You didn’t notice

When you found me, I was broken. My legs had been taken from me and I had nowhere left to run. You didn’t notice that I was half of a person and you gave me a safe haven to find my legs. By the time you broke, I was a whole person. I was more myself than I’d ever been. I was such a whole person that I didn’t need you to complete me anymore. Which is convenient, since you were too fragile to complete anyone, even yourself. Your fragmented self lay on the floor of our home like shattered glass, cutting me every time I walked through our space that had once held so much safety and love. The pieces of you are still there, even though our family has long since moved out of that home that we built together. The shards of your broken soul were ground into the carpet with every passing day until you became dust. One strong breeze and you might disappear. You were a shell, a zombie. It was as if you died and were reincarnated as a living body with no trace of your personality left. So you didn’t notice that I was alive. You didn’t notice that with every passing day, the earth rose up around me and gave me the strength I never knew I had within me. You didn’t notice that I was quietly, confidently climbing uphill every day, fighting and getting bruised for our child while you wasted away. You didn’t see all the cuts in my skin and the blood that spilled all over my life as I tried to suture that wound that you made. But the antibodies came rushing in to save me, to save our child, as I woke up that day in November and said, “Enough”. I quietly packed a bag while you were sleeping and I left you. I loved you and I left you. And you didn’t notice.

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flying across the country with a toddler

‘I’m going to have to kind of jump around now because there are a few different things intertwining. In the summer of 2017, I started to become involved in facebook groups. I had never really been interested in facebook groups, but I think for me at the time, it was a nice way of escaping from the reality of my life. A lot of my friends and family, as well meaning as they were, were always asking about Eric. I got really tired of giving everyone updates. That’s the part you don’t really know about in a crisis unless you’re really close to it. The person closest to the person in crisis is the one who is constantly fielding questions and giving updates. I repeated myself a lot. I kept getting the feeling like in mean girls when I’d walk into a room that everyone was talking about me and knew my business, my tragic story. I felt like that’s all people were seeing, and it made me feel weird. So I escaped to these groups on facebook filled with random strangers. It was in one of these groups that I met a woman who lived in California. I knew she and her husband were business owners, but didn’t really have any idea what they did and honestly, I didn’t care. I became pretty close with her to the point that I was chatting with her on a group chat every day and venting to her about the situation. I started talking to her in September or October. Now it just so happens that I also have a childhood friend who lives in California as well and has been begging me to visit her since she moved out there three or four years ago. So in October, before Eric had his second attempt and he still had a job, I came to him and asked if we could take a short trip out to california to visit my friend Becca. He agreed, and we got plane tickets and an airbnb for early December. By the time mid-November rolled around, our relationship was in shambles and he could barely form a complete sentence. He was living at lifegate ranch and not only was he not allowed to leave at the point he was at in the program, he was in no shape to go anywhere. We couldn’t get our money back on the tickets, so I was faced with the decision to go by myself across the country with a one year old or stay home. I decided to go. It wasn’t really the smart decision since I had no job, and was going to spend more money on food and lodging while I was there than I had on the plane tickets, but I guess the way I saw it, it was my last hurrah. I had no idea what the future held but I was pretty sure I would not have the opportunity to take a trip like this for a very long time. I had about $3,000 in the bank at this point. It was all that was left from when Eric cashed out his $14,000 401k in May of that year.

So I went. I remember visiting Eric at lifegate and the sad look in his eyes as I hugged him goodbye. I remember how bitterly cold it was the day I left. I remember that I had a six hour layover in Denver. I remember the feeling of walking out of the airport in los angeles and seeing palm trees and feeling warm air, and how wild that was. A wave of relief and calm washed over me when I stepped out into that air. I remember that I had to find the car rental station, and rent a car, and drive an hour to my airbnb. I remember the level of exhaustion when I got to my airbnb, that it was something I had never experienced before. I remember closing my eyes that first night in california as I laid on a mattress on the floor with my baby, and knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

