Sara Benincasa's Agorafabulous! Dispatches from My Bedroom (William Morrow, February 14) is a memoir about her struggle with agoraphobia, and there's no pretty way around it: early on, Benincasa describes being so frightened to leave her bedroom in Boston that she took to urinating in bowls. The experience, during her junior year at Emerson College, forces her to leave Boston for her parents' house in New Jersey and worry that she'd never get over her fear of the toilet, much less hold down a job — a disturbing time for the comedian and writer, who went on to earn praise from the New York Times and Margaret Cho, and platforms as varied as Vice.com, CNN.com, and MTV.
TEARS AND LAUGHTER Benincasa holds to the old adage, "Comedy is tragedy plus time."
But there was, after all, no way around the pee. "I can't really tell my life story without including this information — as gross, and upsetting, and sad as some of it is," New York–based Benincasa says from a hotel room after a speaking gig at the University of Minnesota. Plus, she figured, she'd pay it forward. "I used to sleep in my bed with books, kind of almost like stuffed animals, that told stories I could relate to," she says, of the long days she spent trying to fight her way out of depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia. "And so I want my book to be that way for people."
Which is not to say that the book doesn't bring a comic's eye for the absurd to the very serious subject at hand. In it, Benincasa chronicles her semi-loopy recovery process that involves a turn working at a very woo New Age retreat center run by a Napoleonic gay man and eventually an eye-opening AmeriCorps teaching stint in Texas, where one teaching moment involves a kid who took Viagra on a dare — to a predictably painful end.
Known for her raunchy, smart stand-up, Benincasa didn't usually discuss her mental health on the comedy circuit. But eventually she created and toured the one-woman show that became the basis for Agorafabulous!, which she "workshopped on stage" in front of live audiences, whose laughter or tears signaled good material.
The book details Benincasa's Sisyphean struggle to get out of bed, eat, and function. In one scene that takes place at her parents' home soon after she left Boston, she describes leaving herself Post-it note affirmations in order to motivate to leave her room before noon ("I believe in you!" "You got up! I'm so proud of you!"). Then she goes onto imagine how her teenage brother must have felt, opening the lid of the toilet to pee, only to discover a smiley face drawn on a post-it exclaiming, "You can do this!"
"People say that comedy is tragedy plus time, and I think that's really true," Benincasa says. She figures that if she bares it all, readers will open up. "I make myself the freak, really, so other people will feel more