Ohio State Running Back TreVeyon Henderson Finds Rest From Sleep Paralysis, Mental Health Struggles in Faith

By Andy Anders on May 21, 2024 at 11:41 am
TreVeyon Henderson

Sleep can be a waking nightmare for TreVeyon Henderson.

There’s nothing figurative about that statement. On a given night or while waking up on a given morning, the Ohio State running back known for flying down a football field faster than a flaming phoenix could be locked in place stiffer than a board, unable to move while fully conscious and suspended between a state of being asleep and awake, seeing visions.

Henderson has been long afflicted with sleep paralysis, a condition that, without warning, leaves those afflicted unable to move while they are either falling asleep or waking up. Frozen for up to several minutes, patients can experience hallucinations and hear voices, which Henderson's episodes repeatedly included.

Knowing an episode could strike at any moment made it hard to sleep at all.

“It started when I was a kid,” Henderson told Eleven Warriors. “I’ve always had this, and when I got to college and had those workouts, I couldn’t go to sleep. I’d be up until it was time to go to training. I’d be up until it was time to go to practice, not getting any sleep because I was dealing with that.”

"I couldn’t go to sleep. I’d be up until it was time to go to training. I’d be up until it was time to go to practice, not getting any sleep because I was dealing with that."

Content Warning: This article addresses topics like suicide and self-harm.

It’s far from the only issue Henderson has dealt with in his life and worked to tackle during the past 18 months or so. But it provides perhaps the best physical representation of the running back’s off-field transformation in that timeframe.

Henderson said he found relief from his sleep paralysis, depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues through his newfound faith in Christianity and, with it, more selflessness and leadership in Ohio State's locker room. 

“When I look back on my life, I see that God was there the whole time,” Henderson said. “He was there when I was feeling those suicidal thoughts. He was there when I was feeling depressed and hurt. He was there the whole time, just waiting patiently for me to see. I’m so thankful that, at just the right time when I lost all hope in my life, that he allowed me to see that he was right there.”

Donning a crisp, plain white T-shirt that served as the backdrop for a blue cross-engraved dog tag complemented by black pants and a pair of neatly untied white-and-black Air Jordans, the often shoulder-pad-clad running back held the attention of hundreds as he retold his life’s story on Saturday.

Sharing his beliefs alongside teammates Emeka Egbuka and Gee Scott Jr. at The Walk Foundation’s Walk by Faith event at Upper Arlington High School, Henderson recounted a lifelong struggle with mental health and how his faith helped him.

Henderson grew up in the town of Hopewell, Virginia, where 21.3% of people live below the poverty line, double Virginia’s 10.6% poverty rate as a commonwealth. Such a setting bred an environment of violent crime, violence Henderson said he witnessed at a young age.

At the same time, his parents split apart. While Henderson’s father stayed in his life, it was mostly his mother, Lakeesha Hayes, taking care of him and his two brothers. She worked tirelessly to support them all.

“It broke me at a young age. I wanted to help her,” Henderson told the audience. “I’d just see her crying, there was nothing I could do being at that young age. I became so dark at the time. Sometimes, I’d be alone, and these evil thoughts would pop into my head about taking my own life. I had so much anger in my heart, I would go get a knife and slit my wrists, take that anger out. That’s why my mom put me in football. Football became a way that I could drive that anger.”

Football became everything for Henderson, his way out of his situation and his way to give back to his mother. He idolized it and the money it could provide his family above all else, and as a five-star prospect with a 2,400-yard high school junior season to his name (his senior year of high school football in Virginia was moved to the spring due to COVID-19, at which point he was early enrolled at OSU), there were plenty of opportunities to play football and get money as NIL came into play during his freshman year of college.

Alongside that emergence of self-monetization, Henderson emerged as Ohio State’s starting running back in his first year. He set the school’s single-game freshman rushing record with 270 yards against Tulsa. He set the freshman touchdown record with 15 rushing and four receiving scores on the season, racking up 1,248 rushing and 312 receiving yards. In his words, he thought he had it all. 

But still, his depression and suicidal thoughts lingered inside of him. Then, in his sophomore season, he fractured his foot in Week 3 against Toledo. 

Henderson and the team didn’t know the foot was fractured at the time. He kept playing, but every game, he seemed to aggravate his foot at some point. His numbers declined. 

The last straw finally came against Maryland in the penultimate game of the 2022 regular season. He wasn’t initially supposed to play but more injuries left the Buckeyes short on ball carriers. 

Henderson gave it his best shot and managed 19 yards on 11 carries in what he called the worst game of his career.

