Taraji P. Henson recently sat down with Patia Braithwaite of SELF Magazine to discuss a whole lot of things, including mental health, the “strong Black woman” trope, menopause, her support of Terrence Howard and Jussie Smollett, and why she and her fiancé Kelvin Hayden broke up for a little bit.
“All my life I’ve been bubbly and the life of the party,” she says. “Things started to shift for me when Trayvon Martin—when that happened.” His killing stoked special pain for Henson, whose son, Marcell Johnson, was close to Martin’s age. “That’s when I noticed anxiety started kicking in,” she says. She feared that even her own fame wouldn’t be enough to protect her son. “They’re not going to [recognize] Taraji’s son out here on these streets,” she says. “It’s me that is the star. He’s not.
Finding a therapist to help treat her anxiety and depression
“I had aligned all my chakras, and I still wanted to headbutt a bitch,” she jokes. In all seriousness: “The therapy came into play out of necessity,” she says. “It was [a] time where I was like, ‘Oh, I’m just not feeling like myself anymore,’ and my son was going through his issues with becoming a young black male in America with no dad and no grandad.” (Henson’s son’s father was murdered in 2003, and her own father died in 2006.) “It was like, ‘Okay, I’m not a professional. We both need help.”
Thankfully, it was her co-star and friend Gabourey Sidibe who helped her find the right person, the same woman she sees. She sent an email to SELF about the importance of finding a good therapist.
“It was extremely important for me to find a therapist who is a black woman, just because black women live in a different world than everyone else. Our problems, daily interactions, and expectations are different than most other people, so I wanted a therapist who I could cut through the societal foundation of who I am with, so that we could get to my specific issues. There’s a shorthand between us. We speak the same language because we’re from the same world. She is the most human therapist I’ve known,” she says, “and when I encounter anyone who I think would benefit from my therapist’s humanity, I’ll always recommend her. It wouldn’t be fair to keep this mental wellness to myself. “I love Taraji. I see how hard she works and how much she splits herself to do for others, whether through her acting, her philanthropy, or her friends and family. I just wanted to give her something that was just for her. A space to check in with herself.”
Taraji said, “…When you find that right person, oh my God, the sky cracks open.”
On Black women not being superheroes
People hear about Taraji’s start in Hollywood, moving to L.A. with $700 in her bank account with a two-year-old son and believe that it makes her something like super-human. But Henson said that the journey was a challenging one.
“I know people see that as strength,” Henson admits, radiant in understated makeup, her straight hair parted down the center, her simple black ensemble elevated with Chanel jewelry (and, of course, her diamond solitaire engagement ring). “But understand it wasn’t easy, and I didn’t walk through it with this cape on my back. It looked like some superhero shit, but baby, it was a lot of days where I was screaming into my pillow, crying, second-guessing myself, calling my father,” she says, stretching the word baby until it sounds like it belongs in a ’90s R & B song. “There were [times] where I didn’t know how the story was going to end.”
Taraji spoke about how harmful the “strong Black woman” trope can be for us.
“There are some times where I feel absolutely helpless,” she says. “That’s human. Everybody feels like that. Just because I’m a black woman, don’t put that strong-superhero thing on me.”
“I would get so low, really, really low, beaten, like never before,” she says. “You may have those days [when] you’re like, ‘Oh, I just don’t feel like getting out of bed. I just want to sleep in,’ but you don’t feel heavy. I was just starting to feel heavy a lot, [like] suffocating…. It just came out of nowhere.” At first, she didn’t think these emotions were related to menopause. Then she started doing the math: “I’m like, ‘Well, you are pushing 50, girl. At some point things are going to change.’”
On supporting Terrence Howard and Jussie Smollett
The SELF writer spoke about Taraji’s friendship with Terrence Howard given his history of alleged domestic violence and Jussie Smollett knowing all that he’s been through in the past year.
“I love like a mother. “If I’m your friend, I can’t judge you,” she says. “ I just can’t. I could do something, and I wouldn’t want you to turn your back. We’re humans. We’re flawed. No one is perfect. I might not necessarily agree with everything, but I think every human deserves some form of humanity, some form of compassion.”
When asked if she’s suffered any consequences choosing to stand by these men, Taraji said:
“I haven’t really had any backlash. At the end of the day, I can love a person through their flaws, you know?” she says. “People have had to love me through my flaws.”
Taraji met Kelvin Hayden when her makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff decided to throw a party for Henson with the purpose of introducing her to eligible bachelors. Initially, Henson was hesitant, thinking the whole idea was weird. But it was the place where she met Hayden.
“We shook hands and I swear I heard angels. That’s the joke I tell. But he just felt right.”
Taraji claimed that there have been some bumps in the road but they’ve straightened out their miscommunications. Henson believed that Hayden, a former NFL player, would be out-here with the ladies. And Hayden thought Taraji, an actress, was also playing the field.
“Hayden, who is 13 years Henson’s junior, thought she was a “prima donna celebrity who has her way with guys and moves on,” she says. Henson thought Hayden was a good-looking “athlete who has his way with women.” She started to assume that his proneness to falling asleep when she got home from work meant he was exhausted from cheating escapades. “Whenever he would fall asleep, [I’d think,] Oh, you cheating on me?” she recalls. Miscommunications like these led to a breakup, she says.”
Hayden was able to work his way back into his life, despite Taraji blocking his number and emails, by showing up to her condo and explaining his intentions in front of her family and friends. The move convinced her he was serious.
“He had to suck in his pride and he still didn’t stop.” She grins while recounting the rough patch. “I said, ‘That’s my husband.’”
When asked if Taraji believes in the notion that once you do your work, love will materialize, she said:
“That’s foolish to believe.”
She argued that more often than not, you’re still working on yourself as you begin a relationship. She said learning how to do the work with another person involved is the real work. Taraji is doing this with Hayden, learning to breathe through the moments she would have generally cause her to “pop off.” She said her fiancé is patient with her as she figures this out. She said his “feet are planted firmly in the foundation of us.”
“He’s still working with me on it. You just don’t put that down,” she says. “It’s a rewiring, and he’s very patient with me. I’m grateful to God that I found a partner that I can work with, and that’s what I prayed for,” she explains. “I said, ‘I’m not looking for perfection, God. I’m looking for somebody who wants to do the work.’”
You can read Taraji’s full interview over at SELF.