It is impossible for me to write about Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today, a collection of essays based on Broder’s once anonymous Twitter account @SoSadToday, without talking about myself and my own anxiety and depression. I feel weird and embarrassed by that, I can assure you, but onward.
One of the more frustrating manifestations of my own depression and anxiety has been wrestling with my complex relationship to loneliness and isolation, both literal and emotional. On one hand, I crave an abundance of solitude and find even a “normal” amount of interpersonal interaction to be emotionally taxing and anxiety-making; on the other hand, almost at the same time, I feel insecure and start to perceive my isolation as not being self-imposed, but something that is happening to me because I am too much or not enough for the rest of the world. Then I am embarrassed and ashamed to be me, and the spiral can speed up from there, the worst being when I start to fret that if I don’t become a more social, charming human being ASAP, I will end up dying alone in a dilapidated house like my dad, with nothing but my crazed, self-loathing thoughts to keep me company.
I have felt some mixture of this internal struggle for as long as I can remember, and it’s something I’m always working though in therapy and occasionally in my writing. But while I have friends who also have issues with anxiety and depression, I’ve somewhat self-absorbedly felt mine manifested in ways that were specific to me and only me and that’s what made me extra weird and unloveable and not enough and destined to be alone. These are dark thoughts, I expect some of you are thinking, but they are a constant refrain and I’ve come to accept them, somewhat, as part of who I am — but it wasn’t until I first stumbled upon a tweet by @SoSadToday that I wanted to try embracing that reality.
Started over three years ago as a place for Broder, a published poet, to put her most vulnerable, self-loathing thoughts, @SoSadToday posted dozens of tweets a day, catching the attention of famous fans like Katy Perry and Lana del Rey, and amassing over 300,000 followers. I’m not joking when I say that nearly each and every single one could have been plucked from the darkest corners of my brain and spit out with a subtle hint of self-deprecation, a reflex that, in my case, isn’t to hide the pain but make it more palatable to everyone, including myself.
Translating 140-character emotional bursts into a format where they are splayed bare is no easy feat, but Broder’s book of essays does so beautifully, bravely and triumphantly. The quick but sharp pangs of her tweets are given the room to ache in these essays, as Broder explores themes of loneliness, self-loathing, perfectionism, obsession and existential dread.
I was excited – and even a bit nervous (“What if she thinks I’m awful and is thus offended that I relate so much to her work?” was one passing thought) – to talk to Broder about all of these topics, as well as the writing process, depression meds and night sweats, and open relationships.
How did the So Sad Today twitter account start?
So, in the fall of 2012, I was going through a really dark and particularly harrowing point in my anxiety disorder. I’ve had anxiety disorder my whole life,and I’ve been having panic attacks for at least 15 years, but they tend to come in cycles, and this was a bad cluster of them. I just didn’t feel like I knew what else to do to be okay. I don’t self-medicate with drugs and alcohol – I’m sober now, so I don’t have that anymore. I’ve been in therapy – I’ve always been in therapy – and I didn’t really feel like that was helping, and my psychiatrist had upped my medication and that wasn’t really doing anything either. I just felt like I needed a place to put all this stuff. To put all of these feelings.
I have my own Twitter account, but these were things that I didn’t feel like I could really say as me. I needed to lift the social mask – and even though my Twitter persona is only one part of me, I feel like we contain many parts – maybe my Twitter is more emblematic, or seems more emblematic, of me as a person, or as a whole. I never want to tweet too much, and for So Sad Today I tweet so much. So part of me didn’t want to break my anonymity because I was embarrassed.
Yeah, my impression is that unlike a lot of thematic Twitter accounts or personas, you’re not laboring over every tweet in order to make it perfect — but that you were tweeting just whatever kind of came out of you at a given moment.
Totally. At one point I had a Twitter editor for my personal account — it was my friend, he lives in Canada. And I would send him a list of my tweets and he would send them back with comments like “A-Game!” or like “This one seems okay.” But @SoSadToday was just very raw. And of course I love making people laugh – I’m kind of a clown, so certainly, I’ll know to make something funny or I’ll try to make myself laugh, so it’s a little bit crafted. But it’s definitely much more raw than my personal Twitter account.