You can’t always get what you want

Up until this point, I had always visited him in the mental hospital, texted with him daily when he wasn’t in the mental hospital, and been very involved and advocating for him. When he woke up from the third attempt, he was placed into Hillcrest hospital psychiatric ward for the second time, and I did not visit him. I was told that he was “back to normal”, or normal being his depressed self before his violent outburst, and that he had little memory of what happened when he was in that psychotic state. But something inside of me just couldn’t be okay with what I had seen that day. I saw something inside of him that I didn’t know he was capable of, and nobody that day or since has ever been able to justify what happened and why he was acting like that. The nurse that pulled me aside indicated to me that he’d be that way forever. That’s what she believed. If a doctor had told us that this is simply what happens when someone wakes up from a coma, that would be one thing, but nobody ever gave us an explanation. Nobody really knows why he was like that. That’s what really bothered me. Because if nobody knows why it happened, that means that we don’t know the circumstances under which it would happen again. He could be laying in bed next to me, ten years from now, and wake up and be that monster. And there’s not a doubt in my mind that he would kill his entire family in that state. I discussed this at length with his mother when she was trying to convince me to let him back in my home, because they certainly didn’t want to take care of him again, especially given the fact that this horrible attempt had happened days after he started living with them, and they had witnessed him having a grand mal siezure, which I am sure was very traumatic. But I refused.

She said to me, “I know my son would never hurt you or Evelyn.”

I said, “That may be true, but you never thought he’d try to kill himself either. What if you’re wrong and he kills us?”

See, if it had been just me, I think I would have taken him back and tried to help him. But one thing I just couldn’t be okay with was the idea that he could potentially hurt Evelyn, and if he came back in and did that, it would be my fault, at least partially. As difficult as it was to turn away this man I love and want to help, I refused to allow him back in. So his parents were forced to search for an alternative. And they found a place called Lifegate. Situated in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, about a thirty minute drive from my home, It was basically a halfway house ranch for convicts trying to re-enter society. It was free until you got a job, with their help. Then it was $700/ a month. It was definitely not a vacation home, it was a bunch of trailers and a little stone church in the middle of nowhere. There were horses, so that was kind of cool. And they were allowed to have their phones, which was different than any other place he’d been. His parents were desperate to get rid of him, but he definitely didn’t want to be in this place. But he acquiesced since he didn’t really have anywhere else to go, and that day he took one suitcase and moved in, around late November of 2017. He wasn’t happy about it but everyone else breathed a sigh of relief that he would at least be safe and getting some kind of help, and it wouldn’t be costing us $5,000 a week like the other places. I think it is a year-long program. He wasn’t in any shape to drive, so they’d drive him to his doctor’s appointments and a few job interviews. During the day, he worked a few hours at a little thrift store they owned until he could get a job. I visited him a few times in the next month, but I didn’t particularly like going there because frankly, it was depressing, he was depressing to be around, and all the men looked at me like they were starving on a desert island and I was filet mignon. It was unsettling. I think a part of me was really glad that he wasn’t my “problem” anymore.

I had started to shake myself out of that shocked and numb state that people sometimes find themselves in. For weeks I had sort of wandered around the house like a ghost, and I honestly don’t remember much of it. I remember many people coming to visit, bringing me food, laundry sitting on the couch for weeks, and staying with friends and relatives because I hated being in our home alone at night without my partner. I don’t know how I continued to parent, but I think Evi was enough to help me stop feeling sorry for myself and start to be able to do the things I needed to do, like fold laundry and look for jobs, which was honestly very depressing. The thought of putting evi in daycare all day five days a week made me sick to my stomach, and I knew I was not capable of making much more than minimum wage. The road that lay ahead of me was very bleak. I interviewed for a secretarial job at a law firm that I was very excited about that was going to pay $30k/year. However, I let them know during the interview that I have a two year old and watched their faces fall. I vaguely remember them asking some questions about how I would manage it and how I felt about working with a little one. A few weeks ago, I got the notification that they loved me but they found someone who was a better fit. That was a really hard blow because it indicated to me that my difficulties in finding a job would be compounded by the fact that people don’t want to hire someone who has been out of the workforce for years and has a two year old who will inevitably get sick and have obligations that come with a two year old. I remember calling my dad crying and saying, “what’s going to happen to me? Am I just going to be destitute for the rest of my life?”

