A few months ago, Melissa Broder found herself doing something she hadn’t done since she was 18 years old: stealing. She was on tour promoting her memoir So Sad Today, enjoying the extensive press coverage and critical praise, when she felt the compulsion to shove a tube of lipstick in her pocket as she left a store.
“I thought, Why the fuck am I stealing? I don’t need to steal lipstick now, I have a job,” Broder, the 30-something writer behind the neurotic and confessional Twitter account @sosadtoday, told me over the phone. “But I had a lot of anxiety about this book coming out and I found myself just wanting to fill that hole—wanting to counteract this feeling that the universe is not going to be enough, that it somehow owes me something.”
Broder has long tried to fill what she calls "insatiable spiritual holes" in her life with different vices and compulsions: food, drugs, men, and internet addiction; as well as healthier routines like therapy and meditation. The California-based poet’s attempts to cope with the terror of the void has gained her more than 300,000 followers on her seemingly stream-of-consciousness Twitter account, which she started in 2012. There, she’s discussed self-loathing (“I don’t like anyone or me”), relationship problems (“disappoint me so i know it’s real”), and body issues (“I'm a tiny speck in the infinite cosmos who feels fat”).
will probably hate my body till like 3 min before i die and then be like wait— so sad today (@sosadtoday) April 6, 2016
She expands on these 140-character existential musings in more intimate detail in her new memoir, sharing the origins of her eating disorder, stories about her husband’s ongoing fight with a mysterious neuro-immune disease, confessions of her one remaining chemical addiction: nicotine gum (she got sober when she was 25), and vivid descriptions of her vomit fetish. But despite the seemingly revealing nature of her writing, Broder is the first to admit that she is never truly baring it all.
“We all walk around the planet with so many masks,” she said. “Do I say everything in the book? To some extent—but any time you speak there’s always some degree of curation because there are some things you just don’t want to tell people.”
For Broder, @SoSadToday started out as kind of a mask, allowing her to speak candidly about mental illness with anonymity. She writes poetry under her real name, but began the account under the pseudonym while working as a book publicist and fending off an increasingly intense anxiety disorder. The account quickly became her go-to place to vent, and its particular flavor of grim humor earned the admiration of, among others, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. Three years later, Broder came out as the person behind @SoSadToday in Rolling Stone, but even after going public, she still has masks she dons for daily life, and she discusses them in her book. Cutting her dark confessions with dry humor and hiding her very real suffering behind a crippling sense of self-awareness, Broder spills her life onto the pages while continuing to hold some of her most intimate cards close to her chest.
“It’s weird you can be ‘so sad today’ and still be scared of judgment,” she writes in a chapter called, ‘The Terror in My Heart Says Hi.’ “Like, how much mental illness is ‘acceptable’ and how much is going to be ‘too much’?”
I want to curate my own alienation. I want to choose my isolation, i don't want to be rejected.
The fear of being too much that prevented her from telling anyone about her recent compulsive lipstick theft (until now), kept some intimate details about her eating disorder out the book, and made it extremely difficult to talk about some of her more shocking secrets publicly, like her vomit fetish.
“We all have these things that may not be the most shameful things of our lives, but because they’re so old and have been a secret for so long they feel as though they’re the most dangerous,” she told me. “To reveal it would be to reveal our strangeness in a way that could be alienating, and I want to curate my own alienation. I want to choose my isolation, I don’t want to be rejected.”
Fearing rejection and working to curate the perception of her sadness, Broder makes an effort to keep up “social masks of competence,” as she puts it in the chapter ‘Keep Your Friends Close but Your Anxiety Closer.’
“I put pressure on myself to perform like a completely healthy person, lest people find out I am ‘not okay’,” she writes.
She doesn’t take sick days for her mental health, she hides behind humor, she avoids telling loved ones exactly how much stress she is under. And perhaps these efforts are working: Many people who have met her have been shocked to find she seems “cheerful” and “well-adjusted;” pointing out her “long shiny blondish hair,” or “good fashion sense” as if these qualities are antithetical to her online persona.
“It’s almost like a depressed person has to be the stereotype, like you have to be Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice or your depression isn’t authentic,” Broder said. “Depression is an illness, sadness is a universal human feeling. If you think about the range of people who commit suicide, do they all look a certain way? When you think about the range of human suffering, do we all suffer the same way?”
Of course, on some level we do all suffer the same way, which is why her account has enjoyed the success that it has. Broder’s confessions reveal just enough to retain a kind of universality. She overshares not as a means to shock or portray a “sad girl” aesthetic,” but to survive, and the authenticity of her oversharing shines through.
The account has become as popular as it has not because Broder’s thoughts are so weird or taboo, or that they speak to a specific feminine despair, but because her sadness is universal. Masks and all, Broder is chronicling a journey towards self-acceptance that anyone can relate to. Admitting that she doesn’t quite have it together, and that she worries about losing control of her narrative is revolutionary, because we all play the same game. No matter how put-together we look, behind our Instagram filters, humor, and other coping mechanisms, we are all @SoSadToday.
stop not loving me— so sad today (@sosadtoday) April 6, 2016