Category Archives: Blogging

Flat In Flats?

flatAs regular readers will know, I’ve been nominated for an MS Society Award for my blog.

I’m over the moon and chuffed beyond belief, as is The Teenager, who will be my plus-one.

The dress code is ‘smart’.

Hmm. I feel ‘smart’ if my knitted hat for work has been washed the day before (it gets chilly stumbling around building sites, checking on concrete foundations).

A night out in smart clothes involves jeans, boots and a top. A coffee with friends involves jeans, boots and a top. You could say it’s a kind of tragic demi-student uniform.

But, I tried. I thought, ‘ok, this is my opportunity to show I can wear a dress’. I gave it a go. I stood in endless shop dressing rooms, tugging at hems, checking my reflection from twenty-seven different angles. I ordered three different sizes of the same dress off the internet, then sent them all back the next day.

I’ve had to admit, I’m just not one of those amazing women who suits a dress. Apart from the fact that most dresses look lousy with flat shoes, I’m just not … me. No amount of Spanx will convince me otherwise; I look like a sack of turnips.

However, when I slip on my lovely black trousers and black shoes, I feel transformed. Teamed with a beautiful top I bought for my visit to Downing Street (get me), I feel good. Normal, but much better. Confident.

I was discussing this problem with The Teenager yesterday. We went out for lunch, as a well-earned break from his studies. He asked me when I had last worn a dress. ‘Um, my wedding day?’ I replied.

‘Ah’, he said. ‘That was, like, back in the 90’s. Everyone wore dresses, probably, and blokes didn’t have man-buns.’ Impressive reasoning, I thought.

He patted my hand and said, ‘they’re not there to see what you’re wearing, they’re there to see your sad face when you don’t win. So make sure you’ve fixed your lippy.’ He sat back, impressed with his sage advice.

He’s got a point. ‘Comfy’ is creeping in to my lexicon. There’s other ways to push my boundaries and I don’t think dresses are one of them. So I will be monochrome on the day and will check that my lippy is present and correct.

My phone pinged. ‘Um, why are you texting me?’ I asked The Teenager. ‘You’re sitting right across the table?’ ‘Like, d’uh, I know, just wanted to tell you, no matter what happens, you’ll be fine. You’ve got me with you. And can I have your bread?’

The text read, ‘Love you. All good.’

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From Platform 12 To Number 10

Number10Well. Blimey.

What an incredible day I had yesterday.

I’d been invited to mingle with the MS Society’s most influential people and the Prime Minister’s wife at No. 10 Downing Street.


One personal shopper at John Lewis (‘ah, yes, I can see the problem … clearly‘) and a quick visit to the hairdresser (‘hmm, I’ll see what I can do’), and I was on my way to London.

My outfit was in a suit bag, my book-club book dutifully backed – I’m on page 789 out of 1500 and the meeting is looming – and I was as ready as I’d ever be.

I had the fortune to travel with the Chair of the Welsh MS Society Council and she calmed my nerves. We chatted all the way to London and before I knew it, it was time to change into my Outfit. Hair intact (all that hairspray meant it was pretty much bullet-proof), we ended up in the loos at the Paddington Hilton.

I locked myself into tiny cubicle and changed, a supreme feat of MS endurance. Limbs were flailing, balance was pretty dodgy. I emerged 15 minutes later, slipping on my extremely flat shoes and stuffing my jeans and boots into the rucksack I’d borrowed from The Teenager.

Quick make-up touch-up in the dimmed lights (so heaven knows what I looked like in real life), jewellery on, outfit smoothed down and I was ready to go. And what better way to start the evening with a glass of Prosecco. So we did.

Anyway, we checked in my student rucksack at the Left Luggage and hailed a taxi to 10 Downing Street, passing Buckingham Palace (Queen was away on holiday). And then we were there.

We waited in the pen they have outside Downing Street and I made friends with one of the six policemen with machine guns. He was absolutely gorgeous and I regret not leaving my mobile number, but anyway, we made our way through security (me with a sad backward glance at Handsome Machine Gun Man), x-rays and the like and found ourselves standing outside the iconic building.

We handed our mobiles in at the entrance and then, joy of joys, we ascended the staircase featured in ‘Love Actually’. I was in heaven. We made our way to the reception, to be greeted with trays and trays of drinks and canapes. I studiously avoided the canapes – cream top, I knew what would happen – I’d bite into a Hoisin Duck mini-wrap and squirt sauce all over myself and my companions.

I mingled, I squealed with sheer excitement and mingled some more.

I was told that Samantha Cameron had arranged to meet certain people before her speech, so when she entered, there was an itinerary. But somehow, and I’m not sure quite how (honestly), I found myself next to a famous pop singer whose mother has MS, so I shook hands with the Prime Minister’s wife and had a quick chat.

At the end of the meeting, there were wonderful speeches and we truly are in safe hands, all of us with MS. The message is getting out there – MS is being kept in the public eye.

