So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

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I used a prayer card from a wake as my bookmark while reading So Sad Today by Melissa Broder. It happened accidentally—I went to a memorial service for someone I cared about, and, in wanting to keep her close, slid her prayer card into the book I was carrying with me at the time, which happened to be So Sad Today. But it feels fitting.

2016 has been a bad year for people dying. A lot of people whom I love and admire have left this planet, and we are only one-third into the year. It makes me sad, and it makes my heart beat too fast at night as I think about who will go next. I try deep yoga breathing, I try counting backwards from a hundred, I try taking a swig of NyQuil, and, when none of that works, I get up and read So Sad Today. Reading about Broder’s own anxiety and depression makes me feel better and less alone. I’m writing this review in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking too much about death. That also feels fitting.

“Anyone who can meet my level of intensity can’t be totally normal,” writes Broder in her essay “One Text Is Too Many and a Thousand Are Never Enough.” She’s talking about an ex-lover but she might as well be addressing her readers. Anyone who picks up a black-covered book emblazoned with the words So Sad Today and thinks, “Hey, maybe I can connect to something in here!” is probably working out some of her own issues. This book is not for everyone. Broder says it herself, in “Never Getting Over the Fantasy of You is Going Okay”, when she advises people trying to get over a break-up: “If you really love yourself, you will block and unfollow the person on all social media. But if you really love yourself you probably aren’t reading this essay.”

Before reading Broder’s book, I’d been in a phase where I was completely smitten with that kind of essay that blends the personal with the researched—the Maggie Nelson, the Roxane Gay, the Eula Biss, the Claudia Rankine, the Leslie Jamison. Working on an essay about your fears about vaccinating your newborn? Write about the history of immunizations! Composing a personal piece about your nontraditional family? Analyze the history of queerness! Picking up Broder’s book, I expected her to fall into that trend of contemporary nonfiction writers. But Broder is not like that. She is all in her head. For approximately two hundred pages, you get to experience what it’s like to have Broder’s brain: the highs, the lows, the fetishes, the panic attacks, the anxiety, the depression. She does not go off on poetic tangents about the history of Effexor. She doesn’t cite statistics about the number of American suffering from adjustment disorders. It’s just her own experience, her own neuroses, her own fears. It’s all me, me, me, and, my god, it’s beautiful.

Broder’s brutally honest essays range from anorexia to polyamory to anti-depressants to fetishes to marriage to illness to an assortment of addictions—alcohol, drugs, nicotine gum, the internet. Broder can make even the darkest scenario funny: she confronts her raging body image issues through a humorous take on her experience trying Botox:

Over the course of the next few days I feel like I have been poisoned, just a little. I have flu-like symptoms. My forehead feels like there is a plate on it. I kind of didn’t realize the word toxin actually means “toxin.” Like, I kind of didn’t think about that. I keep googling “Botox death” looking for new results. I also google “Botox flu,” “Botox soulless,” “plastic surgery disaster,” “what’s wrong with me,” “why,” and “how to love yourself.”

Broder laughs at herself along with you, while at the same time, she gently takes you by the hand, carefully lifts her shirt, and reveals scars, as if to say, here are mine, they’re just like yours.

So Sad Today didn’t just include me; it was me. In “Honk If There’s a Committee in Your Head Trying to Kill You,” Broder describes me at my most vulnerable time before bed at night: “Everything is shit! Time to act impulsively. But first let’s start by getting into fights with imaginary people from the past. Next let’s catalog everything that’s wrong with you and your life. Also, I want to remind you of everything you don’t have—and everything you should be scared of losing. Let’s begin.” How does that committee make the rounds so fast?

“As a little kid I took fearful thoughts to a greater extreme than most kids, I think,” Broder writes in “Under the Anxiety Is Sadness but Who Would Go Under There.”

If a parent got sick, it was cancer. If I got something in my eye, the cornea would be scratched forever. A sprained ankle on a school trip definitely meant an amputated food. I was dying and everyone I loved was dying, which was true, of course, but it wasn’t happening as quickly as I thought.

Reading that paragraph, I felt as if I were reading about my own childhood; just like Broder, I had nightmares about fires when I was twelve years old. I can’t even write about “I Don’t Feel Bad About My Neck” in which Broder lists all the things she feels bad about. It’s too real—the guilt, the anxiety, the sadness, the panic. As I read, over and over, I had the thoughts: Yes. Thank you. You get it.

So Sad Today stemmed from Broder’s Twitter account by the same name, @sosadtoday. She began tweeting anonymously from the account in 2012, sending out short bursts when she found herself deep in existential crisis and depression: “my mind wants me dead but it’s fine,” she writes. “can’t believe this life thing is still going on,” and “here let me just rip my heart out and give it to you.” “I felt like things were starting to move and clear out of me,” she writes about the experience of tweeting from @sosadtoday. In some ways, the entire essay collection is a huge sigh of relief. “After I cried, I felt better,” writes Broder about a panic attack she had before getting married. “When I suppressed the sadness, I practically shook with existential fear over simply existing. I was fighting myself. But when the tears flowed, I felt better.”

This book is a reminder that you’re not alone. Cry with Broder. Let it out. She is here for you: “Of course, that is a scared woman’s way of saying what I really want, which is to connect with you on a deep and true level while I am still on this earth, and maybe even after I am off it.”

Maybe today you’re just so sad, and that’s okay.

E.B. Bartels is the author of Good Grief: On Loving Pets, Here and Hereafter, forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in spring 2021. For more about E.B., visit her website or follow her on Twitter at @eb_bartels. More from this author →