It was around this time that I met two friends who would alter the course of my life forever.

Descent into Divorce.

Eric’s parents weren’t equipped to take care of a suicidal person, of course. Nobody is. They trusted him when he said he didn’t want to kill himself. They handed his full bottles of medicine to him for him to dose out to himself, and they left him alone. He went on a walk one morning by himself in early November, and came back to their house. I called him and he sounded very, very tired, but he was tired a lot. He basically said he was really tired and kind of hung up on me. I guess after that, he took a very long nap on his parents’ couch and then they could not get him up. When they were trying to get him up, he started having a horrific seizure, and then remained unconscious. They called an ambulance and contacted me. We again had no idea if this was an attempt or possibly a medication reaction, because he’s had a seizure from a medication reaction before. He was in the hospital for a few hours and still unconscious when he had a grand mal seizure and his heart stopped for a small period of time. I think this was in the middle of the night, and I was not there. The next time I saw him, I think the next day, he was in the wing of the hospital that they put their sickest people. You had to stick your hands in this touch-free hand washing machine that had two holes in it and sprayed jets all over your hands, and then don gloves and booties and a full body suit to even go inside his room. He was hooked up to every single machine imaginable and had drool and vomit in his hair. He looked utterly lifeless and pale. There was a tube shoved down his throat, breathing for him. I thought he was going to die. I think everyone did. In those days after that, I cried by his bed and talked to him. I brought his phone and put it right next to his ear, playing his favorite music in case he could hear it. Every time I left the hospital, I was unsure if he’d die in the night. It was a very emotional time.

And then he woke up.

About 5 days after he went into the coma, he woke up. I think his mom was there when he woke up, or she was the first to visit him. She told me he was not himself, that he had been yelling at her and calling her the devil. Apparently he thought that he’d died and was in hell, and everyone around him was a demon. But I was sure he wouldn’t be that way with me. If anyone could snap him out of it, it was me. Call it arrogance, but my Eric has never been anything but completely in love with and devoted to me. Even in the throes of his worst depression, all he wanted was to be with me and see me. So I thought that like in the movies, he would see me and he would calm down. Eric’s mom took my daughter and I went to see him. I will never forget what I saw that day.

When I walked in, he was sitting up in his bed, wild-eyed and completely naked. He had thrown the blanket off of himself, so any random passerby walking by his room would have seen his privates. When he saw me, he did not look at all relieved or even seem to recognize me at all. I immediately knew something was very wrong and I was, for the first time, legitimately scared of him. He continued to stare at me in a very creepy, blank, wild-eyed stare until I asked him if he knew who he was. He replied, in a monotone voice,

“My wife.”

I asked him if he would like to listen to music. He said,

“I used to like music.”

I showed him a picture of his daughter. He seemed unmoved.

I took a step towards him, and he immediately started jabbing at me with two of his fingers, very aggressively, and the look in his eyes was something I have never before seen in my life. He looked like he wanted to kill me. My voice shaky, I said,

“what are you doing?”

He said, “I’m stabbing you.”

I continued to try and calm him and he jabbed at me with his fingers two more times before I started to cry. I told him I was going to leave and he said, in a monotone voice,

“If you leave I’ll have nothing to stab.”

I lost it. I ran out of the room and was completely hysterical. A nurse took me aside and into a room. She explained to me that they didn’t know why he was acting like this but that they suspected brain damage had occurred as a result of an overdose of Nortryptaline. The past two times, he had overdosed on Ambien, which can kill you, but if it doesn’t kill you, there are really no adverse effects long term that I know of. This Nortryptaline, however, can cause brain and heart damage. She told me that they were going to “snow” him soon, meaning put him under, because he was a danger to himself and others. I made her watch a video of the real Eric, the man I married, so she’d know who he really was and that this wasn’t him. She wasn’t the only hospital staff member I did that with. I just felt like it was important that they know the sweet man that was inside there somewhere.

