book review: Agorafabulous! Dispatches from My Bedroom

Agorafabulous! , by Sara Benincasa. Publisher: William Morrow (February 14, 2012). Memoir.

Having suffered through agoraphobia and panic attacks since I was 16, this memoir definitely interested me. Particularly as I’m not that (intentionally) funny and I’ve started to write down my own rough and painful experiences. Agorafabulous! is an honest and heartfelt recollection of writer Sara Benincasa’s experiences with a debilitating illness. She writes of her horrendous rock bottom moment that traps her in a Boston bedroom while attending Emerson College. She also details another major panic attack while teaching in Texas. Despite her agoraphobia and anxiety, New Jersey-native Benincasa works on a farm in Pennsylvania, transfers to a college in North Carolina and then teaches for a year in Texas for AmeriCorps before moving to New York for graduate school.

Benincasa writes about her recovery and maintenance through meds, therapy, meditation and a support system of friends and family. It does seem Prozac became her cure-all. Perhaps I’m jealous that I’ve tried every SSRI and have been in therapy for twenty years and I’m still dealing with many of the same issues that I had when I was 19. She makes herself a mix-tape to take the train into Manhattan. She intersperses Liz Phair songs with encouraging messages such as: “This is fucking awesome! Look, you’re on the train! Look around. You’re safe. You took your medicine today.” Pretty rad idea. Sometimes that inner voice needs to be really hyped so as not to be ignored. Agorafabulous! provides more comical observations than mental illness moments. For the most part, Benincasa provides relatable circumstances while addressing serious mental health concerns with flair and compassion.

Some superb points:

I wondered how it had taken me so long to realize that I was broken beyond repair and that I didn’t belong on this planet with all of the real humans. I imagined my future as one of dependence, fear, and disability. I would always be a burden on the sander individuals charged with my care. I would always be different, in a bad way. I might kill myself, if only I could summon the courage to choose death.

There are a few items that should never be left near a person in a state of nervous breakdown, including but not limited to: knives, guns, drugs, babies, credit cards, and scissors.

I accidentally stumbled upon actually helpful information in the form of a book about Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD’s work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I credit Full Catastrophe Living and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program with adding speed and sense to my recovery.

To my enormous surprise, I found the strange manic pace of life in New York oddly soothing. Perhaps my anxiety was not only crowded out by my daily obligations but by the wild quirks of my fellow New Yorkers.

What I do remember is sitting on the toilet and rifling furiously through my purse, looking for the bottle of Xanax. I always carried it with me, like a talisman. I used it so rarely that the bottle expired months before I emptied it, but I liked knowing it was always there.

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purchase at Amazon: Agorafabulous!: Dispatches from My Bedroom

Sara’s website

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