Okay Fine Whatever

The Year I Went from Being Afraid of Everything to Only Being Afraid of Most Things


By Courtenay Hameister

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The “hilarious and poignant” story of one chronically anxious woman’s quest to become braver by seeking out the kinds of experiences she’s spent her life avoiding (Cheryl Strayed).

For most of her life (and even during her years as the host of a popular radio show), Courtenay Hameister lived in a state of near-constant dread and anxiety. She fretted about everything. Her age. Her size. Her romantic prospects. How likely it was that she would get hit by a bus on the way home.

Until a couple years ago, when, in her mid-forties, she decided to fight back against her debilitating anxieties by spending a year doing little things that scared her — things that the average person might consider doing for a half second before deciding: “nope.”

Things like: attending a fellatio class. She did that. She also spent an afternoon in a sensory deprivation tank, got (legally) high in the middle of a workday, had a session with a professional cuddler, braved twenty-eight first dates, and (perhaps scariest of all) actually met someone who might possibly appreciate her for who she is.

Refreshing, relatable, and pee-your-pants funny, Okay Fine Whatever is Courtenay’s hold-nothing-back account of her adventures on the front lines of Mere Human Woman vs. Fear, reminding us that even the tiniest amount of bravery is still bravery, and that no matter who you are, it’s possible to fight complacency and become bold, or at least bold-ish, a little at a time.



Getting Plucky

Imagine you are eight years old.

You are at a community pool in Akron, Ohio, with your entire extended family—uncles, cousins, grandparents, and your older brother, whose opinion you hold in high regard because he can make realistic fart noises using his hand and armpit.

You have made the egregious mistake of climbing to the top of the high dive.

You are now standing at the edge of the diving board, looking down into the blue abyss miles below you.

Okay, like, sixteen feet below you.

It feels like you’re about to jump out of a plane. Or off a bridge. Or into the ocean in Jaws after you’ve already seen that one unfortunate teenager get pulled under.

The fear feels insurmountable, but so does the ire of the five kids in line, including four on the ladder and one standing behind you at the other end of the board, glaring, his sun-kissed arms akimbo.

“Just go!” he whines.

His plea is one of dozens you’ve heard for the past ten minutes while staring into what, to everyone else, is a calm pool of welcoming blue water.

Finally, the tension becomes too much for your knocking knees, and you sit down at the end of the board, triggering frustrated sighs and expletives from every diver in line.

“You can do it, sweetie!” your mother yells, her hand poised in a blocking-the-sun salute. “It’ll be over in a second. Just jump.”

But you know something she doesn’t.

It’s too late.

You already know you can’t do it, and now instead of working up the courage to jump, you’re working up the courage to walk the gauntlet of searing side-eyes you’ll endure on the Climb of Shame down to the scorching pavement.

This is where you learned it: You are not the leaping type.


This story is both a true account of the first time I disappointed the crap out of my older brother in public and an encapsulation of how I lived my life up until a couple years ago.

I was a toe-dipper. A cringer. A wait-and-see-er.

People wouldn’t necessarily have known this, because through a heroic feat of white-knuckling, I managed to pass myself off as a regular, sometimes-relaxed, initiative-taking adult. And a high-functioning one, at that.

I had a cool job.

I hosted Live Wire!, a nationally syndicated public radio show wherein I interviewed fascinating people like Gus Van Sant, Tig Notaro, Mike Birbiglia, and Carrie Brownstein…and tried to keep from fear-puking while on air.

I was lucky, but I was also terrified. Every week I hosted the show, I looked like I was leaping, but I was still on that diving board and I hadn’t moved an inch.

It wasn’t just my job that caused me anxiety. Everything did.

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-size bear.

You can imagine how all of this affected my romantic life. One side effect of my sometimes crippling anxiety: I didn’t have an actual adult relationship until I was thirty-four. Not surprisingly, this turned out to create its own set of issues, which I’ll get into later.

It wasn’t until the poop hit the propellers at work in an epic, slow-motion, action-movie kind of way that I went to a counselor, who informed me that, in addition to the OCD I already knew about, I’d been struggling with generalized anxiety disorder for most of my life.

