On a quiet Monday afternoon, I got a call from my close friend (and soon-to-be-bride) who wanted to double-check my new address as she prepared to send her wedding invitations. As we chatted, an oldies song suddenly started blaring through the phone.
“What is that?” I yelled over the noise.
“It’s one of the songs from our band,” she answered. “They told me they like to end events in a certain way, so I’m trying to pick a song to be the last slow dance of the night.”
Immediately, I felt the familiar pang of bitterness and self-criticism that I experience all too frequently as someone whose brain has a nasty habit of comparing myself and my every action to everybody else’s from the time I wake up until my head hits the pillow at night, racing with thoughts about what I did that day and what I should have done differently. That’s because I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which causes me to second-guess, self-doubt, and pick apart every move I make every minute of every day.
Just like that, my anxious little brain cells began to fire and flood my mind with thoughts about how we should have ended our own wedding. While I would only have the memory of us walking out to my husband’s old car (sans sparkly sendoff) after dancing with him twice during the entire three hour reception, she would have memories of ending the night on the dance floor with her new husband, swaying gently to a song they both loved…
As my friend chatted on, regret and sadness clouded my mind as I began to replay every decision and event leading up to and during our wedding in my mind for the millionth time. I should have… Why didn’t we… If only I had… on and on. Ever since I got married last fall, I’ve struggled to cope with the anxiety that colors my experience at every wedding I’ve been to and every wedding I’ve agreed to be in since my own.
Every Day I’m Struggling
You see, although it hasn’t yet happened, I already know my friend’s wedding—an expensive, multi-day, flower-filled affair—is going to be better than mine. So was the chilly, alcohol-soaked winter wedding we attended two months after our own. So will the hometown church and social hall wedding my husband and I are attending next weekend. No matter how big or small, how expensive or frugal, how simple or lavish, every wedding I’ve ever seen, been to, or helped plan since I got married has been a hundred times better than our own.
Or at least that’s what it feels like to me as a person who struggles to live with at-times unchecked anxiety.
Reading this, you’re probably wondering if my wedding was some huge disaster that I can never forget or live down—as in, the venue burned, the photographer was a no-show, the food was cold, AND the sound system went down all in one spectacular failure of an evening! In reality, our wedding was amazing—not perfect, but pretty damn close. The venue was gorgeous, the photographer was great, the food was delicious (yay barbecue!), and the DJ kept people dancing all night. It went by quickly, but I know we both loved it. When my husband and I looked at our photos afterward, we both shed silent tears while lying on the couch in our first apartment, reveling in the fact that WE DID IT and IT WAS AWESOME and we were going to spend THE REST OF OUR LIVES together.
But just a few days after our wedding, the anxiety began to creep in and twist all of my memories from that day. (Such is life when you live with a disorder that makes you replay every moment of your life, pick it apart, and plan what you would do differently—with no way to actually change a thing.) Where my bridesmaids had seen a beautiful bride, I saw a dress that just wasn’t quite right. Where others saw a series of beautiful photos of us newlyweds, I only saw the photos that I wish had been taken. And where our friends said they had a great night celebrating with us, I only wished we had sprung for the tent heaters after the sun went down and the temperature dropped. Whenever I thought about our wedding, all I could remember were mistakes, missed opportunities, and bad decisions.
For months, I agonized retrospectively about every detail of our wedding; I lamented my choice of table decor, flowers, bridesmaid dresses, food, location, EVERYTHING. I didn’t share any photos of our wedding online because I didn’t want my friends and family to have evidence that our wedding was such a lame, pitiful affair compared to everyone else’s. Those doubts, those ugly whispers and distorted thoughts in my brain made me believe that nothing good happened that day except getting a piece of paper that meant I would have someone around to cook for me (almost) every night for the rest of forever.
