By Miriam Bell
Successful celebrity journalist by day, severe anxiety disorder sufferer by night: Allison Kugel lived a double life for many years before she hit rock bottom but she lived to tell her tale.
Kugel, who describes herself as a nice Jewish girl from Long Island, New York, recently released her book, Journaling Fame: A Memoir of a Life Unhinged and on the Record, which recounts that journey.
The book aims to de-mystify and de-stigmatise anxiety disorders by illustrating the dichotomy that was her life by showing people just how different her external life was from what was going on inside her.
It does this by providing raw descriptions of Kugel’s bruising struggles with anxiety and panic, which saw her hospitalised on multiple occasions, interspersed with her memories of, and excerpts from her interviews with, a parade of celebrities and notable figures.
Before Kugel’s anxiety disorder came to a head in 2012, she scored over 200 in-depth celebrity interviews with a who’s who of modern day stars including the Kardashians, 50 Cent, Shaquille O’Neal, Russell Simmons, Stan Lee, and Elle Macpherson.
But while the book is steeped with glamour as a result, it is Kugel’s mission to share her story in order to reach out to the millions of people living with anxiety disorders and depression that is compelling.
Anxiety disorders constitute a major health crisis in the US, affecting 40 million Americans. In New Zealand one in four people suffer from anxiety, panic attacks and phobias.
Kugel said that, after suffering in embarrassment and isolation throughout most of her life, she wants to talk about a topic that is misunderstood and not covered nearly enough in media.
Further, she wants to share the tools and techniques she learned, and the wisdom she gained, during her battle for her own mental health.
“During the couple of months in 2012 when my anxiety and agoraphobia was off the charts, I was forced to put my career on the back burner, and getting well literally became my career for a few months.
“I became a very obedient patient with my doctors. I put myself in their hands and listened because I had no choice. Through trial and error with various medications, different methods of therapy, self-help techniques and my own spiritual studies, I healed. And in the process l learned a lot.”
First and foremost, she learned never to give up and to keep walking towards the light at the end of the table. She also learned that mental illness needs to be attacked on several fronts such as talk therapy, sometimes medication, nutrition, breathing and visualization, and journaling.
Those struggling with mental illness shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, to take the help, to trust their doctors and advisors, nor should they keep secrets out of fear of judgment or feelings of shame, Kugel said.
“Take things one day at a time. Seek out as many opportunities to laugh as possible. Have unwavering faith in your own resiliency and your ability to recover. If you can’t have that faith, ask someone you trust to tell you that they have enough faith in your recovery for both of you until you have the strength to believe in your own ability to recover.”
For Kugel, her spirituality and her faith has also helped her in more ways than she can express. And Judaism is a big part of that.
“Judaism is my core; it’s who I am and where I come from,” she said. “I feel that my Jewish identity ties me to my grandparents, my great grandparents, my lineage and it fills me with a sense of pride and a feeling of community around me. As you know, wherever you go in the world, Jews are all connected by our collective suffering and triumphs and accomplishments and our distinct values.”
Additionally, Judaism has laid down her foundation of memories. “Memories of the High Holidays spent at temple and then at family gatherings, family traditions, love, sharing. It’s been my foundation and I am raising my son in the Jewish faith.”
Of all the notable people she has interviewed in her career, it was her interview with Anne Frank’s first cousin and (then) last living direct relative, Bernard Elias, that was one of her career highlights, Kugel added.
“I was in awe of the fact that Mr. Elias was willing to speak with me and share all of his memories of his childhood with Anne. It just meant the world to me, plus there were so many synchronicities surrounding that interview that I just felt it was arranged by my grandfather who had recently passed.”
For that reason, she devoted a whole chapter of her book to Bernard Elias and believes that anyone who is connected to their Jewish heritage will particularly enjoy that chapter of the book.
These days, Kugel is running a media company and doing PR consulting, as well as promoting a mobile app, Upitch, that she has developed and doing speaking engagements at bookstores and at mental health organizations in relation to her book
“I am realising that I have a passion for helping people and I intend to do a lot more speaking in front of mental health experts as well as wider audiences, communities and organizations. Connecting with people through my book and through speaking has been helping a lot of people and I am really excited about that.”