APPLETON — When Appleton residents Gwen Tatera and her husband, Dr. Charles Thomas, retired from their careers in education, they wanted to make a difference in the world by writing children’s books that had a moral message.
Tatera, who is a member of both St. Pius X Parish in Appleton and St. Willebrord in Green Bay, recently had her third book published. “OCD Beaver is a humorous book about a beaver who just can’t stop gnawing,” said Tatera. “He is compelled to gnaw way beyond what is normal for a beaver. It talks about the Golden Rule. The little beaver has an anxiety disorder that is ruling his life and he is ridiculed for doing something he cannot help.”
Art imitates life for Tatera, who has been diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) herself. She first noticed the issue when she was just 8 years old after being struck with rheumatic fever. Because of her ill health, she made her first confession and first Communion later than her classmates. When she went to her first, and then subsequent confessions, she said she made things up. A priest later told her that was “scrupulosity” — obsessive concern with one’s own sins and compulsive performance of religious devotion.
Scrupulosity is typically conceptualized as a form of OCD. While she knew as a child that she was suffering from this, she kept the secret to herself until she was in her 40s. “It’s no coincidence that I’m writing a book about something I wanted to keep secret my whole life,” Tatera said, adding that God gave her the strength to finally bring this issue to light.
“I find the OCD is now an instrument that enables me to help others, (to see) if I can help some children get through this when I couldn’t because I kept it a secret,” she said. “I don’t like to see children keep things secret — it hurts them inside. I want to bring the subject out into the open so parents can discuss this with their children. ”
Mental illness has a stigma for many people, said Tatera. “The aim of this book is to help children and adults feel the impact of how difficult life is for Gnaw T. Beaver. We are rightly concerned over difficulties people have physically, but we need also to embrace those who have a tough time with mental health issues or anxiety disorders,” she said.
According to Tatera, one in 40 children is afflicted with OCD. “It can affect school behavior and cause stress and anxiety. We wrote this book to help children with OCD, as well as helping their peers understand it and feel compassion. The stigma can be crippling emotionally to the child with OCD.”
The first book Tatera wrote was called, “Tales from the Teacher Patrol.”
“That was all the funny things I heard kids say when I was a teacher,” she said. OCD Beaver is a follow up to Tatera’s previous children’s book, “Piggy Pie’s Pickle Problem,” which is about a pig who does too much of one thing due to an addiction.
While Tatera may always have to contend with the OCD, her Catholic faith helps sustain her. “You can talk to your priest. Praying helps to relax me immensely,” she said. “Sometimes I go to Algoma and walk along the boardwalk there and I think I couldn’t feel much closer to God anywhere on earth. While I’m walking there, I share my problems with God.”
Tatera and her husband now volunteer their time at schools to read their books to students and discuss moral issues with them. “When I was young, I learned from the Baltimore Catechism that my goal in life is to know, love and serve God in this world,” said Tatera. “God gives us gifts and we need to use them. I enjoy writing books. I believe Jesus asks, ‘What did you do for your fellow man?’ We wrote this book to make a difference in the lives of children and adults who suffer daily with this disorder.”
For information on Tatera’s book, email her at [email protected].