I lost sleep for months after our wedding as I lay awake worrying about every way in which the next event my husband and I planned to attend would be better than ours. I began to obsess over ideas about how to “re-do” one’s wedding day, and I reviewed our photos daily to convince myself that I did actually have fun because my brain was constantly telling me that the whole thing had been a disaster. At a particularly low point, I had a panic attack on the way to a wedding soon after ours as I imagined our mutual friends comparing our events and arriving at the same conclusion I had (i.e., that ours was infinitely worse). Eventually I couldn’t even look at wedding or engagement photos, discuss friends’ weddings, or engage in wedding-related conversations as a bridesmaid without getting anxious or teary-eyed because all I could think about was how our own event didn’t measure up.
And while I was busy trying to stay afloat in this sea of sadness and self-doubt, in came the battering waves of save-the-dates, invitations, and “Will you be my bridesmaid?” asks. I tried to be excited, but it felt like no matter which way I turned, I couldn’t get away from the “fact” that we had had The World’s Worst Wedding and everyone else was making it their mission in life to remind me of this fact every few months. I felt like I was drowning, and I didn’t know how to find my way to shore.
It didn’t help that none of my friends or family knew how much I was suffering in the months after getting married. Far from being the “joyous newlywed,” in reality I was barely keeping it together. I could hear the frustration in my friends’ voices when I told them for the ninth time since our wedding about all the “mistakes” we had made and how much I just wanted a chance to go back and “do it right.” Everybody said the same thing: “Your wedding was great! What are you even talking about?” And because I didn’t want to risk losing friends or sounding like an ungrateful, self-absorbed, no-longer-bride, I stopped talking about it.
But I didn’t stop struggling with the soul-crushing anxiety that had taken the joy out of my wedding—and out of my life.
The Light at the End of the Aisle
My brain (and all of its anxiety-prone neurons) wanted me to believe that every other person in every other wedding did (or will do) everything right, and everything I did was exactly wrong. That no matter how gorgeous I felt in my gown or how much my husband tells me he loved it, there would always be something missing. My brain had me thinking that nothing we did was good enough, and that we would be at the bottom of the barrel for the rest of our lives.
But here’s the thing: a small part of me knew that none of these weddings I was so worked up about were anything like ours, or even worth the worry. I didn’t want (and didn’t have) an outdoor ceremony in Virginia in December, a three-course dinner with adventurous foods, or a reception in a barn. Sure, there were many things about these other weddings I enjoyed, and even felt a pang of envy for (hello, spiced cider on a cold evening!). But I didn’t enjoy any of them as much as I enjoyed my own. So despite what my brain was telling me, my heart knew that our wedding was truly one of the best days of our lives, even if other people seemed to have had “better” days.
I see a counselor now, and I talk to her about this issue often. She is always encouraging me to focus on the 80 percent of the day that I loved rather than the 20 percent I agonize about and wish I could change. I pray and go to church, and reading Scripture helps me remember what our wedding day was actually all about. It’s hard work, but as time goes on, I am finding it easier to reframe my negative thoughts and reflect on how lucky we were to be able to get married outside on a beautifully clear fall day without a rain plan, have both of my parents walk me down the aisle, and spend a few hours laughing and dancing with friends and family from all over the country. Sure, it still sucks for me to see the bride and groom attached at the hip and greeting guests at other weddings, as I remember how little time I spent with my own husband at our reception. But I’m learning how to cope and accept the fact that just because something didn’t go exactly how I wanted it go doesn’t mean it went wrong.
So as this season of life marches on and I am faced with ever more tulle, toasts, and turnt-up dance parties, my plan is to try and enjoy the festivities as much as I can. I know I won’t be able to stop every negative thought that flits through my mind, but I can think back to how amazing it felt to be the woman in white with all eyes on her, how my now-husband looked at me when I walked down the aisle, or any of the other millions of moments from that day that warm my heart and let me know that we did so many things right. And I can know without a doubt that anyone who thinks there’s another wedding out there that was better than mine is absolutely wrong. Including me.