That meant that I had full-on OCD attacks pretty rarely, but my daily level of anxiety about things like work, relationships, finances (y’know, life?) was disproportionately high compared to that of other people.

And suddenly it all made sense: I wasn’t a giant fucking wuss; I had a disease.

I had a disease that not only made me afraid to take chances but also turned me into an Eeyore in a world seemingly filled with Tiggers. Anxiety makes you think that nothing is going to go well, and eventually, that becomes a habit. Eventually, it’s not just jumping out of a plane that might have disastrous consequences, it’s also talking to the checker at the grocery store or just leaving the house.1


This book is about my attempt to climb out of the ruts in my neural pathways that said everything was going to suck. To rewire the negative connections that quashed any effort to change. To try things that scared me in order to teach my brain that everything was going to be okay.2 It was my version of exposure therapy—to the entire world.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t jump out of planes.

I did things that were frightening in more of a “Can embarrassment turn into a permanent condition?” way than an “I’m going to end up as a heap of bones at the bottom of the Grand Canyon” way. Things like, for instance, taking a fellatio class.

And speaking of oral sex, I didn’t exempt dating from my project. I went on more dates in a year than I’d been on in my entire life, which, to be honest, wasn’t that difficult to do.

I dubbed this my Okay Fine Whatever Project because okay, fine, whatever are the words we anxious people utter when embarking on adventures that Tiggers might be excited about, like being dragged to a concert or on a trip or to our own Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony.

I wasn’t kidding myself that I could magically turn into a brave person, but I hoped that, just maybe, I could become a not-constantly-scared person. A person who was less lonely, less gloomy, and who didn’t feel like such a liar when she told herself that everything was going to be okay.

If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, I offer this: Anxious people are braver than the un-anxious, because we do it anyway, every single day. We’re faced with fear on a regular basis, and we push through it in order to simply live our lives. And that’s something to be proud of.

Also, we’re kind of lucky, we anxious few. Because when you’re scared of everything, everything is an adventure.

So let the (sort of) adventure begin.3

1 In my defense, thirteen people are killed every year by vending machines, so you never know what peril awaits you when you walk out that door.

2 Important disclaimer: This book was written prior to the 2016 election, when an undercurrent of ugliness in our culture was further revealed and encouraged. As a white woman in America, I realize it is great privilege that makes it possible for me to go out and pursue things that scare me, since just driving a car can be an act of courage for a person of color in this country. That being said, I believe that we all have self-doubt, anxiety, and fears that can be overcome, and I hope it’s possible for everyone to find something of value in this book. If you don’t, let me know on Twitter, which is now just the Digital Land of Angry People (note: I am one of them).

3 A note about memoir and accuracy: Everything in this book happened, but the timing of some events has been shifted to improve narrative flow, and conversations presented are, of course, not word for word but how I remember them. Also, I swear like a sailor. Although my cousin was a sailor and he didn’t seem to swear any more than anyone else in my family, so I guess I swear like a Hameister.

Stepping Down

Wherein I Unknowingly Plant the Seeds for a Series of Tiny Adventures

Imagine1 you’re an accountant. (Or, if you’re an accountant, imagine you’re you.)

Now imagine2 that numbers terrify you. Your pulse quickens and your throat closes up as you’re buttoning your shirt for work in the morning. Brushing your teeth, you feel disconnected from reality as your mind races, picturing the thousands of numbers that await you on your computer screen. When you finally reach your desk and see all the spreadsheets laid out in front of you, you feel like someone has attached electrodes to your upper body and is slowly turning up the voltage. Your chest tightens and buzzes with energy, making it impossible to get a full breath.

If this happened to you every morning, you would never continue your accounting career. That would be madness.

Now imagine you’re a performer prone to unpredictable bouts of stage fright.

Welcome to another day at work.

This was what show days felt like for me when I was hosting Live Wire!, a radio variety program that’s recorded in front of a live audience in Portland, Oregon, and airs on about a hundred public radio stations nationally.

