Selma Blair was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 10:30 p.m. on August 16, 2018, but, as she revealed in a new interview with British Vogue, the symptoms of her condition were misdiagnosed or ignored for more than 40 years since her first health struggles as a child.
“If you’re a boy with those symptoms, you get an MRI,” she said of being a seven-year-old who had lost the use of her right eye and left leg, as well as bladder control. She’d wake up in the middle of the night laughing uncontrollably. It was undiagnosed juvenile MS, she now knows, but doctors and family wrote her off as an attention-seeker after ruling out conditions like cancer. “If you’re a girl, you’re called crazy.”
When Blair publicly revealed her condition in an Instagram post in October 2018, she wrote that “I have probably had this incurable disease for 15 years at least.” Now the 50-year-old knows that it’s been much, much longer than that. Those childhood fits of laughter were due to the disease ravaging her brain’s frontal lobe, and as an adult the episodes shifted into uncontrollable weeping. “I just thought I was a hugely emotional person,” she said.
She lived in “terror” and confusion for years, afraid of being “found out” and having no explanation of why her body was doing what it was doing.
“The vomiting or body issues were terrifying, [and the] baldness or rashes,” she said. “I remember being very, very poorly on Hellboy and was diagnosed with cat scratch fever and possible leukemia in Prague. I couldn’t tell anybody. I couldn’t admit alcoholism or [access] treatment in my insurance for fear I’d be deemed an insurance risk. I fell apart once I got back to LA.”
In fact, the first time she got drunk, she wrote in her memoir Mean Baby, she was seven years old, sneaking Manischewitz at Passover dinner, liking the warmth she felt. “I got drunk that night. Very drunk. Eventually, I was put in my sister Katie’s bed with her. In the morning, I didn’t remember how I’d gotten there.” Alcohol was a crutch, and Blair’s life felt out of control. “As an adult, the lassitude and anxiety became terrifying, actually,” she told British Vogue. “I made mistakes. Wished myself dead. Attempted suicide. A few times. Out of desperation.”
Now, however, she is an advocate for accessibility and awareness, even urging her friend Christina Applegate to make the appointment that would eventually lead to her own MS diagnosis.