She’s starred in mainstream cult classic films such as Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde, but Hollywood actress, Selma Blair, has found herself in a new role…Multiple Sclerosis patient.
The 46-year old actress was diagnosed with MS in August 2018, after battling undiagnosed symptoms since 2011 following the birth of her son, Arthur. Blair spent years grappling with periods of confusing symptoms – extreme fatigue, vertigo, trouble walking, neck pain and sudden loss of feeling in her leg. Anxiety and depression ensued. Her ailments were on-again, off-again, but debilitating enough so that she could only work in Los Angeles.
Doctors blamed her symptoms on depression, hormones, or simply an actress being “dramatic,” until finally her friend and fellow actress, Elizabeth Berkley, encouraged her to see her brother Jason Berkley, D.O., a neurologist in Los Angeles.
“I have had symptoms for years, but was never taken seriously until I fell down in front of Jason Berkley trying to sort out what I thought was a pinched nerve,” says Blair.
Berkley demanded an MRI immediately, which revealed 20 different MS-related lesions on her brain. Blair recalled actually feeling a sense of calm.
“When I got the diagnosis, I cried with some relief,” she told Good Morning, America. “Like, ‘Oh, good, I’ll be able to do something.’”
WHAT IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS)?
An estimated 400,000 Americans are afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis, an incurable and progressive autoimmune disease that prevents the central nervous system’s ability to communicate with the rest of the body. The most common symptom of MS is fatigue, as well as numbness or tingling, difficulty walking, weakness, feelings of stiffness, vision problems, balance issues, dizziness, pain, emotional changes, and depression.
As with many chronic illnesses, MS has periods of flare-ups or sudden worsening of symptoms or emergence of new ones, and no two cases are the same.
BLAIR’S DIAGNOSIS & TREATMENT PLAN
Though diagnosed in August 2018, she went public with the news a few months later.
“I have #multiplesclerosis,” she revealed on Instagram. “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. But we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely, but I will do my best.”
Blair suffers from spasmodic dysphonia, which causes spasms in the larynx, or voice box, brought on by MS, and previously reacted poorly to high-dose glucocorticoid treatment. She has difficulty controlling her movements and is now utilizing a cane. Blair admits that her vision isn’t great, and “dressing is a sh*t show.” Her body emits strange noises—grunts, screams—and because she can no longer raise her arms to brush her hair, she chopped it into a chic bob and dyed it blond.
Under the care of doctor Saud Sadiq, director and chief research scientist of the Tisch MS Research Center of New York, Blair recently began a monthly intravenous-drug therapy, geared at calming her symptoms. “I’m very optimistic,” he says. “I think she’ll be a different person in a year.”
Sadiq applauds Blair’s courage in her very public openness about her MS diagnosis. “I have patients with MS who are surgeons, actors, a commercial airline pilot, sports figures, successful lawyers—they don’t want anyone to know about their illness because they feel it could hurt their career. Her decision to speak out also brings awareness and increases research funding for the disease when people can see somebody affected in the way that she is.”
WALKING THE RED CARPET & ADAPTING HER STYLE
At the 2019 Academy Awards in February, Blair made her first red carpet appearance at the Vanity Fair Party since revealing her diagnosis. The actress wow-ed paparazzi arriving in a flowy, couture gown, complete with a customized cane, which complemented her ensemble perfectly.
“You want to still be part of the living, not a shuffling person people get out of the way for because they’re queasy,” she told Vanity Fair. “A cane, I think, can be a great fashion accessory.”
As evidenced by her stunning look at the Oscars, Blair has always exhibited a unique sense of style, serving as the muse for designers such as Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs. Used to public appearances on a grand stage, one of the few complaints Blair has about her MS diagnosis is a lack of stylish clothing easily accessible for people with disabilities.
Blair says, “I would like to partner with someone like Christian Siriano on a line for everyone—not just people who necessarily need adaptive clothing, but for those who want comfort, too. It can still be chic. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice style.”
SHINING A SPOTLIGHT ON MS & OTHER DISABILITIES
Blair has embraced positivity about her diagnosis and has used her voice and platform, particularly taking to Instagram, to candidly share her story.
“There’s a need for honesty about being disabled from someone recognizable.”
She also wants to ensure other women aren’t making the same mistakes she did when facing medical treatment.
She says, “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.”
Blair hopes that her openness “demystifies disabilities” and can inspire others to change the way the world views disabled people.
“There’s no tragedy for me,” she says. “I’m happy, and if I can help anyone be more comfortable in their skin, it’s more than I’ve ever done before.”
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