The 'Nashville' star talked about how her addiction fueled her postpartum depression and custody woes in a heart-wrenching episode of 'Red Table Talk'
Hayden Panettiere has historically kept her private life just that — private — since she ducked out of the spotlight in 2018. In a soul-bearing episode of Red Table Talk, the Nashville star shared her struggles with addiction as a rising star on Heroes, how she experienced “pretty obvious” postpartum depression without guidance or support from her physicians or family, and her painful story of unexpectedly relinquishing custody of her 7-year-old daughter Kaya to her ex in Ukraine.
Panettiere has been a working actress since she was a child, but it wasn’t until her role as Sheryl Yoast, the spunky daughter of Coach Bill Yoast in Remember the Titans, that her career really took off. While talking to Jada Pinkett-Smith, Adrienne Banfield Norris, and Kelly Osbourne, Panettiere talked about how her mother was living vicariously through her, pushing more and more auditions after the big role. “There came a time when I was pushing back,” she explained. “I hated doing [auditions]... but I was too afraid to tell my mom.” Her mom said she could quit, but the heavy connotation of failure had Panettiere working even harder to prove herself.
By the time she was on Heroes at the age of 16, an unnamed person on her team was offering Panettiere “happy pills” to stay on top of her increasingly demanding schedule. “Something similar to like, an adderall,” is how she described the nondescript pills given to her. “I didn’t think of it at the time as a bad thing or a drug,” she said. “I should have thought, ‘That’s so sketchy,’ but I didn’t, because I trusted the person,” she explained. The pills eventually lead to Panettiere leaning on other substances, namely alcohol, to deal with stress in both her professional and personal lives.
Panettiere stayed in the headlines long after Heroes ended in 2010, thanks in large part to her on-again, off-again relationship with Wladimir Klitschko, a Ukrainian former professional boxer. The two first started dating in 2008, and in December 2014, they welcomed their daughter Kaya Evdokia Klitschko. The two called it quits for good in 2018.
Between the time she had her child and her separation from Klitschko, Panettiere struggled with postpartum depression compounded by alcohol addiction. “I didn’t know where the alcoholism was ending and the postpartum was beginning,” Panettiere explained back in July during a segment on Good Morning America. She expanded on her postpartum depression on RTT, saying that she “didn’t know to ask for help.”
Ultimately, she used coping strategies she witnessed in her childhood. “I did what I had seen family and the people around me do whenever they were depressed or stressed out, which was reach for a bottle, which made it that much worse,” she explained to a nodding Pinkett-Smith and Osbourne, who have also been open about their own struggles with addiction.
Despite what she describes as a “pretty obvious” struggle with both postpartum and alcohol abuse, no one asked if she was okay. Four months after her daughter was born, Panettiere admitted herself for treatment. “I remember being on the floor in a puddle, rolled up on the floor just sobbing,” she explained.
She says her ex also did not provide any form of support: “He was convinced I was doing this to myself,” she explained of Klitschko. “[He thought] I could choose to snap out of it,” she added, describing his emotionless perspective as an “alpha male spirit” attitude. Panettiere bounced in and out of recovery centers.
Ultimately, Panettiere had to get herself sober not only for herself, but for Kaya. In 2018, she made the “gut-wrenching” decision to have Kaya live with her dad in the Ukraine as she worked toward sobriety. But she wants to set the record straight: “The idea that I am a person who would just easily throw out my child,” is not who she is; signing the custody papers was the "most heartbreaking thing I've ever had to do in my life."
At first, Panettiere didn’t even realize her ex was going to fight for sole custody, or that she would have to be the one flying to Ukraine any time she wanted see her kid. "You thought this was an agreement that you came to that it was best that your daughter be with her dad,” Banfield Norris clarified.
"At first it was not because it wasn't a discussion," the actress explained. She simply thought it was another visit, as the couple had been previously doing. “Once she was over there... it was immediately, ‘I want full custody.’ It was a shock to me.”
"I was gonna go work on myself, I was gonna get better, and when I got better then things would change and she could come to me and I could have my time with her but that didn't happen," she added. And going through all of this made her recovery all the more difficult as the public speculated on her well-being and ability to be a mom. “The things that they assumed about my situation with my daughter were just so often heartbreaking,” she said, describing a magazine cover she one saw that read ‘Hayden Panettiere: Why She Gave Up Her Daughter.’
All of the public shame is one of the many reasons Panettiere hasn’t opened up about her personal life until this RTT. “It’s scary and you don’t want to piss anyone off, especially the person who has control of your child,” Panettiere noted.
“There’s just something very freeing about being yourself. It makes me feel okay with not being okay.”
The full episode of Red Table Talk is now streaming on Facebook Watch. Stream the episode in its entirety below:
If you or someone you love is living with addiction and/or a mental health condition, know this: There is help and hope. You are not alone. For more information about treatment, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or call their helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).