Nearly three decades ago, Gabrielle Union was diagnosed with PTSD at age 19 after she was raped at gunpoint

By Robyn Merrett
September 02, 2020 09:00 AM
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Gabrielle Union
| Credit: Djeneba Aduayom/Women’s Health

Gabrielle Union is feeling a physical response to the heartbreaking current events that are taking place in the world.

“The combination of the pandemic and this racial reckoning, alongside being inundated with [images of] the brutalization of Black bodies, has sent my PTSD into overdrive," Union, 47, says in her October cover interview for Women's Health, shared exclusively with PEOPLE.

"There’s just terror in my body," says Union.

Explaining the coping mechanisms she uses to manage her PTSD, Union tells the outlet: "I break out my emotional fix-me toolkit, and I try to run through all the situations. I call it my 'What's the likelihood of X happening?' method ... If I'm fearful about going into a store because I'm anxious about being robbed, I'll make myself feel better by going to one where there will be witnesses to cut down those chances. It's been this way since '92. It's just something I do; second nature."

She has also turned to therapy to help her manage expectations: “I feel different in my body. I feel freer.”

Gabrielle Union
| Credit: Womans Health

Union previously opened up about her struggles with PSTD, sharing in 2018 — for the second annual installment of The Child Mind Institute's #MyYoungerSelf social media campaign — that she was diagnosed when she was a teenager after she was raped.

"I'm here to tell you that I am PTSD survivor, thriver, bad ass motherf----- I was diagnosed with PTSD at 19 after I was raped at gunpoint — and I didn't let it stop me," Union shared.

"I didn't want it to define my whole life, and it doesn't have to. Asking for help, needing help doesn't make you weak or less worthy of love or support or success," she said.

Gabrielle Union
| Credit: Djeneba Aduayom/Women’s Health

Union added, "You can literally be anything you want to be. PTSD isn't a death sentence. You don't have to be alone or feel isolated. There are so many of us out there who are feeling exactly what you're dealing with it and it doesn't make you weak. It doesn't make you anything but human."

The past year has been a bittersweet one for the L.A.'s Finest star, who celebrated her six-year anniversary with husband Dwyane Wade this month.

Last November, it was confirmed that Union and Julianne Hough would not be returning for America's Got Talent's 15th season. Days later, a report by Variety claimed that Union had expressed concerns over alleged racial insensitivity on set, and that both women said they were subjected to "excessive notes" on their physical appearance.

(In a statement to the publication at the time, Hough denied that she had a negative experience on the show and said she was “happy to continue my working relationship with NBC.” Speaking with PEOPLE in December, Hough said after her exit: “I would just say that — my goodness. I just believe and value at the highest regard that everybody has a voice and should be heard, first and foremost." She added: “And then I believe that the paradigm of the workplace and how you do business and work with people now, it’s shifting, and I think that the people that really want to see change happen are going to authentically and positively … do that. And so that’s all I really have to say about that.”)

Gabrielle Union
| Credit: Djeneba Aduayom/Women’s Health
Gabrielle Union
| Credit: Djeneba Aduayom/Women’s Health

In June, Union filed a complaint against the media conglomerate, AGT creator Simon Cowell, Fremantle and Syco a little over six months following her controversial departure.

In the complaint obtained by PEOPLE, Union alleged she was terminated from the show after just one season due to "her refusal to remain silent in the face of a toxic culture at AGT. NBC responded to Union's complaint, in part saying, "We took Ms. Union's concerns seriously, and engaged an outside investigator who found an overarching culture of diversity on the show. NBCUniversal remains committed to creating an inclusive and supportive working environment where people of all backgrounds are treated with respect."

Gabrielle Union
| Credit: Djeneba Aduayom/Women’s Health

Late last month, Union opened up about her experience on AGT during the "Minding Her Business" panel for the 2020 American Black Film Festival, where she revealed that her most difficult business dealing to date was being fired from the hit NBC talent competition series, according to USA Today.

"Probably the AGT of it all was so surprising and so heartbreaking and so frustrating and so unnecessary," she shared. "That would be probably the hardest part [of my time in the industry]."

Per the publication, Union also noted that other difficult parts of the behind-the-scenes drama on the show led to her "feeling like such a public flogging and just standing in my truth and standing on the side of employee rights and knowing there's a better way of doing business."

"But that whole process was really brutal and knowing that I brought my team into that, it just sucked," she added.