Journaling Fame, by American Journalist Allison Kugel, delivers an emotionally charged message about life with an anxiety disorder through a pop culture lens. In her debut memoir, Kugel recounts details of being in the throes anxiety, panic and OCD throughout childhood, adolescents and into adulthood, as she narrates a successful career in celebrity journalism in tandem.
A former journalist who racked up more than two hundred in-depth celebrity interviews throughout her career, Kugel takes readers through nostalgic flashbacks from her Long Island, NY upbringing where she cites markers of genetics (her mom, Rochelle, 67, has battled anxiety and agoraphobia) and life events that culminated in some frightening symptoms.
In Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record, Allison Kugel, 42, is living two identities: anxiety sufferer and perennially sharp-witted entertainment & political journalist.
Graphically detailed portrayals of acute panic attacks make for a painful, yet compelling read. Her humorous running inner dialogue serves as a soothing balm to ease the sting.
In one passage she reflects '[I was] unable to experience any emotion other than fear and the many physical sensations that racked my defeated body. The physical manifestations of extreme levels of anxiety that I was experiencing did not cease; my body showed me no mercy, perhaps because my racing mind did not extend that courtesy to my body…
'I watched as the Ativan (a strong benzodiazepine) made its way from the clear plastic bag, down the long thin tube, into the open port, and into my vein. Within what felt like mere seconds, and for the first time in eight long and excruciating weeks, my body fell into a state of rest and release, albeit an artificial doped-up state. It was the kind of drugged haze where you don't even care if you truly exist or not." She describes bouts of OCD as 'being intruded upon by thoughts that seemed vaguely threatening and foreign, such as -lock the door and check it three times or something bad might happen,' as she recalls one example.
The book's lighter moments orbit around Kugel's many celebrity encounters, both during formal sit down interviews and in social settings. A past friendship with comedian Dave Chappelle is recalled in one chapter, in which Chappelle asks her to autograph an issue of Playboy Magazine she appeared in, with his specifically requested inscription, Happy Birthday Dave, Love Allison, to which she asks if it's his birthday. Chappelle sheepishly concedes, 'No, but it's just something to write."
Kugel also talks detailed impressions and interesting moments interviewing Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian; rapper and actor 50 Cent, television host Melissa Rivers, superhero creator Stan Lee, hip hop legend Russell Simmons, adult star Jenna Jameson and former Sopranos star Joe Pantoliano, to name just a few notable appearances throughout the book.
In mentioning actor Joe Pantoliano, Kugel muses, 'During our sit down, I listened to Joe recount stories from his episodes of anxiety and depression, and I silently commiserated and related quite easily."
In one moment in the book, Melissa Rivers chastises Kugel for having had natural childbirth, a la Lamaze Breathing, in lieu of opting for the more common epidural, with Rivers exclaiming, 'Are you high?! Why? My mom (the late Joan Rivers) told me that too, but you know that's a great big giant lie. My mom was like, -I didn't have anything! They gave me one shot of painkiller and that was it.' You know what that shot was? I finally figured it out. They gave them Demerol IV. No wonder they didn't feel anything!"
The book's overarching theme inspires and educates through Kugel's living example, as she shares coping tools and insights gained through various therapeutic treatments, anecdotal evidence and self-help in the form of spiritual insights gained from the people she has interviewed. In a particularly eye opening chat with Dr. Deepak Chopra, he teaches her about the difference between the soul-self and the brain-self. 'Everything comes from the soul. The brain is an instrument. All your fears, all your anxieties, all your phobias, all your imagination, all your fantasies, all your desires; your creativity, your insight, your intuition, your inspiration, your conflicts… the soul is a place of extreme opposites. It's a place of ambiguity; a place of uncertainty, and a place of contradiction and paradox. The brain is just the instrument which orchestrates what your soul is."
Journaling Fame plays to a varied and diverse audience. Anxiety sufferers will take heart, while pop culture junkies will lap it up.
