To open up about the things that debilitate us in life is never easy. It takes courage and strength. Variations of that sentence, of those words, are tossed around a great deal when speaking about those whose debilitations or disabilities are visible from the outset.
But, in some cases, praising a woman for her courage, as she overcomes physical and emotional difficulties following a diagnosis of aggressive multiple sclerosis (MS), is absolutely warranted and necessary.
Related: Selma Blair reveals she has multiple sclerosis in emotional Instagram post
Actress Selma Blair is one such woman.
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This weekend, she confidently graced the red carpet at the Vanity Fair Oscars party; multi-coloured Ralph & Russo gown and cape elegantly billowing behind, custom cane in tow.
It was a moment. For anyone with MS; for anyone with a disability who could never imagine themselves gracing a red carpet the same way (myself included) - it was so powerful to see. The actress was visibly emotional, and soon after, she gave her first interview since she publically revealed she had been diagnosed with the disease.
Related: 'I remember hearing the words 'she's disabled' and wondering who they were talking about
On Good Morning America, the 46-year-old actress told of how she cried upon being diagnosed with the condition, having experienced symptoms that went unexplained for years.
“They weren’t tears of panic,” she explained. “They were tears of knowing I now had to give into a body that had loss of control.”
"I'm happy to just put out that this is what being in the middle of an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis is like"
In Ireland, there are more than 9,000 people living with MS. Three times more women than men are diagnosed with MS, with most being diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. MS is the most common debilitating neurological condition affecting young adults in Ireland and it affects the motor, sensory and cognitive functioning of the body.
There is no known cause or cure.
The Legally Blonde star said she spent years not knowing the reasoning behind her symptoms, including muscle tremors and extreme tiredness - all of which affected the quality of her day-to-day life.
“I was giving it everything to seem normal, and I was self-medicating when he wasn’t with me,” she said. “I was drinking. I was in pain. I wasn’t always drinking but there were times when I couldn’t take it.”
“I was really struggling with, ‘How am I gonna get by in life?’ And [being] not taken seriously by doctors, just, ‘Single mother, you’re exhausted, financial burden, blah, blah, blah.’”
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She recalled seeking advice from actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1992, wondering if she had the same thing.
“I said, ‘I don’t know who to tell, but I am dropping things. I’m doing strange things’,” Blair continued. “He got in touch with me and we began conversations. He really helped me ... he gives me hope."
Conforming to a stereotype
The words "brave" and "inspirational" are often the primary two words used to describe a person with a disability in the media, at least judging by the Oscars coverage this past weekend. It's easy to see why this would - and does - irritate so many. They conform to a stereotype, this use of tired language. Because getting out of bed isn't "inspirational" for others, just as it isn't for those of us who may have more challenges - it's just daily life.
And some of us don't wish to be labelled heroic, just because we live our lives.
Related: Living with MS: What it’s like to care for someone you love
But the other side of that is sometimes, it is wonderful to witness a person who overcomes a small mountain or daily battles - and I speak as a woman with mild Cerebral Palsy whom battles many - often the tiny victories feel like the biggest accomplishments. So, as long as it doesn't patronise, particular terminology can be fitting.
Selma Blair is courageous. It takes real guts to do what she did.
Perhaps, getting up, getting dressed and just walking the lengthy line of photographers as she did was her mountain that day.
She climbed it with elegance, grace and strength that deserves admiration and respect - and all the inspirational words we can think of.
Main photograph: @Variety
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