Labels get a bad rap.
You can be labeled bossy, hysterical, needy, dramatic, but in the case of a long-sought diagnosis, a label is often pure relief.
Selma Blair has been called it all.
What is true is that she was a baby with a bit of scowl, a girl who drank too much too soon, an actress with a lot of talent, and a mother with an undiagnosed disease.
Today, her most favorite label is disabilities advocate.
I'm Kelly Corrigan, this is "Tell Me More," and here is my conversation with recovering alcoholic, fashion fanatic, a "Time" Person of the Year, and a supporting actress having a main character moment-- Selma Blair.
You are the youngest of 4 girls from Detroit?
That's what I heard.
That's what my mom told me.
I don't--yes, I am the youngest.
The oldest is 12 years older.
And you said that you were the last child she didn't want but learned to love.
I came right--right before abortion was made legal, and she told me a story of how she did not want another baby.
She was working, it was a lot, really working.
She was a judge.
She was always very--very kind of pro-life, but she really was "No, I have to-- I have to terminate this," and she actually traveled to New York to terminate me and then--and then realized she couldn't-- couldn't go through with it, so then there I was.
So right when you came home from the hospital, some neighbor came over and took one look at you and gave you your first label ever.
They honestly ran out and said, "Do not go in there.
The Beitners have a mean, mean baby!"
They were teenagers and young kids, and so I think I've spent my life trying to prove that I was nice, and then I've gone overboard, so now I have to reel it back in.
You know, it was like I couldn't figure-- you know, I so wanted to prove I was lovable, but--but the mean baby stuck, and I did.
I--I used it as an armor.
I mean, it really goes to the idea of what labels can do for--for good-- Totally!
I can't even picture if that hadn't happened.
I mean, I really cannot picture people expecting me to be kind and stable and, you know, generous and thoughtful.
Well, interestingly, some of your biggest, most famous roles are sort of in that space, as well.
So tell us about "Legally Blonde," which I-- Ha ha!
So I am in "Legally Blonde."
I play Vivian Kensington, and I was the brunette.
I was kind of the Jackie, but, you know, "Legally Blonde" was so Technicolor.
You know, it's--it's caricatures in a way, but I did--when I came to L.A., I was more playing the East Coast, you know, brunette, judgmental eyes, and I think I found looks and, you know... Yeah.
little reactions like that.
I've come to join your study group.
Our group is full.
Is this like an RSVP thing?
It's like a smart people thing.
And you were part of a group that was named "Time" People of the Year.
Yes, I was.
It was, like, the cover of "Time," I was in there.
It was--you know, it was the changemakers, and right after that-- you know, I had this big interest always in, um, you know, going to an astrologer or a reader to kind of give me a template... Yeah.
and he said, "Hmm.
"I don't really see you being, like, a star, "like, an act-- like, an actre-- I don't see that," and I was like... "You don't?"
Like, I know.
"That's the plan."
"I am qualified for zero.
You are--like, what?"
And he said, "No, actually, you're-- "but you'll be--you're-- you're--it's-- you're an activist."
And I was like, "Wrong number."
Like--I was like, "Oh, he must be saying that because he knew I was on the TIME'S UP and #MeToo," and I was like, "I don't know if I want to go down that road."
Like, "That was the one-- that was "my one big contribution.
I need to move on.
Like, I--no," and I was really kind of brokenhearted.
Like, "What could I advocate?"
He's got it wrong."
But then it became the path.
But then when I found out a truth of mine, that I had MS, and the truth shall set you free.
Really, it allowed me to meet myself because so much self-loathing was bound up in my chronic illness that I didn't believe was real.
I didn't believe it was real because every doctor said, "You're depressed.
It's postpartum anxiety," even though-- I am not joking-- that I fell asleep for 30 years on every doctor's table or office.
Fell asleep mid conversation, like a narcolepsy thing.
It was MS.
I had lost my vision in my eye as a kid, and my bladder--I mean, it was so crystal clear that it was shocking that it could have been missed.
On average, it takes 4 1/2 years to get a good, clean diagnosis of MS, but you probably had symptoms for 20?
