a sad girl on how to be (sort of) ok
Listen up as Twitter sensation and perennial sad girl Melissa Broder AKA @sosadtoday presents her guide to being, well, less sad.
I'm not really in the advice game. The people who have helped me the most with my anxiety and depression aren't the ones who tried to fix me. Rather, it's those who honestly shared their own experiences that have provided me with the most relief. There is something so healing about the words "me too."
Anxiety and depression, in my experience, are chronic illnesses, they don't necessarily ever go away. As people with mental illnesses, we can aspire for some elusive "okay place" that we imagine we must reach in order to be "healed." But holding ourselves to some imaginary standard—a place where we (erroneously) imagine the rest of the world lives—can exacerbate our conditions even further. There is anxiety and depression, and then there is the fear, shame, and perfectionism around them.
Rather than aspire to always be okay, I've come to accept that anxiety and depression are cyclical and have active and dormant periods. Just when I think I'm never going to get sick again, I have a bad panic attack in a public venue, complete with suffocating sensations, tightness in my throat and chest, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and dissociation. I simply know that I'm dying, and no matter how many times I've had this experience before (hundreds) I cannot convince myself otherwise. Dying is traumatic. You're very alone in it. So what happens for me is although I survive the meeting, I am so shaken that I begin overreacting to every sensation in my body—continually on the lookout for more signs of "death." As a result of this heightened sensitivity, I begin having panic attacks every day, multiple times a day, and once again I find myself sick. Now I fear that I will never be well again. Depression moves in and blankets my body.
Yet in every bad cycle of anxiety and depression, I've always come out the other side again—even when I think it's all over for me. I have yet to find one cure-all, and each episode has required a slightly different recipe. But there are certain things that have helped me in my darkest times with anxiety disorder and depression, and I'd like to share those resources.
Call a hotline already
One thing I love is to call an anonymous hotline and talk to another human being with no connection to my life. It sounds old school, but I'm kind of addicted to calling hotlines. I can go to therapy, talk to friends, do an IRL support group and still never reveal half of what I divulge when the person on the other end of the line is a stranger. Hotlines are free and you can talk as long as you want. My favorite in the U.S. is the Crisis Call Center. Here is a great international directory of hotlines all over the world. Cognitive behavioral therapy
This is relatively new for me and it's helping a lot, like, way more than traditional psychotherapy. I like that it's based more on practical tools and less on my relationship with my mother. If you can get a good therapist, I recommend it. Of course, some therapists suck. I went to someone who sucked for, like, eight years, because she was a cute old lady and I felt bad about breaking up with her. Therapy can be annoying, redundant, and even miss the mark sometimes, but I'll always go. It's important for me to have it in place for when the shit hits the fan.
I've found meds very helpful (currently I'm on Prozac and Effexor) in giving me a fighting chance against anxiety and depression. They are sort of like a tongue depressor that holds down some of the symptoms so I can take in other forms of healing. But my journey with meds is a complicated one, and has required adjustments along the way. In my experience it's been crucial to have a psychiatrist who knows what they are doing (as much as they can, since none of this is yet an exact science) rather than just some family doctor bro.
Eating well and sleeping well and all that bullshit
Like any chronic illness, if you eat only crap and never sleep you're almost definitely going to have a relapse. That being said, if you exist on kale and get 8 hours a night it doesn't mean you're exempt. I'm not going to tell you to go gluten-free, paleo, vegan, pescatarian, locally-sourced or do a juice fast, because whatevs. You have enough people telling you what to do. I will simply say that after trial and error, I've learned there are two things that will guarantee me a panic attack: letting my blood sugar get too low or pulling an all-nighter. I'm a slow learner, and it took me making the same mistakes hundreds of times to figure these very simple things out. Charting my panic attacks, the times of day and situations, helped me figure out what some of the physical influences of my relapses are. There are some really good cognitive behavioral diaries and thought records for free on this site.
Make fun of your bullshit—or just make something
In autumn 2012 I went through a particularly harrowing cycle of panic attacks that wouldn't abate for months. I was scared I wasn't going to be able to "keep it together." I would sit there at work literally vibrating, and my usual fixes (increasing my medication, an ebook called Panic Away) weren't working. I felt beaten down and I thought the words "so sad today." I then created an anonymous twitter account, just to dissipate some of what I was feeling out into the void. Through @sosadtoday and writing the So Sad Today book, I've been able to create some feeling of control around my condition, in the sense that it's not just the anxiety and depression dictating the narrative. Dark humor is me saying fuck you to my mind. Writing poetry engages the active imagination that often triggers my anxiety. Through writing, my suffering can feel less meaningless.
This is certainly not for everyone. I'm in no way anti-substance, but I've been sober for 11 years. In the worst days of my drinking and using, I was waking up with panic attacks so bad that I felt like I was dying every single morning. I had to be on something within 20 minutes of waking or face crushing doom. Sometimes I still feel like I'm dying, but it's no longer every single morning. There is a huge difference between me sober and me fucked up all the time. I honestly don't think I would have any shot at mental health if I were still drinking the way I used to drink. One would assume that that self-medicating was helpful for my anxiety, but I've found a great deal of meaning, purpose and peace in my sobriety and sober community.
My morning meditation practice is not affiliated with any one religion or pricey cult. It's just ten minutes, first thing, before I go on the internet (the committee in my head that tells me I'm crap just loves the internet!) Sometimes I wish loving-kindness upon four people. Other times I do a guided mindfulness meditation via YouTube, or I just light a candle and sit there with my breathing. Much of the meditation is spent in a state of self-flagellation, my mind moving like a hamster. But by minute nine I sometimes reach a lovely silence. I don't think my meditation practice inherently makes me spiritual. I haven't ascended and I'm not enlightened. I'm no better than anyone else (if anything I just require more help). But what the practice gives me is a chance of staying on the planet. When I meditate, I go from being a 96% impulsive and self-obsessed person to a 92% impulsive and self-obsessed person. That 4% keeps me alive.
It used to be that if I went into a period of darkness, I would think that my symptoms were going to belike that forever. If I didn't feel like being around people, I thought oh god, I'm going to be a shut-in forever and won't be able to earn a living or I will be hospitalized forever and lose my freedom forever or just everything is over. It's really hard to give yourself the needed rest to heal if you're watching your every move and predicting the worst possible permanent outcome. I still do a lot of catastrophizing, but I'm learning to do it less.
Abandon the illusion of perfection
You would think I'd be more at ease with people who know I'm @sosadtoday, because if I have a panic attack it's kind of expected. But I still feel the strange need to pretend that everything is OK on the outside—even when I'm dissolving inside. I'm a perfectionist and very hard on myself, which are two things that definitely contribute to my anxiety disorder. I still feel like I have to take care of other people's needs by not having a panic attack around them, because I don't want to hurt their feelings or to be judged. No one wants to feel like they're making someone else uncomfortable. People ask me sometimes, did you have a panic attack around me? And in my head I'm like, 'Honey, you will never know.' But one thing I want to work on is maybe going out to get some air when I feel the symptoms coming on—and not be terrified that people will think I'm weird for leaving. I haven't given myself permission to do this yet. Maybe we can try it together.
by Melissa Broder is published by Scribe Publications, for more info see here.
This week, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place in the UK, in an effort to increase the conversation around the much neglected subject. To coincide, all week i-D.co will share voices from the fashion industry and beyond, discussing their thoughts, feelings and experiences of suffering from mental health issues.
Text Melissa Broder
All tweets @sosadtoday