International Women’s Day

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Today I’m standing for women – and, in particular, actress Selma Blair

Until very recently, there has never been a celebrity who has shown us what it is truly like to have multiple sclerosis – warts and all. In the past, talk-show host Montel Williams and reality show star Jack Osbourne have disclosed they have the disease, but the image they show to the world has been carefully curated.

Then along came Selma Blair.

Last October, the Hollywood actress announced she had been diagnosed with the disease when she posted on her Instagram account: “I have MS and I am OK… I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken gps.”

Next she made her first public appearance at the Oscars party – Hollywood’s biggest night of the year – walking the red carpet while clutching a customised cane. Then last week the 46-year-old actress went even further by giving her first television interview.

To me it was so riveting and powerful – not because Blair was so candid about the disease – but because she was in the midst of a relapse and not afraid to show it. Her voice was shaky (thanks to the MS symptom of spasmodic dysphonia (https://www.verywellhealth.com/dysphonia-and-ms-2440867), and she needed a cane to walk. But by being so open, she was showing millions of viewers that the MS community – and others with disabling conditions – should not be seen as invisible.

Blair admits it was not an easy choice to come forward. “I was a little scared of talking [in this Good Morning America interview,] and even my neurologist said no, this will bring a lot of awareness because no one has the energy to talk when they’re in a flare-up.”

The actress, who has starred in Hollywood blockbuster’s for more than two decades, also wants to use her public platform to urge more people to speak candidly about their medical issues, so they can received appropriate care as soon as possible.

Blair said the diagnosis of MS came as a relief after years of puzzling symptoms – fatigue, numbness, pain – that often were dismissed by doctors. “With my previous doctor, I put on a good face, because he was a man. We had a joking relationship. I wanted him to think I was doing well, even though I would say, ‘I’m beyond tired.… I can’t stay awake.’ I wish he would’ve taken me more seriously,” the Cruel Intentions star says.

The actor now wants to use her public platform to urge more people to speak candidly about their medical issues, so they can receive appropriate care as soon as possible.

By Rachel Horne

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Rachel Horne

12 comments

  • “I put on a good face, because he was a man.”

    I don’t understand that. It just depends on the person, doesn’t it? As a woman, I’ve had both female and male medics I could/could not talk frankly to.

  • I completely agree with you Rachel, I respect Selma for presenting herself for public scrutiny during a relapse.
    Since my diagnosis three years ago I’ve become increasingly angry and frustrated at the ‘sanitisation’ of MS in the way it is always presented.
    (Sanitised definition: make (something) more palatable by removing elements that are likely to be unacceptable or controversial)
    I wanted to see what context the media presentation of Selma interview was. I can quote one UK newspaper as saying ‘MS is incurable but it’s symptoms can be managed with medication’ and that was it!
    It makes me want to shout from the rooftops about facts such as MS being the leading cause of disability in young adults, second only to traumatic injury. That numbers diagnosed are on the increase etc, etc.
    I’ve been left feeling that if Selma has made the slightest impression then that’s great, but that there’s a hell of a way to go!

    With regards to ‘he was a man’ I wonder if that isn’t about the need of many a modern woman of wanting to appear strong, capable, self-sufficient, and not vulnerable to their hormones etc. I recall all those times family and friends would tease me due to my low energy: ‘lightweight’ and ‘dormouse’ etc. This is why I didn’t tell a soul I was sleeping in the afternoons after going part-time at work and why, when interacting with others, I would also aim to present as firing on all four cylinders. I’d guess there are many others who relate to Selma’s relief at a diagnosis – I know I felt the same!

    I do hope the MS community benefits from this and any future interviews with Selma.

    • Very good points – and I agree with pretty much all you have said. I, too, have become increasingly frustrated with the “sanitised” MS approach. And yes, I do think there is an element of trying to appear fine in front of doctors etc and “not letting the side down”. I am doing less of that these days – as I am getting older. Maybe I am just getting grumpier!

  • How is this related to Women’s Day? Such an interview from a man would have been equally courageous, possibly even more courageous.

    • I would be thrilled if a man with MS would do this type of interview – honest. The more attention MS gets the better. As Fi points out, MS is the leading cause of traumatic injury in young people.
      On the flip side, women are getting diagnosed with MS much more often then men these days [Ahlgren et al. 2011; Compston and Coles, 2002; Orton et al. 2010; Wallin et al. 2012] – with the MS Society suggesting a female to male ratio as high as three to four women with MS against one man. Scientists don’t know why. So it would make sense that statistically a woman would be more likely to come forward to talk honestly about her MS.

  • The late Annette Funicello was an advocate of MS awareness. She was interviewed during the course of her illness. Also, the actress Teri Garr talked publicly about her MS as a guest on the Letterman Show back in the ‘90s. She is still an advocate in her advanced stage of MS.

  • Selma, run don’t walk to Dr. Burt in Chicago or Dr. Ruiz in Puebla Mexico for Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant to stop this very tenacious desease. I’m a 30-year veteran of the search for a cure. Treating MS is worth billions of dollars, so we will continue to get questionable treatments but no cure. HSCT works! But, it has no big-ticket component that will produce huge monetary rewards, so it sits. Sits while we are encouraged to “Live our best life,” and manage our increasing number of varied symptoms with the inadequate meds on the market. And, we should do this right after the brain fog and fatigue lifts! 😃

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