The best part about getting married was that, for one whole week, I had no idea what Donald Trump was up to.
The best part about getting married was that, for one whole week, I had no idea what Donald Trump was up to.
The wedding is in 5 days, and I am an anxious fire monster.
I have resisted writing in detail about my anxiety because I don’t want it to be misinterpreted by friends and family as doubts about getting married. I have zero doubts. But not being open about my anxiety is, as always, making it worse.
I should know better by now than to sit and stew.
So let me be as clear as possible and immediately halt any possible misinterpretation for those of you who still might not be totally clear on how mood disorders work– this has NOTHING to do with Eric. I have never been more confident in a decision in my life (which is saying a lot, as decision-making, for me, is the ultimate anxiety trigger, and is usually done with 100% haste and 0% confidence). I love Eric with all my heart and can’t believe I found him and get to marry him.
But anxiety doesn’t care if you’re grateful or happy. Anxiety has its own agenda, and the only way I’ve found to combat it is to do the exact opposite of combating it– to accept it and to be open about it. Because when I’m not, it eats me alive.
To be clear, I am excited– VERY excited. But the things is, when you have an anxiety disorder, excitement and panic run through the same pipeline, and, despite the fact that you are happy and really looking forward to something, that anticipation can FEEL very uncomfortable, produce an acute restlessness, make you feel like you’re crawling out of your skin, and just cause you to feel plain bad. It’s a frustrating cycle because you know you are lucky and happy, and you want to just feel those simple feelings of happiness and gratitude, but the nerves take over and don’t let you. They just leave you feeling like you sort of want to vomit, and maybe casually pull out your arm hairs one by one.
About 3 weeks ago, I began to feel like a line of drummer boys entered my body, and started a looped parade through my bloodstream, playing a steady, catchy beat– not altogether unpleasant, often actually fairly enjoyable. Sometimes I’d find myself bopping to their steady rhythm and feeling the flow, other times I was like, “Eh, I could use a little calm and quiet now. Oh, no? You’re not going anywhere? Ok I guess I’ll just drink wine straight from the bottle.”
And then, somewhere around last week, the drummer boys decided that right on top of my heart was a good place for them to all settle in, place their instruments on the floor, and then just start banging the SHIT out of them. Cymbals flying, drumsticks clanking. Even some cowbell. Because every band could use a little more cowbell.
All that being said, I know once this weekend arrives I will be thrilled and full of joy and love. Once all the people I care about most in the world are there, gathered in one space, and I get to marry this ridiculously awesome guy while surrounded by them, it will be incredible. Anticipation is always the hardest part for me. The lead-up is torture. Once the event is happening, the energy takes over and I can enjoy myself. I know I will.
So for all of you who have been so lovingly inquiring, “Are you so excited?!”, the answer is yes, absolutely. But I’m also anxious as fuck. And that’s ok. That’s who I am. And I think as long as I acknowledge that’s ok, to both you and myself, I will be able to at least mildly quell that inner voice asking, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just be happy? Why can’t you just be like everyone else?”
Because I’m not everyone else. I’m me.
And you know what? I found someone who can’t even remotely personally relate to these feelings, but who does everything he can to fully understand them, support them, and, inexplicably, love me even more because of them.
Can’t get much better than that.
I get into the elevator with my headphones on, reading an email on my phone. An older man gets into the elevator with me. After a few seconds riding in silence…
Man: “So, I hear you like sauvignon blanc?”
Me (pulling out my headphones): “I’m sorry, what was that?”
Man: “You like sauvignon blanc. Especially from New Zealand.”
Me (nervously laughing): “That is correct…”
Man: “David [who I assume is another neighbor] spoke with your husband-to-be. Nice guy! Eric, right?
Me: “That’s right…”
Man: “And you’re getting married this summer, congratulations!”
Me: “Thank you so much! We’re pretty excited.”
Man: “But yeah, you two should join us for our wine parties. David and I are both big collectors.”
Me: “Yes, that would be lovely! We’re great at drinking wine!”
Man (as we reach lobby): “Ok great, so now we know each other. We don’t have to be silent on our phones in the elevator and hallways. We can have a conversation when we see each other. Isn’t that nice?”
