Three words. Eight letters. You know the deal.

Over the last few weeks, there have been several less than awesome things happen, which gave me opportunities to consider this idea of unconditional love. I realized this morning that I have been missing half the equation. There’s this whole other side to love – an ugly side.

Loving someone unconditionally includes not just standing by them through their hard days, but giving them the chance to do the same through yours – and trusting they’ll still be there on the other side. I think it’s easy to tell someone you’ll always be there for them, and to thank them if you’re lucky enough to hear the same in return. But to pick up the phone and reach out to them when you’re wrapped up like a burrito in your comforter in the tub, falling apart at the seams – that is love. (And if you’re ever on the receiving end of that call or text – from me or anyone else – please take even just a second to consider how hard it was to reach out before you reply with anything but a gentle word.)

Unconditional love is as much about being consistent with the love you give out as it is about the love that you give and expect for yourself. It’s about articulating how you need to be loved and speaking up when you’re being hurt. It’s about being willing to be the sacrificial goat and telling them the things they don’t necessarily want to hear, and accepting the same in return. It’s as much about being honest with yourself as it is being honest with those around you.

As someone who has been fiercely independent from day one, none of this vulnerability business sounds particularly appealing. But as I navigate into the darker, dusty corners of my depression and anxiety, I’m starting to realize that I’m going to have to start speaking my mind to let some fresh air in, and that letting someone in to hold the flashlight for me would make it all a whole lot less scary.

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