As she premieres her highly-anticipated collection of personal essays, we go head-to-head with poet Melissa Broder – the elusive and neurotically-endearing voice behind our favourite Twitter persona
Melissa Broder’s unflinchingly candid memoir SO SAD TODAY hit U.S. bookstores today. If you generally lack the fortitude to be a fully functional grown-up (whatever that is) and trek into the battlefield known as life, have a penchant for acquainting yourself with your personal brand of neurosis, or simply everything since departing the womb has been downhill, then along with the legion of online followers and myself, you’ve likely wandered down the glorious, existentially-riddled rabbit hole that is @sosadtoday. Originally an anonymous Twitter run by Broder, the angsty musings boast the grotesque perceived shortcomings resting in the deepest depths of our being – the internal voice whispering you’re not enough, the healthy, mutually fulfilling relationship that’s yet to come to fruition, the obsessive compulsions and exhaustive self-awareness poised between you and your best, super chill self. Anchored by her equally witty prose and the gravitas to captivate any sceptic, Broder reels readers in with her illustrious tales of foraging for some latent meaning while figuring it all out. Somersaulting into the perils of adulting in the Internet era, I spoke with the poet-essayist by gchat about blissful banalities of modern life, navigating depression and anxiety, and taking the plunge into therapy.
With the SO SAD TODAY book release around the corner, how are you feeling?
Melissa Broder: Def anxious, but I'm sublimating the anxiety over the book into imaginary hair catastrophes and thinking I'm dying of small bodily symptoms.
Understandable, it’s major! What prompted the creation of the @sosadtoday Twitter?
Melissa Broder: In 2012, I went through a very dark time. I've had anxiety disorder for about 15 years, but every two or three years it seems I'll get in a cycle of panic attacks that just won't abate and I get scared it will be like this "forever". I worked in an office and was scared that I would not be able to perform at work or even stay in the office, even though I'm sort of an overachiever (hence the perfectionism that can catalyse anxiety). So I created the anonymous account to try and get out of myself while in the office – to have a place to just dump everything. I did it because I really didn't know what else to do to be okay. I had already been in therapy for years. My favourite panic-diffusing method from my favourite eBook was no longer working. My psychiatrist adjusted my medication (Effexor) but that took some time to kick in, and of course, medication alone doesn't cut the mustard. I was scared and the fear catalysed the creativity.
things i fear:— so sad today (@sosadtoday) March 13, 2016
The helplessness you've described is such a ubiquitous feeling carried in solitude. For so many, myself included, stumbling across @sosadtoday was like, “phew, okay, I'm not the only one!” Part of the magnetism was that sombre and self-deprecating humour offering momentary reprieve.
Melissa Broder: Yes. There is a deep healing power in "Oh? You too!"
Absolutely. Especially for those who've been nursing some heavy grievance no one else quite understands or those who feel agonizingly connected to Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf...
Melissa Broder: Yeah or Sartre, Kierkegaard, Camus. The terror of being alive and not knowing why. The terror of seeing that you are alive and don't know why and everyone seems to just be meandering around talking about kale. It can be lonely when existence seems weird and no one else is talking about how weird it is. Of course, sometimes I am one of the people who doesn't see how weird it is and don't want to see. Like, the blind opens and shuts.
Yes. I'd always found jokingly identifying as a ‘sad girl’ or glorifying suffering in silence amusing until you’re genuinely like oh shit. Sup, mental illness?
Melissa Broder: It’s funny, I don’t really identify as a sad girl. I think I more identify as a scared human being. But yeah, one can fluctuate back and forth between the ability to have a little distance from one's self and laugh about it – the luxury of distance – versus being so deep in it that it is all you can see and is totally reality.
It’s almost cathartic when people can shine a light on those experiences in a genuine yet comical way. Can you recall when your relationship with anxiety and depression began?
Melissa Broder: I was always a scared kid. I had fears of fires, the Holocaust, illnesses, amputation, at various points. And then the anxiety manifested in other ways, like in an eating disorder and various addictions. But when I was 21 I had an abortion and I think I was pretty traumatised from it. I had grown up in a pretty politically liberal household and thought that if I ever had an abortion it would be no big thing. Also, I caught the pregnancy very early, like it was the size of a sesame seed or whatev. But after the abortion, I was in a room with a number of other women and some were crying, some were vomiting. I, too, felt very sick, and because I hadn't expected to feel sick, I got scared that I was dying. I still do that to this day – I invalidate what I'm feeling, that 'I can't be feeling that' or 'I can't be feeling that because of this' and then (I) am like 'why do I feel weird? am I dying?' Anyway, it really scared me and then that night I felt very frightened. I lived with some other women and they had all gone out and I was alone, bleeding. And I felt like I had just done something that I could never undo. I didn't believe in hell or anything, but I was like, fuck, what if I did do something 'wrong.' But I didn't process that. I drank and smoked weed and took over the counter speed available at the time and ecstasy and a lot of other things to gloss over the feelings. A few weeks later, I was having a meal with the guy who got me pregnant and his mom at a restaurant and suddenly I felt like I couldn't swallow my food. That's the first physical panic attack I remember. From the inability to swallow the food came the inability to breathe, tightness in the chest, suffocating sensation, room spinning, de-realisation, etc.
