J. Betz

© Copyright 2018 by
J. Betz


Photo of a stormy sky with light breaking through.

I didnít get properly diagnosed and treated for my OCD until I was 36 years old.  There isnít a single area of my life not affected by my OCD and when I look back and see the damage, itís overwhelming.  It is like turning around and seeing the path of destruction left by a tornado and I often wonder how the hell I ever got through it.

As a kid I never felt a real part of anything.  I was filled with feelings of guilt, fear, shame, and not belonging.  Later on came anger. A deep terrible angerÖand pain. God, it hurt so badly.  I remember it as an actual physical pain, a deep ache that filled my whole body until I couldnít stand it anymore.  And I couldnít figure out why. Why do I hurt? Why am I so unhappy? Why am I angry and tense? Why canít I change things?  Why? Why did I always feel like a loser? Why didnít I have the same social skills and maturity as other kids my age? Why did I always assume the other person was better or smarter or worth more?  Why did I feel so small? On and on the Ďwhysí would go carrying me from one day to the next, controlling my every thought and action, screaming for attention.

Writing was one of the ways that I coped.  I felt so small that quite often my writing would be typed with lowercase letters so tiny that you could barely read them.  

ďi canít read anymoreófill my mind with anymore new thoughts.  iím still chewing on the old ones. in the rush to find the whys, i sometimes take in too much, like a child whose eyes are too big for their stomach.  there is so much out thereóso much in hereóthat fights for my attention, that i canít sort it all out. it just bubbles and boils like a teapot whistling and shrieking a warning that itís about to boil over.  but it rarely does, it just screams out against the intense heat of the burner and goes on screaming until someone turns down the heat. it seems that iíve spent my life up until now waiting for someone to turn down the heatóto stop the intense burning i feel insideóto keep me from scalding myself and others.  i never wanted to hurt anyone. i was so careful about not hurting anyone, that i failed to recognize how much i was hurting myself. and when i finally did recognize it, it was too late. the kettle was already scorched and blackened.

i spent a good deal of my life wishing I were dead.  not really wanting to be dead, mind you, just not wanting to keep on living.  not wanting to feel the burning inside as i waited for someone to rescue me from the burner.  not knowing how to rescue myself. i was filled with the most horrible intense darkness. an overwhelming frustration with myself for not being able to live a happy life, a burning anger against those who took my pain lightly, and a sense of helplessness at my inability to make them understand.  i didnít understand. i still donít fully understand. i guess i couldnít have expected that they should understand. and so i felt alone. even when i was with all the family, even when i was with a party of friends, or in the arms of a man, i felt lonely. not just lonely. alone. separate. different. detached. alienated. why?

the question always comes back to ďwhy?Ē  why should I feel so different from everyone else?  what made them different from me? why didnít i feel a part of them? why do i spend so damned much time thinkingóthinking about whyóthinking about god knows what allódriving myself insane.

I struggled every day with intrusive thoughts.  If I saw something graphic or violent in the news, it got stuck in my mind for days, months, sometimes years.  Iíve often explained it as feeling like Iím in some ďBĒ horror movie where the monster/demon/ghost is speaking to you from a TV screen.  You try to turn it off, unplug it, break the damn TV --but it just keeps playing. Itís tiring and it causes extreme discomfort and anxiety because you start to wonder why you are thinking such horrible things.  Back in college, I used to have vivid nightmares every night where I was being chased, beaten, tortured, mutilated, or buried alive.  I often thought about suicide but my OCD had me convinced that I would probably botch it and end up stuck inside my body totally aware of everything going on around me and not being able to do anything about it.  So I would cry myself to sleep each night begging God to just let me die in my sleep. Then I began to worry that He might actually answer those prayers. There were nights that I just too scared to go to bed even though I was totally exhausted. On those nights I would bring someone home with me.  That's how my first daughter was conceived.  I was never sure who her father was and I was too embarrassed to admit it.  I would rather just let people think what they wanted than try to explain the crap that was going on in my head.

