Journaling Fame by Allison Kugel aims to deliver an emotionally charged message about life with an anxiety disorder through a pop culture lens. In her deeply personal debut memoir, Kugel recounts details of being in the throes anxiety, panic, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder throughout her childhood, adolescents and into adulthood, as she narrates a career in celebrity journalism in tandem. Those converging dynamics make for an interesting read, while serving up lessons learned and wisdom gained.
A former journalist who racked up more than two hundred in-depth celebrity and newsmaker interviews throughout her career, Kugel takes readers through nostalgic flashbacks from her Long Island, New York upbringing where she cites markers of genetics (her mom, Rochelle, 67, has battled anxiety and agoraphobia) and specific life events that culminated in the development of some disconcerting 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 celebrity journalist who’s daily routine involves wrangling and conducting interviews with actors, musicians, supermodels, health gurus, politicians and sports stars.
Journaling Fame provides Kugel’s own take and observations on how her inner world with anxiety, panic and obsessive compulsive disorder _____. Her graphically detailed portrayals of acute anxiety attacks are a painful yet compelling read. Her oftentimes humorous running inner dialogue serves as a soothing balm to ease the sting.
In one particularly harrowing 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 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 obsessive compulsive disorder 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 interviews and in social settings. A past friendship with comedian Dave Chappelle is recalled in one chapter, in which Chappelle asks Kugel to autograph an issue of Playboy Magazine she appeared in, with the 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 impresario Stan Lee, hip hop legend Russell Simmons, adult star Jenna Jameson and Sopranos star Joe Pantoliano to name just a few of the celebrity appearances throughout the book.
In mentioning Joe Pantoliano, Kugel recounts, “During our sit down, I listened to Joe recount stories from his episodes of acute anxiety and depression, and I silently commiserated and related quite easily,” she muses.
In a lighter 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 to Kugel, “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!”
In a poignant recollection, Kugel tells of interviewing the late Swiss actor, Bernard “Buddy” Elias, who was also Anne Frank’s first cousin and only living direct relative at the time of their interview. Kugel states, “Buddy was concerned about his somewhat fragmented and heavily accented English and that his memories of Anne were anecdotes that were special to him and his family, but nothing of the spectacular sort that would make me too excited. I assured him that any glimpse into Anne’s brief life before World War II would be of extreme value to me and to countless others…”
The book’s overarching theme aims to inspire and educate through Kugel’s living example, as she shares the 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 over the years. In a particularly eye opening chat with Deepak Chopra, he teaches Kugel about the difference between the soul and the brain. “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.”
In short, Journaling Fame plays to a varied and diverse audience. Anxiety sufferers will take heart and pop culture junkies will lap it up.
“Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record” is available April 25, 2017 from Mill City Press. Pre-order your copy at Amazon or Barnes Noble.
By: Ariella Haviv