I had symptoms of MS for over 20-- I had symptoms since I was 7, and I actively was seeking solutions for the pain and problems I was in since 7, had surgeries.
My mother took me.
It was--never once.
I had CAT scans, I had MRIs of my bladder, my kidneys, never my brain.
Never once did anyone assume there was anything neurologically wrong with me even though I saw a neurologist for constant pain in my head.
Not one ever did a Romberg test.
I mean, I even asked for MRIs years ago.
Like, "Could we"-- and they'd say, "No.
You'd know if you really had something wrong with you."
One person said, "I think you'd feel better if you had a boyfriend."
Yes, and it took until I saw a woman doctor to look deeply and say, "No.
There is "deep gray matter damage.
That is real."
Because I just thought, "This is in my head," and it makes you want to isolate, so I understand people with chronic illness or alcoholics, anyone.
When you're in pain, you want to isolate.
You don't--you're sick of--you don't want people to judge you.
You don't want whatever credibility you might have on a good day to be taken away because, you know, someone's saying it's not real.
So...one of the symptoms is short-term memory loss, and you said in the book that it would cause you to, say, hit your head on the same shelf 6 times a day, or you would make a pot of coffee, and then instead of pouring it into a mug, you'd just pour it down the sink.
What are other symptoms that--that people should know about?
I was bumping into a lot of walls, and so I thought it was my vision.
I just didn't know what it was.
Again, for someone who loves words and reading, I had no vocabulary for what I was experiencing.
That's so much of it.
It's so weird, and I--and I went to the eye doctor.
I said, "I'm bumping into walls, I can't see.
I need glasses, I guess," and I didn't have peripheral vision anymore.
She said, "So something's going on.
"You've lost that on the test.
Like, there's really empty spots," so I was like, "Ooh, God.
My eyes are really going."
So, you know, it was still not neurological in my mind.
It was just this thing, and then it was when I went to-- then my fingers started-- I couldn't type on a phone.
I still have trouble.
Once you got diagnosed, you said it was like giving birth.
I'm--so I would be diagnosed every day if I could.
It's like... ♪ Ahh ♪ It was just such a relief.
It was such a relief to think there was a receipt, to think there were receipts, as my friend called it.
You know, receipts of, like, "This is real.
When I was telling you"-- you know, I was made fun of my whole life because I dragged--I dragged this one leg when it would get numb, and sure, I have figured out, yes, there are ways to lift it more calmly and quietly.
I'm very histrionic.
It just is.
I just get very big, um, and my mother would laugh.
Like, "Why are you phony dragging your leg?"
And I think now that I'm a mother, "Wait.
No--no kid really does fake it that long."
I did not understand physical pain was not emotional pain.
So so much physical pain that I had, I would just say, "I'm sad," because I had trigeminal neuralgia, which is--they call the suicide disease, but it's something that's-- the pain is so severe, and you can't tell where it's from.
You know, it's just pulling on your face, and so I chased it around with root canals and things like that, like, as a young kid.
I saw in all my journals-- and I always kept them-- just everything was "I am sad.
"I am in pain.
I am fat.
I am sad.
I am in pain."
You know, and there were so many journals that were more thoughtful, but that was the same...stor-- you know, that's all I knew how to say.
I drank a lot at a young age.
I used it to really self-medicate anxiety, boredom, grief.
Can you remember the very first time alcohol crossed your lips?
I remember the first time--3.
Even in nursery school, it was a Manischewitz.
We were allowed to have a little sip.
I went to, like, a Shaarey Zedek synagogue school, and on Friday, we'd get, like, a sip and have a fake, you know, blessing, and light, and "Baruch atah," you know, the little kids, and I thought, "Oh, I feel so warm.
That's God," and then we'd have these Passover seders, which is the only other time children would drink back in the day, but it was 7 when I realized that was not, indeed, God.
It was fermentation, and it felt good, and I kept asking and asking.
It was a total revelation.
I was 7, it was a Passover seder in my house, and by the time I was drunk enough and realized it was the Manischewitz, everyone was kind of sh-- you know, "Oh, baby's drunk.
