(Un)sustainability Part II

Before we get to Part II of Unsustainability, I suggest that you to this blog’s home page and check out Part I of this series. I promise its worth your time.

Here’s a quick recap: We all know the healing powers of nutrition, fresh air, sunlight. Despite this knowledge, treatment centers continue to serve highly processed foods with high fat content.

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A model for the healing power of nutrition and farming, the former Fergus Falls State Hospital (FFSH/ MN Asylum) operated a self-sustaining farm from 1891 to 1969.  But in the 1950s, the treatment philosophy began to shift from moral treatment’s focus on rehabilitation to medication.

 

Despite the many benefits of the farm, it closed in 1969. According to the Otter Tail Record, closing the farm “evoked only gloomy nostalgia and little opposition from the community,” because of cataclysmic shifts in both treatment philosophy and economic trends in the 1960s. Fewer patients were staying at the hospital full time, in part due to the increasing use of shock therapy and tranquilizer medications.

Hm74AgF7Rnl55ytcKbjT4zSBo1_500        This ad for a tranquilizer captures the power of tranquilizers: “Patients hospitalized for many years…are now at home.”  They made successful recovery and treatment a reality for people who may have otherwise been lifelong patients. People with mental illnesses could lead could live fuller, more independent lives  in the community than in the hospital (although this is a post for another day).

The hospital had around 2000 patients in the 1930s, then dipped down to less than 1000 patients in the 1960s. This was the first time that the hospital had seen a decline in its entire history.   Existing patients were strained with a higher work load so the hospital had to hire people just to help keep up with the farm.

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Postcard-1914-Photograph-Collection-MNHS.org_    Another reason the farm closed was because of urbanization, the communal, aggregate lifestyle was becoming a whimsical relic of the past. Farms were no longer a way of life for families, they were now growing to competitive factory operations.

Gone was the “off the vine” mentality. Instead of plucking vegetables from the family’s sunny garden, people picked packaged foods off grocery store shelves under the blinding of fluorescent lights.

People were seeking more than just food and shelter; they wanted opportunities, education, and leisure. Many saw felt that farm work was drudgery and hospital staff agreed farm work  no longer therapy.

But the shift towards urbanization and preference for packaged foods, for convenience and ease also parallels people’s desire for a quick fix for mental health, for taking shortcuts and losing some humanity in the process.

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A few years after I graduated from my residential treatment program, I ran into the cook Jamie at a gas station at 4 am. As I looked at the glossy hot dogs spinning in the glass case and the basket of rubbery apples, Jamie joked, “The food we serve here is more real than at that hospital.”

I didn’t remember the counselor’s names, group member’s names, other worker’s names. I remembered Jamie’s name. With a short bleach-blond hair, Jamie barely saw over the counter. She bought all of her clothes in the little boy’s section and dressed her three Chihuahuas in doll clothes and changed their diapers and cooked them gourmet dog food. I had been warned to get on her good side.

Before I left, I went to go say goodbye to Jamie. She was perched atop a tower of frozen foods, using them like a barstool, eating a salad over the counter. “Minnie, you scared the shit out of me,” she said.”I’m not supposed to bring my own lunch but I sure as hell won’t eat their food. I have to eat real food.”

      All of us searching and clinging to what’s real, doing the best we can.

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IMG_6285 Fires also led to the demise of the FFSH farms, another suiting metaphors woven right into history.  The horse barn was totally burned to the ground in 1915.  Two patients committed arson in 1968. But the most striking fire to me was in 1936, when Faulty wiring destroyed a large cow barn. The barn was “so badly gutted it is worthless and will have to be torn down.”

Our current food system in mental health facilities and rehabs are faulty and flawed.  We need nutrition groups and registered dieticians to educate patients about eating in recovery. We need to synchronize the food that we serve at these facilities with these recommendations rather than perpetuating toxic food environments. The current farm-to-table movement and increasing accessibility of organic foods gives me hope, that perhaps somewhere a state-run facility is harvesting their own food.

Up next: A special Halloween edition of Off-Her-Rocker about asylums as haunted houses.

Resources

Some folks requested that I post my resources, so here we go! I obtained many of these resources from Ottertail County Historical Society archives and sincerely thank the wonderful archivests who helped me begin this process. I arranged the resources here from the ones that I used the most to the least and it’s probably not proper APA but oh well, I will delve into this further as I do my thesis and meh, it’s a blog eh?

Leonard, Benjamin A. “The State Hospital Farm: A Model for the Future, Discontinued in the Past,” Otter Tail Record. 1998.

Borgen, Alvi. “Farm Tasks Provide Patient Therapy,” from The Fergus Falls Daily Journal, 1966.

Borgin, Alvi. “Institutional Farm Taking on New Role,” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, 1966.

Editorial. “Fire Distroys Large Cow Barn on State Hospital Farm.” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, 1940.

Photo credits: Top 3- MN Historical Society

Pill photo- Artist Unknown, Tumblr.

Last photo of area near former farm at FFSH: By me.

