Michaele Salahi Battling MS and Bad Press
Michaele Salahi, famous — or infamous — for crashing a state dinner at the White House and landing a gig on a reality television show, added another dimension to her fame by announcing that she has multiple sclerosis (MS). Can’t you hear the collective groan?
My own first reaction to Mrs. Salahi’s announcement was to yawn and move on. It does not thrill me to give more attention to someone obviously addicted to attention for attention’s sake, but as a person who has MS, I am rather surprised by reaction to the story.
There is a fair amount of understandable skepticism about her claim, considering her reputation and that sales of a newly-released book are at stake. And her explanation that her thin figure is the result of MS is confusing. The very long list of MS symptoms generally does not include weight loss or thinness.
She says that she’s kept the secret of her diagnosis of 17 years. I don’t find that hard to believe. For a variety of reasons, it is quite common for people with invisible illness to keep it private for many years.
Salahi wants the country to know that “you can still have a full, exciting, and productive life even if you or a loved one is battling a debilitating, chronic disease such as MS.” That much we already knew.
So is it a good thing, or a bad one, to have Michaele Salahi as an unofficial ambassador for people with MS? It is neither. She is one of hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and millions around the world who have MS. She is as much the face of MS as anyone who has it; we are all unofficial ambassadors for MS.
MS, like many medical conditions, doesn’t play favorites. It does not choose its hosts based on a likability test, financial or social status, or ambassador potential. MS is a fickle disease when it comes to symptoms. Some of us have extremely debilitating symptoms while others barely register a twinge of numbness. People like me, who have relapsing/remitting MS, can experience both extremes.
Some of the comments I’ve read from people who have MS truly surprise me. Quite a few folks apparently are convinced that she can’t possibly have MS because she dances in high heels and has an active social life. Considering that this is National Chronic Invisible Illness Week, that kind of talk disappoints me. People with MS should know better.
Whether or not Salahi actually has MS is not my call to make, but I certainly wouldn’t make it based on her appearance. If you’d seen me dancing it up at a party a couple of weekends ago, you wouldn’t think I have MS either. Although I personally experience extended periods of time during which I cannot walk without assistance, not all people with MS have trouble with walking. That’s a fact.
MS is an invisible illness much of the time. You can’t see fatigue or pain; you can’t gauge the effort it may take a person with MS to walk across the room or blow dry their own hair; your eyes are unable to conceive that a person cannot feel their own face. And you definitely do not see the private struggle… when we are home and let our guard down.
You don’t have to like Salahi. I’m certainly not going to suddenly tune in to her reality television show or buy the book because we have MS in common. But those of us who have MS should be careful about our criticisms, lest we add to the many misconceptions about our condition.
I wouldn’t wish MS on anyone. I hope her case is as mild as it is invisible.
Related reading on Care2:
- MS: Who Gets it and Why
- National Chronic Invisible Illness Week: What You Can Do
- Harry Potter Author Donates Millions to Multiple Sclerosis Research
Image: official White House photo