You may remember Rachael from her Wedding Undergraduate post this spring about Communication and Patience and the pre-engaged state. Rachael is a writer and editor, so it’s no surprise that her Wedding Graduate story is one of importance. She speaks about battling anxiety (been there) and how her wedding day unfolded as liquid luck and pure joy. This is a must read story even if you have no weddings in your near future. It’s a story of unexpected perfection and finding beauty in the cracks of life.
This is the story of how I accidentally had kind of a perfect wedding where I basically loved everything and everyone and nothing really went wrong.
My boyfriend Joe and I got engaged last December after eight years of dating. Back then, in the first days of winter, I felt prepared. Thanks largely to this very blog, I was armed to the teeth with wisdom and insight and plans for how to finagle a meaningful, sanely-planned celebration of our love out of the horrific mess that is the modern wedding industry. I knew about the preposterousness of dresses, the pitfalls of getting too wrapped up in centerpieces, the brain-poisoning allure of wedding blogs and the very real potential of unwittingly alienating my husband-to-be by becoming consumed with all of the above. I knew that I could ask our friends and family to move mountains and that they’d happily oblige, but also that they wouldn’t (shouldn’t, couldn’t) stop being their wonderful, imperfect, human selves just for our wedding. I knew things could, and would, go wrong.
And much as I knew I couldn’t expect weather or people or immutable facts of the universe to change just because it was my wedding, I also knew I couldn’t expect myself to change just because it was my wedding. I knew that as long as Joe and I were married at the end of the day nothing else really mattered.
But I also didn’t want to look back on one of the most significant days of my life and see the whole thing through a sickly, gray fog.
All my life I’ve suffered from some degree of anxiety and its attendant panicky spells and hazy funks, some as brief as an afternoon and others lingering for weeks. Things are better now than they were a few years ago, mostly because I’m on a bit of medication and because I finally allowed myself to call my problem by its name and start thinking of it as a thing I could mostly control and not something that had me at its every beck and call.*
These days my anxiety is kind of like a moth caught under a lampshade across the room—I can tell it’s there and sometimes it flutters and knocks around and distracts me but most of the time it lets me sit in peace. Still, I was worried. I was worried about being worried, because as many things as I knew I needed to brace myself for, I hadn’t planned a wedding before, let alone my own wedding, and I didn’t know what the huge amounts of stress (or the huge amounts of joy) might do to me.
Early on, Joe and I told our families that we didn’t want to lose our minds over the wedding and that we didn’t want anyone else to, either. It helped a lot, I think, to establish that. (It helped even more to just have great families to begin with.) To manage the logistical stressors, I did what I’ve almost always done to manage huge projects: I became hyper-planny, sussing out everything that needed to be done and everything that could potentially go wrong and working to work around those gone-wrong things before they even happened, all while knowing full well that everything could still go wrong anyway. This is technically called “defensive pessimism” but my preferred term is “pre-stressing,” which is kind of like “pre-gaming” but with less booze (although, actually, there was plenty of booze, especially after one of our bridesmaids threw us a stock-the-bar shower, a move that I totally recommend regardless of your chosen anxiety-management habits).
I feel like I should make this clear: I was pre-stressing, and I was also just-regular-stressing, but I wasn’t stressed out. This was the first time I really learned that there was a difference. I was, for the most part, enjoying myself and finding the whole planning process to be fun and exciting and challenging and rewarding. But there was also this low-grade humming pressure, this knowledge that things needed to be done, that people needed to be told what to do, that decisions needed to be made and plans enacted. Outwardly, I was pretty composed; even at the rehearsal dinner, I remember strutting past some family members and one of them exclaimed, “You’re just the calmest bride!” This was funny because at that moment I felt anything but calm—happy and honored and surrounded by a whole shit ton of love, yes, but not calm. So I replied with something like, “Heh, it’s called being DRUNK,” which I totally was not, but which proved inconvenient minutes later when I decided it was time for me to leave and they were all, “No, but you’re drunk!”
