The creator of the gay website Opus Chicago disappeared and reemerged—but his troubles persist. Credit: (Gay Chicago TV)

Dane Tidwell vanished
 August 13, which was his 40th birthday and also the day he and his roommate were evicted from their apartment on Magnolia Street. Fearing for his life, friends notified the police. Tidwell was the creator and operator of the gay website Opus Chicago, and Gerald Farinas, who edited the site for him, told DNAinfo that Tidwell “faced an intensifying sense of hopelessness.”

Eight days after he disappeared, Tidwell contacted people close to him and told them he was alive and safe. On October 2, on a personal website, he posted a brief meditation that he called “Fail Forward—It’s only the end if you stop trying.” The post began, “I am the king of failure.” On October 18 he wrote again, this time much more specifically about his troubles. “Here’s the story everyone’s been waiting to hear” was the headline of his post.

From the outside, he said, his life looked just about perfect:

I was in the perfect relationship and had a beautiful home. I was the CEO of a media company that spanned local and national news websites, an entertainment site, several mobile apps, a weekly news broadcast, a book imprint, two licensed self-help brands, a design firm, an office in the Merchandise Mart, and a custom built content delivery platform. We were even in the process of partnering with a real estate developer to open a coworking / incubator space for media startups.

But this front was false: 

In reality, the business was constantly lurching from one breakdown to the next and took every penny I had to keep it going, sacrificing my family’s wellbeing in the process. I battled severe anxiety and depression for nearly five years, but was adept at putting it in a little box to deal with later. I withdrew from my friends. I didn’t leave the house very often. It all wore on my relationship with my partner, even though he had no idea the magnitude of the situation.

On August 13 “everything came crashing down around me.” 

There was no hiding it anymore. There was no money to pay business bills due the next day, my partner left me, and I lost our home. All before 10 am on my 40th birthday. As the sheriff was parking in front of the house to evict us, I calmly walked down to the basement and hanged myself with an extension cord. Whether you believe in God, luck, or I was just a sucky Boy Scout, the cord slipped down the pipe and I didn’t die.

Opus Chicago shut down; Tidwell went into therapy. “I’m not better, but I’m getting there,” he said in his post. He’d learned that constant happiness is a pipe dream but that it’s possible to achieve contentment. He’d learned that “I deeply enjoy helping people,” and that although he grew up a poor farm boy in Oklahoma he’s a “richer person for it” and “wouldn’t change a thing.”

But if Tidwell’s troubles led him to insights about himself, he still seems a considerable distance from serenity. I first wrote about Tidwell in 2011, when he was coowner of Gay Chicago in that bar rag’s final days. When he disappeared I wrote again and spoke to two former landlords. His landlord on Magnolia, Holger Schlageter, said Tidwell and his roommate, Adam Henderson, owed him more than $14,000. An earlier landlord said the eight months she’d spent trying to evict the pair had been “the worst eight months of my life.” 

Days before Tidwell told story on his website, Schlageter e-mailed me. Aware that as many as half a dozen landlords in all had previously taken Tidwell to court, Schlageter said he felt a duty not to let him “walk away like nothing had happened.” As Tidwell wasn’t working but his former roommate Henderson had a steady job, Schlageter was attempting to garnish Henderson’s wages. Schlageter forwarded to me two e-mails that he said Tidwell sent him October 9 in response. 

The first read:

Remove the garnish from Adam’s paycheck or you will never be licensed to practice in Illinois. I will spend every minute of every day making sure that you will ever want to live in this city. Your debt is with me, and you know that.

(Schlageter says both names were on the lease.) 

The second read:

If you don’t stop the garnishment against his check, which you know is wrong, I’ll just have him file for bankruptcy. You’ll never see a penny. Ever. So you can either work with me on this or you can not, and I promise you not working with me is not the right option.

I asked both Tidwell and Henderson for comment. Both turned me down, though Tidwell sent me a link to his blog post.