As for depression, that's a little different. I think I've always had it, my whole life like I remember being on a beach at 14 and feeling like I was just disintegrating. Like I didn't not exist and if I did I was horrible, or something? It's a very vivid memory, and eating to relieve that (which I did from a very young age). I remember eating a giant baguette with butter and some meat and cheese (the beach was in France) and looking at the other girls and women on the beach and how beautiful they were and thinking that now I was really nothing. Lots of memories like that but I didn't even know I had depression, to call it depression, until that same time in 2012 when I started the account when I went to a shaman to try to help with my anxiety, because nothing, as I said, was working. And I described the way my chest felt, the darkness and heaviness in there. And she was like “that doesn't sound like anxiety. that sounds like depression” and it was then I realised they were flipsides of the same coin and then I asked my psychiatrist what she thought and she was like, “oh yes, it's always been depression too.” and I was like ????
“The terror of seeing that you are alive and don’t know why and everyone seems to just be meandering around talking about kale. It can be lonely when existence seems weird and no one else is talking about how weird it is” – Melissa Broder
So real. I did odd things as a kid that I chalked up to me just being strange, which I’d later realise were OCD symptoms. That's something I've been grappling with myself, discerning a funk or longtime quirk from sincerely needing help. It got to a point where I wanted to spend all my time lounging in bed cocooned in a sea of covers, darkness felt like warmth, and I wasn't motivated to do anything beyond gorge on comfort food and cry...but in true me fashion, I was like eh, therapy?
Melissa Broder: So there is overlap between your OCD and depression.
You know, I don't know what I have. My childhood OCD is a self-diagnosis, I would have to close drawers a certain amount of times or if my sofa brushed against my arm I'd have to go back and do each arm eight times. Fun stuff like that, but I'm keen to see if I still have it and how it may be manifesting.
Melissa Broder: See that's the thing. We can DSM-V this stuff but it doesn't always fit neatly into categories. I think in keeping with that, the line between what is ok and what is not ok to be living with is also nebulous. People have different tolerances, coping skills, sensitivities.
Agreed. When did you start going to therapy?
Melissa Broder: I did some therapy in the end of high school, a little in college, and then regularly for the past 13 years I think with various therapists. I lived in New York for ten years and as a New Yorker, I was like, if you have health insurance, why wouldn't you have a therapist?
Yes, it's right there! Daily internal dialogue/battle with myself.
Melissa Broder: Have you gone ever?
I haven't though I've had moderate to severe anxiety forever and what I believe may be clinical depression. There’s a printed list of therapists and psychiatrists that has been on my dining table for weeks, I’ve just been lollygagging. The pre-work feels like such a daunting task: finding the right fit, deciding whether to go on meds or not. How did you drudge through that process?
Melissa Broder: Just call! Pretend you are shopping. Actually, I just wrote an article about this because I am transitioning to a new therapist. As a therapy vet, I am like cynical and grumbly about it sometimes but I will probably still go for the rest of my life. But as someone who has never been, girl, get your ass to therapy!
Ah, it's a whole thing! I feel inclined to scour the web for every online review on a prospective therapist before I can set an appointment, and I have all these specifications blah blah blah but you’re right. How did you go about finding ‘the one’?
Melissa Broder: There is no ‘one’. There is the one for that phase of your life. Interview a few, trust your instincts, not other people's reviews, go to three or four, and then just go with the one you feel most connected to. You can always change later. Well, actually that's not entirely true because therapists are hard to break up with lol. But if they have good boundaries it's not as hard.
And psychiatrists? Was there any apprehension medicating?
Melissa Broder: No, because I just wanted relief.
I worry I'll experience crazy side effects and not recognise myself – physically and emotionally – or get someone who's not invested in truly figuring out what I need. Ditto on relief, even with my reservations I’d medicate.
Melissa Broder: You have to find the right one, someone who actually listens to you. Don't let someone medicate you after five minutes.
Noted. Technology juxtaposed with mental illness is fascinating. Has it helped and simultaneously provided obstacles?
