How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.

I wasn’t expecting you.

I don’t know if people ever fully anticipate when they’ll fall for someone, but everything about your entrance into my life took me by surprise.

I didn’t have time to brace myself. I didn’t have time to build up my defenses — to carefully and slowly ease you into the chaos of my life.

I blinked, and there you were, holding my fragile heart in your hands and daring me to take it back with a knowing smile.

And despite giving you a laundry list of my neuroses — a self-deprecating stream of texts that I immediately regretted sending — you remained unfazed.

“You can’t scare me away,” you told me matter-of-factly, reminding me that you were hardly a stranger to the struggle.

Leave it to an Aries, I think to myself, to take it as a challenge.

But if I’m going to give you tomorrow, here’s what I need you to know today: This is not going to be easy

I can already hear your voice in the back of my mind. “Who said anything about easy?”

Before you start rolling your eyes, listen: I’ve spent the last decade falling for people who overestimate themselves. If you’re going to love me, I’m not going to mince words.

If I’m handing over my heart, it comes with the truth. And the truth is, I live with serious mental illnesses and I can’t always protect you from that reality.

But I can be honest about what it means. So as you stand there with my heart in your hands, this is what I need you to know:

1. I’m not always as strong as I appear to be

I internalized the idea that my emotions were burdensome for the people around me, and that it was better if I didn’t have any. It’s left me afraid of being “too much” for the people I love — including you.

Sometimes it feels like I’m cramming all of my pain into random drawers: underneath the bed, in the back of the closet, beneath the rug — anywhere I can hide them.

A lot of the time, I’m trying with dogged determination to keep any of it from spilling out. And it can create the impression that things are tidy, when inside my mind, things are anything but.

I’m still learning how to feel my emotions without burying them in the backyard. I’m still learning to be seen at my most vulnerable. I’m still learning how not to feel guilty when I ask for help.

When the drawers inevitably fly open and the monsters crawl their way out from beneath the bed, remind me that this is a part of being human. Remind me that I’m only as sick as my secrets. Remind me that feelings are meant to be felt.

With time, maybe our monsters can have a tea party someday.

2. I’m going to talk about my therapist… a lot

My therapist is one of the most important people in my life.

The work I’ve done alongside my therapist has made me who I am, and it challenges me — on a daily basis — to grow in vital and powerful ways.

Like any other important person in my life, you’ll hear about him often. His perspective grounds me, and I constantly pull from his insights to navigate my life with more ease and intention.

Yes, he knows all about you. Yes, he doesn’t hold back when it comes to the people I allow into my life. If that’s weird to you, this definitely won’t work out. He’s not just a member of my support team — he’s a part of my chosen family, someone who’s absolutely indispensable in my life.

In the iconic words of 90s pop sensation Spice Girls, “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my therapist.”

(Well, they said “friends.” And that’s true, too. But I’m pretty sure they’d co-sign the modification.)

3. I don’t always ‘know better’

Being a mental health advocate, I’m constantly expected to have all the answers.

But the truth is, all the knowledge in the world won’t make my mental illnesses disappear. If I could outsmart OCD or an eating disorder, I wouldn’t have spent the last decade in therapy and trying out a pharmacy’s worth of psychiatric medications.

I know it’s frustrating when I shoot myself in the foot, but sometimes watching me bleed is just part of the process. I know it’s annoying when you Google an issue I’m having and on the front page you’re greeted by my own article (this will happen — and trust me, it annoys me, too).

Sometimes I have to fall flat on my face a dozen times before what I know intellectually becomes something I’ve actually learned. It can be exasperating and you’ll want to shake me silly sometimes, but it’s part of the process.

Let me have that process.

A gentle nudge to self-reflect (“What would you tell someone else in this situation?”) can be helpful, but remember that even therapists go to therapy, and for good reason. It doesn’t make us hypocrites — it makes us human.

4. I need you to keep reminding me of who I am

Sometimes I forget that I’m not just a clusterf**k of obsessive, neurotic thoughts, and feelings.

When my obsessive-compulsive disorder has me navel-gazing or spiraling (usually both), I can completely lose sight of myself. It’s a disorder that can take my otherwise healthy self-esteem and pulverize it abruptly.

A person with OCD can be utterly consumed by a particular fear or thought — in fact, part of what defines this disorder is assigning more meaning or significance to thoughts that other people would dismiss or ignore.

Sometimes, I over-identify with intrusive thoughts to the point where it can be hard to tell if it’s really me talking or just my OCD.

With time, you’ll start to notice the difference.

Keep the light on for us both. Gently remind me of what you love about me.