I was somewhat comforted by that nurse and I will forever be grateful that she took it upon herself to take me aside in that moment. I walked out of the hospital that day with the realization that my Eric was gone, and he was never coming back. In my mind, he had died. He was brain damaged and would spend the rest of his days in mental health facilities. That night, I went home and mourned him. I looked at our walls that we had painted together, the pictures of all the amazing memories we’d had and places we’d gone. That house had the story of our life together imprinted all over it. We met in the doorway on July 21st, 2013. I pressed my face to the wall that had housed so much love and life, and let the tears flow freely down my face. I was thankful for all of the wonderful times I’d gotten to have with him, and I mourned the loss of him as I knew him. I think something inside of me detached from him that night.

Another day, another mental institution

When he finally woke up and was stable enough, the hospital asked me if there was anywhere I’d prefer him to go to. He’d already been to Laureate for a week and Brookhaven for a month, and those were the two mental hospitals in Tulsa. The only one he hadn’t been to yet was the…I’m sure there’s a better term for this but the only words I can think of are psych ward. The floor of hillcrest hospital that’s dedicated to people who are psych patients, who have mental issues. I said, okay, let’s try that one this time since he hasn’t been there yet and they might have some new insight to offer or some tricks that nobody had previously tried. And I know I had said if he tried that again, I wouldn’t be there when he woke up. But I couldn’t abandon him. I just couldn’t. The way he was, he looked so sad and broken. I just wanted to help him. I also think a part of me had this hero complex that I was going to be valiant and save him and it would be this beautiful romantic thing. So I continued to call him every day on the hospital phone. I continued to visit him every chance I got, and update everyone who asked with the phone number, how he was, and the visiting hours. I brought friends and family to see him. I brought our daughter to see him.

Just like before, I felt this hole opening up inside of me. A vacuum he had left in our home and in my life. I felt alone and scared. I didn’t have my partner. I wanted him to come home so we could rebuild our life. I was very upset with him but I was still determined to make it work. He had gotten fired after the incident so he no longer had a job, and neither did I. He informed me that he had stopped paying on his life insurance policy months ago, so it was no longer valid. He decided to cash out his 401k ($14,000). I convinced him to write me a check for half of it. I told him it was for safekeeping, which was partially true. I really wanted to make things work, but I still needed to be practical for myself and my daughter, and I didn’t really trust him anymore. I needed some kind of a cushion. I felt so bad at the time, but looking back, I am so glad I got half of that money. It was such a saving grace for me when I really needed it. So I put the money in my checking account and I basically didn’t touch it. I found food banks and we went and got food. I stopped the mortgage and car payments. We were basically spending nothing aside from the electric and water bills.

I tried to get him outside, doing the things he loves. When he was healthy, he loved going on a mountain bike ride every week. I encouraged him to do that. He didn’t feel like it. I took him to the park with me. He stood there like a zombie. I took him everywhere with me because I was scared of what he’d do if he were left alone. He swore up and down he didn’t want to kill himself anymore, but it was very obvious that he was still very sick. He would sleep all day and refuse to get up, and if he did get up he wasn’t happy about it. It basically felt like I was taking care of a teenager. He didn’t seem to want to get better, and I didn’t see what I could do to help him. So one day about a week after his second attempt, when he was refusing to wake up and it was about 1 o’ clock in the afternoon, I packed a couple bags and left. I drove to my mom’s house and called his parents and told them that I had a toddler to keep alive and that I couldn’t keep him alive as well. They picked him up and brought him back to their house with them. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I started to try to piece my life back together, hoping that his parents could find a solution that I couldn’t. They are go-getters.

Two days after that, he was back in the hospital.

