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Selma Blair's memoir, 'Mean Baby,' is the result of all the drama in her life

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Selma Blair has spent a lot of her life making other people comfortable, including me.

SELMA BLAIR: Before we even begin, I am just letting you know, with the MS, you know, it's - I am - I'm in great shape but I still do have residual damage.

MARTIN: The actress was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2018. So when she meets new people, she prepares them for what hanging out with her looks and sounds like.

BLAIR: Some of it is the voice, as you will notice. And, sometimes, if I tuck my legs in, my voice really clears and doesn't block so much. But a lot of times I have spasms and it blocks. And it's fine. I just work through it.

MARTIN: Is it annoying to have to make other people feel comfortable about it?

BLAIR: I make them feel too comfortable that they're like, please leave me now, I get it.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

BLAIR: It can be so harrowing for people because not only they were uncomfortable seeing me lurch around. Then I attack them...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

BLAIR: ...Show them the 10 different ways I can lurch around. I mean, it's just - I'm way too dramatic for this.

MARTIN: Selma Blair's new memoir is called "Mean Baby," and it's the result of all the drama in her own life. There's been a lot - loneliness, failed relationships, addiction - just to note, this conversation does include mentions of suicide - but mainly, it is a beautiful tale about how this person learned to love a new version of herself. Selma Blair inherited a lot of her dramatic tendencies from her mother, who died in 2020. When I talked to her, she was in Michigan for her mom's funeral, which was delayed because of COVID.

BLAIR: I adored my mother. My mother was striking and brilliant and a magistrate and very critical and performative in a way. You know, it was her drama. It was her love language to be critical. She really valued beauty. And she wanted me to be pretty. And she raised the bar really high, and I fell short often.

MARTIN: At one point, you write in the book, she was going through a depression. And you quote her saying that the two of you could lock yourselves in the car in the garage if things got really bad.

BLAIR: Yes. My mother did, you know, promise me - Selma, she said, if you can't take it anymore, you tell me, and we'll - we can go in there, and we'll seal up the doors and make sure no one's home. And my father would get upset when my mom would do that. But now I realized once she died that she was doing it to say, I better know, so I can stop you. I realize now maybe it was so that I would go to her if I wanted to do it. She had other children. I don't believe she would have killed herself for them. I mean, my mother was dramatic and eccentric and a million things but she would not have wanted to desert her children.

MARTIN: Even though Selma Blair can rationalize all of that now, it was still a heavy emotional burden for a child to carry. And maybe it was an escape or just the thrill of breaking the rules, but Selma started drinking when she was just 7 years old. And over the years, drinking turned into a central feature of her childhood.

BLAIR: We'd have mimosas, and I'd get nice and buzzed. And there were times where my father said, no, you've had enough.

MARTIN: It wasn't just mimosas. like...

BLAIR: Right.

MARTIN: ...You were raiding the liquor cabinet and getting blackout drunk.

BLAIR: Yes. Like every weekend blackout drunk.

MARTIN: Are you just like, there by the grace of God, go I? Like, how many times...

BLAIR: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Something really bad could have happened to you?

BLAIR: I cannot believe how reckless I was. Now that I have a child, I would - 'cause I am so concerned my son will ever have a drink, but I don't want to project. What do parents do when your template for a childhood is a bit askew?

MARTIN: Her low point came several years ago when she was on vacation with her son - who was 4 at the time - and her son's dad, with whom she'd had a bitter custody battle.

BLAIR: Unbeknownst to me, I really was in an MS flair. I couldn't handle. I couldn't wake up...

MARTIN: And you didn't - we should just say you didn't have a diagnosis at this point.

BLAIR: I did not have a diagnosis.

MARTIN: So now, looking back, you were going through MS symptoms...

BLAIR: This is all looking back, knowing that a lot of the things that I was so ashamed about, that I felt so lazy - or why am I so off balance? What's going on? And one, it's hard to clarify when you're drinking. It's hard to see (laughter) the forest through the trees. But - so I'd be sober for months, and I never drank with my son. But I went to Mexico and as - and the loneliness of realizing I'm somewhere with a man that probably doesn't like me very much right now.

MARTIN: Yeah.

BLAIR: And I remember I ordered in front of him. I ordered, you know, a shot of tequila. And I knew. Don't do this. Don't do this. And I did it. And I spent those four days in my room drinking.

MARTIN: At what point after that did you get the MS diagnosis?

BLAIR: About four years. And I was sober immediately. Never had a drink since.

MARTIN: What was it like to not have that answer, to kind of live in that in-between of, OK, it's not the addiction because I've dealt with that?

BLAIR: I was confused. And I thought, oh, my God, I must be more depressed than I think. I don't know. I don't know what this is. And to get a diagnosis was like, OK, OK, now you can move again.

MARTIN: There was a name.

BLAIR: It's amazing what words can do. People...

MARTIN: Yes.

BLAIR: ...Are like, oh, label's so destructive. One label's so destructive, calling me manic-depressive or this and that, that maybe, you know, I made self-fulfilling. But then another label, something like MS that I had never heard of, even, I - for me. Like, I never - for - in all my groping around for answers and clues, I'd always look to depression. I should have been a bigger hypochondriac. I never...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

BLAIR: ...Thought anything would ever physically be wrong with me.

MARTIN: Her symptoms got more intense. And ultimately, Selma and her doctors decided that the best course of treatment was a stem cell transplant. She says she improved immediately afterwards.

The picture included in this part of the book - here. I'll hold it up so you can...

BLAIR: OK. Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: It's you.

BLAIR: That is me with my son. And that - I was actually very sick there. That was after we harvested my bone marrow.

MARTIN: I love this picture, though, because...

BLAIR: I love it, too.

MARTIN: ...I mean, you just have, like, a skiff of hair. You've lost your hair. But...

BLAIR: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...And you look very tired. But - I don't know - there's a lot of strength in your expression.

BLAIR: Thank you. I grew wiser. I grew wiser. And I think when you do have so much suffering for a moment and people help you, it is so healing to have those people. I mean, that's a whole other book about what people do that come into your lives that you don't know that heal you. And I can - I hope to continue writing. I hope that I'll find more things, and I hope someone would read it, maybe like you did, and say, oh, I get it. That's what I hope. And it's never too late to get control of things.

MARTIN: The book is called "Mean Baby" by Selma Blair, "A Memoir Of Growing Up." Selma, it has been such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you for making time.

BLAIR: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANAT FORT TRIO'S "LANESBORO")

MARTIN: If you or someone you know is struggling, please call the suicide hotline, 800-273-8255. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.