On the way home (Queenie still not in residence), we reflected on our evening. Then we got to Paddington and I reclaimed my baggage, reverted once more into student clothes, bought a huge burrito and caught the train back to Wales.

A wonderful experience. And my hair is still stiff from all that back-combing.

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A Reply To The Critics (Trolls)

trollOne of the downsides to going ‘public’ with my MS blog are the trolls.

I’ve always been reluctant to use my real name; not for some precious reason but simply because my mum has the same name and there’s not many of us Stenslands in the UK. It’s a Norwegian surname (thanks, Dad!).

The major criticism I’ve had is that my blog is facile and ridiculous.

Ok. This October, my blog will be three years old. I don’t know many blogs about MS that have lasted that long. My blog charts my ‘story’ from being sacked for having MS, through diagnosis, through finding a new job and all the emotional ups and downs an MS diagnosis brings.

I have also always refused adverts on my site, despite numerous requests. Fair play to other people who do that, but it’s not for me. I pay my own hosting fees (not a small amount) and I cover all my costs. My blog is pure and simple. And I hope my message reaches those who can take comfort from my own story.

Trolls are nothing new. If they had half a brain they could even be intelligent. I had a particularly nasty one on Twitter a while back. She spewed bile about me for some reason. What she could not have known, and probably wouldn’t have cared about, is that she aimed her attack during a particularly difficult period for me. Well. I hope she’s satisfied.

Anyway, trolls won’t stop me blogging the truth about MS. It’s not pretty, it’s often funny, it’s crap and it’s hysterical.

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Positively Confusing?

RubenesqueI have been fortunate enough to be interviewed recently about my book.

Half-way through, still being recorded, I asked, ‘Gah, am I sounding too positive about MS?’

A conundrum.

Rewind two years and the interviewer would have discovered me flat on the floor, holding up a wine glass, chomping on a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk. And no doubt crying. I was in a dark, shadowy and very different place.

How best to portray life with MS, almost three years after being diagnosed? I don’t want to be labelled a ‘survivor’, ‘a sufferer’ or to be hailed as ‘fighting back, despite all the odds (TM).’ I am just me, who has forged an entirely new and unexpected path through the maze that is MS. I’m still eating far too much chocolate, I’m still fat Rubenesque and I’m now officially over the hill at 41.

Is there such a thing as being positively ok with MS? Hmm. It depends.

If I’m honest, 90% of the time I think I am now used to the vile intruder that is MS. I love my home life, I love my work and I love being in Uni. Life is looking rosy and positive. It’s the other 10% that can be problematic, as anyone living with MS knows.

It’s the relentless fears, the creeping spectre of progression that haunts our darkest moments and I’m not immune to this.

But. In the meantime, as I said to the reporter, I have achieved a lot more since MS than I could ever have dreamed of. Being sacked unceremoniously from work simply for the crime of having MS was merely the start. Being bullied into submission by the very same colleagues, who just before diagnosis treated me with respect, ignited a passion to ‘live well with MS’.

So I am now living a life I love, in spite of MS. MS is with me every step of the way, excuse the pun, and it still continues to trip me up when I least expect it. The dark days are still with me and I doubt they will ever leave, but I am learning to live with them.

The article comes out tomorrow in the national newspaper of Wales. My only fear is the photograph. I am quite possibly the most un-photogenic person ever. The word ‘chubby’ springs to mind, as does ‘Paleo’, meh.

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AmazonI’m so pleased to announce that my book is now published – a compilation of over two years of blog posts, edited and proofed down into one handy format. I’ve had an amazing amount of help along the way, not least from:

If Bridget Jones had MS, this would be her diary.‘ – The MS Society.

‘The value of the Stumbling in Flats blog … it opens so many avenues of support and understanding, not only to the sufferer, but to the family, the friends … so that they will understand what it’s like to walk through treacle.’ – Janis H. Winehouse.

Social media is an increasingly important way for people affected by MS to get support, information and inspiration. Barbara’s writing offers all of this plus a winning sense of humour – a vital ingredient in living well with MS.‘ – The MS Trust.

A very special thank you to Janis Winehouse who kindly wrote the foreword and to Paul Eustice, a supremely patient publisher who held my hand through the entire process (our hundreds of emails and phone calls bear testament to this).

The project has taken months of selecting, editing and proofing, and re-reading my entire blog from start to finish over fifty times has been a unique form of therapy. I’ve also re-read every single comment from you guys, on the blog and on Twitter,  and am so grateful for all your support throughout the good times and especially the bad. You’ve been with me every step of the way.

With that in mind, the book is in memory of the one person who couldn’t be there, my dad:


My book is now available to buy in any country in which there is an Amazon – here’s the quick links for UK and America:

Amazon UK 

Amazon USA

So, a huge thank you to everyone who has helped shape my experience of coming to terms with MS. Here’s to the next two years!

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