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‘For so long I thought I was the only one’ — Art show highlights life as a Latter-day Saint living with OCD

Picturing “scrupulosity,” these works depict how the quest to do right can go dangerously wrong.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Camilla Stark in her art studio in her home, Nov. 28, 2022. She says she developed scrupulosity in high school.

For years, Charlotte Condie thought about throwing out her family’s old copy of “Mormon Doctrine,” put off by its rigid and orthodox depiction of the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Instead, the book sat in the basement accruing dust. Then a few months ago, the Atlanta-based artist got an idea. By tearing the hundreds of pages from the leather-bound binding, she was able to create six art pieces, each depicting her struggle with scrupulosity.

A subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), scrupulosity consists of pathological guilt and fear of offending God. Those living with the condition are plagued by intrusive thoughts about possible sins and misdeeds, which drive them to constantly seek forgiveness from God and reassurance from loved ones and faith leaders.

(Charlotte Condie) To create this piece, titled "If Thy Mind's Eye Offend Thee," Charlotte Condie tore pages from the book "Mormon Doctrine," which she then dyed.

Condie will have five works on display at Provo’s Writ & Vision starting this week as part of a monthlong exhibit titled “I Am Bound Upon a Wheel of Fire: Obsessive Compulsion of the Soul.” Hosted by the Utah-based art collective the ARCH-HIVE, the show will feature more than 25 artists showcasing works dedicated to telling the story of life as a Latter-day Saint living with OCD.

Pieces selected for display include a photograph representing the compulsion of singing hymns to quiet intrusive thoughts, and a painting depicting the Latter-day Saint concept of always “choosing the right.”

The opening reception will take place Friday, Dec. 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. Live music and dance performances are scheduled for Friday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m.

We sat down with Condie and the event’s two other curators — Camilla Stark and Kurt Anderson, both Latter-day Saint artists living with scrupulosity — to learn more about the exhibit’s origins and aims.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the genesis for this show?

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Camilla Stark numbers and signs her cyanotype titled "Love and Fear (All Must Be Tried As Abraham)" in her art studio in her home, Nov. 28, 2022.

Stark • I discovered Kurt and Charlotte on Instagram, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there are three of us. We have to do an art show.’ So we put out a call for art and had 70 people respond. It was amazing. For so long I thought I was the only one.

Anderson • It was just nuts. I thought I was maybe one of like 10 people around the world. So I find things like this art show are not only nice but mandatory because there are tons of people out there suffering with something that they don’t know what to call.

How has scrupulosity impacted your lives?

(Kurt Anderson) Kurt Anderson's drawing, "After All You Can Do," depicts the artist's belief in the need for grace and will be on display at Provo's Writ & Vision throughout December.

Stark • I developed scrupulosity in high school. I started getting sick and that made me anxious all the time, and I had heard that when I was anxious I couldn’t feel the spirit. I’d been taught that if you can’t feel the spirit, it’s because you have done something wrong and need to repent. So I would repent of something but still didn’t feel better, and it kept getting more and more extreme until eventually I wasn’t watching any TV or movies or reading books or listening to music because I was so scared I would hear a bad word or something inappropriate. It became impossible to have a positive relationship with religion because it was all about stress.

Art really helped me. I was able to step back from religious perfectionism and begin to look at myself from an outside perspective. Ultimately, in some ways, OCD really makes my worship very cool and intense because I feel things so strongly.

Condie • It came to a head for me soon after I got married. I went through the temple to get married and it was all very serious to me, and I started having these obsessions that were scary to me.

I was trying to get a handle on what I’d committed to and was under a lot of stress as a student and trying to get pregnant. And it didn’t help where I was operating in a framework where even my mother would say I couldn’t get pregnant because I had sinned and I needed to repent of something. That’ll do a number on you.

One of my compulsions in the early days was calling my bishop all the time and repenting of the same thing tens and tens of times, to four different bishops.

Anderson • My religious OCD was triggered as a defense mechanism against severe childhood trauma that taught me not to trust anyone but myself. So my relationship with God pushed out all other people, including everyone in my support group.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "If I can turn away from the false idol of perfectionism, then I can bask in the light of a healthy spirituality," said Camilla Stark of the linoprint titled "Face the Sun of My Salvation" in her art studio in her home, Nov. 28, 2022.

Around 9 or 10 years old, I started developing severe rules for myself to prove my allegiance to God. If I broke a rule, I would physically harm myself. Once I got married, that all fell apart. My wife was like, get on medication.

It’s still really exhausting, but one of my coping tools is I listen to Bible podcasts for almost two hours a day every day while I draw. Every pen stroke of mine is me trying to redirect to Christ.

What do you hope attendees will gain from the exhibition?

(Charlotte Condie) Charlotte Condie is one of three curators of the art show, hosted by Provo's Writ & Vision throughout December, about life as a Latter-day Saint with OCD.

Stark • I want everyone to know what real OCD looks like so that when they or a loved one suddenly feel trapped by terrifying, demanding thoughts, they might know what’s wrong and seek help. Our art show will be a success if it helps even one person get treatment for OCD.

Condie • I hope this show not only gives voice to those silenced by the pain of mental illness but that it bears witness to the world of our tremendous potential and human connection. Truly seeing ourselves in others is a first step toward empathy, healing and communion with each other.

Anderson • My hope for this show is that it can make people more sensitive to what others around them may be going through. It’s never black and white. Everyone is dealing with something.

(Kurt Anderson) Latter-day Saint artist Kurt Anderson listens to Bible podcasts while he draws. "Every pen stroke of mine," he said, "is me trying to redirect to Christ."