That night already that...that drama and behavior that alcohol brought on, and--and I was not proud of that.
Even at the age of 7, that was horrifying.
Did they carry me to bed?
Was I wearing underwear?"
You know, you're terrified.
You're, like, you didn't remember, and, um... but then--then I forgot the shame of, you know, kind of falling apart, and I would drink in solitude.
I was very uncomfortable.
I was very frightened, so frightened and in a lot of pain.
So this is the list that you included in your book that some guy in college gave you.
"Gain 5 pounds in muscles; Stay at 'K'"-- Kalamazoo-- Kalamazoo College.
"for this year; learn to be independent," and number 4, "don't be an alcoholic."
When you saw it, were you like, "Does this mean I'm an alcoholic?"
Like, if someone has to say, "Don't be an alcoholic," doesn't that sort of indicate-- It was something.
I was always honest about my drinking.
Um... you know, except a couple times later when I did really start to realize as an adult that this is, you know, problematic, and then occasionally, I'd have one glass of wine somewhere when I knew I shouldn't be drinking, and that was as bad as I got because I really would-- tried to be sober a lot.
I know that I talked about it in college with people, um, but I--I didn't think it was that big a problem, or I didn't know how I would I stop.
I just didn't know how I would stop.
Well, also, in the context of college, where there's so much binge drinking, it's really hard to know, like, "Am I the same as all these people "who are gonna grow up and change their behaviors, or am I someone different?"
It was a--part of me I didn't want to give it up.
I--I--I knew I had to, but you don't want to.
That's the problem with addiction because you feel like it's doing something.
Because you got to take it somewhere.
You got to take all the discomfort somewhere and trade it out for something else.
I didn't do that ever in my life.
I mean, all my formative relationships with boys and--and even friendships, they were all muddled by alcohol and overdrama.
I mean, it's very hard to get out of that, and so your own skills are pretty few and far between.
It kept me on a very low level.
I did not see options in life, and I prayed to God every night.
On your knees.
On my knees.
Since, um--since before I had my child, since my 20s in New York, I prayed to take away my--my thinking that alcohol was the only option for me, and I didn't care for pills, I didn't care for the other.
None of it was an addictive thing.
The emotional--the alcohol, what it did to me was intense, and it took away my physical pain for moments.
And then the rebound, so I'd just keep drinking.
How did you come to stop drinking that way?
I prayed for a miracle, and when I had my son, I knew.
I knew I had to end this cycle.
I knew my mother was an alcoholic, self-admitted, functioning, high-functioning... Mm-hmm.
and I knew I was an alcoholic, and I had gone to 4 rebabs for it.
It was something I didn't want to talk about publicly.
I was so afraid of having credibility taken away, although I'd never been on a set drunk or anything.
It was my own sabotage, which comes out in a million ways later, not necessarily your work exactly.
I mentioned it in the book, and some people know, who followed the ins and outs of my-- of some problems, but I--I did.
It was on a-- it was on a plane.
I--I had fallen off the wagon going to Mexico with my son and his father, and we had a bit of a tense relationship.
We were no longer together, and it all fell apart.
I never thought I'd be OK to talk about it.
I mean, the shame was so big, and now, you know, because I've taken the steps to actually change my life and take it very seriously, I can talk about it, and it was immediate then I knew I would never drink again.
I knew when I woke up from that in the hospital I would never do this again.
Nothing was worth possibly leaving my son and the friends who cared about me with this legacy.
And that was 7 years ago?
I just felt hopeless for a long time, so it was just a real struggle.
It was a huge struggle.
During that time, there was multiple sexual assaults.
You said in the book, "All I know is "that I passed out, and when I opened my eyes, he was having sex with me."
Can you talk about your experience with assault from movie sets to these personal experiences?
Only for the sake of others.
I don't-- I do.
This is only for the sake of others I talk about it, and I-- and--and...it's important for me, for anyone to feel there's a connection with people that--that "Can I stop this and forgive and move forward?"
Because I have a lot of guilt, and I am never implying other people should have this guilt when I talk about this, but the shame was so intense for myself, I did not even understand the level of my self-loathing.
It was even in high school.
