How I Take Care: Founder and Mental Health Advocate Elyse Fox
If 2020 taught us anything, it's that community in all forms is crucial to our collective resilience.
In the face of a global mental health crisis sparked by COVID-19, that's exactly what filmmaker and founder Elyse Fox aimed to cultivate this year with Sad Girls Club.
Over the past few years, the nonprofit organization has evolved from an Instagram page created as an outlet for Elyse into a community focused on supporting young women of color and diminishing the stigma around mental health. Sad Girls Club does this through online programming that prioritizes BIPOC folks and content that honors the many intersections they hold.
In this How I Take Care interview: Elyse dives into how her art helped her find her voice, how she makes space for her feelings, what she's learned from Sad Girls Club members, and how she finds hope these days.
On what self-care looks like right now:
When I think of self-care, I think of just taking a break. Our lives have been just one big blob of working from home. Everything's happening from home—our workspace has become our living space and our safe space and our office space. I think of separating myself from all of the spaces and doing what I actually want to do for me, whether it's making a meal for myself or watching BoJack Horseman on Netflix.
It's so important to take that time for yourself, and I've been trying to do more and more of that and making the lines a bit less blurry. I feel like this is a time where I actually set a boundary.
Five years ago, I wasn’t considering self-care or making sure I implemented time for myself. Because I didn’t do that, I’m sure that contributed to my downward spiral that led me to create Sad Girls Club.
I wouldn't be able to find this community if I didn’t have that spiral because I had to really build myself from the ground up and develop new forms of self-care. I had to learn what my body needs and practice listening to my body, my mind, and my friends when they're telling me to sit the hell down.
On using art to heal:
In 2013, I moved to Los Angeles and I wanted to study film and production. That was going to be my main job, and I thought I was going to be rich and famous. That didn’t happen.
I started doing documentary films on young artists and young creatives who were women of color—and they were doing amazing work, but I didn't see any write-ups about them. I didn't see any interviews or anything really cool happening with them, but there were so many young male groups getting all the shine. I knew these women had voices and great stories, so I started interviewing them.
It was amazing—I learned so much about myself as an artist by talking with them about their struggles through their depression, through their hurt.
Once I moved back to New York, I started filming my entire life, like a documentary. I didn't know when I was going to release it or what it would be, but I just wanted to tell a story about one year after my worst depressive episode ever. Once I compiled that footage, I wanted to show off the film and show that I was doing great!
But then I realized: That's not real. I had been filming these women for years who were so vulnerable and raw and (sharing) every negative part of their lives. They gave that to me and they did it for the betterment of their community, their fans.
I realized I didn’t want to put out a personal documentary that was spiteful. I would have rather put out something with a bigger and better message. So I used the same footage and I just overlaid my voice to narrate a bit about when I was feeling my worst or when I was really depressed.
As soon as I was finished editing it, I felt so much better. I was definitely afraid, but I felt like I could use film to tell the story that I've always wanted to share with. It was just supposed to be for my friends and family, but it ended up being something a lot larger. Using my art has been really helpful until I was able to find my voice. My art definitely was a catalyst for that, but now I'm trying to use my voice to help other people.
On learning from the Sad Girls Club community:
I've learned a lot about toxic positivity. For a while, that's what self-care looked like for me. It was so pretty, it's refined, it’s so fresh—but it's not any of those things all of the time.
The Sad Girls Club community has taught me to accept that everything doesn’t have to be happy-go-lucky right now. We need to really be speaking about the real nitty-gritty feelings about finances, how to get out of these holes, and how to support one another.
They taught me to take a step back. We had to rewind and see what we could do that felt more real. Asking questions like: How are you guys really feeling? How were you guys really feeling with the race wars that are going on in the world and these conversations, too?
The Sad Girls Club community has taught me to accept that everything doesn’t have to be happy-go-lucky right now. We need to really be speaking about the real nitty-gritty feelings…and how to support one another.
That in itself—a platform speaking about these issues—is a way of practicing self-care for people, especially when a lot of other platforms are pretty quiet about it. To have these conversations might be self-care for someone, especially for people who are quarantining alone or quarantining with someone that they don't really feel comfortable having these conversations with.
Creating those substantive safe spaces and bringing these important conversations and dialogues to the light is a form of self-care for people.
I'm the youngest in my family and there was no real dialogue about feelings in my household growing up. It was definitely something I had to learn in my twenties by talking to friends and going to therapy.
Now, I realize I can learn from the youth. I’m leaning on the generations before me and even after me to learn about vulnerability because I can learn from my mom's generation about what not to do, but I can also learn from the new generation. I'm definitely learning and learning.
On making time for vulnerable feelings:
You know when you're in high school and you want to cry and you have that lump in your throat? You think, “I'm just gonna wait till I get home and cry.” And when someone asks you what's wrong, you just start sobbing.
You don't want to get to that point in your mental health where you're just sobbing like that.
So I really have been taking time to cry. Taking the time to step back, to not be on emails, and just sit with myself and not be a part of any type of media for the day.
That's a form of self-care, and that's something that we need as people of color: A step away from everything that's being thrown at us that we can't filter through.
You can only filter so much, especially online—so the best filter is to step away. I’ve been trying to do a lot of that.
I really have been taking time to cry…and just sit with myself. That's a form of self-care and that's something that we need as people of color: A step away from everything that's being thrown at us that we can't filter through.
On cultivating hope every day:
If you don't have hope that things will get better, that things will be a little bit more positive the next day or that you can make the change, you're just kind of falling into a rhythm that is maybe not serving you.
I could not run the business that I run if I didn't have hope. I couldn't do what I need to get done to help people. So hope never leaves my mind. It's a part of me at this point, and I hope it always remains with me.
Self-reflection definitely helps me (find and cultivate hope). Not just journaling about feelings, but also writing about specific things that I want out of life, whether it be five, 50 or 100 years from now.
Self-reflection definitely helps me (find and cultivate hope). Not just journaling about feelings, but also writing about specific things that I want out of life, whether it be five, 50, or 100 years from now.
Once I put it out there into the world and I write things out and have it in front of me, it's easier to visualize how I can make it happen.
Ask yourself: What can you do to get to that point? Then celebrate. I always put in my journal reminders to celebrate the baby steps.
I have like a whiteboard where I write down things that are positive that have happened, too. So often, we remember the negative things that happened, but we often forget the things that are positive that pushed us a bit forward.
In the nonprofit world, there's a lot of demands and you kind of just lose sight of what you're accomplishing. Even with my team, we just take a step back to reflect on how much we’ve raised, how many people we’ve impacted, how many events we’ve hosted. Sometimes it just takes stepping back and looking at progress.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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