If asked to describe myself, a few things quickly come to mind: I’m an unemployed lawyer, a hobbyist writer, I’m engaged to marry my awesome fiancé Collin this summer, and I’m depressed.
I’ve been struggling with major depression for five years, since my parents both suddenly died within the span of three months. It’s not just that I never fully recovered from those losses; my grief shifted and twisted into an insidious, pervasive, utterly debilitating sadness and hopelessness. I don’t always feel sad, but sadness is always inside of me. And I have to carefully, constantly manage my depression or that sadness eclipses everything else.
Shortly after I got engaged last Spring, I let my depression management slide. My therapist stopped seeing patients, and I didn’t look for a new one. I was too distracted by graduating from law school, preparing to take the bar exam, and my desperate hunt for employment in the jobless, joyless desert that is the legal field. It didn’t take long for my depression to get out of control.
I could start describing my symptoms, but it would quickly become a pharmaceutical ad about being a wind-up toy of a sad potato living underwater. Most of you probably have a pretty good idea what serious depression looks like. The days spent in bed, the days where you do get up but never really feel awake, the crying spells, the irritability: you know this story. And I don’t think recounting symptoms does a very good job of getting across how depression feels. Depression feels like nothing is good, nothing is fair, nothing is easy, and nothing will ever get any better. Depression is hopelessness.
Which makes depression terribly incompatible with getting married. Marriage is an incredible expression of hope. Uniting your life to another person’s, come what may, is an act of strength, courage, and optimism. And the hopeless throes of depression nurture only weakness, fear, and pessimism. It’s so much harder to take someone “for better for worse” when you can only imagine “for worse” coming to pass.
My depression-fueled pessimism is so bad that half the time I’m convinced my fiancé won’t actually marry me. As you can imagine, this is incredibly hard on him—he thinks I don’t trust him in his love for me, or in his intentions to marry me. I do, but marrying this fun, kind-hearted, wonderful guy feels like a doorway to the happiest life I could possibly lead, and my depressed brain won’t allow fantasies of happiness. So I see that door slamming in my face. It’s easier to see myself as Miss Havisham than it is to see myself living happily ever after.
These fears haunt my wedding planning. I had a mini-breakdown in my car before I crossed the street to mail our save-the-date cards, imagining having to call all the people in that huge stack to tell them we’re calling off the wedding. Every deposit check I write brings out a little twinge in my stomach, a dreadful sense that I’m throwing that money away. And it’s almost impossible to put in the time for DIY projects for an event I’m half-sure isn’t going to happen.
Planning for our marriage is even harder, and not just because of my tendency to imagine the worst case scenario come to life. I know how hard my depression has been on my partner, and it is too easy to see myself as a burden. Even when I summon the strength to move past thoughts like, “Why would anyone sign on for a lifetime with this?” my depression casts a pall on our conversations about our future together. We can’t ever let me be without health insurance. Will we risk me going off my meds when I am pregnant? Does Collin get input on how I treat my depression, or is that decision ultimately my own? These conversations are excruciating, but vital, and I am so profoundly grateful that my partner has the patience and fortitude and love to work through this with me.
So yes, it is hard to be a depressed bride. Hard like three-day-old frosting. Hard like chewing on rocks. But I’m trying to prove that it isn’t impossible. I’m trying to tap into the little slice of myself that believes I can go through this door to happiness. I’m working hard to be as healthy as possible for our wedding day, and for our life together. I have a new therapist. I’ve switched to a new medication. Collin and I are in couples’ counseling, where he’s improving his knowledge about depression, I’m improving my trust, and we’re both improving our communication skills. And I believe in my heart, as I type these words right now, that things will get better.
I wrote this because I know I am not the only engaged person battling serious depression, and we’re all worse off if we suffer silently and alone. On my wedding blog, I joke, I kvetch, I review wedding movies, but I rarely talk about The Hard Stuff™. But I need to share this, because ending the isolation of depression can offer a spark of hope, and hope is what we need. As incompatible as being depressed and getting married might seem, we can still do it. We can plan a wedding through this, we can marry through this, and we can live through this.