 

Fool me twice

So I drove off to the hospital again, in a dumbfounded, shock-like state. I really had no idea what condition he was in other than that he was unconscious and they were not able to wake him up. The paramedic had told me he was found beside his car in the parkingĀ  lot, which was not exactly true. I would find out later that he was found hanging out of his open car door, with his bottom half inside the car and his head on the ground. By some miracle, someone stumbled upon him in time because the parking lot of American Airlines is pretty vast. According to the people he worked with, he showed up to work that day, was working for about an hour, and then simply got up and walked out. I believe he was found about an hour later. He had been texting me that morning as normal but since we didn’t exactly text constantly, I didn’t realize anything was up until I got the call. He was never able to clarify why he was hanging out of his car like that, but I like to think that maybe it’s because he changed his mind at the last minute and tried to find help, but the massive amount of ambien he’d ingested prevented him from doing so. He has absolutely no recollection of that morning, or at least claims not to have one. But we know for sure that it was an attempt because this time, he left a note. This is what it said:

“Dakota: I love you hard and want you to believe that I did everything I could for as long as I could to stay alive. Never blame yourself for what happened to me. You were my comfort in this life. I love you endlessly.

Phoenix Jude Evelyn: Daddy has been sick all year long. My illness finally caught up to me. Please don’t ever do what I did. You deserve a full and happy life with no dead ends. Find your stability in your mother and new father. I will always love you!

Mom dad brother sister: I know this is going to sting really bad. I wish you could understand why this happened, why I was not able to beat the depression and climb out of the hole. Sometimes life gets so overwhelming that you cannot find any other solution that will carry you out of the depression. When everything starts breaking and your attempts to fix it don’t work, any residual hope gets annihilated.

Sarah: I know you’re going to step up and be an awesome mother to those boys.”

As crazy as it sounds, I actually had doubts that it was a suicide attempt before I found that note. He was still comatose for several days so there was no asking him about it. I thought maybe he’d had some adverse effects from the medication he was taking, or left over effects from his last attempt in April. But once I found that note, I was dumbfounded. I walked out of the room and then left the hospital for the day. As “nice” as the note was, it was really difficult for me to swallow that he thought that was enough to leave for me and his kids after committing such a horrific act. He must have really been out of his mind to think I would show those words to his children. The fact that he advised his children in his note not to do what he did, to me, was incredible. The fact that he can have the soundness of mind to realize what a terrible thing he’s doing to his family, and in the same act, advise his children he is leaving fatherless not to follow in his footsteps. One of the reasons he left a note is that the first time, I had given him some grief over the fact that he hadn’t even left a note. So when he woke up, he said that he was trying to do better and leave a note this time. Major face palm. The fact that you left a note is nice, but way overshadowed by the reality of what you did! I may seem harsh and I really still do love Eric as a person, but I was really frustrated by that note. Yes, it was better than nothing, and really showed some of his most true feelings, but those words, which were meant as a final goodbye, still haunt me to this day.

the second suicide attempt.

I think I, along with everyone, really didn’t understand the hold that depression had on Eric. If I had it to do over, there is so much I would have done differently. I would have taken on more chores around the house, I would have encouraged him to quit his job, I would have made him go to celebrate recovery, which is something he was doing when I met him. But I didn’t do any of those things. I never really understood why he went to celebrate recovery and honestly, I kind of had a bad attitude about it in the beginning of our relationship because he seemed like he had never really encountered real, heart wrenching, life altering pain in his life, aside from his divorce. He seemed to have it all together so it was crazy to me that he was going to this place with former drug addicts and such. When he first told me he went to those meetings, the first thought that popped into my head was, “Is he a drug addict?” But he wasn’t. He was just Eric. Always kind of an unusual guy in the most wonderful way. I used to call him my unicorn because he was just the most unique combination of personality traits. I have never met another person like him before or since. He had this passion and zest for life in which it really seemed like he woke up just so happy to be alive every single day. The smallest things held joy for him, and he always seemed to find joy and happiness in everything he did. He lifted me up, he encouraged me to get outside and ride bikes with him, he cooked, he cleaned, he did it all, and he did it with a happy heart. He never complained.