Every week, in the days leading up to the show, I felt the anxiety as more of a dull pain than a stabbing one. At each Monday writers’ meeting, I would grimace as I felt the first stirrings in my chest of what I called my dread ball. The dread ball began its life the size of a pea, but by Wednesday, it was decidedly watermelonish, heavy and tight and filling my chest with a muffled smoldering that threatened to explode out of my lungs, which, it turns out, I needed in order to breathe. By show day—Saturday—my dread ball had turned into a giant, human-size hamster ball I’d walk around in, the rest of the world dulled by the view through the plastic.

I did lots of things on the show—read essays, performed in comedy sketches—and those things were sometimes great; fun, even. It was interviewing people in front of an audience that filled me with dread (balls). It’s strange to meet someone for the first time in any situation—imagine doing it in front of four hundred people who paid good money to see a compelling conversation. And when every person you interview is a leader in his or her field: a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, an Oscar-winning filmmaker, the creator of the wiki software, the stakes go even higher.

I never finished college, which is a bit of a sore spot for me, and it felt like once a week, I was sitting onstage holding up a huge arrow pointing to the giant hole where my education should’ve been. I was always worried I would seem like an idiot by comparison to my guests, which was in itself kind of idiotic, since I did tons of research on them prior to their arrival, and it’s not like Bruce Campbell was going to come on the show and want to discuss The Iliad.3

I stuck it out, though, because I had lots of reasons to. I got to collaborate with insanely talented people who made me look way smarter than I was. I met extraordinary artists like David Rakoff, Cheryl Strayed, and Bob Odenkirk and got to ask them about their creative processes, which turned my job into a paid decade-long MFA program with a well-stocked craft-service table. And the best part: The show gave me essay-writing hard deadlines that would’ve resulted in public humiliation in front of an audience of four hundred to seven hundred if they were not met. The constant fear of this humiliation made me create more new work than most of the writers I knew.

So there were plenty of good reasons to stay as well as one not-so-good reason: the nagging, terrifying idea that this job was the most interesting thing about me.

I already knew I had trouble talking to strangers at parties, and my eHarmony profile had caused exactly three men in dad-jeans to beat a path to my digital door, so I didn’t feel like I had a ton of personality traits to recommend me. This job caused me great angst, but it also gave me great anecdotes, and when someone asked me, “What do you do?,” I could answer with a job title shared by only about three other people in the country.4 That felt like a selling point for me.

Of course I realize I’m not a product, but when you’re a single woman in your forties, it’s difficult not to think of yourself as a brand. (Tired of the everyday? Looking for something slightly divergent from the norm but not intimidatingly so? Try Courtenay! She’s arty!) And if I was a brand, my flagship product was the show.

Once I’d made the mistake of allowing my job to define me in that way, I could no longer consider quitting it without feeling like I would be quitting myself.

And then, on March 14, 2013, three days before our ninth-anniversary show, none of the identity stuff mattered because I was having a massive anxiety attack. Not a hit-and-run anxiety attack, but the kind that sits down and orders a double. The kind that wakes up with you and asks how you slept. The kind that laughs when you tell it that you have a show in three days and could it go bother Garrison Keillor, because he seems like a guy who could benefit from a little nervous energy. (And, apparently, a sexual-harassment workshop.)

If you’ve never had an anxiety attack, it’s a lot like that feeling you have when you almost get into a car accident or someone startles you. But what if that feeling just didn’t go away? What if it hung around for hours or even days, like that one friend who won’t leave your party and eats all the guacamole you were planning to binge on later?

In this case, the panic attack was triggered by an OCD episode, the second one of my life.

The first one happened a year after my father died.

My father was a good, kind, sometimes naive and awkward man who’d spent his entire adult life living with bipolar disorder. He’d gone to West Point and done two tours in Vietnam, and when he came back to the States at thirty-five, he decided that he wanted to be a doctor. So for most of my childhood, he was either out of the country, studying for med school, or working. Despite manic depression and dyslexia, he still managed to become a family practitioner and an army colonel, which was totally badass, but as you can imagine, some of the family stuff fell through the cracks.

My mother picked up more than her share of the slack, and she, my brother, and I became a sort of three-person unit that my father had trouble breaking into.

