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Cosmopolitan (South Africa) - - NEWS -

ucked away in a cor­ner at a Hol­ly­wood juice bar favoured by the A-list, Erica* looks like any other celeb try­ing to fly un­der the radar. She’s got the over­sized sun­glasses and she’s dressed in headto-toe black. On her feet are train­ers so she can flee from the pa­parazzi at any mo­ment. The thing is, Erica isn’t fa­mous – but she’d like to be. ‘I should be a celebrity by now,’ the 28-year-old says when I tell her she re­minds me of an A-lis­ter go­ing incog­nito.

She looks dif­fer­ent from her pics on In­sta, where she has more than 10 000 fol­low­ers. Her pub­lic per­sona is more pol­ished than she is in the flesh. ‘I get recog­nised if I’m dressed up. Some­body once asked for my pic­ture think­ing I was Natalie Portman,’ she says proudly.

Like many of her Hol­ly­wood peers, Erica has tried her hand at ev­ery­thing in an at­tempt to be­come a celeb – so much so that she now be­haves like one. In ad­di­tion to dab­bling in act­ing, modelling and singing, last year she tried to make her de­but as a DJ, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of her idol, Paris Hil­ton. ‘I begged my friend, who is a pro­fes­sional DJ, to let me join in with him. But it didn’t quite pan out,’ she says. In­stead, the priv­i­leged LA res­i­dent is work­ing as a so­cial me­dia in­flu­encer for a mu­sic com­pany as she con­tin­ues her search for fame. Her par­ents were bankrolling her but ‘that’s all stopped now,’ she says. Us­ing so­cial me­dia for work can be an ego boost, but she says she won’t feel con­tent un­til she’s ‘le­git fa­mous’.

Erica’s pur­suit of fame has taken its toll on her health. She’s on anx­i­ety meds and has been see­ing a ther­a­pist weekly for the past two years. ‘There’s no doubt in my mind that chas­ing fame is some­thing I’m ad­dicted to, and that’s taken me years of ther­apy to ad­dress,’ she con­fesses.

As a show-biz jour­nal­ist in LA, I’ve met count­less women (and men) like Erica. Their faces light up when I men­tion my job, think­ing I can help kick-start their ca­reer. I’ve been asked to do favours for semi-fa­mous stars, shoe­horn­ing their pics into ar­ti­cles in a bid to raise their profi le. I know what fame-hun­gry looks like, and it’s not al­ways pretty. But I had no idea the ad­dic­tion had be­come so po­tent – so much so that there’s now a place for peo­ple like Erica to go to seek help.

The Lu­mion Cen­ter in LA is home to the world’s fi rst specif­i­cally de­signed treat­ment pro­gramme for fame ad­dic­tion. Founded by psy­chi­a­trist and ad­dic­tion spe­cial­ist Reef Karim in 2009, it’s only in the last year that it’s be­gun to treat pa­tients specif­i­cally for fame ad­dic­tion, af­ter iden­ti­fy­ing what Karim saw as a grow­ing prob­lem.

It’s a sunny day when I ar­rive. The white build­ing is a few blocks away from the Cedars-Si­nai Med­i­cal Cen­ter (where Brit­ney Spears was ad­mit­ted at the height of her melt­down in 2008), on a leafy side street in West Hol­ly­wood. Its dis­creet lo­ca­tion makes it easy for any celeb to be chauf­feured in un­de­tected – as many have been.

A Kar­dashian-es­que re­cep­tion­ist greets me and hands over a con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment. I’m about to gain un­prece­dented ac­cess to the cen­tre, in­clud­ing sit­ting in on a group ther­apy ses­sion. The agree­ment for­bids me from dis­clos­ing the names of any fa­mous faces I might recog­nise. In the waiting room – all white fur­ni­ture and ma­hogany floors – there’s the usual pile of fash­ion and en­ter­tain­ment mags. Only here, you might fi nd your­self sit­ting next to one of the cover stars.

Reef ush­ers me into his of­fice. He has that LA charm and is clearly used to mak­ing peo­ple feel at ease. It’s no sur­prise that he’s a reg­u­lar on US TV, ap­pear­ing on The Oprah Win­frey Show and CNN – per­haps ironic for some­one try­ing to coax peo­ple away from fame’s lure. On the clinic’s web­site, fame ad­dic­tion is de­scribed as ‘a be­havioural con­di­tion cen­tred around the des­per­ate need for val­i­da­tion at all costs’.

Reef ex­plains that celebs crave be­ing seen, adored and val­ued by oth­ers. ‘It gives them an in­ner rush, or a hit of mean­ing, self-love and stress re­duc­tion – even though it’s usu­ally fleet­ing.’

While he ac­knowl­edges there are ‘healthy celebs’, the ones he’s seen are of­ten in ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis. ‘They had no idea who they were, so they were act­ing out in an ad­dic­tive way by pop­ping pills, drink­ing too much, hav­ing too much sex, gam­bling or shop­ping.’ How­ever, fame ad­dic­tion isn’t just a celeb prob­lem. Reef points out that ‘most in­di­vid­u­als have a fan­tasy of what fame could bring them – sta­tus, money, de­sir­abil­ity, sex ap­peal’, and that while celeb sta­tus used to seem unattain­able to many of us, the In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia have made fame tan­ta­lis­ingly reach­able.

The Lu­mion Cen­ter’s clien­tele in­cludes ev­ery­one from ac­tors, pro ath­letes and re­al­ity stars to the man off the street who isn’t fa­mous but is des­per­ate to be. They pay be­tween R62 000 and R300 000 a month, and the av­er­age client stays with the pro­gramme for at least three to six months. Fame ad­dic­tion is not recog­nised as a men­tal dis­or­der by the Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric As­so­ci­a­tion, but it’s a term churned out in the me­dia.

Reef tells me his pa­tients usu­ally seek help be­cause they’re de­pressed, lonely or suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily walk in think­ing they’re ad­dicted to fame, but he’ll iden­tify the con­di­tion.

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