Grief and loss: “This is what grief taught me about my inner strength”

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It’s a sad fact of life that we will all go through grief and loss at some point. But experiencing a bereavement can show us how mentally strong we are and how much inner strength we have, as mental health advocate and model Jada Sezer discovered.

Looking to be inspired by incredible women? Welcome to our new column, ‘This is what strong looks like’.

This week, mental health advocate and model Jada Sezer tells Stylist about how going through our darkest moments can reveal our inner strength.

What does ‘strong’ mean to you?

When I think about the word ‘strong’ I immediately think about my mental health. It starts with how I’m feeling in my mind, and then translates into how I’m feeling physically. If I’m feeling mentally strong, then I feel like I’m able to go out and have a run, or go to the gym and lift heavier weights. I can take on more responsibility. 

So strength, for me, is definitely an internal concept that enables me to manifest more physically strong aspects of my life. 

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Grief and loss: death will affect us all at some point

What impact does mental strength have on your life?

For me, being mentally strong means that I’ve done the work I needed to that week. It could include having enough rest, eating well, making sure I’ve had some interaction with my family and friends, or that my work is going well. Mental strength, for me, is a feeling of safety so that I can go and take risks and show up for myself, both in relationships and at work. I think it’s very closely linked to self-esteem. When I’m mentally strong, I feel a large amount of self-esteem and self-confidence around who I am. It’s like an anchor – when I’m mentally strong, it’s because I’m platformed to my anchors, and I’m taking care of myself. 

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Grief and loss: Jada Sezer with Bryony Gordon: "When I’m mentally strong, I feel a large amount of self-esteem and self-confidence"

In terms of mental strength, has there ever been a time where you’ve felt like you haven’t had it, and how has that impacted you?

Absolutely. I think mental health is on a spectrum, and when I feel mentally strong and things are going well, I’m at the higher end of the spectrum. But when I’m at the lower end, which happens to everybody, it’s probably been when I’ve been going through a time of my life where I was grieving a lost family member or I had just had a horrible breakup with a boyfriend. At those times I was feeling mentally weak, and had heightened anxiety without a feeling of safety. I felt like I needed to hibernate a bit before I could step out into the world with confidence again.

It’s inevitable that we’re all going to know someone that’s passed away at some point. So, going through grief, and going through loss, is going to make you mentally weak at some point, because it’s all about attachment and real human emotions. It’s just how you navigate around that space.

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Grief and loss can show us how mentally strong we are

How do you motivate yourself? Not just for the gym, but also for life?

I always say I’ve got the curiosity of a child. I want to know why things are the way they are, and why we believe certain narratives that we’re sold, especially around body positivity, beauty, the convention of relationships, and the roles that women should have. I like understanding where they come from. 

I’m really curious about people. Everyone is living through their own lens of the world, so I love talking to people and understanding what their lens is. For me, that gives me motivation and makes me think: “How can I add that to my world?” When you are curious, there’s a never-ending accumulation of things that you don’t know. But then there’s things that you’ve discovered. I have an academic background in mental health, and I had to do a lot of self-work, including therapy and understanding my inner processes. I had to learn to understand my wiring, and how things that had happened to me when I was younger had an imprint on the way I think. In life, I want to move forward with certain things, scrap the parts that I don’t want, and rewire all this into a mindset that is positive, so I can go on and be better. 

If you grow up in a household where you don’t feel good enough, or food is a negative thing, then as an adult, you can choose whether you want to believe that anymore.

For me, there’s always some work that can be done. And that doesn’t always have to be a physical thing, where you show up to a job every day. It could be the self-work, and the understanding of who you are. Life is so rich. In the darkest moments, where you’ve gone through the worst kind of grief, you get the loudest and fullest information about yourself, more than when you’re floating through life. 

When you’re in those places of real darkness, that’s when you’re like, “OK, what do I go to? What’s my defence mechanism that’s kicking in right now?” It’s fascinating. And obviously I hate it in the moment, but I am curious in those spaces of thinking “I can’t get out of bed for three days”. That’s OK, but that’s interesting – I don’t feel safe to go out right now, why is that? And then I’ll read up on it, and figure it out. 

A lot of the time we are going through things we don’t have the language to describe, so we can’t articulate what’s actually wrong. But our mental health is just as important our physical health.

What is your advice for women who want to gain strength, both physical and mental?

I would say start with your mind, and let the physical benefit from that. I don’t ever train to be strong for other people. First of all, I train to be mentally strong; I go for runs to clear my mind, or do yoga to feel centred and strong. If I want to do a push up, it’s because I want to be able to lift my bodyweight, not because I want to get really fit or toned for somebody else.

If you want to get strong, reflect on what your motivation is behind that, and make sure it’s positive – if you’re running away from something, it’s always going to be a short term fix and you’re going to get burnt out. And that’s scary, and it’s also a really sad perpetual cycle, that’s also going to support an idea of yourself as negative. 

Because even if you do get strong, or you get to that physique that’s going to make you feel good enough, it’s never going to last. If you’re forever chasing beauty then you’re going to be on a never-ending race. So, I would always start with the ‘why?’, and then I would put mental health before physical motivation.

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Jada is with working with NIVEA and London Fashion Week for the launch of its Limited Edition AW19 Black and White Deodorant, designed to keep models and fashion fresh under the HD lights. 

Images: Getty, Unsplash

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter