Turning the page on depression and anxiety

By Samantha Jones | 30 Nov 16
So Sad Today

So Sad Today
Melissa Broder
Scribe Publications

Keeping to the status quo is so yesteryear. As are mental illness stigmas and the concept of the ideal woman and wife. Thanks to brave voices like American Poet Melissa Broder and her memoir So Sad Today, we continually diversify the concept of ‘normal’.

Broder delves into her most personal memories, fetishes, addictions and mental illness through a collection of personal essays. She writes about anxiety and depression, being married to someone with a chronic illness, living with addictions, experiencing life with an eating disorder, hiding a vomit fetish, managing mental illness through medication, and the pressures of aging as a woman. She writes on these topics while also questioning what it means to exist and to be a part of society.

A theme that becomes apparent within Broder’s essays is the struggle she has experienced in trying to fit into society’s gender expectations. While it is refreshing to read an unromanticised account of what it is to be a female, it is also a relief to read relatable stories about the female experience.

In her first essay she writes about her favourite food to snack on – herself. Nails, ear wax and vaginal secretions are all covered.

“Later in life I became a connoisseur of my own vaginal secretions,” she writes. “The depth of range was astonishing. The vagina is always marinating something.”

Her female identity is explored more directly in an essay on feeling bad. “I feel bad for using the word old as synonymous with bad,” Broder writes. “Where did I learn that to look old as a woman is bad? Maybe I learnt it, like, everywhere.”

She continues to name all the elements of herself and her female experience that she feels bad about. This includes feeling bad that her pubic hair isn’t aligned with the current pubic hair trends, that her vagina is not as pink as it used to be, and that her breasts are sagging.

The other common thread, alluded to in the book’s title, is sadness. It is a primal sadness that she believes underlies everything and is unavoidable. While the whole book has an undertone of sadness, it is the last chapter, ‘Under the Anxiety Is Sadness but Who Would Go Under There’, where she directly talks to her own sadness, and what has been done to mask and avoid it.

“But all of those sadnesses, unacknowledged over time, were pushing up against the Band-Aids I put over them,” she writes. “As anxiety and depression, they were screaming to get out.”

She describes her sadness as an ocean inside her, which she has been damming her entire life. “I think some of us are less equipped to deal with our oceans, or maybe we are just more terrified because we see and feel a little extra. So we build our shitty dams. But inevitably, the dam always breaks again.”

The diversity in essay structures, form and style works really well in this book. Some pieces talk directly to the reader, like Broder has shared a section of her personal diary. Others are repetitious. One essay on her eating disorder starts each paragraph with the same intro (‘I am an eater … ‘), while another about her relationship history ends each paragraph with the same sentence (‘ … a love story’). Some are playful, like the essay responding to an internet quiz to determine if she has an addiction, and another that’s a conversation between herself and her ‘higherself’ in the style of an online chat platform. While each essay is unique, they all are similar in that they provoke a sense of anxiety when reading, which could be a trigger for some readers. The short sharp sentences and direct, witty thoughts jump from one thought to the next. They loop, repeat and appear to come from extreme rationality.

The book doesn’t follow a narrative, and the order of the essays is unstructured, but there is still a flow here. Broder’s writing style is unexpected, unpredictable, but most of all exciting. She writes with such direct, bold shamelessness.

Broder has found much success with this style of writing on Twitter. Her previously anonymous Twitter account of the same name, So Sad Today, has over 400,000 followers. It was not until she announced the upcoming release of this book that she named herself as the person behind the account. Breaking her anonymity was part of her book publishing deal.

In sharing her sadness, anxiety, and depression Broder comes across as beautifully vulnerable. She writes with a lot of self-awareness. Honest, frank awareness. In stripping bare through her memoir, she gives the reader the opportunity to be vulnerable too. Every time we have a private a-ha moment with Broder’s book, discovering and affirming the truths we find in her text, we bond with her, just as she found her vulnerability through anonymity on Twitter.

This invitation into Broder’s world comes for the most part graciously. It is a gift from Broder to the reader, free from expectation and judgement. Yet there is one essay near the end of the book that curiously insults the reader and their sense of self.

“But if you really love yourself,” she writes, “you probably aren’t reading this essay.” It is a single sentence, but it is loaded with judgement and assumption. Not only is it disappointing, it’s a stark departure from how open she has been throughout the rest of the book.

So Sad Today is far from a conventional memoir, which is a relief. It’s an invitation into the deepest and darkest parts of Broder’s life, a confronting and honest spotlight on anxiety and depression. While this voyeurism is addictive, Broder’s writing also encourages us to explore our own depths, and to embrace life with a bit more authenticity and with less judgement.

In the words of Broder: “After all these years of preserving my facade in daily life, I’m fucking tired”.