Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD) are debilitating, as writer Courtenay Hameister can tell you: "Phone calls to strangers were miserable. Parties where I didn't know anyone were like the seventh circle of hell, but with better snacks. And making an unprotected left turn triggered the same fight-or-flight response most people experience when running from a small-to-medium-sized bear." So when this finally drives her to the point that she leaves her role as host of a nationally syndicated radio show, Hameister decides to try a yearlong experiment: she will attempt things that scare her in an effort to rewire her brain to be less afraid.
Hameister doesn't attempt physically life-threatening acts like jumping from a plane or swimming with sharks. Instead she pursues activities that might be construed as unusual, or sometimes embarrassing, like experiencing a sensory deprivation tank ("It's an odd sensation to feel your heart start to move up toward your throat when you're doing something that's specifically designed to calm it down"), visiting a professional cuddler and attending a fellatio class. She details her experiences with brutal honesty and sidesplitting hilarity.
A large part of Hameister's project is centered on dating. Having always battled her weight and dated only rarely in her first four decades of life, Hameister admits, "I had the relationship experience of a 21-year-old." So she creates a profile on OKCupid and embarks on a series of first dates--28 to be exact. She tries one-night stands, polyamory and a sex club. But then she realizes that these are all a new form of avoidance. She's steering clear of what's truly frightening: intimacy. "It was as if I was specifically seeking out people with whom I had nothing in common so I couldn't possibly fall in love with them. And I wanted to fall in love."
When she changes her approach to dating and applies some of the lessons absorbed from her first 27 dates, she meets "First Date #28" and her experience is much different.
Hameister's observations and introspection reflect her anxiety disorder. She's detailed and perceptive, often overthinking small issues to make them enormous mountains of fear. Through humorous analogies, she adeptly and self-effacingly relates this trial for those who find it foreign. She's also very open about her struggles with weight and body image in a culture that obsesses over it--"It felt like food was a replacement for the romantic love I wasn't getting because I'd eaten too much food and therefore couldn't imagine finding romantic love."
Okay Fine Whatever manages expertly to blend adventure, romance, mental illness and an extra helping of humor for an entertaining memoir that reminds the reader, "At certain moments, 'No one gives a s*$#' is one of the nicest things you can say to yourself." Anxiety disorders or not, we can all stand to be reminded of that every once in a while. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Shelf Talker: A 40-something woman with generalized anxiety disorder spends a year trying unusual things that scare her in an effort to convince her brain to be less fearful.