcome mental challenges as well. But she’s found that speaking her mind helps her thoughts not overwhelm her.
“Going through all these mentally challenging things have made me so much stronger and made me realize a lot of the things that I used to care about, I don’t really care about anymore,” Wendolyne said. “I would never speak my mind if something made me sad, or something made me mad, I would just internalize all of it — especially if it was my friends. Now, if my friends do something that makes me upset, I’m like, ‘Hey, I don’t like that.'”
Is there such thing as suicidal signs to watch for?
“I know that a lot of people don’t think (suicide) is a real thing and it’s an attention thing.”
What threw Slachter off about the incident was that usually, Wendolyne was open with her.
“That was the thing. She hid it very well and she knew who she needed to hide it from more,” she said.
After leaving the hospital, Wendolyne remembers returning to school and seeing posters hanging on the walls.
“They posted these things all over our school — warning signs of suicide. I’d seen the same one on my counselor’s office, and I went over and I read it, and I was like, ‘I didn’t have any of these,'” she said.
Every situation is different, so Stahn said it’s not fair to say what everyone will specifically go through before they take their life. He did say though that some common signs are hopelessness and feeling burdensome to others.
“I know that a lot of people don’t think (suicide) is a real thing and it’s an attention thing. People think if people are trying to reach out they want attention from it,” Wendolyne said. “That puts that all back on anyone who’s feeling that because then we’re like, ‘Oh, OK, if we tell anyone, then we’re going to be accused of only doing it for attention.'”
That’s not always the case, and Wendolyne wants people to remember that.
Suicide is not the answer
“Any time … your thoughts or feelings scare you, it’s a very good time to seek counseling.”
To this day, Wendolyne admits suicidal thoughts often cross her mind, but she knows suicide isn’t the answer.
Stahn said it’s normal for a person living with depression to have to fight those feelings daily.
“It is similar to being on the verge of a sneeze all the time, and you just have to try really, really hard not to sneeze,” Stahn said. “Any time that you are in a position where your thoughts or feelings scare you, it’s a very good time to seek counseling.”
Wendolyne remembers countless nights lying in bed thinking there was no way her life would get better, but a second chance has given her a new perspective on what it means to live. She said she is the happiest she’s ever been, and she hopes others in her shoes can feel how she does.
“It was hard at first, getting used to this was my life now. But it made me realize stupid things like that don’t really matter. My boyfriend left me — so what? It’s going to be OK,” she said. “I’ve had so many good experiences in the last year and a couple of months that I wouldn’t have (gotten) to have (if I died).”
On Wednesday, EastIdahoNews.com will explore the story of Braydon Pugmire, a 17-year-old who died by suicide and the efforts of his family to help others dealing with similar situations.