Kerry Washington reveals childhood panic attacks: ‘My own brain was not to be trusted’

Kerry Washington poses at Golden Globes in a black jacket with nothing underneath but a long necklace
Kerry Washington describes debilitating childhood panic attacks in her upcoming memoir.
(Jordan Strauss / Invision/Associated Press)

Scandal” star Kerry Washington details in her forthcoming memoir, “Thicker Than Water,” that her parents’ fights when she was a young child led to debilitating panic attacks: “I was dizzied with terror, no ground beneath me; it was crazy-making, endless.”

Oprah Daily published a sneak peek of the actor’s new book this week. The excerpt revealed that when Washington was just 7, she developed panic attacks at night from overhearing her parents’ shouting matches in the next room. She described lying in bed and listening for signs of how serious each argument was.

“Sometimes the entire ‘fight’ would consist of my mother slamming a door to signal that she was done. But sometimes the yelling carried on,” she wrote.


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The stress of witnessing and overhearing the arguments “manifested first as a rhythm of anxiety that encircled my brain, then evolved into a rapid pulsing,” she wrote. “This was not just a feeling. It was a sound, an internal beat, or series of beats, though they didn’t equate to music.

“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. 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 award-winning actor and activist said the panic attacks didn’t happen every night, but even on relatively peaceful nights, she “trembled at the possibility” an attack might occur.

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“I hated that my own brain was not to be trusted,” Washington wrote. “I tried everything to avoid it. If I could sense it coming on, from deep within my cells, I would try to sing a song, or recite a poem, or do anything I could think of to simply turn my brain off.”

Unfortunately, “only exhaustion” would override that rhythm, she wrote, and allow her to sleep.

Thicker Than Water” hits shelves Sept. 26 and offers readers an intimate look inside Washington’s world, chronicling her life from childhood to the woman she is today. She illuminates the challenges she faced along the way, how she concealed childhood traumas and how she overcame it all to become an actor, director, producer and political advocate.