I remember when he walked in that night. I hadn’t met him before or seen his face.

I pretended I didn’t notice him. But truth be told, I lost all train of thought. I started to break into fits of uncontrollable nervous laughter in the middle of a conversation I was having.

For three years, I had been a complete hermit. This was only my seventh time being in a social setting since starting recovery from major depressive disorder and extreme anxiety.

Exposure therapy was the key to recovery. It was the key to guaranteeing a future outside a ward, outside of darkness, outside of sorrow. I was committed to making it work. I would sit with my fear and not flee back to my apartment to hide in sobs beneath my covers.

Earlier that morning, my doctor and I decided I was ready to take the next step in exposure therapy — driving myself to a social event without a safety buddy picking me up.

This concept felt beyond monumental, so I spent the whole day preparing. I exercised. I threw a temper tantrum. I talked myself out of going. I talked myself back into going. I cried. I showered. I talked myself out of going. I tried on 28 outfits, and I took one hell of a long nap. And then, I talked myself back into going.

When 6:00 p.m. rolled around, I put on the first of the 28 outfits and headed out to my truck. I drove slowly, and when I finally arrived, I sat in the driveway for half an hour psyching myself up. Trembling, I walked in. Fortunately, I received a warm welcome from the host.

The host, knowing about my depressed and anxious temperament, kindly engaged me in a relaxed conversation. We chatted about my little sister’s plan to be a doctor and my older sister’s interest in renewable energy. I somehow strung together words in choppy sentences, despite my mounting uneasiness.

And then, he walked in: tall, gentle, and sweet in every way. His kind eyes caught mine, and he smiled softly. I looked to the floor in my terror-stricken state. But I knew — this was where I was meant to be.

Two days later, we went on our first date. We played squash and then went to dinner. At dinner, I was shy but managed to hold a conversation.

I asked him question after question. By being curious to know more about him, I didn’t have to talk much about me. He realized my fear of opening up and went along with it.

He told me about his childhood — stories about his brother and their pet hermit crab, George. He taught me about his environmental science research and explained the many intricacies of albedo in forests.

He carried me through a conversation that continued as he walked me back to my apartment. Swept away by absolute glee, and to my surprise, I giddily invited him up.

Once inside, I found comfort in the familiarity of my walls. My fear dwindled, and I started to open up. Without even thinking, I talked about my deep struggle with depression and anxiety and the huge role it plays in my life. I talked about how hard it was for me.

Before I could stop them, the tears started to fall. In that instant, he reached for my hand and looked me in the eye.

“Oh, Kate. I’m so sorry. That must be truly difficult,” he said.

Taken aback, I paused. Could he be this kind? Could he accept my illness?

And then, as a token of solidarity, he offered stories of vulnerability. At that moment, I knew there was a chance, just a slight chance, that someone like me could be accepted as I am.

Four years later, I’m more and more grateful for him with every passing day. A lot has happened in those four years: breakdowns, months of near bed rest, and a seemingly infinite number of tears.

A lot of people ask me what our secret is for making it through all of that, for surviving my depression. I wish there were a magic recipe I could give. Unfortunately, there isn’t.

What I can share are a few things that have worked for us that might work for you, too:

  • We always tell the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  • We are vulnerable with each other, even when it’s scary.
  • We celebrate the little things and the big things.
  • We talk about our days and listen to each other.
  • We say thank you often, and we mean it.
  • We respect each other’s space.
  • We hug each other every day.
  • We make merciless fun of each other. (For although love is the greatest gift of all, humor is a close second.)
  • We accept and love each other completely — our dark and light sides. As humans, we are only complete with both.

But if I could only say one thing about all of it, it’s that it is worth it. It may be hard, but it will always be worth it.

Thank you lovey, for forever being by my side.