American actress Christina Applegate has become a public face of the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) community following her diagnosis in 2021. Applegate credits her early diagnosis of the disease to her friend and former co-star, Selma Blair. Blair herself was diagnosed with MS after struggling with her symptoms for decades. Now, both women are working to empower others and make disabilities more visible in Hollywood.
Blair lived with undiagnosed MS for years
Talking with British Vogue, Blair explained that early on in her life, she showed symptoms of juvenile MS. As a child, she would often lose the use of her bladder, her right eye, and her left leg, causing her mother to believe she possibly had cancer. However, despite her obvious symptoms, she was told she was simply seeking attention by doctors. She went undiagnosed for decades. “I looked like a ‘normal’ girl to them,” Blair said. “But I was Disabled this whole time.”
Blair struggled with her symptoms well into adulthood and didn’t receive a formal diagnosis of MS until 2018. Since then, she’s been very open about her experience with the disease – including the good, the bad, and the ugly – and has been a visible advocate for the Disabled community.
Blair withdrew from the industry
Following the 2009 ending of the American remake of Kath & Kim, in which she starred, Blair withdrew from the industry. Prior to this, her acting career was on the rise after starring in films like Cruel Intentions (1999) and Hellboy (2004). All the while, she was still experiencing difficult symptoms but went to great lengths to try and conceal her affliction before she was officially diagnosed. She said that during that time, she felt “lost and sad.”
“I was worried since the beginning of time that a glaring fault would remove me from the workforce,” she explained. “And usually it was my incoordination or getting stuck, too weak or sick, in my trailer ― or any time, really. The vomiting or body issues were terrifying, [and the] baldness or rashes.” She explained that it was after filming Kath & Kim that her symptoms began to really progress and said her “autoimmune system was misfiring.” It was harder for her to hide her struggles as she was also losing her hair and had very low energy levels. There was little else for her to do but to step away from her career.
“[When I quit acting] I spent my days in bed, crying, sometimes binge drinking, sometimes reading and sleeping, seeing doctors and healers,” Blair explained. “I gave up almost until the diagnosis. I was always terrified I would be deemed incapable. Or mentally unsound. My mother taught me that was death for a woman career-wise.” However, Blair hasn’t given up on her acting career entirely. “I haven’t actively pursued work in acting ― it hasn’t been the right time yet ― but it’s absolutely doable for me,” she said. “I have to take the leap.”
Applegate says Blair’s advice will give her ‘a better quality of life’
When Applegate was also diagnosed with MS in 2021, her decision to get tested for the disease came from advice given by Blair. She explained that Blair identified a symptom immediately after Applegate had described exactly what she was experiencing.
“I was sitting in Selma’s living room, our children playing, and I told Selma I’d been having this weird tingling in my feet,” Applegate explained. “She said, ‘You must get tested for MS.’ [Even my doctor doubted it] but there it was.” Applegate went on to say of Blair, “Selma has had an incredible impact on the MS community but, more so, she’s had an impact on how the world views it.”
In 2021, Blair outlined her daily experiences with the disease in an intimate documentary titled, Introducing, Selma Blair, and has worked hard to help to break down stigmas surrounding disabilities. Applegate has since joined Blair in becoming an advocate for the Disabled community, and is thankful for her friend. Applegate said, “In essence, because of her I’m going to have a better quality of life.”