"Palm trees trump Twitter."
That's an odd sentiment to share if you are the person responsible for @SoSadToday, the mysterious, melancholic Twitter account that has become semi-famous for its daily doses of depression. Yet it's exactly why Melissa, the Los Angeles-based writer behind it all, decided to head West last year.
"I moved here for personal reasons, not professional ones," she adds with a nervous laugh.
If Melissa seems a bit wary, it's probably because this is the first time she's stepping out from behind the @SoSadToday persona after 18 months spent crafting oft-quoted, occasionally controversial tweets that have earned her more than 98,000 loyal followers, including Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. But more importantly, she says, the account has resonated with teens struggling with a host of issues, and helped her come to terms with her own.
"In October 2012 I was in a pretty rough spot, emotionally; so I started tweeting into the void," she says. "I was seeking comfort and solace, and what started happening was all these teen girls and gay teens started following me, and there was some kind of solidarity there. I feel there are a lot of people who see teens as a market to be capitalized on, but for me, all I was setting out to do was have a place to creatively express myself."
As such, Melissa is careful to maintain some degree of anonymity – she would not reveal her last name or age, or discuss what she does for a living ("If I told you, you'd be able to identify me in four seconds," she says) – though she'll also admit that her decision to speak with Rolling Stone was fueled by a desire to expand the account beyond the 140-character confines of Twitter. There's money to be made in misery, after all.
"I'm starting to think about taking it in other directions, whether it's a YA series or a TV pilot that could come from @SoSadToday," she says. "I love the voice and it seems to be a voice that others love too."
Toeing the line between expressive and exploitive is a tricky thing, and over the past year, there's been a rather spirited debate over which side @SoSadToday falls on. Coming on the heels of the "#Sad Girls Club" Tumblr tag, critics claimed it "trivializ[es] the pain that many depressives feel," while supporters lauded it for "removing the stigma from sadness." And, based on some of her tweets – "I want you more when you don't want me dot com," "Mother's Day Card: Mom, I didn't ask to be born" – you can kind of see how either opinion is valid. Melissa prefers to remain out of the fray, though she's quick to point out that her tweets are therapeutic above all else.
"In my personal experience, there have been two things that have been truly healing: identification – like, 'Oh, you too?' – and laughter. I can see both sides, though; I mean, every day that I'm tweeting, am I feeling in the morass of depression? Definitely not," she says. "But I don't think it's making light of depression at all. And if it is, it's with the hope that people can find some laughter in their struggles and know they're not alone."
And though she's not exactly in @SoSadToday's target demographic – "I'm not quite a teen anymore, but I definitely identify as having a teen girl within," she says – Melissa doesn't see the problem with attempting to cash in on millennial malaise. Or the account's rapidly swelling fanbase. After all, it's her creation.
"It's my own depression to exploit, you know?" she explains. "It began really, truly as an attempt to save myself, and it grew organically, so now the voice is mine, the character is mine, the suffering is mine."
And soon, she might get to share that suffering with the masses. On one hand, expanding the @SoSad brand seems inevitable. On the other, it could be seen as a betrayal of a bond forged with its followers. Either way, her sadness has clearly struck a chord, and as the account prepares to take the next step, Melissa has bigger goals on the horizon.
"I'm a big rap fan, so if Schoolboy Q or Pusha T start following it, I'll know I've made it," she laughs. "The account is about to have 100,000 followers, and it's nice to get retweets, but I wasn't thinking of that when I started. I never thought it would become something big. I was just like 'Fuck everything.'"