Barbara Stensland says being a 'sandwich carer' and having multiple sclerosis has made her re-evaluate what it means to be a woman
Posted on: Tue 08-Mar-16 10:28:57
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Two months ago, I suddenly became a 'sandwich carer': I'm 42, mother to a 16-year-old son and looking after my mum who is quite seriously ill. I also have multiple sclerosis.
I'm not alone – there are 6.5 million carers in the UK and 390,000 of them are, like me, disabled.
Since my diagnosis four years ago, my life has radically changed. I was sacked as a result of my illness, but the settlement from my workplace discrimination case meant I could take my son on a trip-of-a-lifetime to New York. I also now have my dream job.
I have plunged headlong into an MA in Creative Writing, started a blog, published a book and learned how to walk with a modicum of sophistication in flat shoes (heels and MS being a lethal combination).
I am still a strong, independent, strident female. People see me, not my illness. MS has given me the motivation to live the life I want to live.
MS made me re-evaluate what it meant to be a woman. As a divorced single mother with a degenerative illness, I'm hardly catch of the day on the dating scene. It knocked my confidence. No longer could I strut into a bar with my girlfriends for a spontaneous night out. If I did go out, the planning began way in advance and when I shuffled into the bar I immediately eyed up the closest comfy chair and sent friends on a recce for the nearest loo. Hardly glamorous.
To cap it all, I was contacted by a television production company after they saw my blog. My hopes were raised – perhaps the documentary would be 'Living well with MS' or 'I'm still me, despite MS'. I was utterly mortified to be told the programme I had been carefully selected to appear in was called 'Too ugly for love'.
I picked myself up after a quiet pity party for one. How could I regain my femininity? My essence of 'woman-ness'?
I realised I had been looking outward, in all the wrong places. I am still a strong, independent, strident female. People see me, not my illness. MS has given me the motivation to live the life I want to live. I am finally coming into my own.
So now, I have more responsibility with my mum. I can handle it. I love her deeply and will move mountains to ensure she has the best care possible. She shaped the woman I grew in to and I love her for that.
By Barbara Stensland
International Women's Day: Portraits of women in 2016
In the first of two posts on womanhood, Samara Linton says she felt invisible until she surrounded herself with the voices of other black women
Posted on: Tue 08-Mar-16 10:28:57
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Fifteen years ago, I lived in a world where black women were all around me. They dominated managerial positions, led churches and eventually would lead the country. Fifteen years ago, I moved from Jamaica to England, and to a world where black women are invisible.
In this world, they wash away our melanin and straighten our curls in films. Black Hermiones are an outrage, but Persian princes don't need to be Persian.
This world sheds a tear more readily for a lion gunned down in a safari, than a black twelve year old gunned down on his doorstep. News reports treat white suspects better than black victims. Strangers demand to know where we are from and insist that we should return there.
This world constantly reminds of us of our inadequacy. Prime Ministers inform us that we are "more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university" and "more likely to be sentenced to custody for a crime" than if we are white. I moved to a world which mislabels equality as diversity, feminism as political correctness, and protests as entitlement. In this world, teachers ask little black girls to read the 'ethnic' poem in the Anthology, while expecting us to sit silent as we learn of how white men freed us from slavery.
I have learnt what schools, the media or history books would never teach me. That black girls are wonderful. While this world may not always see us, we have always been here, learning and teaching each other how to thrive.
Still, there were always voices that rang louder, gentler and more true. The voice of my father who celebrated his clever little girl and affirmed her with his words. The voice of my mother who always saw a future worth believing, and taught me how fight to get there. The voice of my sister who was always watching, giving me a reason to keep moving. It was their voices that deafened out the negativity, that led me to challenge the way the world wanted me to see myself.
Their voices led me to create a world of mirrors, of people who looked like me, who experienced the world like me. I stuck up photos of women with melanin like me, listened to women with noses, lips and voices like me. I wanted to feel at home. I bought books and watched documentaries. I followed news stories and dug out commentaries that countered their narratives. And over the years, I have learnt what schools, the media or history books would never teach me. That black girls are wonderful.
While this world may not always see us, we have always been here, learning and teaching each other how to thrive.
One day I may have a daughter. She will know the strength that is birthed from unity, the pride from resilience, and the hope from faith. And maybe my little black girl will live to see this world be teased from the hands of white men and shared with those around her. And one day, my little black girl may reverse the journey I made. She may cross the Atlantic ocean and dance as she celebrates the glorious glow of her skin.
By Samara Linton