Category Archives: Books

The Truth about Mental Illness

So often we look at someone else’s life with envy. On the outside, it seems like they have it all. Looks can be very deceiving! Author Allison Kugel is pulling back the curtain on a hidden misery that millions of folks are afraid to discuss—mental illness. Written with incredible honesty and bravery, her gut-wrenching story will resonate with so many who are suffering, in silence, and alone, feeling completely lost and nearly paralyzed.

 

Imagine maintaining a thriving career as a celebrity profiler, conducting in-depth interviews with hundreds of the world’s biggest newsmakers, while navigating an anxiety disorder so severe that you’ve grown accustomed to scheduling interviews in between ER visits and taking tranquilizers for a few momentary breathers.

Do I have your attention? Good, because I want to talk about a topic that is grossly misunderstood and not covered nearly enough in the media, one that affects 40 million Americans! I want to talk about mental illness.

I spent a decade as a successful syndicated entertainment, pop culture and political journalist who landed more than 200 in-depth celebrity interviews. But guess what else? I had also spent the better part of my life, on and off since the age of eight, battling with some pretty severe anxiety, panic and OCD.

In my book, Journaling Fame: A Memoir of a Life Unhinged and on the Record, I go into great detail about the embarrassment and isolation I experienced throughout much of my adolescence, young adulthood and even into my thirties. “No one can know I am having a panic attack,” I would think to myself. “How mortifying!” I would do my best to carry on in social situations while suffering greatly, pretending everything was fine.

By sharing my personal journey, I hope to de-mystify and de-stigmatize anxiety disorders, panic attacks, OCD and the fallout of depression that oftentimes wreaks havoc on the anxiety sufferer. Anxiety disorders, in my humble opinion, have become a major health crisis in the U.S. Don’t believe me? Read the statistics on how many Americans take benzodiazepines and SSRI drugs.

According to ScientificAmerican.com, “Adults in the U.S. consumed four times more antidepressants in the late 2000s than they did in the early 1990s. As the third most frequently taken medication in the U.S., researchers estimate that 8 to 10 percent of the population is taking an antidepressant.” A 2010 Forbes article states, “Doctors write nearly 50 million prescriptions for Xanax or alprazolam (the generic equivalent) every year – that’s more than one Xanax prescription every second.”

Although slightly more common in women, anyone can develop an anxiety disorder in adolescence, early adulthood, in mid-life, or even in the autumn of life. It doesn’t discriminate by age or by socio-economic status; in fact many famous people have made public admissions about their own struggle: Lena Dunham, Kendall Jenner, Amanda Seyfried, Emma Stone, Chris Evans, John Mayer, Sarah Silverman, Johnny Depp, and Jennifer Lawrence.

My book shares the extreme dichotomy that had been my life for so many years: insightful journalist by day, petrified anxiety sufferer by night. On the surface my career was exciting and glamorous: meetings with the Kardashians, 50 Cent, Dave Chappelle, Ron Paul, Mike Tyson, Michelle Rodriguez, Shaquille, O’Neal, Stan Lee, Elle Macpherson, Kristin Chenoweth… the list goes on. I had Oscar and Grammy winners, senators and congressmen calling me at home. (It was heady stuff for a middle class Jewish girl from Long Island!)

Everything seemed “perfect” but the truth couldn’t have been more different. I lived with this strange, scary and somewhat mysterious monkey on my back for as long as I can remember. It all came to a frightening head in 2012 when I was hospitalized multiple times for severe anxiety and panic attacks that rendered me non-functional.

Through trial and error with various medications, different methods of therapy and counseling (cognitive/behavioral, analytical, new age), self-help techniques and my own spiritual studies, I healed and set about writing my book to share my story with the world.

After years of embarrassment and shame, I have never held my head higher than I do these days. At the age of 42, and after asking for most of my life, “God, why me?” I will never ask that question again, because I now know the answer.

By using my life and my book as a platform, I have been doing press and speaking to people all over the world who are living with anxiety, agoraphobia, depression, OCD, and panic attacks.

I want my book to offer people the comfort, insight and education I’ve gained about this confusing topic. I want my message to turn on the lights and turn off the stigma. I want them to know there is hope, there is help, and most of all, they are not alone.

Allison Kugel’s new book “Journaling Fame: A Memoir of a Life Unhinged and on the Record” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers worldwide.

Prolific Author Alice Langholt Shares Her Writing Journey

Many folks dream of writing, but are daunted to even begin—finding a topic, carving out time, and balancing work and family responsibilities, can be incredibly challenging.

How then, does one actually make it happen? Alice Langholt shares her personal story in this thought-provoking guest post.

