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'If you don’t laugh you cry when you trip over or when you drop another glass': How being diagnosed with MS prompted an inspirational blog
























Barbara Stensland

One evening Barbara Stensland went to bed in her Cardiff home as normal, but woke up the next day unable to talk properly or walk properly. She fell asleep at the first opportunity, thought she would get better but didn’t.

When she took herself off to hospital, the first thought was that she was having a stroke.

It took 10 months for her to get confirmation that she was one of the 100,000 people in the UK with MS.

Barbara’s father died of the condition at the age of 35: “Looking back on it, he had primary progressive MS, and of course there weren’t even any MRI scans back then: not until 1980 and he died in 1978. There was no treatment apart from painkillers – there was nothing they could have done for him.”

When she was being tested for MS, the situation completely took over her life: “They call it Limboland – it’s not just my expression. Because it’s called multiple sclerosis, you’ve got to wait for a further attack. If you have one relapse, it’s called ‘clinically isolated syndrome’, and you can stay that way for the rest of your life, so there’s literally no way of knowing if you’ll ever be diagnosed with MS, until you have another relapse.”

Barbara said: “It’s completely altered everything in my life. I went from being a trusted colleague in work, who was very good at my job – as soon as the potential diagnosis came in to play, a year long systematic bullying campaign took off. It was very well organised, and I was basically bullied out of my job, culminating in me being sacked purely for having MS, and told I was going to live on benefits.”

She describes writing the blog as “the best ever form of therapy." She said: "The first relapse I had affected my speech – it’s often very difficult to make myself understood while I talk to people, but writing blog posts has been great because I can really say what I want to say. When I started to see that other people were responding to my blog, and being helped and inspired by it, that has been worth it more than anything.

“MS has got a very old fashioned image in this country: we automatically assume wheelchairs, walking sticks, beige bathing aids and toilet aids. A lot of people with MS are also affected by that view of MS – oh gosh, that’s my life over. It’s important to grieve – I’m not saying I got diagnosed and thought ‘ooh it’s brilliant’. It took me two years of grieving, working through my blog to get to that point.”

Asked what she is not able to do now which she could before, Barbara said: “Party all night! Walk in high heels, obviously, hence the name of my blog – that died a death two years ago. There’s nothing I can’t do – you just adapt. I can do everything, as long as I think about it first. I can go to town, I can drive my car, maybe not as far as I used to, but actually I do more now with MS than I ever did before. If you can face up to something like MS and the most horrific bullying in work and chemotherapy treatment, you can do anything. This is why I’ve gone on to do something I wanted to do – a Master’s in creative writing.”

Before getting the symptoms of MS, Barbara had long thought of doing some creative writing, but hadn’t got round to it. She said: “I got in touch with an author who was featured in the Observer Review a couple of years ago, who wrote a beautiful article about her MS. We were emailing back and forth and she said my emails were so hysterically funny about MS that I should start a blog. So I did."

“I’ve always had a good sense of humour, but it’s been severely tested. I think I got fed up being fed up. I knew I was going into a dark place with it, thinking that everything had been taken from me because of MS. I knew the only way was up, and the only way of dealing with that was to do so with humour, because it is funny at the end of the day – some of it’s very funny. You’ve got to laugh, because if you don’t laugh you cry when you trip over or when you drop another glass, or when you can’t remember a punch line to a joke. What are you going to do? What’s going to make you feel better? You laugh.

“I guess some people want to be remorselessly serious. And if they’re happy living that way, that’s fantastic. But it’s not something I can imagine – bringing up a teenager in a happy household and with a bonkers cat – is going to work with me. My teenager had a hard time coming to terms with it, but I wanted for his sake to show I could pick myself up, I could go back to uni, I could get a different job. I’d be out there working, coming back, being the same mum he knew, and doing something that to him is extraordinary – writing a book. Which he’s secretly very proud of, even if he won’t tell me.”

Stumbling in Flats by Barbara Stensland is available from Amazon for around £10.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by WALESONLINE
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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