I was a particularly sensitive and neurotic child (read: “giant pain in the ass”), so I took his absences personally. When I was in college, he reached out to me and my brother, trying to create a relationship. My brother reached back. I didn’t.

When I was twenty-seven, my father pulled into a Holiday Inn parking lot and took a pill that he knew would stop his heart. He died within minutes.

The guilt I felt was immediate and crushing.

I left school in Texas and went to live with my mother in the southern mountains of Colorado.

I’d lived there about a year when the OCD hit. I was spending the weekend in a tree house built by some friends of my mother’s that sat at the top of a butte with 360-degree views of the San Juan Mountains. It was a completely inappropriate place to fall apart.


Some people’s OCD manifests as compulsive rituals, like hand-washing to get rid of germs or repeatedly driving around the block to make sure you didn’t hit anyone your last time around. These activities are all triggered by intrusive thoughts—irrational thoughts you don’t want and can’t control that shove their way into your psyche like a lesser Kardashian at a Vanity Fair Oscar party.

My version of OCD was just the intrusive thoughts without the compulsions. There are different versions of intrusive-thought OCD, and mine was harm-focused (HOCD), the sort wherein your mind convinces you that you’ve done something awful, like stabbed or killed someone, but you can’t for the life of you come up with what you did.

During that first episode after my father died, I imagined that I’d harmed some kids I used to babysit. While I sat in the upstairs loft of the tree house looking out on perhaps the most glorious sunset of my life, I meticulously combed through every memory I had of babysitting them, but nothing ever surfaced. This, it turns out, is a classic symptom of HOCD.

The terrible thing about HOCD’s intrusive thoughts is that your mind and body respond as if you’ve done the terrible thing you’re imagining. The crime may be fictional, but the guilt, the fear, and the shame are all too real. And so is the massive, crippling anxiety.

Imagine the worst thing you could ever do. Now imagine you think you actually did it.


It turns out these OCD episodes tend to happen to me in times of great stress or when I urgently need to make a huge change in my life and am avoiding doing so.

In this case, I’d lived with my mother for a year in this tiny little town in the mountains and it was time to go, but fear and inertia wouldn’t allow me to. Enter a crippling OCD episode.

Now, back to my second OCD episode, in 2013. This time, three days before the Live Wire! ninth-anniversary show, I began to worry I would harm my roommate, Shelly.

Shelly is perhaps the best person I know. She’s a small, supersonic rocket of a woman—a pixie-like ball of energy, joy, and generosity who works as a web developer by day and an assemblage artist by night.

Thinking you might harm her is like thinking you might harm a baby kangaroo or that elf from Rudolph who just wanted to be a dentist.

These episodes are crippling because it’s difficult to function when you believe you’re the worst person in the world. When you wake up in the morning, you’ve forgotten that you are, but your OCD reminds you and the pattern starts again—obsess, reassure yourself, breathe deeply and feel almost normal, then remember that there are knives in the kitchen that you have access to.

My version of OCD has never caused me to imagine anything specific; it only gives me the idea that something might have happened or might happen. It’s extraordinary that something so vague could be so terrifying, but the mind is magical in super-fucked-up ways.

So, back to my celebratory ninth-anniversary anxiety attack. It was the night before the show, and the panic was still living in every inch of my skin and bones. It was inside of me and I was inside of it simultaneously, and neither of us was going anywhere anytime soon.

And while my biggest concern was how to quell this panic, my second-biggest concern was how to function onstage with a mind this otherwise occupied.

That night, I went to my brother’s house. With a psychology degree and decades as a bartender, Scott knows how to listen and calm people down regardless of the state they’re in—an ability that is greatly appreciated by all the “creative types” who know and love him. He has this trick when you’re arguing with him in which he repeats what you just said in an even, quiet voice that makes you realize that you might be overreacting or being hypersensitive or slightly on the batshit-crazy side. It’s very effective and often quite humbling.5

I explained what was happening and he calmly told me I didn’t have any choice but to cancel the show. I told him I couldn’t cancel because too many people were counting on me.

Scott has always been the one person in my life willing to be brutally honest with me.

