Filmmaker and mental health activist Elyse Fox shares how she’s staying grounded as we travel into the new year.
Even before the pandemic caused all of us to spend more time staring at our phones than ever before, filmmaker Elyse Fox wanted to pull back the curtain—or filter—and reveal what was happening behind her screen. As she described it, “It may seem like I’m living my best life online—[but] I’m internally struggling with depression.”
In 2016, Fox released a short film titled Conversations With Friends (& Acquaintances) as an homage to the people in her life who helped her through a particularly difficult time, when her depression was so exacerbated by an abusive relationship that she attempted suicide. As soon as she posted the video, the DMs started rolling in from girls all over the world who felt seen and understood by Fox’s film. They wanted her advice on how to cope with their own mental health issues.
And so Fox launched Sad Girls Club in 2017 as an Instagram platform and non-profit dedicated to creating community and diminishing stigma around mental health for women of color and the millennial and Gen Z population.
Prior to COVID-19, Sad Girls Club gathered once a month or so for group events, running clubs, or some type of art therapy, from poetry slams to embroidery workshops. “It’s like, how can we express ourselves in a way that is healing, but also give ourselves something, a beautiful output?” says Fox. “[It’s about] giving girls different tools as well as creating community.”
Flash forward to 2020, and community has never been more important—or more difficult to come by. As the pandemic kept members at home, Fox quickly pivoted to digital programming: in July, she launched twice-weekly group counseling sessions called “Soul Sessions,” and later in the year added movement sessions like yoga and breathwork to the weekly schedule.
Now, Fox has managed to grow Sad Girls Club to over 280,000 Instagram followers—all while raising her young son and continuing to manage her own mental health needs during a year that’s seen a global pandemic, a racial uprising, and a tumultuous election. Below, we asked Fox to share how she’s found moments of escapism this year, how she’s managed to stay grounded through it all, what lessons she hopes we take with us as we travel into 2021.
“How are you?” has always been such a throwaway question, but in 2020 I’m trying to bring some intentionality to that inquiry. So how are you doing, really?
This entire year has felt incredibly heavy—the news has felt incredibly heavy, everything in politics has felt incredibly heavy. But to offset that, I’m trying to do things that make me feel good. I try to be in control of my control-ables. And do things that really fulfill me and make me happy. So long answer short, I’m trying my best.
Can you share why you started Sad Girl’s Club?
I started Sad Girls Club to create accessibility in the mental health world. I felt like when I really needed support and help, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me or who had a similar background or a similar story. I was like, this is weird. I’m coming out of this really tough experience and I feel so isolated. But once I began speaking about it, a lot of girls seemed like they really needed the space to have those conversations, too. So I was like, I can just let this be a one-time thing and answer people’s DMs, or I can create something bigger. And I decided to create something bigger that creates community, provides resources, and de-stigmatizes something that has felt so heavy and so shameful for so long.
How have you pivoted Sad Girls Club in 2020?
We just launched Soul Sessions, which is our version of group counseling where girls can experience counseling with a therapist and with other girls from all over the world who are the same age or of a similar age range. And [what we’ve found is that all of] our experiences are similar. Whether it’s symptoms of loneliness or whatever mental illness they are working through, they get to have a conversation with someone who might live in a different country, and it shows them they are not alone. This person who lives 20,000 miles away is feeling the exact same way as you, and together we can heal and have conversations.
Soul Sessions launched in July, and it’s been incredibly successful and I’m happy to provide this space. [We’ve done] it twice a week, every single week since mid-July. We just launched a physical version of it, so each Saturday we’ll have a different type of movement session, like yoga or breathwork healing. We try to give our girls different tools that they might not have access to on their own.
How have you shifted this year?
I’m a mom—I had my son, Basel, last year. So in early 2020, he was just a little lump, but as soon as COVID hit he had a burst of growth. Now he’s walking and running and developing, and it’s hard for him to not have friends. That’s the thing that weighs on me. So I’m being extra cautious about his development and making sure he has some type of social skills and that he’s getting out and feeling the sun on his face. Or if it’s raining, we splash around in the puddles. It’s really made me hyper-aware of what’s out there, what’s free and accessible, [and what] I’ve never taken advantage of in New York City. It’s made me hyper-aware of the resources that are out there.
It seems like so much of your focus is on others. How do you still prioritize yourself?
I really just try to think about what is going to make me happy for that day. What do I need for that day? And sometimes it’s like, I need to cook all of my meals. I’m not going to Postmates or UberEats anything—I need to cook everything that I’m going to consume. It’s a form of relaxation for me, cutting up vegetables and preparing a meal.
I really try to take it day by day and not put too much pressure on myself, because early on during COVID I was trying to do the most. I was experiencing burnout because I felt like I still had to work the same way I was working last March, last April—and that just didn’t make any sense. It didn’t make any sense for how the world is and what I’m doing. And I can’t take care of other people if I’m not taken care of, so each day I’m just like, what do I need to keep myself going or have the best energy for the day? Or if I didn’t get enough rest, what can I do to still ease myself into the day and get done what I need to get done? And [I try to remember that] if I don’t get everything done, it will get done, eventually.
Tell me about your relationship to travel.
I used to travel every single month, whether it be for work or just to explore. And it obviously came to an abrupt halt, and that was really challenging at first. I tried in the beginning to take day trips, but I was just so afraid because I have my son and it wasn’t worth the risk. I live in a really beautiful city—New York has so much to offer, and I’ve lived here my entire life and I know I haven’t done everything that I can take advantage of. So I decided to just shift what I thought traveling was. I live near a really big park called Hyland Park, and I’ve only ever gone to the playground and then straight home. This place has a reservoir, it has a bike trail, it has so many things to offer.
[Now, I also] take more road trips. I’m like, I hardly use my car to go grocery shopping, so let me just go and see my sister in Maryland, let me go visit my father in Laurel and stay down there for a little bit, because I didn’t really prioritize that before. And now I’m like wow, I can see my family so easily and so quickly—I don’t have to wait until the holidays. That’s been a really good takeaway for me.
What are some items that you take with you to help you stay grounded when you travel? Even if traveling right now is just going to the park.
I would say I always travel with something [that reminds me] of my son—whether it’s a photo or his little toy—so that he’s always kind of with me. I’m so fearful that I’m going to have chapped lips, so I always have to have something to moisturize my lips. And then, comfortable shoes. As a mom, you want to be as comfortable as possible and you never know what life is going to throw at you. And I always have a—I’m such a mom now, wow—I always have an extra blanket because I never know if I’m going to be cold or if the place has A/C and Basel will be cold.
I have a candle from a company called Alexandra Winbush—she makes these really amazing candles that come with a playlist and a tea that complement the candle. Those are the things that help me stay grounded, and they also remind me of my safe space. I’m a total homebody, so anything [that reminds me of home], I always try to bring with me.
What do you hope we take into 2021?
Making time for family within travel. If you have a layover, stop by and see a friend. And I know it makes your trip a little bit longer, but it also might make it a little bit brighter, a little bit better, to check in with people who may not necessarily have the opportunity to travel as much as you do. I’m trying to go back to Maryland [to see my sister] every single month—and I used to do trips twice a year. I’ve learned a lot by taking a step back and seeing what I was missing in my life, and also what my son really, really needed. And I want to continue to bring those lessons with me.
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