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So Sad Today On Mental Health And Humour

In just over three years, the @SoSadToday Twitter account has accumulated over 345k followers. Pumping out a brand of pessimism relatable to most neurotic, Western twenty somethings with a partial to moderate internet addiction and a low sense of self worth (hey, there are a lot of us!), it coined a whole new brand of internet speak. “Just gonna do this to make sure it's still a bad idea” writes @SoSadToday; “It’s not my fault I was born: a musical”. In a couple dozen characters, and with razor sharp wit and concision, the lid is lifted on the thoughts we think but don’t say.

In a May 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, the voice behind @SoSadToday exposed herself as Melissa Broder, an American poet in her thirties who lives in LA. Broder decided to give up her anonymity as our favourite iPhone-era existentialist because she’s written a book – also titled So Sad Today – and because, as she puts it in the interview, "Sadness is universal. Sadness is not a meme."
So Sad Today reads as an autobiographical romp through Broder’s inbox and psyche. A chapter will relay an entire romantic relationship with a stranger that played out via slightly surreal sext messages. Another chapter outlines her fetish for vomiting and another details her history of having panic attacks. It reminds me of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s famous novel Prozac Nation – a slightly self indulgent but poignant meditation on mental illness littered with dark humour and pscyho-babble, and at other times, a deeply comforting and necessary read for anyone who has ever experienced anxiety, addiction or depression.

Whether you’re a fan of the divisive @SoSadToday or not, it's interesting to hear from Broder because she is warm, open and animated – hardly synonymous with her internet persona. “That character is just a part of me,” she tells me over the phone from LA. For the sum of Broder’s parts, I called her up to ask why she decided to unleash total honesty in her writing, what the response has been like, and how it feels to be tethered to a Twitter account.

So Sad Today is an extremely intimate memoir. Were there ever moments when you were writing the book and thought, ‘maybe I shouldn’t put this in’?
I lived in New York for 10 years and I would always type my poems on my phone when I was on the subway. But then, when I moved to LA, I was always driving, so I began speaking into my phone. The voice became more conversational, I wasn’t doing line breaks any more and I didn’t think about how people were going to be reading it.

It was only after the advanced copies came out that I realised all of this information was going to be out there. The chapter that I felt most scared about was the vomit fetish chapter... Like if a former boss or my aunt is reading that I just want to rip it out of the book. I’m not saying the essays are like diary entries, because I made a lot of edits, but I couldn’t write it if I didn’t do it as truthfully as I did. Emotional safety, to me, meant honesty and trying not to put on a mask.

Who would you least like to read the book?
My parents... they’re the only people I told they’re not allowed to read it. A parent shouldn’t know everything about their child.

Did you think about the audience, or were you writing for yourself?
I must be a very self-centred person, but so much of my creative work starts as a necessity to save my own life. The Twitter feed started when I was having a harrowing cycle of panic attacks that wouldn’t abate for months and all the things I tried – drugs and alcohol, a psychiatrist, medication, meditation, therapy – they weren’t enough. So I started the Twitter to throw this stuff I was experiencing into the void and use creativity as a coping tool.

In one essay I wrote for a VICE column I had, I talk about a Danish writer who says depression is like having antlers – your thoughts are overgrown for your mind. Poetry makes me feel like I can alchemise that energy. You can feel so alone in your anxiety and totally powerless, but writing gives me a sense of meaning and control over something I have no control over. So I’ve never written to save lives or to help other people but I think when you’re really honest, that can be a nice side effect.

Did writing the book teach you anything about yourself?
I think one thing that the whole So Sad Today experience has taught me is that art is and isn’t life. You might think that I’d have less shame around the way I feel now because all these people are commending me for being so honest. But I think any confidence I’ve garnered from the book happens in fleeting doses. A good review will make me go for a run and feel like I’m the shit, but that feeling goes away quickly. Self esteem is an inside job – no amount of attention and validation can give that to you and this whole process has reminded me of that.

In So Sad Today, you talk about how social media likes can give you a dopamine hit. Is having a successful Twitter account the same being addicted to a drug in that you build up a tolerance to that?
When one of my friends is having a bad day I’ll retweet them to give them that dopamine bump, and they’ll get a ton of new follows and say “This is like cocaine”. I’ve always been more of a downers person than an uppers person. Heroin addicts use and say they are just trying to “get well”, that they’re just taking enough to feel OK. For me the internet is the same – it doesn’t get me high anymore, it just keeps me level. I’m totally used to it.

You riff a lot off how a lack of communication from someone can make you feel down. If you’re already an anxious person, doesn’t cultivating a big online presence just induce more anxiety?

I always say that the internet giveth and the internet taketh away. I’ve found connections with people I wasn’t able to have in my real life – a level of intimacy – but then at the same time the internet can make me less able to cope with existing in the flesh because I’ll be looking for the button I need to hit to close a conversation and it’s not there.

How has giving up your anonymity affected how you feel?
I waited as long as I possibly could before coming out – I even made the publisher redact my name in the catalogues. I think what I was most afraid of was that people would be disappointed. It’s always that fear of not being enough. Even recently I was at a restaurant and people at a table were talking about So Sad Today and the friends I was with told her it was me. I felt like the woman was disappointed. Now I feel like I'm just waiting to be judged...

Despite being about a serious issue – mental health – the book is very humorous. It made me laugh a lot. Is humour a coping mechanism?
Having a dark sense of humour has helped and hurt me. I will use my sense of humour as a way not to let people in. It says, “It’s okay, I’ve got this!” when I’m suffering. Then I’ll find myself on the phone with a hotline. Sarcasm is a defence mechanism, but it’s also a way to connect with people. You can turn a shit into a lotus with humour. It’s a way of controlling a narrative you may have no other way of having control over. It’s both.

You write very personally and you are obviously comfortable talking about yourself, yet so many people say they can empathise with you – does that negate your experience as a truly personal one?
Human emotions are universal but there is only a certain amount of them. A lot of So Sad Today came out of me feeling like wearing a mask socially or professionally – it felt like there was this part of me that I just couldn’t reveal. I don’t feel like So Sad Today is a character, just a part of me I couldn’t air. In real life, I smile a lot and people are always surprised by that. So Sad Today might seem homogenous in its depressive world view, but that’s because it’s just one part of me. Me being confessional isn’t me trying to shock, it’s a defence mechanism... I can say what is the absolute truth and not be shunned by society then maybe my truth is OK.

Who would you most want to read the book?
People who feel like they’re the only one.
So Sad Today is out on May 12