Warning: the following may be triggering for some readers as it discusses mental illness, rape and trauma.
It’s finally here — Gabrielle Union joined Taraji P. Henson for the premiere episode of her Facebook Watch series, Peace of Mind with Taraji. Henson hosts the show with her best friend since seventh grade, Traci Jade Jenkins, and the first episode focused on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because that’s what the Empire star’s father experienced after his tour of duty in the Vietnam war.
“My dad’s name is Boris Lawrence Henson, rest in peace, daddy. And his struggles are what made me start the Boris L. Henson Foundation with Traci at the helm to help,” Henson said. “You see, my father had what most people think of when we speak of PTSD, you know effects from the war. But the two women here today, they suffer from it too, and they never served in the military.”
During the premiere Union, Jenkins and Henson discussed the importance of speaking out about PTSD in all its forms because many people attribute it to war veterans, while Union shared some details on the new challenges she faces due to the ongoing pandemic.
Union discussed her own PTSD, stemming from her rape at gunpoint at the age of 19. She said that 2020 has been triggering her PTSD and she thought “quarantining was right up my ally” because she loves silence and being at home, but Donald Trump didn’t help that. “You add in our president, he inspires so much racism and white supremacy and hatred and evil that we’ve been in the midst of an onslaught, a daily barrage of the brutalization of Black and brown bodies that we’re just taking in every day, all day,” Union said.
The Bring It On alum (who has shared her story previously in her book We’re Going to Need More Wine) again opened up about her sexual assault which happened at a Payless shoe store where she worked while she was in college. She said that during her traumatic experience, she “hovered over her body,” and it wasn’t until “dude asked me to hand him the gun that I came back into myself.” Union added that she tried to kill the man, and she said while she was experiencing it, she felt like nothing could harm her if she wasn’t in her body.
She said that she’s been in therapy since 19 and began the process five days after the incident. “It had been suggested that night at the hospital while I was getting my rape kit that I was going to need a lot of stuff,” she explained. “The immediate thing was physical help from a medical doctor,” adding that the nurse told her parents that she was going to need therapy and mental health help that her parents wouldn’t be equipped to give her.
“Being able to have the language to know what was happening. The terror that exists to this day in my body, in my spirit, in my soul to be able to say, oh, that’s post-traumatic stress syndrome. I need it,” Union shared. When she gets triggered, she said her right arm starts to feel like it’s going numb, and it feels like a full-body heart attack.
Henson said that PTSD could come in different forms, not just from being at war. “Because we do associate PTSD with soldiers, we forget that we are surviving wars in our neighbourhoods every day,” Union added. She said that since then, she tries not to go anywhere where there is money that exchanges hands after dark. “When you have danced with the devil up close when you have slow dragged with the devil, you know what people are capable of, you know what the world is capable of,” the Being Mary Jane star said. “How are you not always in fear of it happening?”
Union also opened up about the challenges she’s facing at home with her husband, Dwyane Wade, while in quarantine. “It has been hard during the quarantine because we are in the same space,” The Perfect Holiday actress explained. “I have not been home in any kind of consistent way since I have been an adult. So just getting to know my husband, which sounds crazy. I was like, ‘Oh, every day, every day you’re going to be here? I guess this is healthy.’ I just feel a little more naked, exposed, because I’m just on Zoom with the therapist.”
She said that pandemic has made her feel self-conscious in her marriage. “You get worried that maybe you have revealed too much, and you’re going to scare them away because damaged women aren’t supposed to be lovable,” Union said.
Union and the former Miami Heat player began dating in 2009 and were married on August 30, 2014. She became stepmother to his three children: Zaire, 18, Zaya, 13 and Xavier, 7. Wade and Union welcomed their first child together in 2018, Kaavia James, 2, who has become one of the most meme-worthy children, helping showcase all of our moods throughout 2020.
Union discussed what hopes she has for her girls as they grow up, saying she wants them to be at peace and know love. “Zaya’s peace is nonnegotiable,” Union shared. “As Zaya gathered more language, she was able to tell us about her identity. She was able to tell us about her sexuality. She was able to tell us, ‘I’m trans.’ And she says, ‘I’ve come out a few times. I came out to my teacher in third grade, and then when you guys posted that picture of me in Chicago at my birthday party.'” Union said that Zaya told her she felt she was outed from those moments.
Union added that Zaya helps her and her husband learn as parents, “We only know what we know, and you have to be open to embrace that we don’t know sh-t,” she added.
Henson’s original series will continue to interview celebrities, experts and everyday people about mental health and illness, particularly those in the Black community. Each episode focuses on different mental health topics.
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