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Archive for January 31st, 2011

Upon reading about the death of Rachel Peavoy from hypothermia in her corporation flat in Dublin, I was filed with dread for the future of those living in poverty in Ireland. When we look to what values a society holds dear, Ghandi’s contention that you can judge a society by how it treats its weakest members seems particularly poignant in light of this young woman’s senseless death.

The fact that this young woman’s death failed to make the news in our national broadcaster speaks volumes about what is important in Ireland. Why is one young woman’s death treated with hourly updates bordering on the macabre while another’s is blithely ignored? While the structural and societal cause of this tragedy will hopefully receive considerable interrogation in the coming weeks, I was particularly motivated to write about it due to the report of her death in the Irish Examiner and the Herald. The closing line in the piece on Rachel’s death was ‘The victim, who had a borderline personality disorder, also suffered from back pain.’ Why had editorial chose to include this piece of information on the young woman given that it has nothing to do with the circumstance of her death?

The individualist understanding of this case will be that Rachel in some way facilitated her own demise, that she was in some way culpable or responsible for freezing to death in her own home due to lack of heat. The insinuation created by the addition of information on Rachel’s mental health is noteworthy on a number of levels.

Firstly, mental health is still, despite efforts, heavily stigmatised in Ireland. Borderline personality is not the defining criteria for anybody’s life, no diagnosis is; it adds nothing to the story. The story is that of a young woman, a mother of two children, who froze to death in substandard accommodation. Her mental health had nothing to do with it. By including this information in the piece it serves to legitimize the treatment of this tenant. Irish media is particularly good at picking up at any perceived psychological shortcomings in those whose stories do not make for easy reading. I have yet to read anything of the psychological health of those who ran our economy into the ground.

Secondly, a diagnosis is just a label, and it is a label that for some facilitates access to services and support that can help. A diagnosis does not define a person; there are many labels that Rachel could have had applied to her life: a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, all of these as important or relevant for the piece as the snide inclusion of her mental health diagnosis. It was a parting kick to the article, to remind readers that all is well in the world as long as ALL are well.

Mental health is not a static entity, it fluctuates, it ebbs and flows, it is a process not an end game; a past difficulty does not denote a flux at the time of her death, she was competent enough to bring her children somewhere warm and safe, but thought of herself as stronger and more capable. When she put the key in her door she was returning home. Who among us does not prefer our own bed? To drop the remark about Rachel’s mental health in the article serves only to widen the gulf between those who do and those who do not have to strive for flow and balance in respect to their mental health.

Rachel died from freezing to death in her flat in Ireland in 2011.

Ann Cronin

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Kelly Valen is the author of The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships, a book she wrote after initially penning a 2007 essay for the New York Times. In both, Valen tackles the idea that some women are their own worst enemies – from sabotaging their own friendships to undermining and criticising each other. Valen surveyed over 3,000 American women about their female friendships and the result formed the basis of her fascinating book. In a recent Irish Times interview, she spoke about the dangers of “mean-girling” and how we should raise our daughters to be respectful of other girls. She lives in Bangkok with her husband and four children.

What’s the first record you ever bought?

Steely Dan’s Aja.

What’s your favourite smell?

Lilacs – reminds me of my grandmother’s house in Minnesota.

Have you ever had a nickname?

Unfortunately, yes: Smelly. (Rhymes with Kelly. Very creative.)

What is your favourite room in your house?

The kitchen. Always.

What are your guilty pleasures?

Enjoying a probably-too-generous pour of fine wine in an appropriately large Riedel glass.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I used to hang out with Prince’s bass guitarist and can be seen in the crowd in the Purple Rain movie. It was all very innocent and fun. Being from Minnesota has its perks.

Who is your closest female friend?

Tie between Mary Kay and Teri, both of whom I mention in my book, The Twisted Sisterhood. Funny, wacky, brilliant and creative women who love me despite my many flaws.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

My right ear has three piercings, two of which filled in decades ago. It was all the rebellion this suburban Midwestern, Catholic girl living in the 80s could muster.

Where would you most like to live?

I dream of splitting time between a cottage in Maine and pied a terre in Paris. Cliché, but true.

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?

John McKenney, 9th grade, in the back of an older sibling’s car. Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust was playing on the radio.

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?

Well, a Brazilian journalist recently asked if in fact it was I who was the “Meanest Girl of All” for writing a book about women (a book that aims to encourage girls and women to behave with more civility). I’m still wondering if something was lost in translation!

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?

My son, Jack, who was born on Christmas day in 1996. Bonus: he was an easy delivery.

What is your favourite word?

Lovely.

Who was your first love?

Can’t tell – the truth would wreak unnecessary havoc.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?

I wish I’d pushed myself harder as an athlete and become an Olympic-caliber downhill skier. Fantasy, of course.

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?

Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. Gives me chills every time and I love to share that sensation with others. Of course, some just find it depressing.

What happens after we die?

It would be nice to know, but I couldn’t deign to say. I can be patient in this instance.

What female historical figure do you admire most?

It’s probably due to my age, but I’m going to go with Madonna. I find it amazing that she was just another Midwestern, middle-class girl with dreams who clawed her way up and accomplished what she did with the skill set she was born with — on her own terms, through sheer will and hard work. She’s a true icon. I also love Antigone — a strong-willed, loyal, principled woman unafraid to stand up to powerful men and the State for what she believed and knew was right.

Sum yourself up in three words: Honest, Impulsive, Irreverent.

And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro? I am anti-bullshit and pro-authenticity — in all contexts!

The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships by Kelly Valen is published by Ballantine Books. Follow Kelly Valen on Twitter: @KellyValen1

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