ARTS & CULTURE
04/11/2016 08:50 am ET

Getting Down With The Personal Essays In 'So Sad Today'

Not all literature needs to lift us up.

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The ideal emotional state for reading Melissa Broder's essay collection So Sad Today is right there on the cover.

As someone who likes books and writing about them, I looked forward to this one's release. I knew Broder was the brilliant mind behind @sosadtoday, a Twitter account that's captured daily angst in the age of short attention spans since 2012.

Broder, who tweeted anonymously from the account for some time, struck a chord with her "comically depressing" sentiments. The account has over 300,000 followers and countless retweets and faves beyond that, a chain reaction of dysthymic Internet users who see themselves in her sparsely punctuated statements.

The publication date came and went. Well-thought-out reviews and responses entered the world; the relevancy train rolling up to the station, its doors ready to close, and still. It wasn't until an evening came when I was anxious about my plans, canceled all my plans, and felt more anxious about canceling the plans, ultimately desiring nothing more than to stay in on a beautiful spring day. I curled under my covers with the sun still up, one hand in a bag of veggie chips, the other propping open Broder's paperback. 

Depression is a funny thing when you gain enough distance from it, however temporary, to see its contradictions: I want everyone to know I'm sad; I want no one to know. It's not a big deal; it is a big deal. I'll try to make you understand; you could never understand. In my low state, I sought out a voice that wouldn't cheerily try to commiserate and blame the weather or a bad commute.

The opening essay in So Sad Today describes the injustice of being born. No one can consent to their existence, so no wonder we're all messed up. According to Broder's mother, the doctor who delivered her those years ago said she was a pretty baby. "I wanted to believe him, because I love validation. Validation is my main bitch," she wrote, her prose fitting in the same funny-sad Venn diagram overlap as her Twitter presence. And she's nothing if not self-aware of how her own destructive thoughts work:

An external attribution exists to make you feel shitty. It's a handy tool, wherein you perceive anything positive that happens to you as a mistake, subjective, and/or never a result of your own goodness. Negative things, alternately, are the objective truth. And they're always your own fault. 

"The doctor's perspective was only an error of opinion," she concludes. "He obviously had shitty taste in babies." Take the feeling outside of infancy and I assume a not insignificant portion of the population has felt this way once or twice: that happiness was mere luck, a tense waiting of the other shoe to drop, and its opposite was a direct result of whatever poor choices were made.

Throughout the collection, Broder handily articulates the difficult-to-pin-down, nagging feelings of dread and self-flagellation. She ruminates on food and body image, the simultaneously repellent and addictive nature of the Internet, how easily it is to feel shitty and then boosted up once more in a few open browser tabs. 

In an essay on the benefits of meditation, Broder manages to explain how essential it is to experience just a few moments of quiet in her mind without coming off as holier-than-thou. This feat is helped by her thoughts on the "committee in my head," a chorus of "cosmic judge" voices that ensure everything is filtered through a negative lens. "If I get really still and quiet, sometimes the committee will talk and talk until it has nothing left to say and then it finally shuts the fuck up."

This unapologetic language might rub against some readers, but what makes Broder's voice so refreshing is her admission that she has no solutions for the problems she presents. When you're in the muck, sometimes the most helpful thing is a sign from another human who will readily admit this existence thing is hard without spouting platitudes or step-by-step plans to work away the sadness. She tells a love story and concludes, "for a few moments, I was not sad," with the implicit acknowledgement that sometimes, that's all you can ask for. 

Reading So Sad Today won't quick-fix your depression or help you lose 10 pounds in a week, of course. When I put the book down -- after an interlude of pasta-making, where I rested the paperback splayed open on the kitchen counter and brought it back up with its corner wrinkled and wet, my own internal committee chiming in to remind me of the futility of pretending to be an adult who can properly care for her possessions -- I was the same anxious writer. Now, though, I'd had a few hours from the anxious buzz of the Internet and a short reprieve from my own worry.

After reflecting on Broder's book and Twitter name, I realize the specificity in it: she's so sad today. It's a small detail that, to me, reads as both understanding and hopeful in its immediacy. On one hand, you might be so sad today, and the next day and the one after that. On the other, you might be sad today but feel differently in the morning. Both are normal, both are OK. Broder's essay collection disproves the notion that either feeling has to be experienced in solitude.

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