When I got pregnant, the hormones flooding my body intensified my OCD.  The intrusive thoughts had me convinced me that I was not fit to be a parent.  What if I did some of the horrible things that flashed through my mind?  So I did what I thought was best for my baby and I placed her for adoption at birth. I knew that I was not ready or stable enough to be a mom and I wanted her to have a good life.  I wanted her to have two parents and a nice home complete with a big yard, dogs, sprinklers, sandboxes and kool aid. I wanted her to grow up feeling loved and I prayed that she would never feel abandoned or unwanted.  I decided to leave it up to her whether she ever wanted to come looking for me. Nineteen years later she did.

One day I received a phone call from the Childrenís Home Society telling me that my daughter had written to them in an attempt to find me and they asked if I wanted them to forward the letter.  YES!! It was beautiful! My daughter had grown up having a wonderful life. She was happy. She thanked me for making the right decision and then asked if we could meet. After getting to know each other a bit through letters back and forth, we finally decided to meet in person. What an awesome young woman she had become.  I was thrilled to death to find out that she had turned out so well, so loving and so kind-hearted. I knew that I had made the right decision but it was nice to see for myself that everything had turned out so well.

It was hard to tell her the circumstances of her birth and the reason I placed her for adoption, but she was very accepting of it all and still invited me to meet her family. A few years later I got to see her graduate from college, then get married, and then have a child of her own.  I felt honored but at the same time, I was deeply self-conscious about my OCD, anxiety and depression. I worried that if she found out how bad it was that she wouldnít want me around anymore. The more I worried about that, the more prominent my OCD behaviors became. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

There is a subset of OCD called Scrupulosity.  Scrupulosity involves the fear of committing a sin, of committing blasphemy and of going to hell.  One of the manifestations of this for me was the compulsive need to tell the truth and to tell it exactly.  I was often afraid that something I said might have been a lie and then I would have to rephrase it to make sure I wasnít lying.   The problem came when I began to confuse my intrusive thoughts with my own thoughts and feelings. I didnít understand that just because it had gone through my mind didnít mean it was a valid thought.   Because I didnít know if it was OCD or my own original thought, I worried that if I didnít voice it I would be lying by omission. Thus I shared too much and it was often hurtful or mean. Eventually she became more reluctant to spend time with me.  She tried to hide it and on some level I knew what was happening but it didnít stop me from obsessing about whether or not I had inadvertently lied. Eventually the relationship just crumbled and we went our separate ways. For years after that I struggled with intense anger and self-hatred.  I was angry with myself and frustrated at my inability to control my obsessions and compulsions. She had been conceived because of OCD behaviors, placed for adoption because of OCD fears about hurting her, and then pushed away again because of OCD behaviors. I had hurt her and I couldnít forgive myself and that just broke my heart.

I still think about her every day.  Iím thankful that I had the chance to be part of her life and to share in her happiness.  Sometimes I wish that we could work things out. Other times I think itís better this way because I donít have to try and be someone Iím not and she doesnít have to try and understand something she canít.  It would be like me trying to understand what itís like to have cancer or diabetes or some other disability. Once I let go of that need to be understood, my life became so much easier. I learned to just be who I am and if someone doesnít understand, thatís okay.  That doesnít make them a bad person or mean that Iím not worth the effort. All it means is that weíre different. Sometimes I still wish I wasnít so different, but more and more Iím gaining the confidence to just be myself and enjoy life.

I am 58 years old and have been battling moderately severe mental health issues since the age of 9.  I raised two girls (by myself) who also suffer from mental health issues.  Let's just say it's been a long journey from that place of hurt to a place of healing.  My writing has been a large part of that healing process and I have much to share. But I still struggle with the basic issue of "Where does the right to tell my story end and my daughters' right to privacy begin?"  Unfortunately mental illness still carries a huge stigma. People look at you differently.  They judge your abilities differently.  Hell, some of them even start hiding the butter knives for fear of what you might do.  It sucks.  But the only way to change it is to talk about it openly and honestly.  This submission is a good first step in that direction.

Contact J. Betz

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher