Comedian’s memoir reveals a dark journey

Sara Benincasa is one of my favorite comedians. If you are unfamiliar with her work, then please give it a bit more time; she is a comedy star on the rise.

I eagerly anticipated Benincasa’s memoir “Agorafabulous! Dispatches From My Bedroom.” Her humor is so very quick that it almost borders on being manic. She doesn’t abide sacred cows — anything is fair game. I expected this memoir to be hilarious.

So I was astonished to learn that she has survived a miraculous journey through a very dark place. In this courageous memoir she reveals her struggle with mental illness and how she finally managed to break free from the self-destructive anxieties that had rendered her a virtual hostage inside of her own bedroom.

Benincasa describes the panic attacks. She had an eating disorder. She was extremely depressed. She suffered from agoraphobia. The author provides a list of some of the things that made her afraid. She didn’t like leaving home. She didn’t like being in cars or planes or subways or buses or tunnels or even New York City. The agoraphobia produced panic attacks.

At her lowest point she was living in Boston and supposedly going to college. But she could not leave her apartment. She writes that “none of my friends had called or shown up in some time, since it had become abundantly clear I wasn’t going to answer voicemail messages or emerge from my increasingly noxious lair.”

There was a knock on her door. One of her best friends had come by to investigate. Her friend compelled her to actually leave the apartment and go to a restaurant. This timely intervention became the first step in the author’s gradual return back to the real world.

Then her parents in New Jersey called — both parents — mom was on the extension. Here’s a slice from their conversation: “ ‘I don’t think I’m feeling too well, Mommy.’ I said. “This greatly confused the ‘Thing’ on my shoulder, which commanded me to commence rocking back and forth. I obeyed.”

Benincasa reflects upon this period of mental illness without self-pity. Her mother drove up to Boston to retrieve her. Her loopy daughter insisted on playing one song by the Dave Matthews Band on continuous repeat for the entire four and a half-hour trip back home. Her mother never complained. What a saint!

She charts her return to the land of the living though counseling and medication and regular meals. Her loved ones rescued her. She pulled out of her funk. Fortunately for her readers she finds humor in the darkest situations. Her observations are priceless.

There are some very funny bits here: wacky interludes at a New Age retreat in Pennsylvania, a progressive college in North Carolina and a charter school in Texas. “Agorafabulous” closes as the author is making the transition to the world of comedy. Her phobias are mostly under control now. She still avoids buses. We’ll be hearing more from Sara Benincasa.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Friday at 1:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 11 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, go to www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

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