Me (laughing): “You know what? It really is nice!”
This is literally my worst nightmare.
Therapist: “So you haven’t been writing much lately.”
Therapist: “Why is that?”
Me: “I don’t feel like I have much to say.”
Therapist: “Well that statement is VERY contrary to every moment I’ve spent with you in the past 8 years.”
Me: “Aw, well thank you.”
Just realizing now that wasn’t a compliment.
Me: “So I think I figured out why I can’t stomach seafood, even though I really want to like it. I try so hard to find seafood I can eat, but I’m just so averse to it. Then this memory came back to me out of nowhere the other day, but it makes so much sense. When I was younger I went on vacation with my family. We left our goldfish at home, unattended, because…well, it was a goldfish, so whatever. When we came back, I was the first one to walk into the kitchen and see, there on the counter, right where we’d snack every day after school, the goldfish– on its side, dried up, shriveled, sad black eye staring at the ceiling. He had probably jumped out of his bowl on day 1, either with a grand plan for freedom or a suicidal death wish, and been crusting over there on the countertop for a week. He was so plastered to the marble that we needed a metal spatula to pry him off. At which point my dad turned to us and said, ‘Fish for dinner!’ Which of course, in hindsight, is hilarious, but at the time I’m pretty sure I was horrified. But anyway, don’t you think that makes so much sense as to why I can’t eat seafood?”
Therapist: “Well do you like the taste of seafood?”
Therapist: “So it’s probably just that. You don’t like how it tastes.”
“Just remember– it’s fake news.”
— My therapist, re: the constant negative thought spirals in my brain
Four years ago, Ari Johnson, an incredible human being and dear friend, took his own life. On this anniversary of his death, here’s a little known story that I’ve never shared publicly, but think about all the time, particularly on this day.
It’s no secret that I struggle with my mental health. There were certainly incidents throughout my childhood that indicated an issue, but my first semester as a freshman at Penn is when things really started to spiral out of control. I was on my own for the first time, and the anxiety was skyrocketing. I cried all the time and felt completely and utterly alone. My sister Steph was a junior at Penn at the time, but she was spending that first semester abroad in Australia. I certainly had some friends on campus who I had known before college, so I wasn’t actually alone– but my god did I feel that way. Because that’s what depression does.
Ari was a very close friend of Steph’s, and a senior at the time. I had met him dozens of times when I was a high schooler visiting my sister at Penn, and he was the best. Just a super chill, friendly, funny, laid back guy. The first week of my freshman year, his fraternity, TEP, had a party, and he told me to come by and bring all my friends. I gathered the acquaintances I knew and headed over to the “TEP Deck.” It was a crowded mob scene, as first-week-of-college parties tend to be. Ari saw me and told everyone to move the hell out of the way and let his friend Emily, and all her friends, come in. It was absurd but fantastic– and at age 18, yeah, it made me feel super fucking cool.
Ari totally took me under his wing that first semester while Steph was away. He could see that I was kind of struggling, and wanted to be the surrogate older sibling in the absence of my sister. This was certainly not his job, but he made it so. Because that’s just who he was.
I started confiding in Ari more and more as the weeks went on, because he was one of the few people on campus I felt I could relate to. While he never explicitly said it, I sensed a darkness in him. An underlying, inner battle. There’s a certain kinship that exists among people with mental health issues– we can sense it in others, even when they haven’t sensed it yet in themselves. Something about the conversations Ari and I had led me to believe that deep down, he was struggling, too.
But I never asked. I didn’t feel it was my place, and I sensed he probably didn’t want to discuss it.
Words cannot express how much I regret that.
About a month into freshman year, my anxiety and depression began to take the form of bulimia. I was living each day grasping at strings, and bingeing and purging was the only method I had for feeling in-control (the ultimate irony, because nothing says “out of control” more than eating a meal for 5 and then shoving your finger down your throat). By the second month of college, I was making myself throw up 3-4 times a day.
One day I just grew weary. Shortly after a purge, staring at my bloodshot eyes in the mirror, I got so damn tired of carrying this secret. It was at that moment that Ari sent me an instant message (remember those?!) asking me what’s up. I responded, “I think I might be bulimic.”
