A couple of weeks ago Hollywood actress Selma Blair announced to the world that she had been diagnosed with MS. Previously just on my radar as ‘that b*tch from Legally Blonde’, Blair has suddenly taken on a whole new persona – someone who has been thrust into the spotlight of the MS ‘community’ and who now inevitably shines out above the rest of her acting peers to those of us affected. I can’t help but feel a strong connection with her; and judging by the thousands of online comments from other MSers, I know I am not alone in feeling that connection. After all, no-one gets it like someone who’s got it and despite having zilch in common other than our shared illness there is now a sort of kinship between us that wasn’t there before; albeit a one-sided kinship given that she doesn’t know of my existence… But, this connection is real and it exists on some level with everyone I meet who has MS, there is an unspoken bond – we all ‘get it’.
As usual when a celebrity speaks out about MS, there is a flurry of interest around the condition. News reports blurt out all the usual statistics, MS causes loss of balance, visual disturbances, numbness blah blah blah, there’s no cure, it’s more common in women than men etc Occasionally we’ll be treated to an ‘expert’ – if you’re a BBC viewer you’ll likely see a representative of The MS Trust or MS Society, and if you switch over to ITV (like I did in 2012 after Jack Osbourne was diagnosed) you’ll probably get someone who has hastily read up on MS before going on air and who generally hasn’t got a clue about what it means to have MS. Whatever ends up being discussed, however, the important thing is that MS gets an airing. People hear about the condition, they may even be compelled to read up about it, more awareness is brought about and for a very short period of time having MS feels kinda cool.
The Daily Mail (yeuch) posted an online article about Selma (I’ll stick to using her first name given our connection…) that included video footage of her being supported by a friend as she limps across a car park. She is walking with what looks like classic drop foot in her left side – I KNOW that walk, I HAVE that walk. What I don’t have, however, is a crowd of photographers snapping me while I’m TRYING to walk. The video makes for uncomfortable viewing and even more unsettling are the comments that follow. One in particular stood out for suggesting that Selma’s MS is clearly progressing at such a rate that she’ll be confined to a wheelchair in no time.
Amongst these online comments there’s a predictable scattering of bitterness. One woman wrote, ‘Who cares that a celebrity has MS, what about us mere mortals who have to battle this illness everyday’. I understand where these people are coming from to a certain extent, but that attitude is neither healthy nor helpful. Being a public figure does not make someone any less human. We’re all in this together and I for one am glad that Selma has spoken up about her MS. Celebrities have a voice and a far bigger audience and platform from which to speak than we ‘mere mortals’. Surely the attention placed on them can help others feel less alone, get people talking and bring about an awareness of the condition that can go a long way towards benefitting people with MS and the charities who support us.