Speaking out, just as many other high profile figures like Selma Blair and Jack Osbourne have done, puts the condition in the public eye, so that perhaps others might spot symptoms and get treatment
November 4, 2022 7:00 am
Being diagnosed with a life-changing condition is never easy, but it must be even more difficult under the world’s gaze. Just as magazines and websites dedicate column inches speculating on whether a starlet is pregnant, or zooming in on an actress’s botched Botox, so too will they hone in on any suggestion of disability. Just look at the viral video of Katy Perry’s “broken doll eyelid” last week, or the frenzy of speculation when Joe Biden appeared to shake hands with fresh air on stage.
So kudos to Christina Applegate for getting ahead of the story. The actress, who revealed last year that she had been diagnosed with MS, told the New York Times this week that fans of her series Dead to Me would see a very different version of her in season three. Applegate revealed that she has gained 40 pounds and now uses a cane to walk. “This is the first time anyone’s going to see me the way I am,” she said.
It’s a sad irony that MS is often described as an invisible illness. It is, until it isn’t. I am lucky that my invisibility cloak is still intact, a decade on from my own diagnosis. I can go about my life without anyone having the faintest idea that I am living with MS. I like it that way, most of the time. There is still some stigma attached to conditions like this. I reckon it makes me a bit less eligible to potential partners, employers, lenders, salsa partners (no one likes getting their toes stomped on). I have experienced the sympathetic head tilt, some people even welling up with tears, as I hastily race to reassure them, “no, no, I’m doing great, I’m really LUCKY”. I am, I don’t mind telling them that.
Applegate talks about how she missed certain symptoms, which perhaps would have led her to an earlier diagnosis. By speaking out, just as many other high profile figures like Selma Blair and Jack Osbourne have done, it’s putting the condition in the public eye, so that perhaps others might spot symptoms and get treatment. It might spur a chat with your GP, or if you’re already living with something and struggling, inspiration to make lifestyle changes that might help.
When I was initially diagnosed, I was “outed” by an over-emotional colleague, and went through a very public and dramatic period of coming to terms with the illness. On moving to the UK a year later, I felt like I had the chance for a do-over, and largely kept it secret. But one day it dawned on me that I was reinforcing the stigma – this isn’t something to be ashamed of, it’s just something I have. It’s not what defines me, it’s just one part of my life. So I did the opposite of keeping it a secret: I blabbed about it in a national newspaper.
The feedback I got was powerful – mothers of teenage daughters with the condition, newly diagnosed people, older patients, talking about hope and positivity, expressing interest in the incredible ongoing research, and sharing their own stories. So I continue to blab about it for as long as my editors will put up with me. I realised that I have a platform too, and a chance to help others in however small a way.
This week, Emily Davey, the wife of Lib Dem leader Ed Davey, also revealed that she had MS, telling The Guardian that her decision to talk about it was “not lightly made”. The councillor is using her platform to campaign for more prioritisation of public health and housing help for people with mobility issues. She also strikes a note of hope, though, with her husband adding that she is still “bloomin’ active”.
Smashing the stigma can do just that for people with chronic illnesses and their loved ones – sound a note of hope, of practicality, of realism. Sometimes the reality is tough to see laid bare, but the positivity that can emerge from facing up to it is immeasurable. There is no stigma, no shame, to living with something that makes life a bit harder. In fact, quite the opposite.
Original posted at news.google.com