Welcome to Off Her Rocker

WELCOME TO OFF HER ROCKER.

Greetings! Thank you for visiting my new blog OFF HER ROCKER- Misadventures in Madness!!
This is inspired by my artist residency at the former Minnesota State Hospital in Fergus Falls, also known as The Kirkbride Building, thanks to Springboard for the Arts. It’s been an amazing experience so please let me know if you’d like to apply.  This place is fascinating and I can’t wait to post more about it! Yet this blog transcends the Kirkbride Building itself.

On this blog,  I plan exploration of what society calls “mental illness,” asylums and institutionalization, the evolution of mental health, medications, addiction and the spaces in between.

This is not self-help, nor is it entirely objective history, nor is it all about me. I will offer a glimpse inside what life was really like in asylums. I write from my research of history and pop culture; and also from my experiences working in treatment centers and with people who have struggled with mental illness. I have been one of them. I often identify more with patients than staff (side note- I have a story coming out in a British literary journal called Doll Hospital soon.
With the recent deaths of musicians Chris Cornell and Chester from Linkin Park who both struggled with mental illness and addiction, it seems more people than ever are discussing these issues. And yet at the same time, we have only just begun. So often we skim the surface or else we get trapped in a rut of discussing these illnesses from the well-worn perspectives.

We speak of them from black and white dichotomies- “mental illness/ addiction are diseases stemming from our DNA and broken brains that need to be treated with medications” or the other extreme the these things are choices, moral failings, weaknesses. Or alternatively some blame society and claim mental illness is a cultural construction and form of cultural coercion. I want to talk about the shades in between.

From where I sit, sadly silence, shame, and stigma prevail. But as we have seen~ these are insidious things that kill and make the pain of living with them even worse. We’ve come a long way, but but we still have a long way to go.

I want to write about resilience and the power and beauty of darkness and rebirth, what we can learn when we see self-destruction as a lesson instead of demonizing, vilifying, or criminalizing it. We need to move beyond defining ourselves beyond our illnesses, beyond the stigma and shame, and reach instead toward a place of healing.

I’ve now spent hours pouring over the archives about the Kirkbride/ MN State Hospital and trajectory of mental health & asylums at Ottertail County Historical Society. It is fascinating and stirred many contradictory emotions but overall a deep sense of empathy for the patients- since I’ve been hospitalized just like them. The patients, these are my people.

I relate to Jack Keruoac’s famous wrote: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

That is not to totally romanticize or glorify suffering but instead to appreciate and embrace what we have been through, what we grapple with, what we overcome. To embrace what a mental health group calls “dangerous gifts.”

In these explorations, I may at times offer more questions than answers. I neither condemn nor condone psychiatric medications, this is an individual and high personal choice that I respect. Medications have changed health care in complicated ways that people often don’t discuss- both good and bad- life giving and life taking.

Dear readers, my aim here is not to tell you what to think and how to feel. I hope to inform and inspire, to educate and empower.

I am going to talk about some things that are difficult, heavy, and intense; but I will also balance that with levity, dark humor, and some of my stupid jokes. I won’t just talk about straight jackets, but also reveal things like beauty shops on asylums back in the day- because yes that was a thing. I hope that I can at least encourage or challenge people to start thinking of mental health in a new way, to feel more comfortable talking about taboo issues, to own your own story or your family’s story.

It’s time to start dusting off those skeletons in the closet, bringing them to the light where they belong.

If you have a story you’d like to share with me, please feel free to talk to me in person, comment, or fill out the “contact’ form on this site. I will of course always listen and respect your privacy. A big hope for this is to also assure you that you are never alone.

Won’t you join me?

Much love,

Tessa

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