Off Their Nut: Reflecting on the Third MN Hospital for the Insane

Preface: Thank you for your patience in waiting for this new blog! I have been swamped with moving, starting grad school, and an unexpected trip back to Bismarck for a funeral.I plan to typically update more often. 

I am split open like the tree outside my window. Poor miss tree was struck by lightening in a recent storm. She looks so vulnerable, cut open like that without her bark to protect her. Raw. The tree equivalent of scars, bruises. I feel for her. And yet- she also looks so beautiful, so unique.

cropped-20525331_1406876776063929_2198710542886899372_n.jpgSurely that tree knew the storm was coming, but there wasn’t a damn thing that she could do about it. I ran into the proverbial storm asking the lightening to strike me.This is where this metaphor ends.

 The storm was the asylum, its dark history, and madness itself.  I knew that I needed to chase this storm so that I might understand our past, the past of us mad ones. So that I might draw my version of the map and a compass. So I stepped dead center in the swirling eye of this storm when I decided to do this artist residency at the former MN insane asylum. When I arrived, the hairs on my arm stood at attention.

It is 85 degrees, but I feel a surge of cold. I feel spirits move through me. Not ghosts but the electricity and energy of all the people who were here before me.

In 1886, The Moorhead News wrote that Fergus Falls was preparing for “a big immigration of people who are ‘off their nut.'”  “Minnesota’s Third State Hospital for the Insane” in Fergus Falls.  Back in those days, the hospitals were usually referred to as asylums and patients were called inmates. Addiction was called intemperance; depression was called melancholia; Alzheimer’s Disease was senility.

The hospital was designed in “The Kirkbride Architectural Style” by a Minneapolis architect named Warren Dunnell.  Dr. Kirkbride was the founder of the American Psychiatric Association known as a pioneer and visionary for creating more humane mental healthcare. Kirkbride architecture was based upon the doctor’s vision and prescription for healing patients. Large windows and towers to provide patients with abundant natural light. Giant day rooms in each wing for socialization. Plenty of green outdoor space and gazebos so patients could get fresh air.

In addition to revolutionizing construction of asylums, Kirkbride also was one of the first to classify insanity as a disease and wanted it to be treated as such, discouraging restraints like straight jackets.

Original cost in 1890: One million. Upon completion, the hospital would be the length of five football fields on 65 acres. They originally were self-sustaining, with gardens and a farm. At it’s peak, the cows produced 3,000 pounds of milk per day (more to come on that later).

tumblr_lncop9R4BC1qd4993o1_400.jpgFirst documented reasons for hospitalization to FF Hospital: “epilepsy, intemperance, injury to head, disappointment in love, and overwork.” One patient speculated in 1910 that he was committed because of his “long hair” and “the way he pondered.”

As I wander the grounds, I wonder what it would have been like to be a patient here. There are signs of decay, rubble and ruin.  I cannot go inside the buildings because of mold and other old stuff.  I feel the old spirits moving through me as I unpack in my apartment for the week which was most recently a residential drug and alcohol treatment branch of the hospital.

Deja vu? It feels eerily like other centers where I have stayed. I keep expecting a staff person to bust in the door to shine a flashlight on my face at night for a bed check, to rifle through the drawers and search under the mattress to search for contraband, to IMG_6400flick the lights up at 7 and tell me it’s time to stand in line to get my meds or blow in a tube for a breathalyzer or pee into a cup. Every time I walk around the grounds, I notice something different. A door spray painted: “HELP ME.”

But it would be insulting to immediately associate this with a place of ruin and collapse because we have to remember too that this is a place where people came to heal.  Many amazing doctors, nurses, groundskeepers, social workers, and other staff devoted their lives to making patients feel safe, accepted, cared for, to help them get better. My friend speaks proudly of her mom who helped people in the acute unit and transition to the community. Another friend says that residential drug and alcohol treatment here “changed her life” when she was a teenager.

The grounds are green and lush. Several of the former nurse’s quarters/ treatment buildings have been remodeled into residential apartments that preserve the historic nature of the grounds while adding modern touches. Wild flowers grow out of cracks in the cement. Fergus Falls community members are devoted to preserving the hospital and Hinge Arts has been an amazing use of the historic space.

Signs of healing and holding on are there when we look hard enough, when we are willing to redefine what those terms mean, and to see beauty in rubble.

Works Cited:

  • Historical Research thanks to Ottertail County Historical Society and Fergus Falls Daily Journal
  • Header image of Postcard: MNHS.org
  • Anonymous Portrait of a female psychiatric patient, “Melancholia” 1875-1885 (ca) via luminous-lint.blogspot.com
  • “HELP ME” Image courtesy Tessa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fergus Falls Daily Journal Profile

Fergus Falls Daily Journal features a profile today about me and another Hinge Artist Sharon Mansur.

It was interesting being interviewed for a newspaper since I am usually the one asking the questions! The writer did a nice job. “Torgeson had an open suitcase set up in the corner of Springboard for the Arts. It included various items from her times spent in treatment. From pill bottles to cards written by family and friends, the suitcase contained insights into her life and also her writing… This residency is Torgeson’s first and she came about it in a special way.”

