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Kerry Washington Recalls Suffering from Panic Attacks at Age 7 in New Memoir: ‘Dizzied with Terror’



Kerry Washington details suffering from panic attacks at seven years old in her upcoming memoir Thicker Than Water.

In an excerpt published by Oprah Daily on Wednesday, the actress, 46, revealed that she “developed panic attacks at night” when she was younger as a result of overhearing her parents’ arguments after she had fallen asleep.

“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.

Washington compared the experience to “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 recalled. “There was something so sad about the rhythm. And 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.”

The Scandal alum explained that she didn’t have a panic attack “every single night,” but she “trembled at the possibility of it” even when her parents weren’t fighting.


“Lying in bed, I would race to fall asleep before the sounds would leak from my bones. I would force myself to try to have ‘good’ thoughts,” she wrote.

“I hated that the rhythm came from within me,” Washington continued. “I hated that my own brain was not to be trusted. If I lost the race to sleep and got caught by the rhythm, I had no tools to escape it, no way of controlling my own brain as it conspired against me.”

Washington noted that she “tried everything to avoid it,” such as singing and reciting poetry. Even though she would “do anything I could think of to simply turn my brain off,” the Emmy winner said that “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. Sometimes I would put my head under a pillow, trying to ignore the fact that the torture was coming from within me,” she detailed.

“But only exhaustion would override the rhythm, lulling me to the dream state beyond my fears,” Washington continued. “I would fight the haunting rhythm as it rose in me, often having to compete with my parents’ fights in the next room. If my inner rhythm won, I was tortured by the tempo of my own obsessive brain; if my parents’ arguing won, I was trapped by fear.”

However, after she interrupted one of her parents’ verbal altercations, Washington remembered becoming “more private and withdrawn.”


“I resolved to stay in my room at night while the dreaded internal pulse of the rhythm terrorized me to sleep,” she said, adding that “my mind and body became the enemy; I was trapped within them.”

From there, Washington “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” in hopes that “my goodness could inspire a renewed tenderness between them, which would in turn create more emotional security for me, something that I so desperately needed.”

Thicker Than Water will reveal for the first time how Washington “faced a series of challenges and setbacks, effectively hid childhood traumas, met extraordinary mentors, managed to grow her career, and crossed the threshold into stardom and political advocacy, ultimately discovering her truest self and, with it, a deeper sense of belonging,” as previously stated in a press release for her new book.

“Writing a memoir is, by far, the most deeply personal project I have ever taken on,” Washington told PEOPLE exclusively in January. “I hope that readers will receive it with open hearts and I pray that it offers new insights and perspectives, and invites people into deeper compassion — for themselves and others.”

Thicker Than Water will be released on Sept. 26.