By Brianne Moore
Can a phobia be funny? Ask Sara Benincasa, a woman who overcame crippling agoraphobia to become a stand-up comedienne and, now, an author. She chronicles her struggles with her phobia in her recently published book Agorafabulous!, which is described as a “collection of short, humorous stories that chronicles one woman’s struggle…and how she overcame her demons through therapy and comedy.”
Benincasa uses her experiences as the basis for her stand-up routines, but for those who suffer from it, agoraphobia is no laughing matter. Agoraphobics often become anxious in public areas (the word derives from the Greek “agora,” meaning “marketplace”), fearing they could become trapped there. Those who suffer from agoraphobia frequently experience panic attacks in open spaces, crowds, and uncontrollable social situations such as malls or airports. In the most severe cases, the person can become housebound, afraid to leave their home or any space that they can’t control. Women are about twice as likely to become agoraphobics as men are, though it’s unclear why this is. Agoraphobia is commonly treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, which includes imagining being close to the situation they’re afraid of, or with systematic desensitization, in which the sufferer is gradually introduced to the fear-inducing situation. Certain medications can also help.