I was a virgin.
It was very important for me not to have sex.
I was terrified of getting pregnant, so that was not something I was looking to do, and I remember one time getting so drunk at my friend Kelly's house and passing out in the bed and went--took myself away and went into the bedroom, and I woke up, and there was a boy, um, that my friend was dating actually that was on top of me having sex, and I immediately pushed him off then, and he stopped, but I remember a friend, like, saw it from the room and was like, "Oh, my God.
She's having sex with him," thinking it's consensual when really I'd just opened my eyes, and that was the kind of thing I had to drink more to get over, but then the more you drank, the more I'd get myself in those situations of passing out and people, um, having-- young men having sex with, like, my corpse.
I mean, it was alarming, and always it stopped except for one--one--one time I--I couldn't get them off, I couldn't stop, I couldn't, you know-- and it continued and--and was violent.
I try and think of myself as my child now sometimes when I have some... deep regrets or sadness for my recklessness because I was a good person... Well, ma-- and I hope that other people, if they have gotten in this situation... [Breathes deeply] it's--it's OK. Life goes on.
We can go on.
We can make other choices.
We can be kinder to ourselves.
Well, let me just say for everyone's sake you should be able to be drunk as a skunk and naked... You would hope.
in the middle of a fraternity party... You would hope.
and people should scoop you up lovingly and take you to the health center.
You would hope, but it doesn't always-- it doesn't happen.
But it doesn't mean it's your fault.
Let's agree on that.
Right, and I want people to know that.
I still have to remind myself.
You said with the director James Toback... Mmm.
You said-- That was the only time it happened in Hollywood.
That was the only time it happened in Hollywood that I was totally frightened, and it's funny.
I--um, there's this director James Toback, and I talked about it at the-- I talked about it years ago because other women made me aware that they were going through this same horror, this memory and the threats he made if we told and our own shame that we didn't get out of the room.
Why didn't we--why couldn't we get out sooner?
Where was my judgment?
I had a lot of fear.
This man really said he would find me and he would take my eyes out with a Bic pen, a ballpoint pen I remember, and he knows people that would throw me in the Hudson.
It's happened to someone else he said.
So, um, you know, I didn't know to know if he's lying, scaring me.
I thought everyone was a grownup and I was a child even though I was, you know, 22 or 23 or whatever.
He made me look in his eyes, held my face as he ... on my leg, and, um... Ehh.
that image was so vile, and the thought that he did that to other people.
I thought it was just ugly, old me he did it to, stupid, old me, you know, in my old thinking that I didn't think he would have ever done this to other people.
No one would be so stupid, and, um, the door was locked, and I didn't want to-- I didn't want to cry.
I wanted to be tough, and, um, yeah, I was disgusted, but it turned out there were 330-some women, and we got in touch with Glenn Whipp at the "Los Angeles Times," some of the women did, to say we were gonna tell the story, and I wanted to be off the record.
I did not want anyone to know.
It was a fraught time to even-- I didn't even want to say something.
I mean, to think he was not worth my fear all those years.
I wish I would have written about it earlier.
Do you feel like some of this not listening to women in Hollywood, not listening to women who have been assaulted, and not listening to women who have symptoms points to a larger truth?
Yes, and it's--it's-- it enrages me, which won't help.
Um... [Breathes deeply] Women are screwed often.
I do not know what it takes, although in my-- to be heard and listened to.
So when your doctor first told you you have MS, he also said, "You're an actress, and your body and your voice is all you've got"... Mm-hmm.
"so keep it quiet."
And you have done the exact opposite.
I kept it quiet for maybe 3 months.
I was just so grateful to start unraveling things I thought and getting to know who I am and what I can offer, and that I would own this, it was so opposite of what the doctor said, and so I wrote that post, and to see what it did for people and to see people feel strength when I even stepped out with a cane and it looked good and this, it was like, "Oh!
There is something about really being authentic."
Well, I mean think of everybody watching this right now who's saying, "Wait a minute.
She said 3 things "that resonate with me.
I'm gonna go get an MRI."
I mean, that's worth saying it every day of the week.