You’re a poet as well. How does this type of writing compare as a mode of expression?
Well, I’d say thematically, my poetry and now in the essays, I’m always concerned with the same themes — your obsessions are your obsessions, so questions like “why are we here?” the inevitability of death, sex and love, those are all themes that I delve into in my poetry and in the essays. But with poetry I like to use kind of primal language that would be easily identifiable in any century; it’s more timeless and pure in that way. Whereas with @SoSadToday and the essays, I feel like I get to play a lot with more disposable language.
So there’s a classic-ness to your poetry that transcends the present?
Yeah, I just don’t want my poetry to be as disposable, you know? I feel like so much in this world is disposable, that with my poetry I just want to be not really tethered to any one trend or era. Whereas with So Sad Today, that kind of disposability can be kind of a refuge, so I play around more with internet speak.
I am seriously having to stop myself from fangirling so hard. I’ve had to put a cap on how many @SoSadToday tweets I’m allowed to retweet in a given day.
I feel like you’re in my head and it’s been a strange relief to see myself and my thoughts and anxieties reflected in the tweets and now the essays. You’re putting into words things I’ve thought and felt for a very long time – not that I’m happy that you’re sad, but there’s a comfort in knowing other people experience similar sadnesses.
Definitely! It’s very scary when we’re all kind of running around being like, “Are these people, like, really that obsessed with ‘The Bachelor’? Is that all they’re thinking about or is there a deeper fear underneath?” Like, what is all this?
In the last couple of years, but definitely this last year especially, I’ve noticed that our usually irony-obsessed culture has started to make way for what I’m gonna call a return to earnestness. I think So Sad Today — both the Twitter and the book — really fit into that. Like, for a long time it felt like being earnest and sincere and having feelings wasn’t very cool.
Yeah, it’s definitely a relief when human beings are honest about what’s going on inside. Emotions are universal. It’s like, “Oh, you too?” I think especially with people who work for corporations, there’s not that much room to be a human being. You kind of toe the line, which I get — you want the people who work for you to be competent, you don’t want them to have all these needs and feelings – so I think in an effort convey competence we don’t show those sides of ourselves.
@SoSadToday started off anonymously and only recently were you “outed” — how did that come about?
When we decided we were going to do the book, because I’m also a poet, it made sense for me to have my name on the book as well — but I made the publishers wait as long as possible. Even when catalogs were sent out, I had them redact my name. And then finally the time came where it was going to be up on Amazon. It was time.
Were you nervous?
Yeah, I was so nervous. I talked about it with my therapist a lot. I was just afraid that I wouldn’t be enough something or I would be too much something else. I couldn’t even tell you what exactly, but it was just a fear of being a disappointment. That I would be disappointing. But everyone was pretty cool about it.
Except for there was this one teen. I had tweeted this picture of a doctor’s form that I had filled out a couple months before and I had my name on it, and it had “anxiety” and “depression” checked off, so I wrote across it in, like, internet scrawl, “So Sad Today” and I tweeted that right before the Rolling Stone piece came out identifying me. There was a tiny sliver of my knee that appeared in the picture and one teen tweeted at me, like, “You have a gross knee.” It was teenage boy. My friend and I called it Kneegate. I was like, if this is the worst possible critique I get, then that is welcome.
Did family and friends know it was you?
At that point, 15 or so friends knew when I sent that tweet out. But I kept it totally a secret for three years, and then I told one person and even that felt like a big deal, because there was one person who could judge me. And then slowly I told 15 or so friends, so it was kind of like I came out in three phases and then the third phase was the big reveal.
And during that three years of tweeting anonymously, did you find that @SoSadToday helped you deal with your depression issues?
Definitely. Especially when I would go through something really intense. Like, last spring when I was still anonymous, I was going through a really hard time because my doctors decided to change my meds again. I had been on Effexor for so long and it felt like it wasn’t working.
Oh, I’m on Effexor too.