Author: Allison Kugel
Interview with Allison Kugel
Question: What inspired you to write Journaling Fame?
Allison Kugel: During the darkest episode of my life, in the summer of 2012, I had suffered a great deal of loss in my life all at once and began to experience the most severe and acute bouts of anxiety and panic attacks of my entire life. It resulted in five separate hospital ER visits and I was frightened that there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I said a prayer to God that if I would recover and get my life back I would share my story with others, fearlessly and generously. By fall of 2012, and after therapy and treatment, I recovered and I began to sit down at my computer to journal my experiences in living with this anxiety disorder, what it meant, what I have learned and how it has strengthened and shaped me as a human being. My journaling began to bleed into all of the exciting and special moments from my career as a celebrity journalist, and I found that I was just writing stream of consciousness about both aspects of my life: this exciting and glamorous career that I had, what I learned from many of the public figures I interviewed and what they learned from me (hopefully), and my journey with anxiety, panic and OCD. Overtime my journaling took shape into chapters and it occurred to me that I could write a memoir that would merge the two experiences; my journalism adventures and my misadventures and what I learned from surviving and thriving with an anxiety disorder. I realized I could share the exciting parts of my life while also delivering an extremely important and meaningful message, and I set about publishing my book.
Question: What do you hope to achieve from Journaling Fame?
Allison Kugel: I hope to reach as many people around the world as possible. Forty million people in the United States alone have or will struggle with anxiety issues in their lifetime. I would image that whether you are in Sydney, London, New York, LA, wherever, all human beings have the same struggles so the statistics can't be too different elsewhere. Women are especially susceptible to anxiety and emotional distress. I figured I would cast a wider net and reach more people than most because of the celebrity and pop culture stories in my book, and while I have them reading, I get to share all of my intimate, personal experiences living with anxiety, panic attacks and OCD, and tons of people will say, 'Oh My God! This is me!" They'll learn a lot and gain great comfort from me sharing that part of my story. And of course the celeb stories are great fun to read as well!
Question: Was it difficult reliving certain aspects of your life when writing Journaling Fame?
Allison Kugel: It wasn't difficult but it was quite surreal, because as you are writing your memoirs it jogs your memory with such precision and detail. It's as if you are not just remembering, but actually seeing this 360 degree hologram all around you while you are writing about different memories from your life. You are reliving it, but it isn't painful so much as it is cathartic and therapeutic.
Question: What did you learn, about yourself, whilst writing Journaling Fame?
Allison Kugel: I learned that I have led a colorful and interesting life thus far. It's by no means been flawless and perfect, but I have surely packed a lot of lessons and growth into this lifetime and I am still only 42. I have shed so many skins over these past 4 decades, both spiritually and intellectually. And I also learned that I am proud of my story. I have made mistakes and I have had bad moments, but shame should not come into the equation, for any of us, ever. I'm taking my emotional resume and sharing it with the world with my head held high.
Question: What do you hope readers take from Journaling Fame?
Allison Kugel: I wanted to show the striking dichotomy between the outward life I was living as someone with this dream job of interviewing some of the world's most prominent figures, alongside my inner world dealing with bouts of great emotional distress and anxiety. The purpose behind that is to demonstrate that things are not always what they outwardly appear, and you really never know what someone's inner world consists of. That is very important to take note of, especially for young people who look at celebrities and think, 'Why can't that be my life?" You really don't know what their life is like. In performing my job as a journalist who conducted very in-depth interviews, I always aimed to go beneath the veneer and get to the heart of who a celebrity was beneath the surface. It was a great education for me and for my readers. We are all human. If you are living on earth it means you have a lot to learn, or you'd be on some higher plane somewhere else. I want to be the one to deliver that lesson and message. For people who are very interested in the world of entertainment and celebrity, I also narrate what my job and interactions were really like and give people a true glimpse into the behind the scenes goings on, without any pretention.
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Author: Allison Kugel