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It’s just a few days until our “rustic chic” forest wedding, and unlike most nervous brides I don’t care if it rains on our big day – or if I trip while walking down the aisle lined with tree stumps, or if my parents’ dog starts barking at a squirrel during the ceremony. Those would be welcome distractions to the misfiring neurons in my head.
As someone who is prone to constant doubt, my feet are surprisingly warm and toasty about Jeremy, the gent I intend to marry. He’s kind, smart, loving; my proverbial rock. He’s the type of person you’d want around during a natural disaster, the one who would be digging for water or trying to start a fire with limited resources. He’s that good.
Although I’ve gained 15 pounds during our engagement, I don’t even worry about not fitting into my wedding dress, or whether my arms will look like spring sausage while I’m reciting my vows.
Worrying about anything that’s rooted in reality would be getting off far too easy, and obsessive-compulsive disorder doesn’t like easy.
I tend to think of my OCD as the worst wedding crasher, which slips in unnoticed by everyone else around you.
Try explaining to your aunt, who has flown all the way from Washington to rural Quebec to watch your Best Day Ever unfold, that you constantly question if you really exist, or whether your heart will explode if you don’t repeat certain words in your head.
Try to explain to anyone you love that the most joyous events in your life – graduations, promotions, milestone birthdays – have always triggered the same gut-churning, palpitating anxiety.
You can’t, so you smile through it, and for the most part it’s believable. Having OCD should make me eligible for acting credits.
Rewind to August, 2012: I was standing by my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding chuppah dressed in a flowy, jewel-toned number, fending off intrusive thoughts about impending doom. Kind of awkward timing.
At that precise moment, I knew that there were no deals to be made with my disorder; that it wouldn’t give me a furlough even for the sake of my family.
I’ll never get those moments back, so now I try to counter-balance the bad thoughts with good ones about the moments when I was distracted by bliss and laughter took over. I recall the image of my parents being raised on chairs during the hora dance, Dad brave as always but Mom looking as if she was about to pass out. The imprint of the day is one of exquisite beauty, even though my head wouldn’t go along with it at the time.
Experts call intrusive OCD thoughts egodystonic, meaning they are thoughts that cause distress or repugnance to the person experiencing them. For example, a parent who loves his children more than anything else in the world might worry endlessly that he could harm them – even if that’s something entirely against his nature. He might be so convinced that he turns himself in to authorities for being a risk.
I am a person who gravitates toward sunny days, floral prints and bright colours. My wedding shoes are covered in rose-gold glitter and my veil is adorned with shiny sequins. I’m as over-the-top as my partner is understated. If you heard me talking about my wedding day, you’d probably think my biggest dilemma is whether to wear the lilac crown during the ceremony or keep it as a pièce de résistance for the reception. Will it clash with my mostly pink colour scheme?
Of course it’s crossed my mind, but it’s not the type of detail that keeps me up at night. It’s the egodystonic suckers that do that – the intrusive thoughts telling me that I might just willingly jump into the bonfire at the end of the night while our unsuspecting guests are enjoying their s’mores.
With marriage, there’s a statistical uncertainty as to whether it will actually last your entire life. With OCD, you’ve got unwavering commitment that no legal paper could ever dissolve. And yet I’d gladly part ways with it; even a temporary separation would do.
I’ve learned, though, that some battles can only be fought if you disarm yourself completely. It’s both humbling and annoying.
So this week, I am lying low, trying to be as mindful as I can during the moments when I can’t catch my breath or I wake up covered in sweat: not resisting the thoughts, but trying to welcome them in; trying to be a Zen master while holding down a job, choosing canapés and wondering whether I have enough Mason jars for all the flowers.
Rather than telling myself, “You’ll survive this,” I’m trying to be nonchalant: “Maybe you will, maybe you won’t.” It may sound bizarre, but I’m challenging my OCD by not engaging with it.
The one detail that is hardest to reconcile is the isolation I feel leading up to one of the most monumental days of my life. For me, the greatest prewedding relief is not at a spa, but in a sterile white room, sitting and talking with other OCD sufferers over lukewarm coffee. Or reading articles by people who live with the disorder: the retired academics, smiling waitresses and college students, all trying not to burn out. Watching the best years of our lives unfold together, in agony.
Jennifer Shenouda lives in Toronto.