Oh you are? I went back on actually — I take a low dose of Effexor and a low dose of Prozac.
Yeah. Do you get the night sweats?
OH MY GOD. Yes. I’ve been soaking sheets for many, many years.
YES! I sweat so hardcore and so I’ll put my arm out from under the covers, thinking I must just need cooler air, but it feels freezing! It’s so gross. I have to change my clothes in the middle of the night sometimes.
Same. I often take a bath in the middle of the night. How long have you been on it?
I was on Lexapro and then I switched to Effexor in, I think, October?
Oh so it’s recent and new.
Yeah, Lexapro just wasn’t working for me anymore, and the Effexor does, but this side effect is gross.
Yeah, it’s like a swamp. I’ve been on Effexor for, like, 11 years. I still get the night sweats. It’s so bizarre. So anyway, my doctor had increased my dose last spring because I was having way too many panic attacks to be on this medicine. Why isn’t it working? Like, if I’m going to be getting the night sweats, I need to at least be not having panic attacks every day. And so we transitioned off the Effexor and started Prozac, and that was really good while I was on both, but when I was actually off the Effexor, it was bad. I had a bad, bad, bad crash. It was really scary. I write about coming off Effexor in the book actually. But now I’m back on it, on a low dose, and that seems to be a good mix.
But it was really helpful to have the Twitter account then because I was really scared during that time — since I had started the Twitter and gone through that dark time initially, this was the hardest time for me, last spring. I definitely received some emails that were really helpful from people who had gone through it and come out the other side. I found that very helpful.
Since you’ve come out, has it changed the way you tweet, like have you found yourself being a little more guarded?
No, it’s strange, you’d think I should be, but I feel like @SoSadToday offers me this strange protection — and it’s not the protection of the internet, because there are things that I tweet from there that if I posted them on my Facebook, my aunt would send a SWAT team to my house, you know? Even from my personal Twitter, people would probably be like, “Is she okay?” But there’s something about @SoSadToday that makes me feel protected to reveal that part of myself, you know?
Maybe it’s that, while people know it’s you, there’s a belief that @SoSadToday is a persona and maybe some level of it is dialed up?
Yeah, it’s funny, I always see personas as being something you step into and inhabit, and I feel like @SoSadToday is more like something that is one part of me. Like if you tweet or post things on Facebook, people take that as the totality of you, whereas @SoSadToday is more like one part of me. It’s not all of me. It’s the part of me that is consistently disappointed, overwhelmed, lonely, sad, comparing myself to others – but there are of course other parts of me that exist and live in the world.
I know you’ve had a few critics who think you’re making light of depression or something, but I think that probably goes back to some fundamental misunderstanding that @SoSadToday is not a persona so much as it is a genuine slice of who you are. So while at times the account is funny and self-deprecating, and there’s a writerly quality, it’s not like an entertainment account.
I’m actually always shocked by how few haters I have, but the things I’ve heard are, like, “Oh you’re romanticizing depression” to which I’m like, “Well, first of all, it’s my depression.” I’m not telling anybody else’s story but my own. Second of all, when people say things like, “You’re making depression cool,” I’m like, you can’t give yourself depression, it’s not like I’m going to entice everyone into having a mental illness. I don’t have that power. And if I could make depression cool in America, that would be amazing, so that people who have these differences from others could feel that it’s something special. Because there are characteristics — granted, this is no consolation when you’re suffering — but people with anxiety disorder often do have a much more active imagination than other people. We have a very rich inner life. Too rich sometimes.
Do you consider yourself to be a classic introvert?
I think so, it’s weird though. I can be very “on,” I can be very funny, but my preference is definitely to isolate. My instinct is to be in a little hole with gummy candy and wifi.
Ugh yes, same. Other people can be exhausting.
It is, it’s tiring, and if you’re a perfectionist or have social anxiety, it’s a lot more exhausting than it would be for a person who feels that they don’t have to make everyone like them, or they don’t have to be perfect, or they’re not so afraid of criticism. It’s just so much more exhausting when, inside you’re like, “Ack this person has to like me. If they don’t like me, then I suck.”
