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Since receiving her 2018 multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Selma Blair has become intimately acquainted with the highs and lows of living with a chronic illness.
In 2019, the symptoms associated with her specific form of the degenerative neurological disease had reached a breaking point for the actress, often leaving her struggling to walk and talk. To hopefully help jumpstart her immune system, she underwent a risky two-month hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT)
In her new documentary Introducing, Selma Blair directed by Rachel Fleit, she shares an unflinching look inside that life-altering procedure, ahead of which she "was told to make plans for dying," Blair, 49, says in the film.
"It was a really hard time in my life," the actress tells PEOPLE about the period of illness, treatment and recovery captured in the discovery+ documentary. "People don't say how excruciating, emotionally, it can be to kind of prove you're not well. But I want to tell the truth about MS. It is important to me that people see what living with a chronic illness is like."
Courtesy Discovery+ Selma Blair in a scene from Introducing, Selma Blair
A little more than a year following the seven-step procedure, which included an aggressive course of chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Richard K. Burt at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and a long emotional and physical recovery, Blair is seeing "huge improvements" in her mobility and daily life.
Her MS is in remission (meaning there is currently no evidence of disease progression), though she is quick to note she is not cured, as there is no cure for MS.
"The severe fatigue is still such a gargantuan boulder in my way," she admits. Blair says she's constantly working on ways to curb it and spend as much time as possible with her son Arthur, 10. (His dad is fashion designer Jason Bleick whom Blair dated from 2010-2012.)
"I'm working on it. Little by little, I can do all these things," she says, adding that she and Arthur now play football together, albeit a slightly one-sided version. "I just get pelted with balls," she says. "I mean, I can't say I could go running, but I can jog down to the mailbox if I were to practice a few times."
For much more on Selma Blair, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday
Blair has also spent the last year during the pandemic working with vocal and physical therapists over Zoom to improve her movement and balance. As a result, she's learned helpful techniques to manage her body's minor flare-ups.
"My version of MS really screws with my mind," she says. "It's triggered by my own emotions and fears, adrenaline, as well as lights and sounds. I am working on those things. If you see me start to shake, it means my nerves got big. Getting into a ball for a minute and resetting myself helps. Or I'll jump into the cold pool and swim."
It's a daily battle, but Blair is committed to continuing to raise awareness about the disease and is a proud member of the differently-abled community.
"I have a circle of people in my life who use wheelchairs who have disabilities that I've looked to for a lot of my grounding, for my own confidence of getting into this space," she explains. "They're the light bearers to me, the people in the disabled communities that are really trying to live their best lives and try and implement more change."
Gina Murdoch, CEO of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) adds that Blair's activism has the potential to save lives.
"She's talking about all of the challenges, the good and the bad," says Murdoch, who has worked with the actress to raise awareness of MS as well as MSAA's free programs and services (The organization works to improve life for people living with MS via free information, MRIs and cooling equipment). "That honest, raw look is incredibly helpful to tell the story of what the disease is about and the daily struggles. She's using her platform to connect and empower people and educate those who don't know about MS. She's given the MS community a great gift."
In the meantime, Blair hopes her openness about her own struggles will help others going through MS to feel less alone.
"I'm trying to develop a love story with life right now," she says. "Things are coming along for sure. I really do feel like a new person."
Introducing, Selma Blair is now playing in select theaters and now available to stream on discovery+