“After that game, I was just so broken,” Henderson said. “I felt like my life was taken away from me. Football wasn’t going my way anymore, I just felt like my life – it was going downhill.”

Henderson sat out against Michigan the following week and tried to rehab in time for the College Football Playoff semifinals against Georgia, but his foot became so swollen and painful that he could barely walk. Meanwhile, his mental health and sleep paralysis were running a gauntlet on him.

“I remember one day before this (Walk by Faith) event happened, I was thinking one day I want to tell people what the Lord truly brought me out of,” Henderson told Eleven Warriors. “The suicidal thoughts, the depression, the hurt that I was feeling. People see me on the screen, they think that us athletes, they think that everything is OK. But they don’t truly know who we are. The things that we go through.”

TreVeyon Henderson at Walk by Faith event
@accessthewalk on X

Henderson received surgery on his foot and it forced him into bed for his recovery, during which time he pondered on his life. He didn’t grow up religious but felt, in those moments, God had him look back over his life and realize he’d been living it wrong. Putting football and money over all else, hurting people he couldn’t see that he was hurting.

When he got back into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, he asked his Christian teammates where to start reading the Bible. Over the coming months, Henderson studied the book.

In the meantime, Henderson went to Ohio State’s medical training staff for a solution to his sleep paralysis. They offered to send him to a specialist for an overnight sleep study (or polysomnography), but he wasn’t comfortable being hooked up to medical equipment in a laboratory setting while trying to sleep.

According to the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard Medical School, there is no known way to prevent or cure sleep paralysis fully. Some patients find that focusing on small body movements can help them overcome episodes quicker, and better sleep hygiene (going to bed at consistent times, avoiding the use of electronics before bed, avoiding the use of alcohol or drugs before bed) can lower their frequency. The affliction has been linked to sleep deprivation and sleep disorders, anxiety and post-traumatic stress among other medical issues, though its exact cause is unknown.

Shortly after inquiring to the Buckeyes’ trainers, Henderson read the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man in the Gospel of Luke. He identified with the man in the story and prayed about his issues. His newfound faith gave him comfort.

“I went days and weeks and months without me having (a sleep paralysis episode),” Henderson said. “I’m just like, ‘Man, he truly delivered me from this.’ Just seeing that there’s power in the name of Jesus, he is who he says he is.”

“I went days and weeks and months without me having (a sleep paralysis episode). I’m just like, ‘Man, he truly delivered me from this.’"

His belief grew over the coming months. When he felt down or hopeless, when suicidal ideations crept into the recesses of his mind, Henderson turned to his Bible. Matthew 11:28-30 was a common passage that aided him in those moments, which states in part: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

"The Lord, he promises to give us rest for our souls," Henderson said. "All my life, I’ve been carrying that heavy burden living live without him. Carrying that heavy burden of this life, weighing me down to the point that I couldn’t carry it anymore. I didn’t want to carry it by myself. But Jesus, this is what he promises. That heavy burden that we’re carrying, he will take that away and give us enough burden that we can carry (with him)."

Henderson was hit with the injury bug once more in 2023, but this time there was a stark dichotomy in his handling of it. Rather than rush back onto the field as he did with his broken foot the year prior, he allowed himself to sit out three games and remain patient.

When he returned, he racked up 200 yards from scrimmage in back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Rutgers.

“The Lord allowed me to go through that for a reason,” Henderson said. “That’s when I realized, when I came out of it, that same situation my sophomore year when I went through injury, I went through it without the Lord. I wasn’t allowing him to guide me through that injury. But this time, I was going through it with the Lord. I was in total peace, man, total peace. I know there was a lot of talk and a lot of buzz, but I wasn’t worried about none of that.”

Much has been made of Henderson’s growth in maturity and as a leader over the past year and change. That’s something he attributes to his faith too, saying that he feels called to put his teammates before himself on and off the field. He'll be sharing the backfield with a new star in 2024 as Ohio State added All-SEC running back Quinshon Judkins from Ole Miss.

“I think TreVeyon's leadership so far this year as he's transitioned into his fourth year has been tremendous,” Ryan Day said in February. “The way that he's gone about his work, the way that he's holding guys accountable, he's got a different look in his eye, and I think that's important.”

That leadership and a desire to share his faith is why he felt called to come back for his senior year, one final go-round at Ohio State. Henderson stated that it’s “his purpose,” beyond rivalry losses or money or personal accolades.

But outside of football, Henderson’s faith found him something much more important – peace. Or, perhaps more appropriately, rest.

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