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Jamie-Lynn Sigler Gets Real About Mom Guilt, MS, & More

For most of us, our introduction to Jamie-Lynn Sigler came by way of what is widely considered one of the best TV shows ever created: The Sopranos. At just 16, Sigler landed the role of Meadow, the melodramatic, high-achieving, and, sure, a little spoiled daughter of Tony and Carmela. What fans didn’t know was that, behind the scenes, Sigler was struggling with a difficult health diagnosis.

In 2002, as The Sopranos rounded out its fourth season, Sigler went to the doctor after noticing weakness and numbness in her leg, along with other unexplained symptoms. She never expected she’d ultimately be told the cause was relapsing multiple sclerosis (RMS).

She was 20 at the time.

No one really talked about MS then, especially in young people. And so Sigler didn’t either. In fact, she would wait another 15 years to share her journey.

Today, at 42, Sigler is still acting, enjoying a recurring role on the hit ABC show Big Sky. She’s mom to sons Beau, 10, and Jack, 6, whom she shares with husband Cutter Dykstra. She has two podcasts: Not Today, Pal, with former Sopranos sibling Robert Iler, and the brand-new MeSsy, with friend Christina Applegate, who was recently diagnosed with MS.

She’s found her voice again, something she feels happened when she created a three-step guide in partnership with Novartis to help people living with MS. “I think I was starting to give up on what I thought I could do or wanted to do because I wasn’t allowing myself to go through a process,” she tells Scary Mommy.

We sat down with Sigler via Zoom to discuss what that process looked like for her, being a mom with MS, and the importance of friends who let you be messy.


Scary Mommy: Which part of the process has been the most challenging for you — reflecting, reframing, or reaching out?

Jamie-Lynn Sigler: Reflecting. Sitting with the hard stuff, sitting with those feelings that sometimes we want to push away. We feel like they’ll beat us up, and if we let them in, we’ll never be able to get out.

Especially with a diagnosis like RMS, there’s sadness and depression and grief. There’s a grieving process of letting go of the idea of what you thought life was going to be or how it was going to go. Giving myself permission to go there was the hardest part for me. I think the first decade of my journey with RMS was pushing those feelings away until I realized that it wasn’t serving me and almost [making me feel] shame and guilt around this. I realized I needed to make a change.

Once I was able to do that, the second and third steps were easy. I was like, ‘OK, I’ve accepted the limitations that MS has given me and that this is a part of my life, so how do I move forward?’ So, sort of reframing each area of my life — in motherhood, as an actress — what adjustments do I need to make?

The third step is reaching out; now I need to ask for help. Whether that’s a wagon at the baseball field, a mobility aid at concerts, a four-wheel suitcase at the airport, an arm of a friend, or asking at work, ‘Can you park my trailer closer to set, or bring me a chair to sit on in between takes?’ These are little adjustments that I wasn’t allowing myself to make before.

SM: Having trouble asking for help and setting boundaries is very relatable for so many moms. What advice would you give to anyone struggling to advocate for those?

JLS: Look, there’s no mom who hasn’t felt the mommy burnout and the mommy guilt. We want to do it all, and we want to be all. Living with MS, I can’t do everything with my boys all the time. Sometimes I have to either hand an activity off or make an adjustment, and I used to feel really bad about that.

In accepting myself and watching my boys sort of accept that this is who their mom is, we’ve been able to make the adjustments together, and they see me as no different than any other mom. All their needs are met by me, and taking the time that I need for myself makes me a better mom.

We’ve all heard that, and we’ve all tried to apply it; it’s easier said than done. But because I’ve been forced to ask for help, I can only see how much better I can show up for my children. MS or not, every mom deserves that time for herself to be able to be her best self for all the roles she has to fulfill in her life.

SM: When you hear about MS, it’s often in the context of what it takes away. But in the spirit of reframing, what do you feel like this journey has given you?

JLS: It kind of gave me my superpower in being vulnerable. I didn’t realize how closed off I used to be. I definitely was a perfectionist and kind of, like, Never let ’em see you sweat. Everything’s good; I’m fine. Sometimes I can’t hide the things that I’m struggling with.

Allowing myself to be human and say that things are hard and that I’m struggling has opened up some of the deepest connections and enriched my friendships and relationships in a way that I can’t even find words to describe. I think that MS maybe was given to me for a reason, and I had no choice but to accept that it is part of my life.

That acceptance allows me to find a lot of the gifts that it’s given me. It’s given me perspective and appreciation. While it’s slowed me down, it’s also allowed me to look around, and I have immense gratitude for the things that are good in my life. I really think it’s just made me a better human being.

As much as it can break my heart to struggle physically, I think we’re all given hard things in life, and they’re our catalysts for growth and evolution. MS is just one of mine. As human beings, sometimes when we get really specific with our vulnerability, it actually becomes universal, and we can hear through our own filters and see through our own vision.

Even the podcast I have with Christina Applegate … when she and I get off recording, sometimes our producer, Alison, who does not live with MS, will say to the two of us, ‘I know that you think that you were talking about something that’s very unique for the both of you, but that helped me so much because of this, this, this in my life.’

So, feeling like we can connect as human beings because of this experience and because of dealing with something hard has not only made me a better person but even a better actor because I can connect in a way that’s a lot deeper.

SM: On MeSsy, you’ve tapped into the importance of mom friends willing and ready to receive us no matter what our “mess” is. Have you and Christina become that for each other?

JLS: Yes! She has also been one of the greatest gifts that MS has given me. We were peripheral friends before, but we were put in touch right before she was filming — or right in the middle of her filming — the last season of Dead To Me, when she was diagnosed by our mutual friend.

At first, it was just like, ‘Hey, you have been an actress with this thing. What do I do on set? What do I need to ask for? What boundaries do I need to set?’ Then it just became this beautiful friendship where we didn’t hold anything back.

We are sharing the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves, the parts where you think, No one could love me if they knew that I felt this way. Who would ever even want me or be around me if they knew that this is how I feel every day? Or, This is what I struggle with. It’s us still loving each other through that and realizing maybe we can give other people permission to feel like they can share — whether it’s just with us on our Instagram DM or with their friends.

It’s been such a gift for us.

SM: When did you give yourself permission to stop making other people’s feelings about MS your responsibility?

JLS: When my girlfriends literally sat me down and said, ‘Jamie, will you please say this is hard? Will you please say that it’s not easy for you?’ Because they felt like, ‘It’s almost awkward for us to watch you navigate things and not say anything. We feel like we just want you to say that.’ I will forever be grateful for those three girlfriends who literally sat me down on the floor and said, ‘Please, please let us be there for you in the way that you need.’

Chronic illness, MS or not… those are the gifts we can all give each other as friends and moms. Holding that space and allowing you to say the hard stuff gets it out of you.

I had a therapist once say, ‘If you name it, it comes in front of you and you can take a lot of the power away.’ And so even for me to say, This is hard, it’s not just mine then. There are other people there to carry that load with me, which was incredibly helpful and important for me in my journey.

SM: Girlfriends… where would we be without them?

JLS: I don’t want to know.

SM: Me either! OK, final question. You also have a podcast with your onscreen Sopranos brother, and you’ve said you’d do a reboot. Where do you see Meadow today?

JLS: I think she stayed in the field of law; I can see her maybe doing criminal defense. I don’t think she ventured far from Jersey. Maybe she moved to New York for a minute, but then went back to Jersey and started a family of her own. I always would fantasize about what Meadow’s wedding was going to be like — that was the only thing I wish we had gotten in The Sopranos. I would’ve loved to see Carmela plan it and Tony walk her down the aisle.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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