What Not to Wear: Asylum Edition

“You’re gonna have to put these on now, sorry this is the smallest size we have for now. When you get upstairs, we’ll check if they have any smaller sizes.”

I had surrendered. It was time to trade my street clothing and along with it my freedom and dignity for the obligatory bright yellow uniform.

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No, I was not in jail. I was voluntarily checking into a psychiatric hospital/ detox center. Yet the obligatory psych patient uniform bore a striking resemblance to inmate’s jumpsuits.

“You know, yellow really isn’t a flattering shade for my pale skin tone, I look better in blues and pastels, don’t you think? This color sorta washes me out,” I said.

I know this because my friend who sat with me through the whole excruciating process, verified it, along with the erratic notes that I kept on the hospital’s stationary.  Yes. The hospital has stationary. And yes, I am the kind of person who writes shit down. This was the first time that this happened, but it wouldn’t be the last.

The nurse wasn’t amused by the jokes of a mental patient. She shoved my street clothes into a sturdy white bag that said, “PATIENT BELONGINGS.”

It was curious as to why I had to wear an outfit that resembled a prison jumpsuit for voluntarily checking into get help. I was just told it was “policy.”

Although it may seem vain or vapid to begin the series of Off Her Rocker blogs with fashion, I thought it would be an interesting way to examine the ways in which mental health care has in some ways, not evolved and even regressed.

In 1895, The Fergus Falls Daily Journal reported that the administration at the MN Asylum, “discouraged patients from dressing alike, thereby distinguishing them from prison convicts.”  (Via archives obtained at Ottertail County Historical Society).

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Photo via CBS rare photos from mental hospitals late 1890s.

Let that sink in for a minute. 125 years ago, “mental patients” were distinctly being encouraged to wear their own unique clothing because it would help them feel more like themselves and not be stereotyped.

After all, clothing is a valuable way of self-expression and identification. Plus, my mom is after all a fashion consultant so it seemed fitting. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I wanted to make lots of bad puns to ease or way into the topic of mental illness.

Although they were as tattered and worn as I felt, I remember feeling shiny and relieved when I got to change into my skinny jeans and band t-shirt. They were mine and I didn’t need a rubber band to hold them up like I did with the yellow ensemble. I was happy too to trade the slipper socks with my converse all stars even though they too were sans shoelaces which were considered contraband.

What not to wear: psych ward edition courtesy hospital pamphlet: drawstrings, belts, shoelaces, jewelry.

Being that I was away from home and going through an effing breakdown, I thought I could be at least comfortable and dare I say fashionable, while doing it.

But for real, even back in the late 1890s and early 1900s, visionaries realized that taking care of one’s appearance, self-expression, and learning to sew one’s own clothes could be a valuable way for improving mental health. 

A hospital administrator’s wife even started a sewing circle and a sewing room was opened in the early 1900s. Although they were allowed and encouraged to wear their own clothing from home, many of the patients even sewed their own clothing and helped sew for patients who had  brought little clothing from home. Patients who tore or ripped their clothing on purpose had to wear clothing of heavy denim, only for practical reasons.

I’d rock a Canadian Tuxedo any day over yellow scrubs.

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Beauty parlor in Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane, circa 1926. Photo courtesy Ottertail Historical Society Archives

In fact, they even opened a beauty parlor at the Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane in 1926 that offered hair styling, manicures, and facials. Mrs. Blanche L. La Du who was the only woman member of the State Board of Control for Insane Asylums, said, “Next to occupational therapy we believe this experiment in which personal hygiene is our most successful means of restoring mental health to our women patients at Fergus Falls.. .Any normal woman experiences a pleasant mental reaction from a visit to the beauty shop: in this monotonous life on an institution, the reaction is all the stronger.”

In an article about “Beauty Culture at the Hospital,” the Fergus Falls Daily Journal reports that the beauty salon took a while to catch on because patients had not been used to such luxuries and had their “vanity destroyed through misfortune.” A trained “beauty culturist” was in charge of the parlor and even trained patients in how to be beauty assistants.

I realize the language and stereotypes for women are antiquated. Mrs. La Du’s evaluation of women’s mental health based on adherence to certain beauty ideals seem very outdated and kitschy now, but I think considering this was over 100 years ago she had her compass pointed the right direction.

It is far different from when a male psychiatrist asked me why my nail polish was chipped in a psych eval or when another (who luckily I never had the pleasure of having) asked some of my fellow female patients, “You’re a pretty girl- why do you drink?”

It is of my professional opinion that if this doctor was so damned concerned with our appearances, he should have opened a damned beauty salon on the psych ward just like Mrs. La Du. After all- Missy Elliot said,  “If you a fly gal, get your nails done. Get a pedicure. Get your hair did.”  And you can bet we’re fly gals who’d rather have our nails done and sew our own clothes than wear yellow scrubs and not be allowed make-up.

Coming up next: Burning straight jackets, how the MN hospital for the insane was like a commune, how accurate are movie’s depictions of insane asylums & MORE.