It’s rare that I find a book I connect with as strongly as I did with former celebrity journalist Allison Kugel’s memoir, ‘Journaling Fame – A Memoir Of A life Unhinged And On The Record’ and, as a result, this review will be somewhat different to the many others I’ve featured on the site as my time as a writer.
Firstly, I want to thank Allison for being bold enough to speak out and write down so openly as she has about her struggles with anxiety disorder. Her candour on the issue ultimately made me think about how different months, if not years of my life, might have been had I opened up to people more about how I felt regarding my mental health, particularly at its peak in recent years (I was diagnosed with depression around 2012 and have been on anti-depressants twice).
The first part of Allison’s book I connected came in chapter 3, where she writes about spending time in the company of those far older than her. I was exactly the same. I couldn’t connect with the other children in my class, and instead befriended those in the years above me, notably in Year 6, the final year of primary school. As a victim of bullying, I hoped they would stand up for and look out for me, which to some extent they did. The only problem was that when they left school, while I had several more years to go, I found myself with no-one to support me when those who took pleasure in making my life miserable targeted me again – and they did. I was also extremely close to my great-aunt Maureen and probably spent more time with her than I did my own Mum.
The creative outlet Allison found growing up very much mirrored my own. Although I don’t do it much anymore, I spent my school years writing stories and poems, inspired by random ideas that would pop into my head. Each and every one of them gave me something to focus on other than the fact that I felt miserable and provided me with an escape from the negativity of reality. My self-esteem in particular had, certainly by the time I reached high school, been dented considerably, and I retreated into my school work – throwing myself into projects I didn’t even have to do in order to please someone – the teachers – and make myself feel like I could and had done something somebody would admire. I guess, looking back, my desire to excel academically came from a deep-rooted need to please people in the hope that if I somehow managed to do so, it might convince others – i.e. the bullies – to leave me alone. In the end, my ‘teachers pet’ attitude only made the bullying worse.
Chapter 4’s opening quote by Peter Facinelli; “I personally think everybody is flawed”, rang and continues to ring very true. In a world where so many aspects of life are driven by people’s opinions of others, it reminded me that there is no such thing as a perfect person and that even those in the public eye; music stars, actors and everybody else in the entertainment world, are not and will never be so – it’s just our, and my own, warped way of thinking that casts them in a different light to how I cast myself. Allison writes on page 77 that she considers herself to be a person of “rarefied strength”, and, having read her book, I am inclined to agree. She, like so many others around the world, has dug herself out of the biggest and darkest holes and back to a place where she feels confident and happy. That, in my eyes, is true strength and as I read that paragraph, I couldn’t help but want to cheer.
I’m sure there are many people reading this who have felt like an ugly duckling (chapter 5). I spent decades (I’m now 31) feeling worthless and ugly when compared – and especially when standing next to – my younger sister. To me, she represented everything I wasn’t; pretty, confident and popular. I still feel that way from time to time, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to permanently remove those feelings, but I’m slowly realising that I’m my own person, and if I was the same as my sister, I wouldn’t be who I am now, and have done all I have in my life. It’s all about perspective.
Throughout primary school, high school and even college, I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. It was as if the only thing I was certain of was how miserable I felt which in turn, was something the bullies who continued to follow me through life, were able to pick up on and use in order to continue their ongoing torment.
On page 85, Allison writes about, even as she approached her thirties, being full of ‘rebellious venom.’ Whereas most people I know went through their rebellious phase as teenagers, I identified with her words here as I didn’t start rebelling until I was around 26. My parents were still opening my mail at this point (yes, really), and they treated me like I was the youngest of their children (I’m the second of four), always asking me what I was doing and where I was going. It got to the point where, upon wanting to go and see a Thirty Seconds To Mars concert in New York, I told my parents I was going to visit a friend in Brighton for the weekend, left the house, headed to the airport and flew across the Atlantic. So bad was my relationship with my parents at this point that they didn’t find out for almost three years, when my depression was at its peak and a therapist advised me to be more honest with those around me. I found both support and solace in music, and I still do, but becoming a part of the Echelon family in particular, made me feel like I belonged somewhere; that I had people in my life who understood me. Music is and remains a form of therapy for me – so much so that, for my first tattoo, I had ‘Music Is Therapy’ tattooed across my lower back, rebelling against my parents threats that they’d kick me out of the house if I got it done.
We all respect, admire and look up to other people – parents, siblings, celebrities, but Allison makes a good point on page 115, via her interview with 50 Cent, about not expecting such people to always do the same for and with you. The entertainment world is such a big part of people’s lives these days, it can sometimes encourage us all to put too much pressure on what we want people to think of us, even if we don’t actually know such people. With the boom in social media, each and every one of us can now reach out to an audience far greater than that in the area where we live or work but, as someone who uses such platforms for both personal and professional purposes, her interview with 50 also made clear to me – or at least reminded me – of how although it’s great to make a strong impression on people, it’s making that impression on the people who really matter that’s important.
“You wouldn’t shame a diabetic for taking insulin.” These words, on page 206, make up one of the hardest-hitting sentences in Allison’s book. Far too often, people are quick to judge others on issues and conditions in their lives, such as anxiety or depression, they didn’t ask for and have no control over, and from personal experience, I have found that such judgements can have devastating impacts and make the lives of those struggling even more difficult. Those who suffer from anxiety or depression in particular have a stigma attached to them; at times it can be like an amber or red warning light flashing above their heads wherever they go, warning people to steer clear, Such stigma HAS to end and it encouraged me to see Allison write and tell her readers as much.
As I turned each page of ‘Journaling Fame’, losing myself in the featured interviews and personal stories, it struck me that few journalists cover the broad number of issues Allison does and has done with such depth and while wanting to get to the heart of a story without risking their integrity, beliefs or trust in others or the trust that others have put in them. I couldn’t and can’t help but think, as I sit and write this, that I am sure there are many in the media world and far beyond who might or could do with taking a leaf out of her book. I also recommend that they and everyone else, particularly those looking for an inspirational and bold read, check it out.
‘Journaling Fame’ is available everywhere now.