Actress Christina Applegate, is opening up about the toll that multiple sclerosis (MS) has taken on her life since her diagnosis in August 2021. In a recent interview, the Emmy award-winning actress, who got her start in the iconic role of Kelly Bundy in the hit sitcom, Married…with Children, divulged all the ways that her life has changed.
“With the disease of MS, it’s never a good day,” the 51-year-old admitted in an interview with Vanity Fair in May 2023. “You just have little s— days.”
Here, an update on how Christina is fighting, the support she’s getting from loved ones and if she thinks she’ll ever return to acting.
Christina Applegate’s MS symptoms
For the beloved actress, who has starred in blockbuster films like Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, The Sweetest Thing and Anchorman, the disease began with small, almost imperceptible changes, and she missed many of the early signs: a struggle to stay balanced during a dancing scene while shooting the first season of her Netflix show, Dead to Me, and a change to her tennis game. “I wish I had paid attention,” she shared with the New York Times. “But who was I to know?”
It was actually Applegate’s long-time friend, actress Selma Blair, who also has MS, who spotted the first signs. “I was sitting in Selma’s living room, our children playing, and I told Selma I’d been having this weird tingling in my feet,” Applegate recalled to British Vogue. “She said, ‘You must get tested for MS.’ [Even my doctor doubted it] but there it was. In essence, because of her, I’m going to have a better quality of life.”
When Applegate was first diagnosed, she took to Twitter to ask for support — and for privacy.
“Hi friends. A few months ago I was diagnosed with MS,” the tweet read. “It’s been a strange journey. But I have been so supported by people that I know who also have this condition. It’s been a tough road. But as we all know, the road keeps going. Unless some a—— blocks it.”
Applegate followed her tweet with a request from her followers. “As one of my friends that has MS said ‘we wake up and take the indicated action.’ And that’s what I do. So now I ask for privacy. As I go through this thing. Thank you xo,” she wrote.
What is MS?
For Applegate, like many others diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), taking each day as it comes is imperative. According to the Mayo Clinic, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord wherein the immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between the brain and the body.
Though women are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than men, the signs of symptoms of MS are varied and diffuse depending on the location and severity of the nerve fiber damage, ranging from pain, balance issues, fatigue and numbness, among other troubling symptoms. This makes even seemingly simple tasks light taking a shower “frightening,” as Applegate shared.
“You can fall, you can slip, your legs can buckle. Especially because I have a glass shower. It’s frightening for me to get in there,” Applegate said to Vanity Fair. “And gravity can just pull you down and take everything down with you.”
“There are certain things that people take for granted in their lives that I took for granted,” she added. “Going down the stairs, carrying things — you can’t do that anymore. It F—— sucks. I can still drive my car short distances. I can bring food up to my kid. Up, never down.”
After receiving her diagnosis of MS while filming the third and final season of the Netflix dark comedy Dead to Me in August 2021, Applegate says life imitated the art she loves far too closely at the time. In the show, her dear friend and acting partner, Linda Cardellini (playing the role of Judy), was battling a disease — but in reality, it was Applegate (playing the role of Jen) battling one in real life.
“It was bizarre,” she told Vanity Fair. “It was almost like a portent. None of us knew I was going to be sick and gain 40 pounds from my medication and have immobility. It was really difficult to not have my own personal feelings shadow what Jen was feeling. A lot of the words were really difficult to say and a lot of the scenes were really difficult to do.”
How Christina Applegate is doing today
Given the manifold challenges that MS presents, Applegate is doing exactly what she said and taking the indicated action based upon what each day brings.
Since people diagnosed with MS have compromised immune systems, she says she doesn’t want to be around a lot of people. “I have a friend who lives here during the week and she helps me take care of [12-year-old daughter] Sadie,” she shared. “And then on the weekend I have a caretaker.”
Applegate also prefers to keep any stimulation to a minimum these days, explaining she likes “to keep it as quiet and as mellow as possible.”
“It’s exhausting,” she added. “Imagine just being in a crowd of people and how loud that is. It’s like 5,000 times louder for anyone who has lesions on their brains.”
She does, however, rely on the support of friends, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Selma Blair, who have been navigating their own MS diagnoses over the years. “It’s impossible for anyone to understand,” Applegate said of the bond they share. “And we know that. And we’re not trying to make people understand because they never will understand.”
Will Christina Applegate act again?
Though this is not the first time she has faced a challenging health struggle — Applegate also battled breast cancer and a double mastectomy while filming Samantha Who? in 2008 — she shares that this time, prioritizing herself and her health is her number one goal.
“I didn’t speak up for my boundaries back then.” She continued, “I should have asked for some more time after one of my surgeries. I went back to work two weeks after my reconstruction. And that was really difficult for me to do.”
The support of her friends who are also actresses navigating the industry with MS has helped her put those boundaries in place this time around. “They’ve said, ‘I wish someone had told me back at the beginning to say, ‘I need this. I need these boundaries,’” she told Vanity Fair. “[Jamie-Lynn Sigler] has had it for 20 years. She’s an actress, and she hid it for 10 years and then pushed through and suffered because of it. She was like, ‘You need to tell them [what you need] now that you’ve let it out of the bag.’”
And while Applegate has said that the future of her acting career is uncertain, in a recent appearance at Variety’s TV FYC Fest, she admitted that she misses it — and hopes she can return to the work she loves. “I don’t know if I can. I’d love to, I do miss it. I miss it so much. I just don’t know, as [it’s] a daily struggle to walk,” Applegate said, while getting emotional.
“Thank you for being supportive and understanding as I journey through this new part of my life.”
Alexandra Pollock is a Deputy Editor at Woman’s World and First for Women magazine who has years of experience reporting on health, lifestyle topics, fiction and human interest topics. She has a MFA in Poetry and Translation from Drew University and has been published in several anthologies.