It’s OK to have engagement anxiety, right?
Just before Christmas on the last day of the semester, I was whisked away to the most beautiful restaurant our city has to offer. Under the pretense of celebrating my first term as a primary school teacher, the love of my life told me I had to dress up to the nines and that there would be no expenses spared. We sat at the top of a skyscraper with floor to ceiling windows, placed so I could see the town I grew up in and the city we lived in together now, and after our meal, when the people around us had left and we were finally alone. . . my boyfriend proposed! I was the most elated I have ever been, to the point of crying off my meticulously applied make-up all over my beautiful dress. I called my mum and all the girls I had always known would be my bridesmaids — we all squealed down the phone and in came a flurry of text messages full of wedding emojis and exclamation marks. We got free champagne all night, and I couldn’t stop staring at the perfect vintage replica engagement ring he had done so well to choose all by himself.
It sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Like something from a film? It really was one of the most special moments of my life. I just wish I could have enjoyed it without my anxiety creeping in and overshadowing it.
Talking about mental health has become a whole lot easier in the past few years, which is absolutely fantastic and has definitely helped me with my own condition. I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety disorder, which at one point was so severe I had a mental breakdown and could not work for a year. There are still some taboos we don’t talk about, though, because there are certain ways we are expected to feel about things — what if getting engaged can actually be really stressful and overwhelming? What if that beautiful moment comes with so much pressure to be perfect, it triggers a panic attack?
I had wanted to get engaged for years. I’m not ashamed to say I am a girl who had color schemes and wedding dress styles planned out in my head years before this beautiful sparkler appeared on my finger. I was completely taken by surprise when I actually found the process of getting engaged to be a huge anxiety trigger, and I wondered: why don’t more people talk about this?
The day after my engagement, I had an unrelenting knot in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. I was ecstatic and the congratulatory messages were flooding in, but there was something I just couldn’t shake off. I started to feel as though I didn’t deserve all of the lovely messages I was getting. I stopped looking at my phone or checking my Facebook, because suddenly I felt like all of these people obviously thought a lot of me, and what if I didn’t deserve it? What if I’d done something really bad in my life and what if it came back to haunt me, and what if this was taken away from me? What if my fiancé found out I’m not the person he thinks I am, and all of this went to waste?
The days went on, and as it started to sink in that this was real and I wasn’t being Punk’d, my anxiety started to heighten. The anxious thoughts were thick and fast. What if I’m not a good wife? What if we fall out of love and we have to get a divorce? What if I ever cheated on my lovely soon-to-be husband? What if I ruined it all? I started to think about every passing celebrity crush I have ever had, every compliment by a male I have felt flattered by, and somehow convinced myself that I didn’t deserve this ring. It didn’t matter that I am completely head over heels in love with my guy, because anxious thoughts are not rational and often bear no relevance to real life. Anxiety disorders come with a lot of guilt, and all my thoughts were related to me being a bad person or hurting my fiancé. I felt completely terrified of messing up this lovely thing that had happened to me.
I started to worry about the planning process — what if I had a really bad panic attack when trying on wedding dresses? What if I have a panic attack on our wedding day? What if my anxiety ruins all of this and I can’t enjoy it?
I became super withdrawn and my fiancé was bemused as to why I wasn’t full of smiles like I was supposed to be. I retreated into myself, sitting at the opposite end of the couch, curled up in a tight little ball of anxiety and doubt. Eventually I found the courage to speak to him and explain myself, and his understanding and reassurance proved exactly why I am marrying him and why I really have nothing to worry about. He said that we can’t predict what will happen, all we can do is try our best to love and cherish each other in the present moment and through everything life throws at us.
So, that is what I’m trying to do.
Engagements are hyped up in movies and the media as this golden time of perfect happiness, and I felt like such a freak for not feeling that way. But I’m here to say, hey — it’s OK! It’s a HUGE thing, you guys! If you suffer from anxiety, it can be very difficult to commit to things even as small as a coffee date with a friend, just in case you feel too anxious to go and have to cancel. So committing to being a perfect wife for the rest of your life can feel pretty overwhelming. Except that’s what I’ve learned — it’s not about pressuring yourself to be perfect. It’s about being the best person you can to your beau, weathering the storms together, and opening yourself up to enjoy what can be a truly magical time.
Talking about anxiety, no matter what the circumstance, is the key to beating it. Until I spoke to my fiancé about it, it felt like this huge ogre I couldn’t tell anyone about or get away from. I felt like I was so weird for being panicky about something so lovely; but once I opened up, it felt like a tiny bump in the road we could walk over together. The worries started to melt away and give way to all of the lovely feelings I had always dreamed of: the constant staring at how sparkly my ring was, the blushing at all the compliments, the joy of re-telling our proposal story a million times and never getting bored of it. It’s so important that anxiety sufferers feel like they can be open about the things they’re worried about, even if it’s something a non-sufferer might think is completely crazy. Everybody’s journey is completely unique, nobody’s life is Instagram-perfect, and it’s time we aired some of these mental health taboos.
Lucy Blakeley is a tea drinking, piano playing, ukulele wielding teacher of small children from Liverpool, UK. She owns 42 items of Breton striped clothing and not-so-secretly wishes she lived in Paris. She has a Cath Kidston obsession and her most used emoji is the smiley with hearts for eyes (these two facts may or may not be connected). Twitter: @lucycouture. Instagram: @lucycouture.