(Un) Sustainability

The Fergus Falls State Hospital (FFSH) ran a glorified commune. They were committed to sustainability long before the hippies of yore and the farm-to-table free-range folks of today.

Far out, man! At its surface, this may seem to be a tale of food and farms, but it transcends simple definition.

By exposing how farming and commitment to nutiritious food revolutionized care for people with mental health issues and addictions, sadly I am also exposing how far we have regressed through research and my own experience choking back over cooked chicken patties and brown lettuce in rehab/ detox/ hospital.

The hippies took the word or people’s notions of commune, stripped it naked, dunked it in tye-dye instead of a bath tub, put a joint in its mouth, and sent it off to an orgy.  But at its core, a commune is the simple embodiment of cooperation, cohesion, environmentalism.

 

Slaughter house

FFSH Farm Circa 1900 Courtesy Ottertail Co. Historical Society

The hospital was self-sustaining, as both patients and staff raised food and livestock on the grounds for nearly a century from 1891 to 1961.

At the FFSH, nearly every able-bodied and willing patient at the hospital was involved with some part of agricultural production as it was part of their therapy and recovery process. Farming was familiar to many patients and allowed them a chance to utilize their skills, build confidence, and break-up the monotony of daily life. Healthy living, nutrition, plenty of sunlight and outdoor activity, and work were considered an essential part of mental health treatment de jour of the era, moral treatment.

Things usually change for the better, right? I wish. It might be hard to explain the appeal of a hard day of farm labor..

8f52d-20689882_1414169282001345_6768460439100534367_o

FFSH Today. Photo Credit, Tessa

For someone in captivity like a prisoner or psych patient, the outdoors and adding purposeful work to an otherwise monotonous day is currency of its own. It’s the closest thing to freedom you have. Listening to the crunch as you walk over a pile of leaves or sink your teeth into the flesh of an apple. The suns rays like an embrace.

When I was in different treatment settings, our time outdoors was often limited and heavily restricted. In one place, we only got to go outside for a half an hour walk once per day. Imagine that for four weeks. We ate highly-processed foods with high fat and sugar contents because it is cheap and easily purchased in bulk. Insurance companies claim there is a lack of data about “efficacy of nutrition interventions in addiction recovery.”

 

_82801580_3293210

Always wear your bonnet when milking a cow folks. Photo credit-BBC

Over 100 years ago, the FFSH had grew over 20 varieties of vegetables and traditional grains, had apple and plum orchards, and canned 5,000 gallons of tomatoes and 60 gallons of catsup per year. Greenhouses and root cellars helped residents keep fresh produce for even the harsh Midwest winters. The first FFSH superintendent Dr. Alonso Williamson believed milk to be a great cure-all and prescribed it in large quantities so they had 300 cows who produced over 3,300 pounds of milk per day. Residents were involved in meal preparation and fresh pies were made daily.

Typing this and I can taste the sweet tang of homemade apple pie with its flaky melt-in-your mouth crust and decadent filling. Where I went to treatment, I befriended a cook named Jamie who hid round tins of chocolate silk pie in the industrial deep freezer so she could sneak me extra pieces and also gave me the pieces of pizza with the most pepperoni. “I know it’s not the best, but clearly its better than what you were eating out there, Minnie.” The cook called me Minnie Mouse, she never knew my name, but she always made sure I was fed and wanted me to put on at least 15 pounds.

Unknown-1

Typical rehab food. Like Orange is the New Black.

Standard detox/rehab menu: coffee, pizza, taco-in-a bag of chips, fried chicken, ham sandwiches, casserole, bagles, coffee, wilted lettuce, tasteless apples, pie.

 

 

 

Unknown

Rich people rehab, Think Celeb Rehab.  Photo credit: Cliffsides.

Meanwhile, fancy pants rehabs offer menus with nutritious locally-sourced foods that are recommended by registered dieticians and physicians. Fresh vegetables, fish, and whole grains. “No expenses are spared when it comes to food service: all meals are organic, locally sourced and prepared by a team of expert chefs,” boasts a review of the luxury rehab center Cliffside with rooms offering ocean views to boot.

All rehabs and hospitals should be focusing on nutrition, not just the ones that are for the rich and famous. Typically, patients’  bodies are often malnourished and ravaged by years of drug/ alcohol use, lack of appetite or overeating due to depression or side effects from psych meds, anorexia, bulimia. Quality food helps heal the brain.  Specifically nutrition rich foods and regular meals and snacks keep blood sugar levels regulated, which is vital for stable mood, concentration, and energy levels.

My doctor told me sugar was just like another drug, which was an anology that always bothered me as seemed to minimize the severity of addiction.

I know that sugar affects the same neurotransmitter dopamine (which controls the brain’s pleasure and reward center) as drugs and alcohol, I never heard of somebody losing a job, a family, friends, all their money and life for sugar.

When I scoffed, my doctor said, “Ask yourself why do you want it so bad, note your mood before, directly after you eat it, and 30 minutes later.” My hands were shaking with anticipation and salivating, I went to the gas station after the appointment and immediately devoured a bag of Red Vines.

Ah sugar. I felt a rush then the predictable crash I had come to know so well. It didn’t offer the oblivion of substances, but I still found myself shortly craving my next (sugar) fix.

5ede053c2476cc93273010fd95e777a2--asylum-halloween-halloween-ideas

Part II details the demise of the FFSH farm and nationwide decline of focus on nutrition and wellness in mental health treatment, medications and corporate/ factory farm impact on mental health, and the recent revival of the nutrition and food as medicine movement.  Preliminary sources were cited here, extensive list to come.

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.

category-uniforms_1

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).

20689844_1416011235150483_7339173117355517429_o

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.

20729120_1416011231817150_6915482624258649781_o

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.