[Cheering and applause] I knew you were coming, but I didn't know you had a friend.
Who is this?
This is Scout.
Ha ha ha!
This is Scout.
This is my service dog, and he is a full Lab, and he helps me first of all with mobility, which has gotten so much better, but he does alert me-- um, really now when I'm getting too kind of hyper, means I really need my medicine-- to slow down or, like, um-- because it just means I'm trying really hard to stay awake.
I'm--I'm fine inside the house more or less.
Outside the house with lights and things and sun.
Sun kills me.
I live in California.
What am I gonna do?
I know you've got a really dark house.
The sun kills me.
I mean, I can wait for one minute in line outside for something, and I can't realize why I'm suddenly crying... [Sluggish] and cannot speak.
[Normal voice] The sun does it that quickly even though I do not have active MS right now.
I am in remission.
I'm so happy.
Remission means I'm no longer forming lesions on the brain.
Whatever's there is there, whatever volume loss has happened, whatever damage is there, but a lot you can make new pathways, not in the deep gray matter, but even so, I have found I have.
Each time I let go of baggage... [Breathes deeply] I find I have a different ability.
You seem pretty sharp to me, Selma Blair.
So one of our favorite things about "Tell Me More" is asking each guest to shout out somebody that's been instrumental to their well-being or their thinking.
Who is your Plus One?
One really big one for me right now is Andraéa LaVant.
She has a consulting firm.
She has a disability, and she is a real advocate, but she really welcomed me in a time when I realized that I would be open about my MS and that I needed some help communicating.
And she taught me to speak more confidently about disability, which is so much of it because if you know how to help something, if you can learn some tools of how to take care of yourself and make sure I eat.
Eating's hard for me.
Simple things, checking in, you know, things that I needed to be reminded of and to have permission in the disability space because of course I felt "I'm not disabled enough.
I can't really claim that."
But that's really how I felt.
That was the first label I gave myself in that Instagram post.
I said, "I am disabled," and I've been trying this whole time to fit in this able world, and so for her to give me that permission, whether anyone else agrees with it or not, saved my little speaking heart, but it did.
And is she the woman who said about the disability community, which is a billion strong around the world, "Nothing about us without us"?
Yes, and there is so much improvement honestly.
You know, I see things in the books and the information, so many people coming out empowered and sharing what they know.
It's amazing, the disability community, and it's rich and glorious, and we need consultants.
We need--you know, if I'm talking about something I don't know, I better learn about it, and she is there to help us, and it should be in the shows.
When you're designing a show, anything, you know, should have coordinators and consultants, and she is one.
The people that I've met in the disability community that have given me their experience, strength, and hope of tricks of the trade, you know, how to get through--through things.
So here's to Andraéa.
Here's to Andraéa LaVant.
♪ You ready for the "Tell Me More" Speed Round?
OK. First concert.
Monkees, front row with Heidi Katzen, the gorgeous girl in high school before I even went to high school.
Best live performance you've ever seen.
It just is.
I mean, she does it all.
If your high school did superlatives, what would you have been most likely to become?
I basically got it.
I mean, it would have been Most Dramatic, but I did win, um, Most Likely to be in "Circus of the Stars," so I feel like that's kind of the same.
What do you wish you had more time to do?
Ride my horse.
Oh, I know.
Takes a lot of time.
What's your go-to mantra for hard times?
It's darkest before the dawn.
Is there anyone you would like to apologize to?
I would like to stop apologizing.
I so enjoyed this, and I wondered if you could take us out on the very last paragraph you wrote.
Thank you so much.
"I can't profess to understand "the mysteries of the universe.
"All I know is that I desperately love a story.
"We all have one.
I carry mine inside me.
"You carry yours inside you.
"I can hear mine now in my own voice "strong and clear.
"All it took was to stop listening to the stories "everyone else told about me.
I hope this helps you, too."
Thanks for saying yes.
I love saying yes to you.
♪ Corrigan: If you loved this episode, go to pbs.org/kelly to see my conversations with Robyn Roberts, and Kate Bowler.
If you prefer audio, every episode is available through my podcast "Kelly Corrigan Wonders."
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