Last summer Lauren Russell was enjoying her newfound reality stardom during the airing of Showtime’s The Real L Word, but she was also going through some health issues that she’s finally opening up about. Last June, Lauren had some mild blindness that began bothering her during a trip to San Diego, which set off a series of events that ended in her being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“I was driving and all of the sudden — you know when you wake up and you have a thing in your eye? You get it out eventually, but you know when it makes your eye cloudy? It was like that. ‘I can’t get it out. This is not removable — there is something in my eye,’” Lauren said. “The next day it was worse and I’m always the one in the family that they think is a hypochondriac. Every time anything happens — like I broke my ankle and my mom [said] ‘Oh, just walk around! You’re fine!’ And I walked and fell down — I really broke my ankle! Anyway it was one of those situations where it kept getting worse. I was literally going blind in one eye and no one was really taking me seriously.”
But once Lauren was back in New York, she said the blindness had gotten worse to the point where her eye was completely clouded. “It’s so hard to function and I had to start wearing an eye patch, because it makes you dizzy and you get headaches and it’s really hard to focus on anyone,” she said. “It was a really awkward time. I went to go see the guy who did my Lasik because I [thought], ‘I think it’s my Lasik, it needs to be done again. They say you need touch ups every couple years sometimes. It happens.’ He [said], ‘You need to go see a neurologist right away.’”
The neurologist did some vision tests with Lauren and then told her to immediately get an MRI. The next day, she was told the doctor had found lesions on her brain.
“He said ‘It’s pretty typical looking of MS,’ and I had no idea what that meant,” Lauren said. “I literally didn’t know anything about the disease. So I wasn’t convinced yet. Of course I was shocked and it was strange, because I’m only 32 — at the time I was 31. I didn’t know, at the time, I guess this is the age where it hits supposedly for women.” An MS specialist confirmed it was, indeed, the disease.
“I had my mom there, I had Kiyomi there, and Amanda had come, too,” Lauren said. “Immediately — I don’t remember if I started crying or what — but immediately I took a very positive attitude because from what he told me, the little I knew about the disease, no two people ever have the same things — the symptoms, something that might happen to me might not happen to the next person, etc. So I had to remain positive.”
After she was diagnosed, Lauren was given steroids via IV to help treat her eye episode. “It’s mostly gone,” Lauren said, “but it’s weird because when my body temperature rises, it gets cloudy. Hopefully that’ll go away altogether but you never know.”
Lauren is on a regular medication that she injects every morning (“Thank God I don’t mind needles,” she said) and that other episodes have been very mild, including dull aches and fatigue.
“I’m functioning and I’m fine,” she said. “I’ve been doing this since July and I’ve been doing fine. I got a new doctor that is wonderful and he basically tells me I’m doing everything the right way. There are lots of different medications you can use and this is the oldest one with the least side effects.”
Now that she’s coming out about her diagnosis, Lauren wants women around her age — between 28 and 32 — to be aware of MS symptoms because they are the most at risk. She’s also working with the National MS Society to raise awareness and money for research, as there is no cure.
“if you’re a woman in that age group, that’s when it hits,” Lauren said. “It’s not, ‘be paranoid,’ but definitely check out the symptoms that may be an episode. If you know the symptoms then get it checked out. It’s just about being aware and being informed. I thought I was pretty well-informed but I was not.”
Even now, though, Lauren does not want to know what other possible problems could be in her future. In addition to her brain lesions, she also has lesions on her spine.
“I wasn’t going to go Google worst possible scenarios,” Lauren said. “My mom immediately researched everything and I just told her I want to be informed but I don’t want to read MS for Dummies. I don’t want to, because it’s so scary to know what could happen. If you stay focused on that, then your whole life will be stuck worrying and you have to take it day by day.”
Although it’s not preventative, there are things that those affected by MS can do to keep from having regular episodes besides take medicine, including taking care of your health.
“I just get really tired really early. I can’t go out drinking with everyone without getting really really tired. Even when I’m not drinking it’s an overall fatigue,” Lauren said. “But I’m trying to work out to counterbalance that. Working out helps. I’m trying to work on my diet, too. Anything I can do to be preventative is key.”
Lauren is also helping by creating a bracelet through her Lyon Fine Jewelry company, which will be available soon and proceeds will benefit the National MS Society.
“[It's] called the positivity bracelet because that’s the most important thing: To stay positive,” Lauren said. “Considering I’m a pretty well-informed person, I believe, and I didn’t know anything about the disease, I do want to take a lot of initiative especially for people, women in my age group who are high risk, to let them know if they are having the symptoms — there are other symptoms that I don’t have. But some people just ignore them, but if you act right away, you can get on medication.”
Lauren said she wanted to come forward about her diagnosis because she had hoped to share her story on another season of The Real L Word, but it was just announced that Showtime would be taking a different direction with the L Word franchise.
“I wanted to wait and possibly have more of an impact if it was shared on the show,” Lauren said. “It was a loyalty thing for me. I was going to make an announcement eventually but since the show’s not coming back I can just do it how I want to.”
Lauren is currently taking the time to work on her jewelry line and join girlfriend (Hunter Valentine‘s Kiyomi McCloskey) on select tour dates when she can. The two are going to Australia and New Zealand for an appearance tour in February, but otherwise, Lauren said she doesn’t have any immediate plans to be back on TV.
“There’s a lot to be done,” she said. “As far as any kind of TV or YouTube videos, we might do something — you never know.”
Lauren and Kiyomi will be hosting some events at the Dinah in April, which she joked is a celebration of their first anniversary. Kiyomi is very supportive, Lauren said, and keeps her positive.
“She always makes me feel better if I wander off on a scary thought,” Lauren said. I just think ‘stay positive, stay positive.’ I just force my brain to only think in that direction. I wasn’t going to lie in bed and cry and wallow. Life went on.”