- Nathalie Guilbeault
Women and Strength
As Published in Centered on Taipei Magazine, March 2023 Issue
Walks through the jungle rarely quieted my mind while living in Taiwan. Mostly, because my mind is a difficult object to tame. I am one of those individuals who have accepted the unquiet, like a permanently tormented prey.
A human one. Born a female.
A female that is strong? Yes, but oftentimes made of a strength that is unfelt by me, despite being seen by others.
What is strength to me? How do I know I carry its fragments – sometimes – with me? And what does the term itself summon? To talk of ‘strength’ is to talk of its complement: weakness. This language, the words chosen to define the challenge living inside a moment, is not one I lightly choose to live with, if I can help it. I can, however, fall in its trap, often. The unconscious, the wanting of a survival that depends on the sight of negativity. And then I remember this: strengths are often disguised as weaknesses, weaknesses as strengths, born from the entrails of our synthetic imperfections.
So much irony fills this moment, now, as I write this piece: Women and Strength.
I couch my thoughts for you to read, from a place I cannot define as either strong or weak. Today, as I watch the snow falling from the muddy grays of the sky—mine? like big cotton balls, I tell myself that I want to feel and be like them, light and big and full of purity.
But no, today is not bringing any of it to me. None. And that’s okay.
I know, you know, thousands of articles exist on the Internet, on what strength in a woman looks like, on how to reach it. While they can offer insights, they offer, for the most part, a generic way of being. I shy away from that, preferring to read, write—find my strengths through what is me, not others.
And so, from the height of this age, I now wear and feel, fifty-seven, I look back, at a childhood that was far from perfect, at teenage years that could have gone so very wrong, at a time, when, as a young adult, I cared about nothing more than the present – already so wise? - and ironically, untouched by anxiety. That came later, inside the reality of my so-called mature years.
What saved me?
I was born determined to enjoy life, alive with a strong sense of self, a healthy relationship with integrity, what it is, what it does when you live with, and without it. Knowing what matters to me most. What I want. Something I was blessed to feel early on, like a built-in compass that you follow, not knowing where you will land, but with guts that reassure and tell you all will be well. This taught me to trust myself; my judgment. Humor, I must say, the sense of it, the feeling of its necessity inside a life better lived, I came to understand quickly. I think my body has always known it would be the antidote to the anxiety that would later manifest itself, inside my head.
Sharing with you now, I realize I have never been keen on trying to be perfect, at anything. As if ‘leave good enough alone’ had been imprinted in my genes. I am grateful for that. For I do think that to be your best is not about being perfect – what is perfect is dead – is an important skill to have, and nourish.
So yes, I was born with these aptitudes. I have learned to harvest them as much as I know how to, and continue to do so.
The flip side.
I was born hardwired to feel—a lot, like an empathy gone rogue, one that stultifies most of your senses and overwhelms the mind and heart, sometimes feeding an already wobbly sense of confidence. Because to feel the world’s pain can make you feel fragile. A porcelain doll? Sometimes. But I dig them out, these hurdles – still do – and do what needs to be done. I can pause if tired, but I do not quit. Stagnation is my enemy, that, and negative self-talking. They are on my radar, and now, through them, I learn to do better, and to be better, at moving with them.
Do they step on my toes?
You bet they can.
And yet, I get stronger.
Through all of these many encounters with myself, I have understood that, with time, we become wiser, inevitably so, through experience, whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not. After, it’s about the ability to travel inside ourselves—a constructive introspection that carries us to the magic of becoming aware. We reflect, for a time, then move, act, and reshuffle.
To risk a little takes courage. And courage is about accepting the necessity to change, to take a different path—many different paths even, unknowing of the outcome. It is about living with uncertainty and exposing our vulnerabilities and surrendering to all the possibilities, good and bad.
Aim for coherence. Reach for it and feed it. For without it, I have found existence to be somewhat of a lie. No coherence: no truth. The mind and the body, when out of sync, can fool you, and whatever the audience that you feed, and maybe feeds you, too.
The adult years. The hardcore ones. My real test.
Writing and publishing a book that underscores the difficulty of leaving an abusive relationship has placed me in the strong women category.
I understand this.
And yet, what made me strong, became my Achilles heel. My trust in others, a fog that hid reality. My humor, a mood that downplayed pain. My integrity, one I thought could be flexed and reinterpreted. To be lied to, convincingly, as happened to me, well, it does more than dim one’s light. It wets its wick, and cuts the power that feeds it. To climb back up requires a voyage into oneself. One I wasn’t initially prepared to make. But once I understood there was no other choice than to take it, if I wanted to survive—if I wanted to be there for my children, I took it, this voyage. Three years of traveling: A passport to another me with visas sometimes denied …
It was scary.
And I kept on.
I still do.
So, read my lines and their in-betweens, take what you will from them. But know this, the blueprint that sketches your strengths and challenges lives within you, and grows there. If you ignore it, it will ignore you, too. If you don’t tend to it, it will die.
It’s your choice, as is everything else.
I leave you with those walks and hikes like souvenirs from a recent past, so many of them, framed and re-reframed inside my mind, where I recall the bamboo, that to survive, had to bend to the winds—flexing the tallness of themselves when meeting the island’s storms. A part of me understands the need to embrace the movements inside any type of turbulence in order to stay alive. But those hikes on Yang Ming Shan, or just behind my house in Pine Village, while sometimes soothing, rarely put me in a state of complete grace, I am ashamed to admit. With time, through those lengthy walks, alone and not, I mused over the flexibility of their core. Yes, bamboo bend—not to break, but they are not alone, are they? They grow together, huddled, like a shield of some sort.
Women need to be just that – a shield – for themselves and others. Presence without judgment, presence made heard and shown, there for the women in our lives—for you and me.
Interdependence of the female kind.