We speak to founder Rosa Mercuriadis about the meaning of wellness today and the importance of self-care
Sick Sad Girlz is the Instagram page and online community giving a voice to women suffering from physical and/or mental illness. Founded by self-proclaimed Sad Sick Girl Rosa Mercuriadis in April of this year, the platform was borne out of the idea that sharing personal experiences with illness may “emancipate us from suffering and empower other girls to feel less alone”.
Growing up between London, New York and Los Angeles, Rosa has lived with lupus, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue for most of her life. “I spend a lot of time in cosy, comfortable environments, most likely under a blanket talking to the women in my life about where it hurts, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” she says. “During one of these sessions with two amazing fellow Sad Sick Girlz, we discussed how the cosy thing we do doesn’t exist for all Girlz and what would happen if we created a digital safe space to share our experiences. I am sober, anxious and sometimes depressed, partnered with a life full of lupus, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue diagnoses, so I started by sharing my experience.”
Urging followers to “tell us where it hurts”, the account is an archive of personal experiences, with each post comprising a picture of the Sick Sad Girl in question and a lengthy explanation of their affliction and how it affects their day-to-day life. The community exists in the hopes that SSGz can connect with those going through similar struggles. So far, the platform - which already has a modest but committed following of 4,300 - has featured over 100 different stories of women from all over the world, one of which was from Lena Dunham who detailed her experience of living with OCD, Endometriosis, Ehler-Danlos Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Lyme Disease, accompanied by a series of intimate pictures of her in hospital. “I have never been well. I don’t know what people mean when they say “I’m fine.” I am acutely aware we all suffer and I’m not some special pixie with pelvic issues, but I also know pain is isolating.”
With plans for a podcast, a line of merch and some IRL events in the works, we caught up with Rosa to talk about how being sick affects your self-perception, her go-to self-care regime and how a full face of make-up can provide temporary mental relief.
How does Sick Sad Girlz work? How do people get involved?
Rosa Mercuriadis: I asked a few Girlz in my own life, who I knew identified as SSGz, if they would share their experience, sending around the Instagram page and it just sort of blossomed from there. I think for a lot of us, putting pen to paper (or typing furiously on your iPhone) is a really freeing experience from the bonds of our sickness or sadness. So then allowing me to share it and having the response from other Girlz who identify is really incredible.
Did you find it hard at first to find people who were willing to share their personal stories?
Rosa Mercuriadis: Honestly, it wasn’t that hard. I think we want to be seen and heard. A lot of chronic illness and mental illness is invisible, and we don’t feel like our experience is valid because doctors often dismiss us, or we don’t know anyone else who feels like us. So, once we got the word out a little, Girlz have come forward quite quickly with their stories. I think a lot of similar pages can be divided up by what your illness or sadness is, but I wanted Sick Sad Girlz to be a safe space for all of us because find me a girl who’s never felt sick or sad at some point in life. It’s really hard to do and we all deserve to feel validated in our experience.
Why did you choose Instagram as the platform for Sick Sad Girlz as it’s typically used (or arguably misused) as a ‘highlight reel’ of people’s lives – are you trying to change this?
Rosa Mercuriadis: Instagram and the internet, in general, can be such a bummer, which feels counter-intuitive compared to its amazing potential. But the idea that we can connect with Girlz across the globe that need to feel and see other Girlz who suffer and survive the same shit they are going through is magical. To me it feels like a miracle of modern technology that we can find each other.
How would you describe a day in your life?
Rosa Mercuriadis: It truly depends on the day. I work a lot and on good health and wellness days, it means I go to my office, run around London to meetings and squeeze in some SSGz posts in between. On bad illness days, I have to be kinder to myself, which normally looks more like setting up the office from the bed. I have to be kind to myself about what I am physically capable of without making myself worse. I have a new found love of working out thanks to Josie, my trainer at Bodyism in Notting Hill, who has a way of reminding me it’s about strengthening my body for wellness over anything else. Other than that, I try to do a lot of IRL SSGz time with the women in my life that really are the miracles of my mental health.
How do you think the beauty industry caters for people living with illness?
Rosa Mercuriadis: I always find it funny in the media that wellness falls under beauty, it would be nice to have more representation for wellness as its own category. I do a lot of treatment things like cryotherapy or vitamin IV’s which truly help the way I feel, but the way they are sort of marketed as beauty treatments sometimes feels like it invalidates my use of them as wellness solutions.
What about the representation of people living with illness, is this something you’d hope to see more of, or more being spoken about within beauty communities?Rosa Mercuriadis: On SickSadGirlz, we have girls at all levels of sickness or sadness and disability. I’d love for all of those girls to feel like they are seen in the beauty community.
How has living your experience with illness affected your relationship with beauty?
Rosa Mercuriadis: When you feel sick or sad a lot of the time it is hard to prioritise beauty. Being ill has made me view my body much more like a machine, which is relieving in that it stops me from judging my body based on its beauty. But as a beauty lover, it is nice to have a good day and use it as an excuse to pamper myself in beauty indulgences.
How does being sick affect your perception of yourself?
Rosa Mercuriadis: I feel like I just need to surrender to the way I feel that day and not judge myself for it. Beauty rituals allow me to feel like I’m caring for my physical or mental self instead of judging it.
Do you have any advice for coping with and living with an illness?
Rosa Mercuriadis: Find people you relate to; it makes trudging the road of illness just a little bit easier.
What is your go-to self-care ritual?
Rosa Mercuriadis: I love an Epsom salt bath, a Lymphatic drainage massage and putting on make-up to go to the doctor just because it’s fun to make yourself feel better in a low energy way.
How would you describe your beauty identity?
Rosa Mercuriadis: I believe strongly in comfort. If possible, I am always in soft stretchy clothes and sneakers because why add another layer of discomfort to life? But I also feel the need to feel glam somewhere, so that for me comes from make-up and accessories. I can feel horrible because of a lupus or fibromyalgia flare up but sitting down to play and create with make-up is comforting. Often by the end of glam session, I find even though I don’t physically feel better, mentally I am a bit lighter and have a fun, full face of make-up to face the world with.
When do you feel most beautiful?
Rosa Mercuriadis: When I am most comfortable and feel loved.
What is next for Sick Sad Girlz?
Rosa Mercuriadis: So far, we have gotten a lot of requests for podcasts and merch. So, I’m trying to make those happen and who knows what is next? I’d love to do some in-person events with the girls, like club meetings.
What does beauty mean to you?
Rosa Mercuriadis: Part self-expression, part self-care ritual.