Sometimes interacting with other people feels like work.
Oh yeah, it’s totally like work. It’s like a task where you’re wondering, Am I going to be okay?
Sometimes people will be like, “Oh, but you seem like such an extrovert.” And I’m like, “That’s because you only ever see me for the 45 minutes per week that I was ON, but the rest of the week was spent recovering.”
Exactly! Exactly. That’s totally what it is.
There’s an essay in the book called “I Don’t Feel Bad About My Neck,” about all the things you feel bad and/or guilty about, like the book itself. Feeling guilty about being sad — because there’s no “reason” to be, because your privilege means you’ve had it better than others and have resources maybe others don’t — can lead to even further isolation for someone who is depressed. How open have you been historically about being sad?
Well, some people might kind of like being sad, but I’m terrified of any emotion that isn’t a positive one, so I think I’ve often tried to … I wasn’t even aware that I was sad, I sort of repressed that, and then that feeling bumping up against the feelings inside of me created anxiety — the feelings I was unwilling to feel.
So, do you still feel guilty about the book?
I was in Philly, where I’m from, and I was getting ready to do a reading and my parents were there — and my parents are forbidden from reading the book — and I was like, “Why did I write this? Was it necessary to reveal so much? What’s the point?” And there are so many books out there, so I think things like, “Do we need another memoir?!” I’m very cynical. So in that sense, I can feel bad about the book. But in another sense, I really like being a creative human being so it’s fun to make things.
And yes, the world of course could use books from more diverse perspectives, but at the same time, in a country where the arts are being whittled down, the more people who create and put their art out there the better, as far as I’m concerned.
Maybe the democratization of art and the internet is allowing for more of that. It’s not the same gatekeepers all picking who’s who and what’s what. People have more of a chance to surface out of nowhere.
There’s an essay called “Honk If There’s A Committee In Your Head Trying To Kill You” — can you share what the committee has been up to today?
Ooh, that’s a good question. Well, this morning, the committee was obsessing because I woke up and was telling myself, “Don’t harass your publicist. Just let her be.” And the committee was like “What’s happening today? When’s this going to run? When’s that happening?” The committee is very much like “MORE MORE MORE MORE” and isn’t able to stop and just enjoy what has happened and what is happening – it’s a very fear-driven, American committee.
Then definitely during this phone call, the committee has been like, “Oooh, am I not being funny enough or energetic enough?”Basically in any interaction, the committee will be like, “You’re doing this wrong.”
[FWIW, my own committee, throughout the interview, was like “What if this is a stupid question? Did I ask that in a weird way? Shit she’s probably heard this a million times, you’re the worst, Amelia.”]
What’s your tactic with dealing with the committee? Do you always find yourself listening and taking what it says to heart?
I do a meditation practice in the morning, and if I can get that in, sometimes I’ll have a moment of pause throughout the day — I’ll remember that the meditation is a template and that peace in the mind is possible, so perhaps the voices that are ravaging me in my head might not actually be the whole truth, you know? I kind of need to establish that pause early in the day so that I know tat it might be possible that things aren’t as fucked as I think they are.
But a lot of the time, I’ll just do what the committee tells me and act out the fear, try to acquire things like accolades or attention or distractions to get the committee to be quiet — even though I know that nothing will ever be enough. It’s like you’re thirsty and you’re drinking salt water.
The essays in So Sad Today are very confessional and vulnerable, really expanding upon the topics that you touch upon in your tweets — how did you approach that?
You know, I really tried not to think about an audience as I was doing it. I dictated most of the book on Siri, then pasted it on to the app Simple Note and then of course edited it a lot. So in that sense, I was kind of like talking to myself or into the void, and I was able to not self-censor. And because I can speak more quickly than I can type or write, I think it gave me less time to be like, “Don’t do that!” The rough draft was the clay, and then I could chistel after that. So I was able to amass this large amount of clay from which to work.
I really want science to come up with something that dictates your thoughts so you don’t even have to speak out loud.
