Kerry Washington Says Parents' Fighting Gave Her Panic Attacks at Age 7

Kerry Washington is opening up about her life in her new memoir, Thicker Than Water — and she’s leaving no detail untold.

In an excerpt shared by Oprah Daily on Wednesday, August 9, the actress, 46, revealed that her parents’ strained relationship led her to develop “panic attacks at night” at the age of 7.

“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 wrote of the attacks, describing them as “an internal beat” and “rhythms of my heart.”

Washington recalled trying to “turn [her] brain off” whenever she sensed an attack coming. “But it would take hold in my fascia, then work outward through my muscles and tendons. Sometimes, I would rock my body back and forth, vibrating, rattling, trying to drown out the pulsing noise and regain control of my body,” she wrote. “Sometimes I would put my head under a pillow, trying to ignore the fact that the torture was coming from within me. But only exhaustion would override the rhythm, lulling me to the dream state beyond my fears.”

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After another night of laying in her bed while her parents — Earl and Valerie Washington — fought, Kerry decided she’d had enough. “I went out into the living room and yelled, ‘Stop! Please stop!’” she shared, adding that it was only the second time she had ever seen her mother cry.

The moment was significant for Kerry, who said her mom envisioned a different life for herself. “She was supposed to have 2.5 kids, a couple of nice cars, and a schedule filled with service to her community and her family,” Kerry wrote. “She had wanted to create a world that was different from the one she grew up in. She aimed for a picture-perfect, upwardly mobile African American home, filled with joy and love and success. She believed it was her job to have it all and do it all and be it all. And she was failing.”

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The Scandal alum’s mother attempted to switch the topic by noting she considered using a “homemade spa machine” the father had given her earlier that day. “’But then I thought, What if he throws the whole machine in the bathtub…?’” Kerry wrote. “With that she stopped, and I stood there, quietly, not wanting to imagine her dead in that water.”

The next day, Kerry’s parents acted as though their fight never happened. She remembered wanting to ask her Aunt about moving in with her but never followed through with the idea.

“I resolved to stay in my room at night while the dreaded internal pulse of the rhythm terrorized me to sleep,” Kerry wrote. “My parents’ battles were minor in comparison to the one that was raging within me.

Her parents’ fighting caused Kerry to become “more private and withdrawn” and feel “trapped” by her panic attacks. “I tucked away the fear and started to develop a role, a character that would stay with me: The good girl. The perfect child. The solution,” she recalled. “It was clear that my parents had lost their ability to express their love for each other, but perhaps a shared love for me could help them find it again.”

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She continued: “After all, I was their dream come true. 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 hits shelves on September 26.

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