I think that’s why it was so difficult for me and everyone in his family to accept how badly off he was. The first time he’d spent time in the mental institution in 2007, he was healed after a week and went back to being his happy go lucky self for the next ten years. So I think we all thought it would be wrapped up with a nice little bow after this small uncomfortable period. I thanked god I found him when I did, and honestly was kind of excited for the opportunity to take care of him and nurture him like he’d done for me through the years. I had always been the weak one, at least in my eyes, and he’d been my rock and my sanity. He helped me to control my temper and my spending habits. He’d always been calm when I was freaking out, and eventually his calm nature rubbed off on me in a big way. I slowly stopped needing to pick fights to satisfy my anger. I stopped acting out to get attention. I felt secure and loved, and I was so grateful for that since I could finally step up and repay him for all of his patience and kindness with me.

But still, I didn’t really understand mental illness, which isn’t really my fault. And Eric insisted he was fine. He was emphatically fine. I kept asking him after he got out of the month long program if he was okay, and if there was anything he needed to talk about, and he just kept saying no, he was fine, no, he didn’t want to kill himself. And so it went. I started to believe him. I think maybe on some level, I knew that he wasn’t really okay but I guess I was choosing to believe what I needed to believe to not constantly be living in fear and anxiety. I was also surrounded by believers who kept telling me that I needed to believe for his healing, which really wasn’t helpful. I believed. I prayed. I worshipped god. I was so faithful. I just knew everything would work out and my wonderful husband would return to me. Because my life had a greater purpose, and it was all part of god’s plan. That’s what I wanted to believe. And honestly, on some level I still do. I haven’t seen the end of this story yet and probably won’t understand what truly happened or why for many years. But many things that have happened to me in my life that seemed truly horrible in the moment ended up being some of the best things to ever happen to me because they directed me to something better; a higher level of growth, a new friendship, a new opportunity.

But regardless of what I believe or believed, Eric was not okay. He was silently suffering and struggling for months. He didn’t want to lay the burden at my feet or bring me down. That aspect of his character never changed. Even at his worst, he didn’t want me to hurt. That breaks my heart even more. So he went to this job that he hated for six more months, put on a brave face, and continued to look for another job, to no avail. I started working full time as well. We went on a big family vacation to Colorado in July of 2017 and hiked through the Rocky Mountains with his family. He and I carried our daughter, Evelyn, a total of 8.4 miles through very mountainous terrain. I remember thinking on that hike, “he’s doing better! He’s really going to be okay!”

I’m not sure what happened that day, October 24th, to make him think he was incapable of making it through another day. The details are a little hazy and even he doesn’t fully remember what happened. But just as I will never forget finding him that first time, I will never forget getting that phone call from his phone and hearing someone else’s voice on the other end. I was at the children’s museum with my daughter and a friend of mine who has a son my daughter’s age. They had just installed a dinosaur exhibit and Evi was ecstatic. I remember seeing her face light up in surprise when she saw them. It was my first day back to being a stay at home mom and it felt great to be able to spend time alone with my baby girl again. She was wearing a little plaid red and white dress with ladybugs on it. We were playing in the ball pit when my phone rang, and the voice on the other end said “are you the wife of Eric Dunn?” My heart immediately dropped and everything around me faded away. I thought for sure this person was about to tell me that my husband was dead. He told me that Eric had been found unconscious in his car in the parking lot of American Airlines, where he worked. He was breathing but all attempts to wake him up had failed. They were taking him by ambulance to the emergency room, and they asked me which one to take him to. I told them to meet me at the same place we took him last time, Hillcrest medical center at 11th and Utica.

I told my friend what was going on and she immediately offered to take my daughter so I could go to the hospital. Thank god I was with her or it would have been pandemonium. So I was able to move my daughter’s car seat to her car and go.

It is 1 in the morning so I’m going to have to stop here.

 

 

 

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