Jamie-Lynn Sigler on Her Battle With MS: "The Only Way to Truly Heal Is to Accept"
After revealing her behind-closed-doors battle with multiple sclerosis, actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler feels a new sense of connection and purpose.
So far, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, 35, has had a year of milestones: In mid-January, the former Sopranos star married her fiance of almost three years, baseball player Cutter Dykstra, in a Palm Springs wedding. And just a few days later, she dropped a major health bomb: At 20, she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), and she'd been privately fighting the disease ever since. With her husband and their 3-year-old son, Beau, by her side, the actress finally put her secret out into the world, and she feels more in control than ever. She called us from the New Mexico set of the upcoming Western film Justice to share what it's like owning her truth.
How did you feel the day your story came out?
I woke up hysterically crying. I'd heard my phone going off and I said to my husband, 'I feel so vulnerable right now.' I was so afraid. He said, 'Let me get Beau, you stay in bed and relax, and open your phone. I think you might be surprised.' I was like, 'You look first.' So he went through all my text messages, Twitter, and Instagram, and he was like, 'Jamie, you have to read this—you're making a difference.' So I sat in bed for two hours by myself, reading every comment and message, and it was amazing. All of a sudden I was a part of a group that I felt honored to represent, and I realized I could maybe make a difference.
How are you doing emotionally?
I still have days where I feel bad and I'm sad about it and it sucks. But having people write to me and say, 'Thanks,' and 'You're not alone,' and 'We're in this fight with you'—it's not just me supporting them; I'm getting support as well. It means and helps a lot.
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You're finally 'living your truth.' Why is that so important?
It probably took me so long to come out with my diagnosis because it took me a long time to accept it. Having a disease for almost 15 years, you'd think you'd be able to wrap your head around it. But when you're young, it's really hard to accept something that's slowing you down or that could halt your dreams or aspirations. One of the things I've learned in my quest for peace with all of this is that the only way to truly heal is to accept.
Were you afraid of what people would think?
I thought I would be judged. I judged myself, and I thought people would take things away from me. I was really starting to box myself off because that felt easier. I didn't want other people to decide what I could and couldn't do, but at the end of the day, I wasn't being my true self. I didn't know who I was anymore. Until I was completely honest about it, I couldn't see what life had to offer.
But now you're back at work, which must feel great.
I've been working consistently, which has been a complete shock to me. People [on this film set] are taking care of me. I used to be afraid to ask for help because I didn't want to raise any red flags. Now they're like, 'Jamie, do you need a chair?' Or 'Why don't you take a break?' I never expect that. Coming onto this job, the director called me, and I said, 'I want to go over my limitations with you.' And he said, 'Jamie, the reason we offered you this role is because I watched you interview on the Today show, and whatever essence you had in your interview is what I wanted for this character. I have zero concerns about what you can or can't do, and we'll figure it out, so don't worry. We all love you and we all want you there.' I've never had anybody say that to me. It was everything I always dreamed I would hear, and I never thought I would.
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How are you feeling physically?
I'm OK. I'm living my life. I can do everything everyone else can, just a little slower. And sometimes I just need to sit down. I can't run, which is the one thing I dream about all the time. I cannot wait until I can feel that freedom in my body. It's something we take for granted, and it's a beautiful, liberating feeling that I just don't have right now. And I really miss wearing high heels. I can wear them on a red carpet because I have my husband's arm, but the balance issue is really hard. I can't wear them for long periods of time. A wedge is good. That's what I wore with my wedding dress, and I was able to last a couple of hours in those, and I was barefoot the rest of the night.
Have you always been on medication?
For the first five years of my diagnosis, I was giving myself shots, but I was not good about it. They hurt, they were awful, and I didn't have that many symptoms. It was sort of my way of rebelling against it, like 'I don't feel sick.' I might have been a little better off had I been more consistent with my medication. There are so many options now—infusions, pills—that really help with the progression of the disease. When I finish this movie, I want to start a blog or YouTube channel where I can be a guinea pig. If I try things and they don't work or they help, I'd love to be able to share that information with people.
What advice would you give someone struggling with a health issue?
Be kind to yourself. You didn't do anything to deserve this. It isn't karma. And ask for help. For six years, I didn't have a single person come with me to a doctor's appointment, and it wore me down. Your mind can take you to really bad places, so finding an outlet is most important.