That would be amazing.
Like you strap on this device and then you spend time thinking about whatever it is you want to be writing and it transcribes it all.
That would be so cool.
I don’t know how they’re going to do it, but I hope they’re working on it.
The Thought Translator. I think they must be.
Right? So there are a number of essays in the book that have to do with dating and sex and men, and I particularly like “Never Getting Over The Fantasy Of You Is Going Okay” which is about different types of romantic obsessions. I know you’ve been married for a while and that there was a period in your marriage that was open, so in the book you write about some of the experiences you had during that period — and it got me thinking about how romantic relationships can really feed anxiety and depression –
Definitely. And they can also be a way to treat anxiety and depression too. It’s like a bandaid.
Yeah, do you feel like the things that torture us the most are also those things which we need and crave, as depressed and anxious people?
I think in some ways yes, because first of all, I can get high on that stuff. It’s definitely a way to get high. You’re not necessarily in control, but it’s one space to put all of your existential fears and doubts and worries, where all of your emotions are riding on whether you’re going to get texted back or not. And I think it’s a way to still believe in magic in the world, you know? We hope that someone else can be magic.
Has your husband read the essays about people you’ve been with outside the marriage?
He read all of the essays, because he’s an amazing editor, but he asked not to read the ones that are about sex I had during our marriage. The rules that we had were that he didn’t want to know about anything and I wanted to know about everything.
I’ve been dabbling a little bit myself in something similar, and it’s been fascinating to see as I’ve been testing the waters that although I’m usually jealous and deeply insecure, I actually haven’t been yet.
It’s definitely an adventure. Monogamy is not easy; non-monogamy is not easy. Being single is not easy! It all has its good parts and challenges, and it was something we tried, and it was great, and something we may do again. I don’t know, we set up the rules, and I just didn’t feel jealous of anything he did – it was so weird. I was like “No, really, I think I’m okay with this.” And I was!
Maybe it’s the fact that the honesty was there.
Yeah, exactly, no one was in the dark.
The relationship was still your priority, that wasn’t in question.
Right. I think it depends on the person — if you’re with somebody who really makes you feel like you are the one, well, not the one, but they’re committed no matter what. I mean, listen, things happen — people fall in love, people fall out of love, regardless of whether it is or isn’t an open marriage. It doesn’t really matter, I think that we want to believe that we can control love, and that someone is “ours” but that kind of kills it. That makes it boring, when you start seeing the other person as a possession – as much as we all do it, and think we want that.
Throughout your life, whose work — writing. music, art, whatever — has made you feel less alone or comforted in your own anxiety/depression?
I actually just spoke with The Atlantic about this book called The Denial of Death. And that book, it’s sort of a survey throughout recent history of people grappling with the question of death and the mystery of existence — it was published in the 1970s by this guy named Ernest Becker. You can find your existentially disturbed people in there, and you can also find people who are running from those realities – there are definitely a lot of existentialist writers who were consumed by these questions and couldn’t believe that no one else was talking about them, in the same way that I can feel consumed by those questions too. It’s hard, because they call it “anxiety” and “depression,” but to me, it can feel like nausea, like psychic nausea, as Sartre would say. It can feel like doom. It doesn’t fit neatly into those boxes.
Yeah, I think people who don’t have depression think depression always means wanting to die or anxiety means you’re always having panic attack meltdowns — sometimes you are, but anxiety can manifest in all sorts of ways, like cleaning like crazy or sitting in a corner picking at yourself. So if you haven’t experienced it, or taken the time to really learn about what it’s like for other people, there’s a limited understanding of what those diagnoses actually look and feel like.
Yeah, and why would they? Who wants to go into the darkness if they don’t have to?
The last thing I wanted to say is that, I must admit, my own insecurities sometimes make me a little jealous or resentful of women writers I perceive as being better or more talented than I am. But as brilliant as I think your book is, it’s one that doesn’t make me doubt my own abilities, it just makes me want to use them again. So thank you.
Thank you so much! I really appreciate that.
Original by Amelia McDonell-Parry @xoamelia