He gave me a little smile that said While it’s adorable how important you think you are, the earth will actually keep spinning if you cancel, and he handed me the phone.

I called the producer and, for the first time in nine years, told her I couldn’t perform the next night. I also offered her a solution: One of the guests we were planning to have on, Luke Burbank, an incredibly quick-witted, charming, natural showman who hosted his own popular podcast, could fill in. We’d actually booked him to see if he’d be a good replacement for me if I ever got sick, so it made perfect sense to try him out, since I was, if you consulted the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, currently very sick.

The next night, the worst and the best thing happened: The show was utterly, completely fine without me. That sucked. And it was wonderful. But it also sucked.

Luke glided through the show as if he’d been hosting it all along, and I could suddenly breathe.

For a couple agonizing weeks, my friends, family, and colleagues watched me struggle to make the decision they’d seen coming for years. In the end, I stepped down as host and remained head writer and co-producer. I felt my body change the moment I decided. My shoulders relaxed, my chest opened up, and my stomach became virtually knot- and butterfly-free.

The only time the decision truly leveled me was after the first show I spent at the producers’ table, a month after I’d stepped down.

The night had gone quite smoothly—in fact, it was amazing to watch a show without the dread ball ruining it for once. I was entertained, I did my job well, and I was frankly quite proud of myself for handling what could’ve been an awkward situation with aplomb.

Afterward, we all went to the bar across the street from the theater as we always did. The crowd there was usually a mix of show guests, staff, and audience members. I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink.

I turned around to see who else was there and spotted Luke sitting at a banquette in the corner, talking to the film director who had been a guest. There were a few people surrounding them, listening. Luke was holding court.

I remembered how I’d felt after every one of the two hundred shows I’d hosted: A tidal wave of relief with a few droplets of pride in it would wash over me as soon as I heard the final theme music and the audience applause died down. Then I’d walk out to the beaming faces of friends who had come to see the show, and strangers would approach me to thank me for a great night, or tell me their favorite parts, or say they knew people from my past, like a guy I’d worked in advertising with or punched at a party in the late nineties.6

A lot of people don’t get to enjoy post-spotlight moments like this, and yet I don’t think I handled them well; I deflected all compliments with ninja reflexes. I felt strange about getting positive feedback because I generally wasn’t responsible for the best moments of the night—or any of the moments, for that matter. The show was put together by a crew of producers and writers and musicians and staff, and I was just another member of that troupe. But I got to stand in the spotlight for three hours and then step out of it and have everyone attribute the whole production to me, for good or for bad.

When I saw Luke holding court, I realized that I was witnessing what I had really lost: All that gratitude, all that admiration—all those people believing that I had my shit together and that I was worthy of three hours of their time. I had relied on that gratitude and admiration, though I had never figured out how to accept it gracefully. And now I’d lost that four-hundred-person affirmation that, unbeknownst to me, I’d been using to counteract all the dickish things I said to myself every day.

I realized all of this in one terrible moment at the bar, and Jim, a friend and one of the show’s producers, saw it happen.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said, and I bolted to the bathroom, managing to lock the door behind me before the tears fell.

I sat on the toilet and sobbed as the weight of the decision crashed down on me.

I rocked back and forth and read the graffiti on the bathroom wall to try to distract myself.

Joshua West is a selfish prick.

You are worthy.

I ate too much cheese.

I laughed a little and pulled myself together, but then my brain refocused on the trigger image (some Seattle rando7 basking in a glow that used to belong to me), as it was wont to do.

And more crying.

I was fine after about seven minutes, but now the problem was my face.

It looked like a map of Russia and the former Yugoslavia with a pair of frog eyes to the north and a clown nose where Bulgaria should be.

The only way I could get out of there without Luke seeing me was to make a run for it. I speed-walked to the bar to grab my purse, keeping my back to him. That meant facing two of the show’s producers, but that was fine because I’d known them for a decade and they were already aware that I was a colossal crybaby.

Jim followed me outside.

“Hey,” he said. “They still love you. They all still love you.”

I felt so pathetic for being a person who needed to hear something like that.


