Raw, crude, moving - So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder


A collection of essays by the American Jewish poet Melissa Broder, delving into her lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression - So Sad Today (Scribe, £12.99) - is at times hard to stomach. She writes graphically about her sex life and fantasies - in one essay, revealing a string of breathtakingly explicit "sexts" - and seems to delight in unsettling her readers.

She comes across as narcissistic and self-indulgent and, at times, you feel for her friends and family for having to put up with the melodrama. And when she bemoans her dependent relationship with the internet, I wanted to tell her to simply turn off her computer. Added to that, her style is that of a Californian teenager; the text is littered with "likes" and profanities.

And yet, I was thoroughly moved by her story, and gripped by much of what she had to say. This is an unabashed depiction of what life is like when the drugs don't work. Broder details the medications she has taken over the years, which failed to abate her panic about what life holds. The sections where she expresses her frustration about not overcoming this - despite the myriad therapies and treatments - will ring true with anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety.

She is honest about the release that addiction to alcohol and drugs provided; this is no worthy, self-help guide to quitting. She writes touchingly of her marriage and her husband's struggle with illness, of her own decision to remain childless, and of how a childhood where "the religion of the household was food" shaped her contrary relationship with eating. Her view of God as mostly "an elusive judge" is shaped by her Jewish upbringing.

Billed as being in the vein of recent feminist tracts from Lena Dunham and the like, So Sad Today is not that, even though Broder challenges head-on the "rules" of how women should present themselves. What she does do is hit on the peculiar complexity of modern life, when we have never been more open about our feelings and yet the pressure to appear happy seems unrelenting.

So Sad Today takes its title from a Twitter account that Broder set up, initially anonymously, to communicate to the world the dark moments of her daily life. The account, she recalls, offered a form of catharsis from the "ocean of sadness" inside her. You get the sense this collection does the same. It's not an easy read but as we talk more about mental health and how problems such as anxiety can be addressed, it's a worthwhile addition to the conversation.

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