Jamie-Lynn Sigler Was in Denial of Her MS for 15 Years: ‘If I Didn’t Talk About It, It Wasn’t Real’

Photo of author
Written By Rivera Claudia

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur pulvinar ligula augue quis venenatis. 

In 2002, Jamie-Lynn Sigler’s career was ascending fast. At just 20 years old, she was rounding out her fourth season on The Sopranos—widely considered one of the best television shows of all time—and starring as Belle in a Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast. Offstage and off-camera, however, Sigler was facing a serious medical situation: She had been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), the most common type of MS. If you have this incurable—but treatable—condition, your immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers, messing with your brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of your body. For Sigler, it meant that frustrating leg pain impacted her ability to walk and stand, and she had bladder issues and extreme fatigue.

Sigler is super candid about her symptoms today. Since sharing her diagnosis publicly in 2016, she’s become a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company Novartis and she recently launched a podcast called MeSsy with Christina Applegate, who also has MS. Sigler wasn’t always so open—she actually stayed silent with her coworkers, fans, and even close friends about what she was experiencing for more than a decade. Sigler recently spoke with SELF about what finally led her to push back the curtain, how that choice has impacted her life, and why she’s encouraging others in similar positions to do the same.

SELF: On the day you were diagnosed, you went to the hospital because your leg felt weak. What was going through your head in those initial moments after learning what was actually going on?

Sigler: Immediately after the neurologist diagnosed me, they said, “I want you to know you can live a very full, healthy life. You can have children—you can still be an actress.” I held deeply onto that, but I just went home with my parents and I didn’t talk about my condition again for a very long time. Someone close to me said that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to share because no one in my industry had MS. I didn’t know any young people with it.

While I didn’t talk about my health publicly, I also did not talk about it in my personal life. I lived in a state of denial. I was very immature, but I was just doing the best I could in that moment. I also wasn’t too symptomatic in those early stages, so I was able to get away with not opening up about my diagnosis—or even taking my medications. I felt like if I didn’t talk about my MS, it wasn’t real. That mentality really hurt me for a long time and added an unnecessary layer of suffering on top of what I was already going through.

Did you feel like revealing your MS might negatively impact your career or personal life?

I had such imposter syndrome on The Sopranos, but I was also a perfectionist. I thought I would be fired if I told people around me that I had MS. I thought I would never get hired. I thought people would just look at me and immediately limit or judge me, so I didn’t share anything, ever, that I was going through.

Was there a turning point in which you felt like you just couldn’t hide your symptoms anymore?

In my first decade of living with MS, I wasn’t being consistent with my medications or taking care of myself—and I really saw a fast decline because of that. I had many jobs where I just kept lying. If I was limping, I’d tell everyone that I’d hurt my back, pinched a nerve, or tweaked my ankle. But concealing what I was going through took all the joy out of work. Every day I’d get on set and think, ‘How do I get through each job without being found out again?’ I wasn’t even talking about my MS with my friends…how would I bring it up with employees and strangers? Of course, my symptoms eventually forced me to take a step back at some point—I was not a good actress at the time at all. I had to try so hard to look like an able-bodied person that I could barely concentrate on the scene I was in. I was getting away with surface-level performances because I was just worried about physically holding myself up and trying to walk normally. I was also depressed and scared as a new mom.

In 2018, you decided to step back from work. How did that feel?

I don’t think I really grasped the gravity of that decision. It was just one I HAD to make in that moment because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had never thought too far into the future. I had to sit with those hard feelings that I pushed away for a really long time. I sat with my grief—the grief for the life I thought I was going to live. I told myself, ‘This is my life. I don’t know what the future holds, but this is it.’ Sitting with those thoughts helped me accept my situation. It doesn’t mean you have to like it, but we have to accept what life gives us, trust it, and move forward. I also had to reframe my thinking: ‘So, okay, I walk with a limp. I live with MS. This is one part of my life, and I’m still a wife and a mom, and I still want to be an actress and do things with my friends.’

What was it like when you finally opened up to friends and coworkers?

When I reached out to my girlfriends about my MS and told them, their support was overwhelming. They were like, “Thank you, Jamie. We’re here for you!” That made me realize that my life is a little easier, I’m not a burden, I’m not singled out, and I’m not different. In recent jobs, I just have to be very clear about my symptoms—and tell people I’m working with what I can and can’t do. This was particularly true for my work on Big Sky. After a couple of episodes, the crew was able to understand me better, my body, and my needs—I can’t run or stand for too long, for example. There was never a single discussion beyond that. I was shown the most love and support from my coworkers. They kept reminding me, “This is not a burden. This is no extra accommodation we’re having to make.” It allowed me to find the joy in acting again.

Were there any other ways that speaking openly changed your life for the better?

It gave me confidence in finding my voice. When you deal with a chronic illness, especially when you see a doctor regularly for your symptoms, this is really important. In one of our first sit-downs, my neurologist said to me: “Jamie, your voice matters and needs to be the loudest in the room.” Advocating for myself—and deciding with my doctor what medication I should be on—gave me a little bit of power and control in a situation where I felt like I had none.

What would you say to someone who has just found out they have MS?

I get put in touch with a lot of people who just got diagnosed—my best friend, Lance Bass, called me recently and was like, “Christina Applegate got diagnosed with MS, can she call you?” I always say yes. Not that I’m the be-all and end-all expert on living with the condition, but I’ve had it for 22 years and I have some experience. From the bottom of my heart, the first thing I say is, “You’re going to be okay. I don’t know how this is going to affect your body. I know it will be hard and I will be here for you when it is, but I promise you’ll be okay.” And I believe that because I am. I truly am okay. I sometimes think that MS may have hardened my body, but it’s softened my heart and slowed me down. It makes me look around more. My time with my children might not have as much activity, it’s a little quieter and I’m on the floor with them. But that’s allowed for a deeper connection between us. People who have been touched by this disease are, without fail, the strongest people I know—hands down.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Related:

SOURCE

Leave a Comment

MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf MrSf