But beyond pre-stressing and surrounding myself with an amazing support group, I felt there wasn’t much I could do to make sure I was at my best on the actual day of the actual wedding. I tried to remember to drink water and get enough sleep. I tried to remember to thank everyone as much as I could and to remember the point of it all was to have fun and be married to Joe at the end. I decided I would just have to feel however I felt, however gnarly and off-kilter it might be.
It’s hard to talk or write about the day itself without telling every single thing that happened, because everything seemed to happen in one long beautiful seamless sweep. I can draw an unbroken line between the moment I woke up at 5:40 AM at my parents’ house, starving, and went downstairs and painted my toenails and ate a somewhat ill-advised Egg McMuffin to when Joe and I slid across the tattered backseat of his groomsman Andrew’s beat-up old Mercedes and rolled away into the night with everyone we love screaming and waving sparklers in our wake and Gillian Welch playing on the stereo and the moon hanging bright in the purple sky above.
The only time I was struck with any weirdness was smack during the ceremony, at which time the ridiculousness of the whole enterprise hit me with full force. I know many people have spoken of the somber emotional weightiness of their ceremonies and how unexpectedly affected they were by the public pledging of their life to another, and I recognized the magnitude of it all, to be sure. On another day, I might have panicked under the weight of it. Instead, standing up there with Joe, everything about the whole thing seemed so fantastically goofy all of a sudden.
There I was, wearing a ridiculous dress—a beautiful one that I really liked, but one unlike anything else I’ve ever worn or will ever wear again in my life. And then poor Joe, the love of my life, in a suit in the heat of August, albeit a linen suit and on a cloudy day—his face was full of love but under all the layers he was wilting, I could tell. And then his groomsmen, guys I’ve known for years and adore, standing there behind him in a line like dutiful, necktie-strangled ducks—they all looked so handsome and they were all wearing the flower pins I’d made them. But, what? I’d made grown men wear flower pins? My own dad, and Joe’s, and our mothers, actually, and all of my bridesmaids were wearing them, too. I had spent hours of those things, wondering the whole time whether anyone would wind up wearing them or if it would be one of those things that were just lost to time and no one ever knew the difference or cared.
It’s not that everything went right, exactly, but it was all somehow very easy. You know the Felix Felicis potion in Harry Potter? “Liquid luck”? It was like that. I knew what to do at nearly every moment, felt pushed along through the whole day by something bigger than myself. Maybe it was magic. Or maybe it was just all the pre-stressing actually paying off. Or the sheer power of love. I don’t know. But I was happy. Blindingly, disgustingly, relentlessly happy.
I was married to the best person I know and we were surrounded by almost all of our favorite people in the world, and we were all stuffing our faces with barbecue and cake (it’s possible I was the hungriest bride ever) and drinking beer chilled in a giant rusty bathtub and dancing (seriously I could not stop dancing) to our favorite music in a beautiful old barn, sweating through our fancy clothes.
Before, I had just been hoping I wouldn’t be too tangled in my own brain to enjoy the day. I certainly hadn’t been clinging to the ridiculous notion that my wedding would be the happiest day of my life. But then, whoops, it kinda was.
The Info—Photography: Andy Lee of Andrew Thomas Lee Photography / Venue: The Historic Fillauer Lake House & Barn / Catering: Sticky Fingers / Dress: David’s Bridal / Hair Flower: The Dessy Group / Jewelry: Necklace by Bead Couture by Steph, Earrings by Rachel Pfeffer Designs / Shoes: Seychelles / Rings: Brett Weiler of Decatur City Jewelers / Flowers, Centerpieces and Cake Stands: My Awesome Mom
*OK, public service announcement: Once I finally decided to see a doctor about my anxiety, I found out that it was very likely due in part to my underactive thyroid, not “just” wonky brain juices. So if you’ve been brushing off your panic attacks and inability to leave the house as some silly something you just haven’t snapped out of yet, stop it. Real shit is going down in your body, real chemicals failing to do their very important jobs, and you’re risking more than just a few blue days and antisocial nights a month if you don’t take care of yourself.