Kerry Washington suffered panic attacks aged seven because of her parents’ fighting.
An excerpt from the Scandal actress’ new memoir Thicker Than Water was shared on the Oprah Daily website on Wednesday. It revealed how Kerry’s mental health spiralled as a child as she heard her mom and dad argue at night.
“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,” Kerry explained as she described the panic attacks.
Kerry tried to “turn my brain off” when she feared another attack and spent hours lying awake in her bed overwhelmed by fear.
“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,” she recalled.
“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. But only exhaustion would override the rhythm.”
One night, the strained atmosphere became too much and Kerry confronted her parents, Valerie and Earl Washington. She begged them to stop fighting, and the outburst left her mother in tears as she realised Kerry’s anguish.
“She had wanted to create a world that was different from the one she grew up in,” Kerry wrote. “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.”
The 46-year-old star recalled she felt “trapped” by the panic attacks and became “more private and withdrawn”.
“My parents’ battles were minor in comparison to the one that was raging within me,” she added.
In a bid to make her home a happier place, Kerry resolved to be a “perfect child” in the hope her exemplary behaviour would make her mom and dad resolve their differences.
“I tucked away the fear and started to develop a role, a character that would stay with me: The good girl… The solution,” she explained.
“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 is due to be released on 26 September.
– Cover Media