She has written a novel, 13 books of inspirational poetry and self-help resources, composed 22 original Jewish youth theater musicals, and invented Apples to Apples: Jewish Edition games. (Talk about ambitious!)

Like most writers, her journey hasn’t been easy. Still, she never gave up, showing that perseverance is key. We can all learn a lot from this talented lady.

 

I wrote my first foray into fiction, First Family, back in 2009, initially as a series of blogs which was a creative outlet for myself. At the time, I was a full time Jewish educator at Cleveland, Ohio’s Park Synagogue and I also taught at Akiva High School, teaching text study to kids and teens, and looking for ways to make it more relatable – something that kids might care about studying – and relevant to their lives. I was probably also looking to do the same for myself.

In the summers of 1999 and 2000, I had studied a technique called Bibliodrama, and wrote my Master’s Thesis (I was in the Executive Educator Program at Siegal College), on using drama to teach biblical text. I drew on this technique to write my book. You see, the story is told from the first person narrative viewpoints of each character as the well-known story progresses. We hear from Adam, Eve, God, the Snake, Cain, and Abel.

The biblical text contains basic events: Adam wakes up to life in the garden, names animals, feels lonely. Eve is created for him, and then she meets the snake. They eat the fruit, breaking the rule told to Adam by God, and they’re banished, needing to make a life for themselves outside the garden. They have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain farms. Abel tends sheep. They make an offering to God. Adam’s is accepted. Cain’s isn’t. Cain is upset. God admonishes him. Cain kills Abel in the field. Cain is banished. That’s the basic story, and there isn’t much more detail than that in the biblical rendition.

I took these elements and filled in the gaps, almost as if they were journal entries written by the characters themselves. By deciding the motivations, emotional responses, and ways the characters related to each other, the story took on a human and very real feel. I also noticed that as I wrote this way, my own struggles with faith came boldly into the light through the characters of Eve and Cain especially, contrasted by the character of Adam. I’ve always had a personal struggle with faith. Writing this book allowed me to express it, and make it ok for the reader to connect with their own issues, even as they are reading about biblical characters.

I didn’t publish it back then, for a variety of reasons, and put it on the back burner. Fast forward two summers, when my 13-year-old daughter, Sari, a lovely writer in her own right, expressed interest in reading it. I sent her a digital version to read. She critiqued it saying that it had “too much tell and not enough show.” She offered to help me do some revisions; I accepted. We spent four days totally immersed in creating and describing sensory experiences. We lay in the grass and talked about how it felt. We rewrote large passages, reread, and revised. It was awesome!

The process of writing this book required me to step into the emotions of Adam and Eve. The first-time experiences of discovering each other, of relationships with God, of becoming parents, learning to care for their boys, the personalities of the two of them as they grew, discovering the lifeless body of Abel, and then deciding what to do…all of it had to be felt personally, and had to be described in ways the reader would feel. It was like acting, but on paper. Raw, real, and most of all, believable.

Cain and Abel had to be real people, with real personalities, a relationship with each other, their parents, and thoughts about God. They had to have their own sense of the world. They had to grow and mature, but be believable as children and teenagers. I had to answer the questions that the text doesn’t address – the “whys” behind the events, and the years that are not described in the bible.

This was my task, and I embraced it. Sari added her requirements: the book needed to talk about stars, and needed to address menstruation – things that were important to her.

Finally, it was ready. I self-published via CreateSpace.com. I did some announcing, giveaways, and reached out to blogger reviewers. Within a short time period, it received has 33 reviews, 31 of which were 5-stars.

Of course, not all feedback was glowing.

It’s interesting that different religions, though sharing the same biblical text, have deep ties to their own interpretation of the stories.

In Judaism, exploration of biblical text in different ways is encouraged. Different interpretations are called “midrash”, and modern midrash is called “midrash aggadah.” It’s considered a valid way to gain understandings and connections to the text. (We’re taught to question from an early age, and it’s part of our traditions, like during the Pesach Seder.)

Others, I’ve learned recently, aren’t so much into creative interpretations. They want their members to adhere to their traditional interpretation of the text as Truth. I received some feedback from distressed readers, who felt that God’s voice was too casual, and who thought that I was grossly misinterpreting the story since they had learned it a certain way at their church. This was also interesting to me, illustrating vividly how different religions respond to the same exact story.

In fact, two readers said they had put the book down several times, unsure if they could finish reading it because they were so upset over my “misinterpretations.” I had also dropped a copy for evaluation at the local Family Christian bookstore, figuring they might like it. They stopped responding to my calls about it soon afterward. 

While receiving criticism is never fun, it shouldn’t stop anyone from writing. Each writer must stay true to his/her own vision. We can’t please everyone, but we must do what is right for us.