  • "It's a rare writer who is as frank, funny, and smart as Courtenay Hameister is on the page, and in Okay Fine Whatever her talent for all of these things is on full display. I was moved by Hameister's vulnerability as she wrote about her long-time struggles with her weight, her anxiety, and her search for love, and I was gobsmacked by the fearlessness with which she set out to do the varied, wild, strange things she thought would cure her of her deepest sorrows. I never wanted to put down Okay Fine Whatever. It's one of those books that takes you into its grips. It reads like an adventure novel and a secret whispered into your ear. It felt true to me and alive and real, like on every page I was witnessing someone who finally made good on an ancient dare. I loved this book."—Cheryl Strayed, New York Times bestselling author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things
  • "This bitingly funny memoir chronicles the year the author faced her fears. A smart, inspiring read."—People
  • "A witty, wise call-to-arms for the anxiety-ridden in a period when we're more anxious than ever. A timely book for these end-of-times times."—John Hodgman, New York Times bestsellingauthor of Vacationland
  • "You guys, this book is f*cking funny."—Chelsea Handler
  • "Inspiring from the first pages. Courtenay fearlessly lets us into her head; she didn't clean up in there before company came over, and I am so glad. Her risk-taking adventures in career and love are more stirring to me than any daring physical feat."Jen Kirkman, New York Times bestselling author of I Can BarelyTake Care of Myself
  • "I loved this book so hard. Courtenay Hameister makes me feel thrilled to be alive-even though most things in life scare the crap out of me so much it's hard for me to walk out of my own front door. Okay Fine Whatever is a brilliant testament to the fire of the spirit for misfits and scaredy pants everywhere. A soul triumph. A reason to live."—Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Book ofJoan and The Small Backs of Children
  • "Courtenay deftly executes one of the most difficult feats for a writer: she makes the smallest moments vivid, meaningful, and laugh-out-loud funny. You'll be rooting for her the whole way, and she'll surprise you at every turn with her fortitude, her sparkling feats of fearlessness preserved in riotous detail, and her joie de anxiety."—Annabelle Gurwitch, New York Times bestselling author of Wherever You Go,There They Are and I See YouMade an Effort
  • "Hameister details her experiences with brutal honesty and sidesplitting hilarity...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.'"—ShelfAwareness
  • "Courtenay Hameister's frank, hilarious chronicle of facing her fears promises hope and laughs while staying real."—Paste (The 10 Best Books of July 2018)
  • "When was the last time a book made you giggle out loud repeatedly in public? Also, when was the last time a book made you feel totally and completely seen? Courtenay Hameister's memoir accomplishes both. Read it in public at your own risk."—HelloGiggles
  • "The book you need to read."—Bustle
  • "Inspiring, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny."—Booklist
  • "Courtenay Hameister wrote the following sentence and for this sentence alone she should be world famous: 'Like the snowflake of the genital world, no two vaginas are ever alike.' Her stories are honest, funny and touching. I love her work and so will you."—MikeSacks, author of Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top ComedyWriters
  • "Courtenay Hameister is one of the funniest, sharpest writers I know. Her work is confessional, witty, and laugh-out-loud hilarious. I love her."—Chelsea Cain, New York Times bestselling author of Heartsick and One Kick
  • "Vaguely embarrassed posers who think they know from humiliation, step aside - the somewhat intrepid yet thoroughly original and hilarious Courtenay Hameister is our new patron saint of the bizarre life experience. Readers everywhere will be super grateful to her for doing all this awkward stuff so they don't have to. Thanks, Courtenay!"—Karen Karbo, author of In Praise of Difficult Women

On Sale
Jul 31, 2018
Page Count
320 pages

Courtenay Hameister

About the Author

Courtenay Hameister is a professional nervous person. During her twelve years as host and head writer for Live Wire, a nationally-syndicated public radio show, she interviewed over 500 intimidating people and wrote 200 personal essays in bursts of anxiety-fueled inspiration at midnight the night before each show. Her work has also been featured in McSweeney’s, APM’s Marketplace, More Magazine, and some scathing emails to the customer service department at Macy’s.

Learn more about this author