If I’m spiraling, don’t be afraid to look the elephant in the room dead in the eyes and name it — “hello, OCD.” When I can’t believe that I’m more than this disorder, hold the space for my whole entire self until I can return to it.

When I can’t recall the expansiveness of my being, be the keeper of all that I am. When I come back to myself, I’ll be grateful that you never forgot.

5. You can’t fix this, but you can love me through it

You can’t fix me, and even if you could, I would never ask you to.

I’m not looking for a caregiver, a therapist, or a crutch. All I want is your company.

I want all the adventures, laughter, challenges, and growing that come with knowing you. I want to love and be loved, and that’s all either of us can really offer one another.

Sometimes this means you have to sit with complete surrender as I suffer through something neither of us can control or fully understand.

It means watching me cycle through compulsions that you can’t interfere with. It means that no matter how many times I ask for reassurance, you can’t always give it to me. It means that if I ask you in tears if I’ve gained weight, you’re going to have to redirect and ask me about my feelings instead — no matter how much I insist that I’ll lose it if you don’t talk about my stomach.

Part of the recovery process is discomfort. I have to sit with the uncertainty and fear to learn that it’s safe to occupy it. You may want to take that discomfort away from me, but if I’m going to heal, sometimes that means I have to live there.

Love me instead. Not because love will fix this, but because love is the anchor that reminds us that recovery is never a road we’ll have to travel alone.

6. My mental illnesses won’t always make sense

Most of the time, I’m going to be looking down when I walk because I’m counting the steps between each line on the sidewalk to ensure I’m walking “symmetrically.” I’m going to tell you I’m ugly on a day when you can’t fathom why I’d think that.

I’m going to have the same anxiety attack about what happens when we die or what it means to be alive. Sometimes it will feel like we have the same circular, annoying conversation about it on a weekly basis.

I will trip and fall down rabbit holes that seem so pointless, yet I treat them with the same urgency and immediacy as a heart attack.

Over, and over, and over again.

I might ask you the same questions hundreds of times in a day because the answer didn’t “feel right.” I will always make my lists with either three or five bullet points, and when you make yours with four, I’ll cringe like all of your teeth just fell out of your mouth.

I will ask you for a particular snack because I’m hungry and then cry when you bring it because I don’t want to eat it. I will go an entire day where the only thing I’m willing to eat is avocado rolls with wasabi.

My OCD, a master of conspiracy theories, will go through phases where I’m convinced I might be a serial killer or blasphemous in some unforgivable, nonsensical way.

Sometimes my disorders are so utterly irrational that there’s no reasoning with it. Sometimes all you can do is hold my hand and that has to be enough.

I promise you, though — it is more than enough.

7. I need you to love this version of me, here and now

If you’re waiting for a day when I’m “cured,” that day will never come.

I don’t say this as a pessimist — I say this as an optimist who knows that recovery is still worth it, even if I’m never completely freed of the pain these illnesses cause me.

You need to love who I am today, not who I could be with the “right” medication, the “right” therapy, or the “right” routine. Too many times, partners set their sights on a future version of me they had imagined, only to be disappointed when I didn’t meet their expectations.

We have to take this thing a day at a time — or not at all. We have to be firmly grounded in this moment, even if that means it’s scary and there’s no end in sight. We aren’t guaranteed any kind of future, which means the only real choice we have is to be exactly where we are now.

I don’t want to know if you could love me. What I want to know is if you do.

I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that the person you love isn’t imaginary, teetering on the horizon, a focal point that you fix your eyes on — some better version of me that you need to believe in, else the spark is lost.

I need you to tell me that this person you love is standing right in front of you.

And he may be messy and even neurotic sometimes, but you’d choose him anyway — because he makes you feel safe, because he keeps you on your toes, because he makes you laugh.

You’d choose him because his mind, as chaotic as it might be, takes your breath away just the same. You’d choose him because his heart, however fragile it might be, is so gorgeous that it sends a shiver of awe down your spine.

Choose me.

I can’t promise you the world, but I can promise you that I’ll choose you, too — the scary parts, the messy parts, and everything in-between. Even on your darkest days, I still believe that to know you is to love you.

So let me know you. And let’s take this “mental illness” thing on together.

Sam Dylan Finch is a leading advocate in LGBTQ+ mental health, having gained international recognition for his blog Let’s Queer Things Up!, which first went viral in 2014. As a journalist and media strategist, Sam has published extensively on topics like mental health, transgender identity, disability, politics and law, and much more. Bringing his combined expertise in public health and digital media, Sam currently works as social editor at Healthline.