I don’t like self-help books. I hear enough about accepting vulnerabilities from my therapist; I don’t need to read the same messages in books. So many people have recommended Brené Brown, so I picked up The Gift of Imperfections. In trying to incorporate self-care, I was reading that book in the bathtub, and I ended up throwing the book out of the bathroom and into the hallway. For the sake of comparison, the only other book I had thrown across the room was George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords after the Red Wedding—and that was my e-reader. I read rave reviews for Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Sure, his writing has an occasional poop joke and isn’t as cheesy as Brown’s, but I was still underwhelmed. I don’t know what I’m looking for when I read these books… maybe being able to connect to others who suffer from depression and anxiety... maybe a better understanding of these illnesses. That said, I know what I don’t want: people I don’t know telling me that it’s okay to embrace my vulnerabilities, that I should take risks, and that I should feel my feelings. I know all these things. I pay $90 out of pocket every other week to be told this, thanks.
It was from a friend’s retweet that I discovered the Twitter feed @sosadtoday. Within thirty minutes, I had gone through an embarrassing amount of her tweets and liked enough tweets to probably freak her out. I then discovered the person who runs the site is a writer named Melissa Broder, and she wrote a collection of essays published under the same name of her Twitter account. Needless to say, I purchased the book the next day. Within 10 pages of reading it, I felt that I finally found a book about depression and anxiety that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes. Instead of talking about vulnerability, Broder shows us her deepest, darkest fears. Broder writes, “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, alternatively, are the objective truth. And they’re always your own faults.” Instead of just writing such a platitude and following with another, Broder spends the rest of her book discussing her experiences with mental illness and addiction. All throughout the book, all I could think was “I wish I was brave enough to be this vulnerable.” It’s not easy being so vulnerable as a public figure, especially when you use your actual name to write it. It’s also not easy to read about someone’s else’s vulnerability. I physically cringed at some passages, some because they hit too close to home, some because I couldn’t believe someone would share that (her essay on her fetish, which I won’t share here, is a pretty cringe-worthy read). Broder talks openly about her eating disorder (anorexia), her addictions to drugs and alcohol, her crippling anxiety, her first panic attacks, her sexual desires, and her marriage. As someone who hasn’t had any issues with addiction, I could not always relate to what she was discussing, but her desire to use drugs and alcohol to escape her anxiety, undiagnosed depression, and oncoming panic attacks is a little too easy to understand.
In “Help Me Not Be a Human Being,” Broder writes little love stories, exposing how what she imagined to be a healthy relationships, but realized a lot of the intimacy was in her mind. Some stories are sad while others are funny, many resonating with her readers. There are two fantastic vignettes that simultaneously exemplify the sadness and humor, the tones that dominate all Broder’s essays: 1. “I’m in love with you and you don’t want anything to do with me so I think we can make this work: a love story” (p. 27), and 2. “That’s not the clitoris: a love story (p. 28). “The Terror of My Heart Says Hi” is Broder’s daily journal of being weaned off the antidepressant Effexor. She calls Effexor “the fucking dinosaur of antidepressants,” an amusing comment for me personally as I hadn’t heard of it until last October when I was switch to that brand. From my own internet searches (a scary place, don’t do it), I’ve read that Effexor is one of the most difficult meds to come off. In this essay, Broder documents just how difficult it can be, while simultaneously showing the importance of medicine for those who have a mental illness. One of my favorite essays is “Never Getting Over the Fantasy of You is Going Okay.” Broder starts off asking “Is fake love better than real love,” delving into how people can romanticize a relationship with someone you barely know, how we create our own narratives then, inevitably, end up disappointed when they don’t meet the expectations from that narrative. She then gives some advice on the best ways to get over this fantasy. Some highlights include: giving the person a nickname in order to reframe the picture of that person in your mind, don’t try to stay friends with that person (you have enough friends), and get a mantra that you can repeat anytime you think of that person.
Broder’s book is the only self-help book I’ve read (or skimmed before stopping altogether) where I felt concrete advice was given. Possibly because her goal is NOT to give advice, but explore her own addiction, depression, and anxiety. It is through her own explorations, the advice she was given, the things she tried, the things that worked and ones that did not, that the reader can see themselves and try to figure out their own methods of coping. This is not an easy book to read and it is not for everyone, but if most self-help books make you, like me, roll your eyes, then Broder’s book might be worth a read.
About the Reviewer
Sareene Proodian is interested in women's history and literature. She also ends up reading whatever interests her at that moment, including the occasional Harry Potter rereads. She publishes book reviews and other musings on life on her website.