The truth about Selma Blair's MS struggle

When Selma Blair stepped out on the red carpet at the Vanity Fair Oscar party with a cane in her hand, she took her multiple sclerosis diagnosis public. As an actress, Blair is used to being front of the camera, and she's been opening up about what life with a chronic illness and disability is really like. While her stunning Oscars appearance was certainly momentous for the disabled community, her outspoken and honest approach to discussing illness is continually enlightening, bringing some much-needed awareness to an often misunderstood condition.

According to the MS Society, "more than 2.3 million people" around the world have multiple sclerosis, with the disease affecting "two to three times as many women as men." Other celebrities known to be living with the condition include Jack Osbourne and Jamie-Lynn Sigler. MS is a disease of the nervous system, whereby the body attacks itself, attempting to damage a person's nerves and the fatty coating (myelin) which protects them. Once damaged, lesions form, potentially affecting the nerve pathways in the brain, on the spine, and in the optic nerve. Symptoms can include limited mobility, nerve pain, spasms, fatigue, and balance.

Having revealed her diagnosis in October 2018, here's everything we know about Selma Blair's MS journey so far.

She revealed her diagnosis on Instagram

Sharing a selfie on Instagram in October 2018, Blair made the surprising confession that she'd recently been diagnosed with the incurable condition. She wrote, "I am in an exacerbation. By the grace of the lord, and will power and the understanding producers at Netflix, I have a job. A wonderful job. 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 revealed that she was inspired to share her diagnosis thanks to the costume designer on the Netflix show, Another Life. She wrote, "I was in this wardrobe fitting two days ago. And I am in the deepest gratitude. So profound, it is, I have decided to share. The brilliant costumer #Allisaswanson not only designs the pieces #harperglass will wear on this new #Netflix show, but she carefully gets my legs in my pants, pulls my tops over my head, buttons my coats and offers her shoulder to steady myself. I have #multiplesclerosis."

Her incredible candor immediately struck a nerve with fans and fellow people diagnosed with chronic conditions. By telling the world her MS story, Blair is helping to demystify an illness which often presents with invisible symptoms.

She was relieved when she finally got a diagnosis

For people living with chronic conditions, Blair's story about fighting long and hard to be correctly diagnosed is sadly all too familiar. After years of experiencing a myriad of unexplainable symptoms and feeling as though medical professionals weren't hearing her, Blair finally received a diagnosis and some much-needed answers. Unafraid to share every detail of her journey to discovering she has MS, the Cruel Intentions actress explained on Good Morning America, during her first post-diagnosis TV interview, "When I got the diagnosis I cried with some relief. Like, 'Oh, good, I'll be able to do something.'"

Blair explained her emotional reaction, telling GMA, "They weren't tears of panic, they were tears of knowing I now had to give in to a body that had loss of control and there was some relief in that." This new understanding of her her body's very real limitations gave Blair the ability to finally start treatment, which would hopefully hit pause on disease progression, and calm the plethora of symptoms shed'd been experiencing.

Blair's close friend, Sarah Michelle Gellar, told Vanity Fair that there was a been a noticeable change in the actress post-diagnosis. She explained, "there's a calmness to her because I think now she knows she can't do everything … It's been wonderful to watch her be more settled, more content, and almost more in control of herself in a weird way."

She's been having an MS flare-up since her son was born

An attack of multiple sclerosis is usually called a relapse or flare-up, and it involves symptoms worsening for a period of time. Blair believes that her current flare-up has been going on since she gave birth to her son, Arthur (above), in 2011; Arthur's father is fashion designer Jason Bleick. For several years after he was born, Blair experienced so many unexplained symptoms that doctors wrongly attributed to other conditions like stress and anxiety. 

In her GMA interview, Blair explained, "Ever since my son was born, I was in an MS flare-up and didn't know, and I was giving it everything to seem normal." Trying to deal with her symptoms while looking after a young child was incredibly challenging, especially as the actress was unaware that she had a chronic condition. In an attempt to deal with the pain created by a flare-up caused by her yet to be diagnosed MS Blair said, "I was self-medicating when he wasn't with me. … I was drinking. I was in pain. I wasn't always drinking, but there were times when I couldn't take it."

Blair has spasmodic dysphonia which affects her voice

Multiple sclerosis manifests in many different ways, and patients often don't experience the same symptoms as each other. Blair revealed on GMA that one such unexpected symptom of her MS diagnosis is spasmodic dysphonia (which is sometimes referred to as laryngeal dystonia), in which the muscles a person uses to speak are affected and can go into spasm and create difficulty talking. As Blair is a successful performer and actress, this particular side effect could impact her working life in a dramatic way.

Women's Health points out that "if you listen to Selma's interview, you'll notice her voice breaking — the main symptom of spasmodic dysphonia." The publication refers to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders which explains, "Spasmodic dysphonia is a neurological disorder affecting the voice muscles in the larynx, or voice box." The condition causes "sudden involuntary movements — called spasms — which interfere with the ability of the folds to vibrate and produce voice." As Women's Health reiterates, "this poorly articulated or slurred speech is commonly seen in MS patients and interfered with communication and interactions."

