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What Selma Blair and I have in common

By Matt Cavallo

As far back as I can remember, I always felt like I was different. I always felt sick or was exhausted. I was a bit clumsy and could trip on a perfectly flat surface. I had trouble with my speech or completing my thoughts. Some thought I was lazy, others thought I was clumsy, but I always knew deep down that it was something else.
From a young age, I was smart from an IQ perspective but had a hard time with school because of what was perceived as a learning disability. I was in and out of psychologists’ offices for testing to see the reason for my cognitive issues as young as 12 years old. A teacher even told my parents I was gifted but was going to struggle unless I was put into the right environment. Back then, there was no “right environment” for a person such as me so I fell through the cracks.
I managed to graduate and then went into the military because I thought I could fix myself there. However, my mental and physical deficits were quickly evident in the military, and it turned out to be just another chapter in my life where people couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Even though I wasn’t a good fit with the military because of my undiagnosed mental and physical deficits, I did learn the skills that I needed to overcome this thing I had inside. I was able to create my own set of coping strategies to function on my own and survive as an adult.
With these learned skills, and the help of my future wife, I was able to go back to school and complete college even though the cognitive issues were becoming more difficult to overcome in my twenties. I turned to alcohol to self-medicate and to feel like a normal person, but my mental and physical deficits were made worse by drinking.
There was seemingly no way to explain what was wrong with me, nor any way to help me feel better about the person I was. I just really could not find a place where I belonged. Then in June of 2005, my neurologist said those three little words, “You have MS.”
And with that, I felt a sense of relief. I felt like I had been sick for a long time and no one had ever believed me. Now, that I had a diagnosis that seemed to justify why I was tired and clumsy, with a foggy memory. It was no longer a mystery. The diagnosis made me reflect back on chapters in my life where people would ask what was wrong with me. Whether it was school, the military, or college life, the diagnosis made perfect sense of why I wasn’t like any of the other boys.
Recently, I was watching The View and I heard Selma Blair talk about her life prior to MS. She spoke candidly about her difficulties as a child. People judged her for the way she looked and the way she walked but no one believed there was anything wrong with her. She struggled for a long time to fit in and even turned to alcohol to escape from her tormented reality. Then, when she was diagnosed, Selma felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Her struggles in life were finally validated.
As I watched Selma share her story, I felt like she was speaking for me and everyone else who grew up like me feeling different. The sense of relief and freedom that comes with an MS diagnosis helps explain why everything leading up to that diagnosis is such a challenge. Selma’s bravery to share her journey helps remind us that we never truly know what a person is going through but all of us deserve compassion and respect. Living with a chronic illness can be very isolating and full of question marks, or dead ends as we navigate the ups and downs of the disease. If you are in need of some inspiration or if you are feeling alone on your journey, click on this link to hear Selma’s story.