Toni Braxton Opens Up About Filing for Bankruptcy and Her Family Struggles

Six-time Grammy Award winner Toni Braxton, 43, talks with MORE about living with lupus, life with an autistic son and how her WEtv reality show 'Braxton Family Values' helps erase her pain. An edited version of her interview follows.

by Ilyssa Panitz • Celebrity Reporter
toni braxton image
Photograph: Chris Ragazzo for WE tv

MORE: What motivated you to do a reality TV show?
Toni Braxton: My sisters told me I had to “be 2011” because this is the new way of TV, and I had to reinvent myself.

MORE: How many episodes did you shoot?
TB: We filmed 10 episodes that are each 60 minutes long.

MORE: What are we learning about you from watching Braxton Family Values that we haven’t already heard about in the media?
TB: Now I get to tell my story as opposed to the media telling a version of my story. I have never really spoken about the fact that I filed for bankruptcy twice. I was never broke. I just needed protection. When I got sick, I was forced to cancel my Las Vegas show and upcoming concerts. Those situations put me in a financial deficit because everything was secured by me personally.

MORE: Are the stories that alluded to you blowing your money on shopping sprees inaccurate?
TB: That disappointed me the most. When they indicated that I spent all of my money and took advantage of the federal system by filing bankruptcy, it made me feel as if they judged me with a character flaw as a human being. That hurt. Filing for bankruptcy was emotionally hard and completely embarrassing, too, especially because I couldn’t talk about why I had to do it. It was also hard for me to see those headlines because I have kids, and, as a mom, you always want to protect them, especially when you have a child with special needs.

MORE: Your youngest son Diesel is autistic. How did you first react to his diagnosis?
TB: Complete blame. I thought it was because of something I did during my prenatal care. I started thinking, “Was it because I didn’t take my vitamins every day?” It took a few friends to make me realize that there was nothing I could have done to prevent this.

MORE: How old was he when you saw the symptoms?
TB: I knew when he was one-and-a-half, but he was properly diagnosed when he was close to three years old.

MORE: Do you ever curl up and cry from the struggle?
TB: Yes, and that was yesterday. I have been struggling and fighting every day to get him into school in the Los Angeles area. It can be so hard because some schools just don’t want to deal with it.

MORE: In addition to your son’s autism, you have also battled your own health issues. You suffer from lupus.
TB: Yes. Today is a good day for me, and I am feeling great. I found out I had it in 2008. I had lupus on top of knowing that I had heart disease. Lupus actually affects my organs, such as my heart. My mother’s brother had skin lupus. I also had a brother who had an autoimmune disorder, so there is illness all over my family.

MORE: Were you scared when the doctors gave you the diagnosis?
TB: I was so fearful. I mean, I didn’t want to go anywhere because I was so scared. I think there was so much fear in me that I couldn’t go anywhere. I was even afraid to breathe. If I felt a thump in my chest, I thought I was having a heart attack. If I couldn’t move my muscles and/or my body, I would think, “Am I going to die today?”

MORE: How did you overcome the fear?
TB: That was actually one of the main reasons I did Dancing with the Stars. I needed to overcome that fear, and being on that program helped me do it. I was on the verge of severe depression and doing the show pushed me out of that state of mind.

MORE: How does your reality show play into your mental health?
TB: It has been a good thing for that and good for my career. I am no longer forced to hide my illness, and I finally feel better. That pressure has been lifted off of me and I can just be open with how I feel. At one point, I was forced to act like I was feeling great when, in fact, I was feeling terrible. Hiding the truth makes you feel so much worse. The other benefit to doing this show is that it also brought my family together.

First Published April 28, 2011

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