Radio host quits job over chronic dread, then decides to face her fears head-on

Courtenay Hameister constantly lived with dread and anxiety. Eventually, she quit her amazing job because of it. But she didn't want to continue missing out on opportunities, so she made a decision to face her everyday fears for an entire year.

Courtenay Hameister wanted to see what would happen if she did everything that scared her for an entire year

Courtenay Hameister (Michael McCrary)

"[M]y dread lives in my chest," said Courtenay Hameister.   

"And if I pay attention to where my shoulders are, almost pretty much every time, I recognize that my shoulders are up. That's where dread lives for me," Hameister told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.

For most of her life, Hameister was filled with debilitating dread. Simple, everyday tasks could fill her with anxiety.

"Making a phone call for me is miserable. I hate it. Parties where I don't know anyone, I tend to go back to the back bedroom and visit with the cats..." 

A big source of Hameister's anxiety was her job as host of Live Wire!, a popular radio show in Portland. Every week, she says her "dread ball" would arrive. 

"That first Monday the dread ball would maybe be the size of a pea or a golf ball. And then by the time the show came around, my dread ball, I was sort of living inside of it, like it was this giant sort of hamster ball."

'It was rough'

Eventually, Hameister's anxiety worsened. She had panic attacks on stage. It got to a point where anticipating her panic attacks became a source of dread too. In the end, Hameister walked away from the show. 

"I had lost something amazing and an opportunity that I think so many people would have wanted. I had some regret about that, and I sort of asked myself why it happened..."

Realizing her anxiety cost her the job of her dreams, Hameister decided to face her fears head on, so she wouldn't miss out on other opportunities. She forced herself to do all of the everyday things that terrified her for an entire year. She wrote about it in her upcoming book, Okay Fine Whatever: The Year I Went from Being Afraid of Everything to Only Being Afraid of Most Things.

Facing fears one cuddle at a time

During that year, Hameister exposed herself to things like speed dating, a build your own burrito night at a sex club, and getting legally high at work.

One thing that terrified her the most was seeing a professional cuddler. 

You hire her for a dollar a minute to cuddle with you. She has, I think, I'm going to say 56 different positions that you can choose from.- Courtenay Hameister

For Hameister being in such an intimate position with a stranger is a struggle.

"Even when I think about it now...I can feel my shoulders going up to my ears," she said. "I mean because imagine that if you're awkward with people that you've never met before, imagine if then you just immediately went into a room with a bed in it and they cuddled you."

Hameister was determined to confront her fears, which also included dating. At 47-years-old, Hameister felt her anxiety held her back from meeting people. So, she caught up and went on 28 first dates and 100 dates in total.

'I had a kind of a slutty year'

Hameister says she's hugely proud of this time in her life because she felt she needed to discover what she wanted in a romantic partner and what she liked sexually, because up until then, she really didn't know. 

"I just said I've just got to meet as many people as I possibly can. And I didn't see those people as practice, but honestly that's kind of what they turned out to be." 

After 28 first dates, Hameister did meet the person she's currently dating, who she affectionately refers to as number 28.

Hameister says that even after all of the exposure to what scares her, the thing that made the biggest difference was changing a single word in her vocabulary. Instead of saying "that sounds terrible," she now forces herself to say "that sounds interesting."

"I think that part of what I was trying to do was not be a pessimist anymore, because anxiety turns you into a pessimist. So, for me, it was really just to have that goal to have no expectations."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Sense of Dread."