Melissa Broder: Ok, so I feel like the relationship between my addictive nature and anx/depresh and technology is complicated. On the one hand, the internet gives me dopamine, which gives me temporary relief from myself. It also provides a delicious escape from reality. On the other hand, I am completely addicted to that dopamine and go back for it like a rat to a poison sugar cube again and again and that affects my desire to live IRL. The internet giveth and the internet taketh away.
This especially rings true for toxic relationships.
Melissa Broder: Def.
How do you move on when they're always there and accessible?! Do you cyber creep?
Melissa Broder: I guess it's when the pain finally outweighs the pleasure that we give it up. For me, I guess I haven't reached that place with the internet. And truthfully, I hope I don't ever hehe. I used to cyber creep a lot. So much that I didn't even know that's what I was doing. Like, it was just being to check what crushes were fav'ing and stuff but I sort of detoxed from that, went through the withdrawals, and now I’m not as into it anymore. It's like I have the recall now of the feeling of grossness I experience after and not just the initial hit of dopamine. I can remember that grossness before I creep so I'm like, eh, not gonna do it today. Do you?
I do but it's not nearly as excessive as it once was. It used to be pretty bad, like a fix. This insatiable appetite that left me feeling icky.
Melissa Broder: Yes. It's like filling yourself with things that make you hungrier.
Now it's more like keeping up with a guy who hurt me on Snapchat and prolonging moving on or this visceral desire to "be in the know".
Melissa Broder: Filling yourself with things that make you hungrier is usually my jam, but eventually I do occasionally learn. Yes, Snapchat is a way to feel connected to him. Like, you don't have to fully cut the cord and mourn. He is still 'in your life' a little.
It's bittersweet. He's an ass so it scratches the itch but also strips something away from me as he isn't concerned about me and I shouldn't be either.
Melissa Broder: Yes, exactly. It scratches the itch but then you're bleeding. I can't figure out Snapchat. It makes me feel old and irrelevant that I can't figure it out. I tried to do one and took a picture of my foot or something and couldn’t get rid of it.
Haha OMG. Snap is confusing at first, nothing like a new app to make you feel old and out of touch. Gives me more compassion for older people who aren’t tech-savvy, like, the next time my mom asks me to help her text I won’t be such a bitch.
Melissa Broder: Haha totally. Though, it is so fun to make fun of parents and their use of technology. Like, there isn't all that much joy in life. It's good to give yourself that.
This is true.
Melissa Broder: Anyway, I hate the boy you still follow on Snapchat. He should be obsessed with you, obviously. Though if he was obsessed with you I bet you wouldn’t care about his Snapchat or maybe even him.
“Self-love still eludes me. I don't even know if it’s something I want but perhaps that is just a defence mechanism because I feel that it will never be possible” – Melissa Broder
Honestly, it sounds so obnoxious saying it out loud, but I genuinely don't understand how he's not obsessed with me and trying to marry me. It's strange thinking so highly of yourself yet entertaining someone who treats you like you're ordinary and suggests you have low self-esteem. A lot of my hindrances rear their head after falling for someone (mainly how much is lacking in the self-love dept), especially when reflecting on the guys I pine over. Do you still find yourself having those moments?
Melissa Broder: Yes. Self-love still eludes me. I don't even know if it's something I want but perhaps that is just a defence mechanism because I feel that it will never be possible.
It does often feel unattainable or like you were born without something everyone else has.
Melissa Broder: There are moments of it, glimpses, but to live from that place seems...distant.
Some sort of supernatural combo of respect and will power.
Melissa Broder: Being gentle to oneself seems way more difficult than being a taskmaster for me. It's like my self-hatred keeps me motivated.
Ugh yes. Helluva drug. So addictions, love, unrequited love, depression, anxiety, voyaging through the meaning of life, THE INTERNET — SO SAD TODAY is a gut-wrenching, messy, beautiful mosaic of these bits of your life. Thus far, from creating the Twitter to debuting the collection of essays, what's the greatest gift sharing these experiences has rendered?
Melissa Broder: Well, obviously I love the dopamine of a big retweet, so in that sense the account is a gift that keeps on giving. And I also love that @sosadtoday is something that I created out of absolutely nothing, so in that sense, I can feel proud of myself as a creative human being. But I would say the greatest gift is feeling like I have something to give. I keep my email on the Twitter bio and I get a lot of emails from people. I'm not a professional and often I will direct them to various hotlines, because I love a good hotline. But there are times when someone is suffering with something that I myself have gone through and I can offer them, if not a solution, then the knowledge that they aren't alone. All I really have to offer is my own experience. But that can be a lot when someone thinks they are the only one who is going through something. So that gives me a sense of purpose and meaning in having gone through some of the things that I've gone through. It makes me want to stick around.
SO SAD TODAY is available now – published by Grand Central Publishing