Kerry Washington reveals childhood struggle with panic attacks in upcoming memoir

“I was dizzied with terror, no ground beneath me,” Kerry Washington writes in an excerpt of her memoir, “Thicker than Water.”

Kerry Washington knows the impact of a child overhearing their parents arguing all too well. In her upcoming memoir, “Thicker than Water,” the actress reveals this and more about her childhood struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.

In an excerpt of the memoir published by Oprah Daily on Wednesday, Washington shares that she “developed panic attacks at night” when she was younger due to overhearing her parents’ late-night arguments. 

Kerry Washington, Thicker than Water, childhood trauma, childhood anxiety, panic attacks, Black mental health, Black health and wellness, Black parenting, Black families,
Kerry Washington attends the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Conversations – “Unprisoned” with Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo event at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Screening Room on April 16, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

“They manifested first as a rhythm of anxiety that encircled my brain, then evolved into a rapid pulsing, a whirling frenzy of metallic thumps, like those nauseating old spinning rides at a county fair,” she said. 

At the age of 7, Washington recalls these panic attacks were not “just a feeling.” She described them as “a sound, an internal beat, or series of beats” that were not musical in nature. 

“It was the sound of terror, wholly unnatural and unconnected to the rhythms of my heart. I was dizzied with terror, no ground beneath me; it was crazy-­making, endless. And sad,” she said. 

She added, “I couldn’t make it stop. I couldn’t sleep. It was as though the alarms within me had been triggered and there was no turning them off.”

To avoid the panic attacks, the “Scandal” alum said she would attempt to fall asleep quickly before the anxiety would mount, doing her best to force “good thoughts.” If she “lost the race to sleep,” she knew she’d be “caught by the rhythm” with no tools to escape and no way of getting her brain back under control.

“I hated that the rhythm came from within me. I hated that my own brain was not to be trusted,” Washington wrote. 

The actress eventually confronted her parents amid a late-night argument, believing they would stop if they knew she was aware. However, things remained the same: explosive fights late at night and “smiles the next morning.”

“My parents’ battles were minor in comparison to the one that was raging within me,” she said.

She ultimately coped by creating a role for herself: “The good girl. The perfect child. The solution.” Washington said the goal of this character was to earn her parents’ affection so deeply that their shared love for her would bond them. 

“After all, I was their dream come true,” she said. “If their personal failures had made it impossible for them to love themselves and each other, then I would be perfect enough so that they could experience whatever love they needed through me.” 

Thicker than Water” (Little, Brown Spark) is due out on Sept. 26, 2023. 

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