Chances are, most of the literature you’ve read about anxiety disorders has been in a text book, or in a pamphlets in at your doctor’s office, or maybe in the small lettering on a Xanax bottle. It’s probably never crossed your mind that stories of panic attacks or anxiety disorders, let alone full-blown agoraphobia, could be a laugh-out-loud memoir, or a deeply compelling page-turner that you’ll read in one weekend, or any of the other superlatives you could apply to comedian Sara Benincasa’s new book.
In “Agorafabulous! Dispatches From My Bedroom” Benincasa memoires her struggle with an anxiety disorder which she’d had from childhood, and which by age 21 deteriorated into full-blown agoraphobia. Among other things, this involved Benincasa listening to Dave Matthews’ “Satellite” on repeat to get to sleep, covering her TV with a tie-dyed cloth because it “copped an attitude that made me feel weird whenever I looked at it,” and peeing in bowls because she was too terrified to enter her bathroom. It’s dark stuff, but Benincasa has made it not only palatable and relatable, but laugh-out-loud funny.
We got to talk to Benincasa briefly about her book, music and what’s on tap next.
So it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, huh? Your book “Agorafabulous!” went on sale at midnight Valentine’s Day. How do you feel?
I feel weird and tired and happy and excited and freaked out and worried and pretty much all the emotions, all at once. It’s been quite an adventure. I just got back from the first leg of my book tour — NJ, NYC, Los Angeles, Boston, Asheville, Chapel Hill. Quite a trek!
I don’t know if this is a real statistic or just something people like to say, but supposedly the number one fear of human beings everywhere is public speaking. As someone who struggled with super intense fear, I’m curious what it was like getting on stage the first time you did stand-up?
Well, when I was a little kid, it was terrifying. But I remember the first time I really tried stand-up. I was 25. I was nervous but also totally excited, and it was so much fun as soon as I hit the stage. I got kind of high off it. Bit by the proverbial bug, I guess.
What’s your next project?
I’m working on a young adult novel. It’s so much fun because it’s not about me or my personal issues at ALL. It’s just frothy fun teen drama with some classic elements thrown in for extra good times.
How did you break out of the cycle of having panic attacks, fearing panic attacks, then having more panic attacks?
In a word: drugs. Well, in three words: the right drugs. And an enormous amount of support from friends, family, and therapy.
Did you ever have moments when you were locked in your bedroom in which you could catch glimpses of humour in your situation?
I do remember being amused, oddly enough, the one and only time I tried to harm myself. It was with a butter knife. And I remember doing it and then thinking, “Jesus Fucking Christ, Sara, get your shit together. A butter knife? A butter knife?!?! What kind of pussy shit is that?” I would never have made it as a goth adolescent.
Any advice for young writers?
Write write write write write read read read read read. I need to do more of the latter, actually! Oh — and if one teacher or one person says your writing isn’t good, don’t listen. If you get specific criticisms over and over again, consider whether they are real and true, and then change in accordance with them. But don’t let anybody tell you your stories don’t matter.
Where can the people who love your book go see you perform?
Well, I’m still on tour for the book, and you can see those tour dates on my website. Gonna be in Houston, Austin, Portland, and Denver soon. And I do stuff in New York pretty frequently.
If you could be in any band which band would you be in and why?
I would be in the Mountain Goats because I adore John Darnielle and think Jon Wurster is the best, so I’d get to be a in a band with my friends.
What music have you been listening to lately?
I’m just listening to Bon Iver for the first time! I know, I know, I’m so last year. Or maybe it was the year before.