Of the many taboo subjects the U.S. culture has, besides sex, mental health has to be another big one. When some people notice that something is “off” for them, they remain uncertain, not wanting to face what they believe to be a possible roadblock in their life. What’s worse is that if untreated, these issues can debilitate people and degrade their lives. Even if someone does decide to get diagnosed and treated, many don’t think they can tell others without being treated differently. Luckily, for many out there, writer and comedian Sara Benincasa isn’t afraid to address the subject.
As a comedian, Benincasa has received critical praise for her outspoken views on sex and relationships. In the past, she has hosted various talk shows and has appeared on a a handful of programs like NBC’s “The Today Show.” Most recently, she started a hilarious podcast with Marcus Parks that is growing in popularity, entitled “Sex and Other Human Activities.” The duo talk about their personal lives, and field listener-sent questions on the topics of relationships, sex and mental health.
In the podcast, Benincasa has always been very open about her mental health history. She casually alludes to times in her college career where her mental state took over her life and now, listeners and readers everywhere can really delve into her experiences in her new memoir, “Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.”
In the memoir, Benincasa charts a course for readers to follow along with as they explore how agoraphobia, anxiety and panic attacks have staked their claim in her life. Although the stream-of-consciousness style in which she writes may be off-putting for some, I feel like this was the best way for Benincasa to approach the subject matter and her own life; in this way, readers get to view these past events through the lens of a mature comedian and writer who has come to terms with her own troubles and isn’t afraid to laugh at them.
The book opens up with a fun introductory chapter in which Benincasa discusses all of her irrational fears, their causes and even provides a chart for the readers. From there, we’re taken to her first trip to Sicily in high school; not only in this her first experience with the “old country” but it’s when anxiety overrides her class vacation. We then move on to Benincasa’s college career where her condition goes full-blown, making the thought of leaving her own room to go to the restroom terrifying.
I’d have to say that my favorite part of “Agorafabulous!” is a section before Benincasa ends up in New York City and is actually working on a sort of reserve/commune called Blessed Sanctuary; she covers the weird personalities there in a way that made me smile and chuckle while reading. I should also mention that she hilariously covers her time as a high school teacher in Texas and an encounter with a student in the chapter “Billy Has A Boner.” All of this is done in a daring, in-your-face way, but is softened by the comedic authorial voice.
Upon completion of Benincasa’s memoir, I had to applaud everything she’d accomplished in this initial outing. Her voice engages the reader and you somehow feel closer to her as she re-lives these past experiences. As I read about Benincasa’s discoveries and battles with her mental state, I was haunted by a lot of the imagery, from her gaunt frame after never leaving her apartment for days on end or her seemingly fated run-in with an overwhelmingly worried taxi cab driver. The twists and turns we take with Benincasa are utterly brash and unafraid, yet there’s an endearing quality to them as well.
My only criticism would be that some readers may be turned off by the way Benincasa’s writing seems to wander to and fro, but eventually reaching a hilarious destination; some may not have the patience to earn these laughs.
If “Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom” is a sign of things to come from Benincasa, then listeners and readers from all over have a lot to look forward to. If you’re looking for someone unafraid to touch upon topics of sex or what we perceive to be sanity, you should pick your own copy of this memoir because it came out on Tuesday.
Tyler Brown is a senior in English.Please send comments to [email protected]