Blair calls MS 'a snowflake disease'

Opening up on GMA, Blair revealed that she's come to view MS as "a snowflake disease because it's different, like a fingerprint, for everyone," (per NBC News). Of course, there are a variety of symptoms associated with MS, and each patient will experience them in different ways depending on how the condition manifests in the body. Healthline notes that vision problems, pains and spasms, fatigue, cognitive issues, tingling and numbness, problems with balance, weakness, and sexual dysfunction are all common symptoms in people with MS.

Sharing a throwback photo on Instagram, Blair wrote an incredibly honest caption on the post explaining what symptoms she'd been experiencing when the photo was taken. She wrote, "A beautiful summer night in Miami. My flare was already hitting. I didn't know what was happening. But I sat outside and had a gorgeous dinner with my dear friend. All we have is right now. This. Is the past. But I remember knowing to just feel the warmth in the breeze. The gift of this trip. Under the table my leg was dead. I couldn't stay awake and my right hand couldn't find my mouth. But I was happy." By bringing light to the symptoms she was having prior to diagnosis, Blair's honesty will hopefully encourage others to take their own health issues seriously.

She thinks fashion and function can coexist

In her March 2019 interview with Vanity Fair, Blair discussed her dream of creating an accessible fashion line. The outlet wrote, "Blair's inherent sense of style made her a muse for fashion brands like Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs. Karl Lagerfeld chose her as a face of Chanel in 2005, photographing her himself." But post-diagnosis, Blair found herself relying on comfortable clothes that help keep her mobile. As she candidly explained, "Dressing is a s**t show."

Of her fashion design ambitions, Blair told the mag, "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. Like, let's get elastic waistbands to look a little bit better." Having always loved fashion, Blair refuses to give up one of her passions on account of the realities of her illness. 

Allure contributor Ariel Henly, who was born with Crouzon Syndrome — a craniofacial condition that caused her eyes to be "large, wide-set, and crooked," wrote that she felt "empowered" by Blair's potential fashion line. "Wearing clothes I love allows me to rock my differences the best I can. … I'm grateful for people like Selma Blair … who show the world that having a medical condition does not devalue who you are — that being different is beautiful." 

She wants more honesty in the media about chronic illness

Speaking with Vanity Fair, Blair explained that she felt compelled to speak out about her diagnosis. She said, "I'm pretty much a nobody in Hollywood. But when I read comments on Instagram from people who were suffering, whether it was from MS, or anything, I thought, Holy s**t, there's a need for honesty about being disabled from someone recognizable." While she could've kept quiet about the life-changing illness she was faced with, the Legally Blonde actress saw a need to stand up for others in the same position as her.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the media often portrays chronic illnesses in a negative light, which is why Blair's attitude is so crucial to the disabled community. Rather than allowing others to speak on her behalf, the Hollywood star has made a point of being candid on social media, in interviews, and in her first red carpet appearance post-diagnosis. As she told Vanity Fair,  "I care about the people on my damn Instagram … for me, it has been an exploration into the human condition." Blair is using her platform to give a voice to an often overlooked community of people.

She thought she had a pinched nerve

The road to Blair's eventual MS diagnosis was anything but easy. She revealed on Instagram, "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." As the story goes, "her friend Elizabeth Berkley (yep, of Saved By The Bell) urged her to see her brother Jason Berkley, D.O., a neurologist in Los Angeles. Selma says Berkley gave her the MS diagnosis after 'finding lesions on [an] MRI.'" If the actress who played Jessie Spano hadn't referred Blair for a check-up, she might have waited even longer, and gotten sicker, before finally being diagnosed.

Chronic illness symptoms are often confused with other conditions, and The Mighty reports that many diseases are commonly misdiagnosed as anxiety. In fact, a study published in The Lancet Neurology in 2017 (via Multiple Sclerosis News Today) found that "Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) may be developing the disease for up to five years before the first clinical diagnosis is made." In this time, a person might experience multiple relapses and flare-ups before eventually finding out what's going on in their body.

She's going strong, with hope for the future

As of this writing, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but there are different treatments available depending on the form of MS a patient has. Blair revealed on GMA that she's currently in an MS flare-up, and according to Women's Health, the actress also told Instagram commenters that she has an "aggressive" form of MS that "has not remitted." As such, it's likely that Blair is receiving disease-modifying drugs which attempt to stop any disease or disability progression from happening by addressing the condition, rather than just masking the symptoms. 

In her Vanity Fair interview, Blair revealed that the first treatment she tried for MS hadn't been working, but her doctor explained that she would soon be starting a new, monthly intravenous-drug therapy. Blair's doctor Saud Sadiq — who is director and chief research scientist of the Tisch MS Research Center of New York — told the outlet that the new treatment would hopefully make Blair "a different person in a year." 

As Blair explained to the publication, "I reconnected with so many people who thought I might drop dead soon." But already the actress has proven that multiple sclerosis isn't going to halt her career, and aside from her own health concerns, she's ready to start helping other people who are also living with the condition. Her commitment to helping others is more than a little impressive.