The truth about my engagement early on is this: it sucked. I should clarify. The actual engagement part, where Anne and I decided that we are going to get married, to each other, and stay together forever – that part was awesome. We got SO MUCH love from family and friends who heard our news. And that was really awesome, too. The part that sucked came after that. In mid-January, just weeks after our engagement, Anne fell head first into a serious, deep depression. And it kind of sucked the life out of us, and totally sucked the fun out of being engaged and planning a wedding.
Anne has an anxiety disorder, but it has been well controlled with a combination of medications, hard work, and occasional therapy booster sessions. Unfortunately, her mood took a hit for the first time ever this winter – whose didn’t, with those long, dark days filled with slushy boots and dirty floors? It was pretty mild back in December, and she seemed as happy as one would be right after we were engaged. She mentioned it to her doctor during a regular check-in, and they decided to switch up her medication, which she had been on for almost a decade. And then like someone flipped a switch and turned out all the lights inside of her, about 4 weeks after starting the medication, and about two weeks after getting engaged, Anne tanked. It seemed OK at first. We explained it away by talking about how stressful the engagement preparation had been (all those secrets!) and how we were overwhelmed figuring out how to plan things moving forward. But the tough days turned into sleepless nights, and those turned into lots of tears, and self-criticism, and hopelessness on her part. And oh my god did I feel scared and helpless. You see, I’m a psychologist. Like, for real. I thought I could handle this. I’ve worked with depressed people before. They get active, they do some CBT, they get better – easy peasy, right? Wrong. There is very little that is easy about depression, except how easily it starts to invade your spirit, your relationships, and your life.
I have never known less about what to do to help someone than when Anne, the person I love and who I am going to marry in September and who I am going to spend the rest of my life with, told me she couldn’t think of anything worth living for. I worked hard to hold it together as she fell apart. I faked enthusiasm when friends, coworkers, and family members excitedly asked me how wedding planning was going and told me this would be the most exciting time in my life. And I felt a little resentful. I didn’t think that we’d be facing the “for better or worse” part before we tied the knot. I wanted to be looking at pretty pictures of cakes, and picking out stationery, and practicing dancing to our favorite songs. I wanted her to be better, to be the person I fell in love with. And even though I know better, I kept it in. For weeks, we struggled in silence. And finally, probably accidentally, I did something really hard for me to do. I asked for help – sort of. A coworker asked me what’s up and said I didn’t seem like myself, and I responded by crying. Actually, I think I held my breath for a solid minute while I fought tears back, and then I burst. I gave her the short version, she hugged me, and I felt relief. I slowly started coming out about our struggle with friends and family. In some ways, it seemed harder to come out as “struggling with depression” than it was to come out with my sexuality. I feared stigma, negative reactions, and people wanting to keep their distance. But I handled it kind of like I handle coming out, one step at a time until it started to feel normal, until it felt like it was going to be OK and we were going to get through it.
One pretty tough hurdle in this coming out process was when I told my family about how Anne was doing, for real. They suggested we think about calling off the wedding. Later on, Anne’s family suggested the same thing. I know their intention was to take some of the pressure off while we focused on more important things, or to protect me. But it felt like they wanted me to walk away from marriage entirely. I started to see that those were my fears, not theirs. Every time someone asked me about the wedding, or it came time for us to send in a deposit, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach – was this going to happen? Was Anne going to make it? If she made it, would she feel up to a wedding? Would she still be in love with me when the fog cleared? What other life experiences and happiness would this depression steal from us in the future? Could I handle going through this again? Could we? I felt terrible even bringing it up, given how bad Anne had been feeling, but we talked about it ALL. Anne confessed she was afraid she’d ruin our wedding because she’d still be miserable all those months away. But at the same time, she could say without hesitation that we were going to be together forever. And that I was one of the things she is living for.
In the past few months, Anne has been working very hard, getting the help she needs and has started to perk up. Winter turned into Spring and as the sun came out we started to spend more time outside, taking walks, talking over dinners together. And I, either in a fit of denial or reckless optimism, have thrown myself back into wedding planning. We have come to realize that in accepting each other fully and supporting each other no matter how difficult and overwhelming and soul-sucking the challenge, we have already committed to each other. And that is really something to celebrate this September.
**PS – Be sure to tune in next week, where I’ll talk more about how we’ve been working through things and getting the wedding show back on the road. In the mean time, let me know if you have any questions, thoughts, or suggestions! How have you managed a less-than-ideal engagement, or have you been blissfully in love the whole time???