DON'T MISS A THING

Get the week's best photography, illustration, design and art news delivered directly to your inbox

Features

Finding Creativity in Depression with Twitter’s Melissa Broder

Over 360k fans follow her @sosadtoday account for a daily dose of despair.

All illustrations by Cressida Djambov

Melissa Broder existed long before her famous Twitter account did. However, most fans of @sosadtoday, have no idea that behind the dark, satirical quips is a critically acclaimed poet. She’s a literary cult star in a medium of writing lost on the majority of millennials.

I text Broder early to see if she is awake and wants to talk. After doing her morning routine of Nicorette gum and a strict ten minutes of meditation before hitting the internet, we get on the phone. She’s milling about her home in Venice Beach while I’m an hour north doing the same.

“Words are the only thing in the world I know how to do,” Broder tells me. “I am a terrible domestic. I am not a good athlete. I am bad at foreign languages. I can’t play music. I am not good at a lot of things, but words, I know how to do.”

For years, Broder had existed strictly in the alt-lit poetry scene born out of New York and with likes of Mira Gonzalez, Patricia Lockwood and Tao Lin. After studying at Tufts University and then earning her MFA from City College of New York, she has since published three books of poetry, When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother (2010), Meat Heart (2012) and Scarecrone. She lived in Brooklyn, working her day job at Penguin Group USA as the assistant director of publicity and social media. It was there at her desk that she would start the anonymous twitter feed @SoSadToday, which led to her transformation from alt-poet to Twitter royalty.

@SoSadToday is followed by over 300,000 people worldwide including Katy Perry, Frances Bean Cobain and Miley Cyrus. Broder, who is no stranger to admitting her anxiety, addictions and darkness, used the anonymity of the feed as cathartic comedy to deal, making light of her irrational fears, depression, frustration and loneliness. Soon, a book deal with Grand Central followed, and her first collection of personal essays, So Sad Today which forced the reclusive poet to come out as herself to her new fan base of writers, celebrities and boys and girls alike.

The reviews of her book were overwhelmingly positive and Broder found herself elevated to an indie-celebrity featured everywhere from Rolling Stone to Vanity Fair to Elle magazine. Now back to her roots, Broder has recently published her fourth book of poetry, Last Sext, a careful, provoking collection that spews and spits desperation and sensuality.

“I think some of the people who are So Sad Today fans bought Last Sext and thought, ‘What the fuck is this?’” she laughs. “But for those who have followed my poetry they understand it as my best work. It’s a particular taste. It’s not commercial.”

“Poetry is a place of redemption for me,” she continues. “Ninety-nine per cent of everything I do in life is an attempt to escape myself, leave myself, or the fear that if I don’t do something, I will disappear. Writing poetry is a hybrid of that. I want to get out of myself and it’s the one thing I have found that has not tried to kill me. I can use as much as I want of it and it won’t kill me.”

In both the essays of So Sad Today as well as the rapid fire Twitter feed @sosadtoday, Broder revealed her need for everything from drugs and alcohol to attention, thinness and love. “If you looked up ‘addictive personality’ in the dictionary you would see my face,” she says. Today, she is obsessed with fragrance shopping, Arctic Zero with a packet of Splenda, Quest Bars, the Internet and of course, her long term life partner, Nicorette Gum. But for years it was alcohol, MDMA, ephedrine, laxatives, binging, purging, another person. “Really anything that distracts from the gnawing within,” she says. “Of course, the only thing that fills that hole is to go in it and sit there.”

Broder equates herself to an oyster with a grain of sand inside. “I write poetry to admit that milky substance around that grain of sand and eventually to get a pearl,” she flushes out. “Whereas with alcohol, I feel like I’m emitting a milky substance around the grain of sand, but by the next morning, the sand is still just there. For me, alcohol and drugs did not make a pearl. If anything, they chaffed me. Irritated me, so I could feel that grain of sand even more then next day.”

Over a decade ago Broder quit drugs and alcohol, long before she published her first book of poetry. After a few fruitless attempts at going it alone, she went at it again, but this time something a teacher of hers had said started flashing in her head like a busted neon beer sign: “You don’t have to drink”, it said.

She began to look at sobriety as a holiday, and for the first time in years, she took a day off drinking, and then a few more. One night, while walking through the East Village she passed a group of gay men smoking cigarettes outside of a church. Intrigued, she followed the men inside. She has not had a drink since.

“I didn’t write for that whole year after,” she admits. Drinking made her a lazy writer who took a stab at music criticism only because she thought it would earn her some “cool points”. “I wasn’t sure if I would ever go back to [poetry]. But then I dipped my toe back in and went slowly, poem by poem, and before I knew it I had my first book.”

Broder will never be “sane about food stuff by any stretch of the imagination” or “her internet addiction”, but you have to crawl before you backstroke all the way to God. “Poetry can work for me in the moment,” she says. “I can go on Twitter and get that dopamine high or I can write at home and get that slow buzz. But there is no emotional hang over from poetry.”

“I never say you have to suffer to make art,” she continues. “But I will say I have suffered, and art is a good way to continue living on the planet with that suffering. I don’t think anyone has to go be the starving artist. When I was young, in my late teens, I thought I needed drugs to make my art, but drugs made my art shitty. What is it about people making art? We are more sensitive than other people. If you are sensitive you try to put something between you and the world. You want to put on a skin. Drugs and alcohol are a really nice skin. That is, until they are not. For the same reasons we all turn to art, we turn to addiction. Because the world is too much, or just not enough.”

Last Sext is filled with exploration into her typical themes and obsessions: aging, longing, death. “Our obsessions are our obsessions,” she says. “If you look at a writer’s body of work it is often the same themes their whole life.” Unable to escape the fears that claw at her, Broder decided not to flip the narrative, but instead flip the medium. She has recently just finished her first novel, “my secret novel”, which is currently in the editing phase. “I wanted to address these themes but go deeper, so I challenged myself with a novel.”

When I ask her if she ever feels happy, if she has ever been totally content, she smiles. “When I’ve just finished writing something and I know it’s hot, or I’m in the process of writing something and I’m in the flow. When I am with my sober friends and we are speaking the same language of the heart. Kissing my dog Pickle, his softness, or running with him across a field like wolves.” She stops for a minute. “And obviously when I’m intriguing romantically with someone online and pretending that’s not what I’m doing.”

Share This Article

  1. Magazine
  2. Features
  3. Art
  4. Finding Creativity in Depression with Twitter's Melissa Broder

Discover More Articles