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“Do you need those?” Someone asked as they pointed to my prescription bottle of antidepressants. My face got red, and I was embarrassed that I forgot to put the bottle away.

“I mean, yeah, for a little bit. I’ve just been feeling kind of off, you know. So my doctor thought I should try them. I probably won’t need them long.” I replied. It was so embarrassing admitting that I wasn’t okay.

“Wow. I always thought you were so strong.” They said.

Bam. There it is. I glanced at the bottle and changed the subject. I never forgot to put it away again.

I stopped taking them after that incident. I would power through the downtimes. That’s what I called it to myself. “Downtimes.” They weren’t often and didn’t last long. They were new. I didn’t know why they were occurring and I didn’t know how to stop them. But, I was determined not to let those times stop me. I had always been so strong.

Strong. Really though? I mean, I was a room mother, a coach, a parent, a daughter, a wife, a friend, and the go-to person — but was I strong? Ask me to take your mom to the doctor and I will. Watch your kid? Sure. Set up a fundraiser, coach the ball team, organize the get-together. Check, check, and check. I rarely said no. I never wanted to disappoint anyone. I wanted to prove I could be superwoman.

I didn’t take my antidepressants because I wanted people to think I was strong. That lead to ten years of anxiety and depression that only progressed. Apparently, “powering through it” doesn’t work. That lead to alcoholism and a breakdown. Strong. Not even close.

Strong is not pretending I’m something I’m not. Strong is not smiling when I’d rather be curled up in a ball on the floor. Strong is not saying “I’m okay” when I am clearly not.

If I could go back to that day, that point in time and look at my friend and say, “Yeah, I’m seeing a doctor. She says I have depression and we should get in front of it. “ Maybe, just maybe, by being vulnerable and allowing my friend to see that I had days I struggled, I would be giving her a chance to be vulnerable too. Maybe, I would have taken some of the pressure off of me and gotten the help I needed so long ago.

We need to change the narrative. We need to teach our children, our friends, and ourselves that “strong” doesn’t look like we think. Perhaps the goal isn’t even to be strong. Let’s be open and honest and vulnerable. Maybe, just maybe, the goal is to be real.

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In long term recovery. Trying to make my part of the world a little nicer. Published in Love What Matters and For Every Mom.

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