Melissa Broder is the rare writer and human who comes across as both an unmitigated enigma and an open book. She is a celebrated poet who secretly ran the über-popular @SoSadToday Twitter feed until she “came out” as its author last spring. (Broder’s feed currently brags 300,000-plus followers, including fancy ones like Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry.) @SoSadToday deserves the many props it gets for meaningfully and hilariously capturing the circuitous thought patterns and myopic fog of an anxiety- and depression-addled mind — that mind would be Broder’s. She expertly lays out zinger upon zinger on a daily basis (see: “feeling relaxed and at peace with myself jk;” “oh that? it’s just my emptiness;” and “when people are talking to me i’m either thinking about making out or death”).
Now, in her new book of essays, also titled So Sad Today (Grand Central Publishing), out this week, Broder vividly expands on her quest to find balance in a weird new-media world wired for nonstop validation-seeking. Though Broder is open about having been sober for years, she makes no bones about feverishly turning to outside fixes to help fill her psychic voids — think sexting, Twitter fame, Botox, and eating a “whole pint of diet ice cream with six packets of Equal poured into it.”
Her essays echo her tweets in reading like hyperaware confessional outpourings on subjects both massive and mundane — fear, death, vomit fetishes (!), unrequited ardor, and more. These essays are also rawer, braver, and at times far more viscerally uncomfortable, making the book both difficult to put down and difficult not to admire for its immediacy and candor.
Yahoo Style spoke with Broder about the book, the feed, and how she navigates the sometimes brutal landscape of her own mind.
Yahoo Style: How much of So Sad Today — both the book and the feed — is you, and how much is a sort of persona?
Melissa Broder: I don’t see it as a persona; I see it more as a part of myself. So Sad Today came out of the creative part of me.
Was it hard to channel that part of you into longer essays instead of 40-character blips?
No, because I was a writer long before I was a tweeter. But I largely wrote poetry, and I tended to use pretty primal, timeless language. In the SoSadToday Twitter I use more contemporary jargon and disposable language, and that’s [a lot of] what I use in the essays too. I started the SoSadToday account after I had to leave New York and move to L.A. because of family illness. I was in a really bad place with depression and anxiety. I needed a place to put all that stuff [so I started the Twitter account]. Then it just blew up. In New York, I used to type poems on my phone on the subway or when I was walking, but in L.A. I started dictating in traffic with Siri. So I started writing longer pieces organically.
How was the move for you, emotionally speaking?
I realized I take me with me wherever I go — it’s not so much about where I am physically. But the fear of the move was so much worse than the reality. I actually really like L.A. I’m as happy here as I was in New York. I’m still me [and I still struggle with anxiety and depression], but I do enjoy the nature, the beauty. It hasn’t been a cure, though. It’s an illness like anything else. But there are things I can do to try to stay healthier and have less chance of a relapse.
I deal with depression and anxiety issues too, and I feel constantly in search of the Place that will fix it.
‘The black dog,’ as Winston Churchill says — it follows you anywhere you go. It’s really an inside job. That being said, I didn’t think of that in the reverse sense. I thought moving to L.A. would have this devastating impact on my life [but it didn’t at all].
What have been the benefits of putting it all out there online, as far as your mental health struggles go?
The scared part of me always lives in me — the anxiety and depression. Even if they’re not fully taking over my life at a given moment, I’m always aware that they’re there. So I take that part of myself and put it [online], then try to live my life. But putting it out there hasn’t necessarily helped me become more comfortable with being honest about it in my daily interactions. In real life, no one knows when I’m having a panic attack. I keep it very close to the vest, though I’ve been having them for 15 years. It’s a very isolating, scary, lonely feeling, and I still have a lot of shame around it. But that sense of aloneness and apartness is compounded when you think you’re the only one. SoSadToday was stuff I needed to express that I didn’t feel safe expressing in my waking life. Then other people began echoing me, which I wasn’t expecting. You can feel so much better when you realize that you’re not the only one going through this. If I can laugh at myself, maybe someone else can laugh, and vice versa.
In the book, you write about how you feel like you’re never allowed to truly break down and let go all the way. To me, it seems like our culture pushes us to pretend we have it all together — “fake it till you make it” — while also encouraging us to be supervulnerable and emotionally open. Isn’t that impossible?
That’s kind of the balance of being alive, right? I feel a lot of internal pressure to have this “normal life,” but I can feel like such an impostor, and I used to do a lot of things to avoid feeling human — drugs, alcohol, overshopping, whatever. I felt like you couldn’t expect me to function in the world without having all these vices to help me shut down the part of me that’s confused about why I exist. Why are we doing all these things? What is the point? I felt like I had to really tone down a lot of my sensitivity so I could be a functional human being, but the things I used to quell my sensitivity made it so that in the end, it was hard for me to function.
Did getting sober have a positive effect on your mental health?
When I was at the end of my drinking and using days, my anxiety was really bad. I thought I was dying every morning. Then I got prescribed a lot of pills, so basically I just had to be drunk or on benzos at all times and the anxiety was totally manageable. If I could have stayed drunk or high all the time, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the anxiety. When I got sober, I went off the benzos, though I am on SSRIs now. I kept getting panic attacks, but they were no longer happening every single day within 20 minutes of waking up. I still have something close to a panic attack regularly, maybe a couple of times a week. Often I can stave it off so I don’t have a full episode and no one knows I’m having one. But I’d much rather live in a body that didn’t do this.
I don’t think I’d have any wellness at all if I was still drinking. Is it a primrose path? No. In sobriety, my biggest struggle has been the thing between my ears. I’m wired like this to a certain extent, and those are the reasons why I drank. The fear was with me long before. Now I have a chance to live, and now there are days when I know what serenity feels like — it may not be all day, every day, but I know it exists for me.