Allison Kugel’s ‘Journaling Fame’ More Than Just a Pop Culture Tome
Hundreds of celebrity interviews… and countless more panic attacks. That’s the story syndicated entertainment columnist, Allison Kugel, tells in her deeply personal memoir, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. The book opens in a hospital, with Kugel in the throes of a panic attack that is being treated with copious amounts of the tranquilizer, Ativan. The descriptions of her every thought and bodily sensation places you inside her skin. You’re then refocused to simpler scenes of her 1970s and 1980s Long Island, New York childhood. The details of her early life plant the seeds for her creativity and love for journalism, and (from Kugel’s recounting) the makings of her anxiety, panic attacks, OCD and depression; which she playfully describes as “the four houseguests from hell.”
It is with insight, humor and thoughtful reflection that Allison Kugel takes readers on an engaging and informative journey, growing from childhood and adolescence into adulthood with her anxiety and panic disorder looming close by. She simultaneously rises to become a prominent profiler of some of today’s most notable public figures from film, television, music and popular culture. Kugel manages to seamlessly tie her story together with humor, grace, and inspiration, as she shares her mental health journey and ultimate healing.
This book also delivers on insider celebrity stories with the likes of the Kardashians, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson, The View co-host Meghan McCain, wellness guru Deepak Chopra, famed attorney Gloria Allred, legendary comic Dave Chappelle, and countless other recognizable names.
Journaling Fame’s appeal is in the unvarnished humanity with which Allison Kugel shares her layered story.
SDE: Your memoir, Journaling Fame is very unique in that it’s a hybrid of your experiences as an entertainment journalist, but also delves into some press personal stuff regarding mental health. Why combine the two?
AK: During the dark times when I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and panic attacks, I began journaling to get all of my thoughts and feelings onto the page, and I was actually press intrigued when I read some of it back. It was fascinating stuff that I knew could help other people in the same boat. Simultaneously, I had been harboring the dream of turning a lot of my celebrity interviews into a book. Rather than judging the direction that my writing was taking, I just continued writing stream of consciousness and this was the result. I actually think it’s a great thing because someone who might not ordinarily pick up a self-help book or a book about anxiety and panic disorder might pick up my book because of its pop culture appeal, and in turn, it can help them.
SDE: There are so many great behind the scenes celebrity stories in your book with some really famous people, and since the book has come out you’ve interviewed so many more amazing celebrities. Can you share some of your favorites?
AK: If I’m referring to the book, I really love the Dave Chappelle chapter because it takes me back to some really carefree and fun times in my life. I knew Dave when we were both in our twenties. I was working for his agent and his comedy career was just starting to explode. It was great times. I will always look fondly on my interview with Anne Frank’s cousin because as a Jewish American, the opportunity to interview him and learn some intimate details about the Frank family and about Anne’s life was truly a gift! Over the past year, I would say my Gwen Stefani interview was an amazing one. She was so open with me and so down to earth and the finished product was just incredible. It also got picked up by close to one hundred media outlets around the world.
SDE: What would you say is the main difference between the typical amount of stress and anxiety that everyone experiences sometimes, and someone who suffers from anxiety and panic disorder?
AK: I always use the analogies of someone with addiction or someone with an eating disorder. For example, we all have looked at our body in the mirror at one point or another and thought, “I need to do better. Time to diet or ramp up the workouts,” but we continue to maintain a healthy and balanced relationship with food. Many people enjoy an occasional drink but don’t go down the rabbit hole of alcoholism or substance abuse, because we don’t have that chemical predisposition. It’s kind of the same with issues like anxiety, OCD, depression, panic attacks and the like. We all, from time to time, might feel a bit stressed or anxious or worried when something difficult happens in our lives. However, someone with a predisposition for severe anxiety will then begin to experience acute symptoms ranging from extreme thoughts of doom and terror to obsessive thoughts about worse case scenarios, heart palpitations, hot and cold sweats, shakes, night sweats, headaches, stomachaches, crying, unpleasant thoughts, fears, and phobias… you name it. I’m kind of an expert at this point. That is when you seek professional help and there is so much help out there and so many resources available. We know so much more about mental health in general than we did years ago. A great place to start is ADAA.org – The Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
SDE: How did you manage to do such great journalism work while dealing with some of these anxiety issues?
AK: One of the things I always tell people is that doing my interviews, and writing for that matter, are my happy place, so it actually has a therapeutic effect for me. Many times, connecting to someone who is in the public eye and hearing their story and all of their ups and downs, and then sharing those stories with my readers gives me such joy and I couldn’t ask for a better therapy session to tell you the truth. Also, it’s important to note that I will go for months and sometimes years with no major anxiety symptoms. It’s something I have to be mindful of, but I also have my tools in place to take action when I feel it creeping up in my life.
SDE: What is your advice to any aspiring writers or to someone who wants to go into celebrity journalism?
AK: When I started, I rode the wave of the new order, which was when digital journalism just began to really take hold around 2005 and 2006. I rode in on that wave. It was really the wild west and anything goes at the time and I partnered with a startup online newswire and kind of offered myself up to run their editorial. Then I scratched and clawed my way into the entertainment aspect of things, slowly earning trust and building relationships and finding my own style and voice. But I think it still holds true that the online space means that there are so many opportunities for new and emerging voices to get out there. There are so many websites who are in need of quality content, but the rub is that you have to find your own voice in this crowded landscape, one that people want to read.
SDE: What will people get out of reading your book, Journaling Fame?
AK: As corny as this sounds, they’ll get a friend. Everything about my book, from the style in which I wrote it, to the aesthetics, the soft cover and the jacket design was all produced by me to give it the feel of intimacy. You can toss it in your tote bag or handbag for the day, you can bend it, dog-ear the pages, and I wrote it almost like a diary. It’s so raw and personal. In fact, many people have told me they feel like they are reading my personal diary when they read it. It’s a fun read with all of the celebrity stories, it’s insightful and comforting for anyone who is going through something rough in their life and it’s inspirational because of all of the experiences I have had led to tremendous growth.