Weddings are supposed to be wonderful, joyous occasions filled with love. Weddings are almost a rite of passage, an act of being grown up, something that most if not all of our friends and family will eventually celebrate.
How does it feel when your mental health doesn’t allow you to occupy that same space?
Over the past few years, I’ve been to a lot of weddings. A strong cohort of my close friends have chosen the last couple of summers to seal their relationships with nuptials, and I’ve been involved in a few of the weddings as a bridesmaid. It’s undoubtedly an honour to be asked; I appreciate my friends wanting my support in the run up to their wedding day, and on the day itself.
I can’t pretend that it’s been smooth sailing, though. For me, being a bridesmaid has opened up some less-than-helpful inner dialogues, and gently prodded at wounds I perhaps didn’t know I had. A dear friend asking me to stand by their side on one of the most important days of their lives has made me feel pride, love and a spectrum of positive emotions; but it has also brought on intense anxiety, self-doubt, negative self-talk, exhaustion and a sense of alienation.
I think the most prominent feeling I’ve had when being included in a wedding party is anxiety; I have worried whether I am doing enough, if they consider me to be a useful bridesmaid, if the other bridesmaids will like me, am I as good a friend as the other bridesmaids, what I will look like on the day… This tends to reduce my efficacy as a bridesmaid, and I often end up feeling as though I’ve done nothing, and don’t deserve to be standing up there with them. I never know what’s expected of me, or what I have to do to ‘prove’ myself.
It completely slips my mind that being asked to support a friend in this way is not a competition. It’s not a job at which I have to show my talent in order to be kept on. Realistically all I have to do is agree on an outfit, remain interested and helpful when the bride asks about first dances or decorations, and be there to let her air out any anxieties or woes in the run up. I can do all these things – some would even argue that I’m good at them.
My worrisome brain and inner critic still manage to make these things about me, though. I fret over my involvement and feel rejected and useless when another bridesmaid puts in more ‘effort’ than me.
Having survived the hen do and other pre-wedding events, the day itself brings another set of problems for my brain to stew over and pick apart. I get emotional at weddings, and only recently realised that there’s a bit more to this than I first thought. I cry with a strange mix of happiness for my friend, and dread that I will never be ‘good enough’ to have a wedding of my own, that no one will ever love me enough to sign that register with me. That I will truly always be the bridesmaid.
This is fairly ludicrous, as my partner and I have discussed openly our intentions around marriage, and it’s not something we’re financially or emotionally attached to at the moment. We have been together for nearly four years, lived together for three and our relationship is strong. We’re staying together, and marriage doesn’t have to be our end goal. At the moment I’ll settle for a steady income and more good days than bad.
Maybe a cat or two.
The fact is, there are a lot of emotions attached to marriage and weddings which can be hard for someone with mental health problems to process. There are societal expectations for people of a certain age to follow suit and walk down the aisle as well, and when you’re put in the spotlight as a part of the wedding troupe this is just intensified.
There is something stark and revealing about standing in front of people and posing for pictures, almost as though the wedding guests can see just by looking that I am different, that my illness has been caught on camera and immortalised. It’s exposing, and anything other than delicate happy tears during the ceremony isn’t expected; our job is to smile at the camera in solidarity with out newly wedded sister. Our inner critics can gleefully grasp on to this exposure, and pepper our tired brains with cruel jibes throughout the day.
I am lucky that my friends understand me and know about my illness, that they don’t expect me to do anything I’m uncomfortable with and that they genuinely just want me by their side. They have made me feel more comfortable in dealing with the strange emotions surfacing throughout the day. My partner has been equally wonderful, a support during the wedding preamble and on the day itself.
After several of these occasions, I now want to say to myself and others that it’s ok to feel strange, frightened, anxious or low at weddings. It’s ok to ask yourself how you feel and what you need. It’s alright if your tears aren’t always happy ones. It’s absolutely fine if all you’re capable of doing is showing up and holding your friend’s hand before she walks down the aisle.
Being asked to be a bridesmaid often counters what an angry brain wants to tell you – someone loves you, someone wants you around and values your company. There have to be other ways for it to catch us out, and reflecting on my experiences brings this plainly to my attention.
I write this as much for me as anyone else – as a recognition of my strange thinking patterns, to express my feelings and show that weddings, for all their expectations and differing realities, are a unique kind of experience where it’s absolutely ok to struggle with your feelings amongst the happy words, weighted expectations and long, emotional days.