About the Author:

Alice Langholt holds a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies, a Master’s Degree in Metaphysical Science, and a BFA in Music and Theater Arts and Drama. In addition to her extensive writing career, she is also a Reiki Master Teacher and the creator of the A Moment for Me – Care for Busy People products.

Find book reviews, sample chapters, and more information about Alice on her website.

A Mother’s Views on Parenting Autistic Children

With 1 in 110 children being diagnosed with Autism, it’s hard to find a family that hasn’t been effected by this complicated and confusing disorder. Diane Mayer Christiansen knows the difficulties of parenting such a child firsthand. She recounts her experience in Planet A: A Mother’s Memoir of Autism Spectrum Disorder. This excellent book provides a real-life take on anger management, social conflict, inability to understand/relate to peers, sensory overload, and so much more that Autism families must cope with every single day.

She was also kind enough to provide the following insight:

When my son, Jackie, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) right before second grade, I wasn’t shocked. I had known that something was different about him. He began his life with sensory issues that expanded into social and anger problems. He was unable to understand the basic pieces of the social game and became angry as he constantly felt misunderstood by the world around him. I, too, felt misunderstood by those around me. My parenting had to change to adapt to Jackie’s brain and what he could and couldn’t understand. In the beginning, it was tough. It took a lot of research to figure it all out and I’m still not always thoughtful in my response to him.

Now fourteen years later, I feel as if we have come a long way. Planet A is the journey of high functioning autism from diagnosis through middle school. Two things inspired me to write Planet A: First and foremost, I am a story teller. As I speak to parents and educators about it, personal stories like mine are what inspire the “typical” world to want to learn more. There is unique something about hearing what autism really looks and feels like from those who live it. 

The second thing that really pushed me in the Planet A direction was my visit to the many ASD parent online chat rooms. The struggles that many parents face today are the same struggles that Jackie and I faced. I found myself reading many of the posts and nodding my head in agreement, saying: “Yes, I remember that problem!” So, Planet A is also for those who are going through the same issues with ASD. I want them to know that they are not alone.

The biggest lesson that I have learned from parenting an ASD child is patience. Patience to be a better listener, for being understanding, not only towards Jackie but towards those who do not understand him. In our journey together, I have also realized that love and kindness are really all it takes in this life. Jackie has struggled with bullying, feelings of inadequacy and the fight to fit in somewhere. In the end, the lesson of learning to celebrate who we are as unique, individual people is the greatest of them all. We’re almost there.

Find Planet A: A Mother’s Memoir of Autism Spectrum Disorder and more of Diane’s books on her web site.

Books I Love – Complete Guide to Bible Journaling

I’ve always believed that every person has a spiritual side. Some of us feel comfortable identifying with a particular religion, but there are many more who reject traditional methods of observance. In the Jewish community, it seems like people are disengaging left and right, in search of alternate ways to practice their faith.

If you hate performing rituals, never attend temple, and don’t pray on a regular basis, but still yearn to grow spiritually, The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling should be on your book shelf.

By focusing on art, which is something most ladies enjoy, it’s easy to explore the Bible in a less structured way. As someone who already has a strong faith, I liked reading the pages first, then going back and creating. For my sister, who is not religious at all, it was the opposite—she simply enjoyed coloring. Even though we’re on different ends of the spectrum ideologically, we both had fun doodling, taking away different things from the experience.

With over 150 paper designs, 270 colored stickers, and 60 designs printed on translucent vellum, we sure had a lot to choose from! There is so much versatility, too, since the designs can be used like a regular coloring book, traced, used as Bible margin art, or as bookmarks.

The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling is divided into six sections:

  • Getting Started – How to begin and how to choose the best Bible for you
  • Tools and Techniques – 12 different methods, including page prep
  • Artist Profiles –  Shares the individual stories of contributing Bible artists
    Shanna Noel, Karla Dornacher, Valery Sjodin, Sephra Travers, Valerie Wieners-Massie, Rebecca Rios, Tai Bender, Krista Hamrick, Jennifer Rydin, Rebekah Jones and Christina Lowery 
  • Gallery – Showcasing examples out of the Bible, in the Bible, and different styles
  • Resources – Artist websites, various social media groups, & other ways to connect
  • Bonus section – This was my favorite! It’s filled with the tabs, stickers, traceable patterns and more. 

No matter which medium you prefer, this book has it covered: lettering, drawing, coloring, painting, embellishing, stamping, stenciling, and so much more. I don’t have much artistic ability, but I sure know how to go wild with a box of Crayola!

The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling combines faith and creativity into one neat package with lots of appeal.