I told him everything. He responded with immediate, genuine concern, and told me I needed to get help at the student health center. At the very least, he said, I needed to tell my family. That’s when I panicked and tried to backtrack. I didn’t want my family to know. I didn’t want to disappoint or worry anyone. I just wanted to tell Ari so that I could get it off my chest– but really, I was fine.
I was 100% not fine. But I tried to downplay what was happening. I told Ari it wasn’t that big a deal, I was just having a bad day, this was all under control. I begged him not to tell my sister. By the end of the conversation, I was sure I had convinced him that a little bulimia was not really a genuine health concern, and that I’d be fine.
But Ari was no idiot. And he had too much heart to sit back and do nothing. He did exactly what he should have done– he told my sister. And then, immediately after telling her, he told me that he had told her. And that was the first step in my realizing that this was a real problem, and that I needed help.
Knowing that I now had no choice but to take action, I immediately confided in another friend of mine, and she took me to the student health center. It was the first time in my life that I had ever been evaluated for the state of my mental health. Needless to say, I did not pass. I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. The doctor was amazed I had made it this far without doing something truly drastic, seeing as though I was waking up every day hating myself and feeling so utterly alone. I was put on medication and set up with a doctor for talk therapy. I have been in treatment ever since, and can’t even fathom where I’d be today if I hadn’t taken those beginning steps to acknowledge and understand what was happening to me.
In that sense, I truly feel I owe Ari my life. I wish I could have told him that while he was still alive. I wish I could have told him that in recognizing my pain, taking it seriously, and putting me on the path to getting the help I needed, he did more to save my life than he will ever know.
And I will never stop wishing that I had done the same for him.
If you know someone struggling, say something. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation. There are no wrong words– if you think someone is suicidal, ask them. Urge them to get help. Remind them that you care.
If you’re looking for a way to help someone today, there are two links to fabulous causes below. The first is for Active Minds, a mental health organization that is extremely dear to my heart, and whose ultimate goal is to change the conversation about mental health, creating a world where no one has to feel alone in his or her struggle.
The second is a link to the Ari Johnson Memorial Scholarship– started by my family, this scholarship will keep Ari’s memory and impact alive, and will be awarded to a student at Penn who shows dedication to overcoming adversity and disadvantage, including but not limited to the area of mental health challenges and advocacy.
So Eric got a new job recently, and HR informed him that in order for me to be on his health insurance plan, we would have to get actual documentation stating that we are domestic partners. This came as a surprise, because at Eric’s last job they were like, “Oh, your girlfriend wants health insurance? Cool! Health insurance for dayzzzzzzz!” We literally didn’t even have to show proof that we were living together. I’m not even sure we had to prove we were human beings. I could have been Eric’s pet hamster Chubbles*, and they would’ve covered me. For whatever reason, they just took our word on the honor system, which is the way it should be. (hahah no, I’m kidding. That is DEFINITELY not the way it should be. If it was that way, I would have put myself on the health insurance of every person I’ve lived with since college, including that summer subletter who drew a huge penis on my window).
So we went down to the City Clerk on Wednesday and diligently signed our Domestic Partnership license. It was a beautiful day. The clerk could not have been less interested in us, and was scrolling on Facebook the entire time she processed our paperwork. Which immediately made me like her. I was super hopeful that when the license printed, it would accidentally have one of those creepy FB stickers on it.
But alas, no. Disappointment abound.
Meanwhile, Eric and I tried to make small talk with her, as an attempt to engage her in this somewhat meaningful moment in our lives.
Us: “We’ll be back here in 5 months for our wedding license!”
Us: “Thanks yeah we’re excited too!”
This lady was the physical and spiritual embodiment of “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” We gave up, took our license, posed for obligatory photo and left.
Clap, clap, done! Easy as pie! Right?
Wrong. That’s not how my life works. You should know this by now.
Eric skipped back to his office, Domestic Partnership license in hand, only to find out that HR had given him false information– “Oooooh, our bad. Turns out domestic partnership only gets your partner covered if you’re gay.” And apparently, shouting back, “Ok, ok– we’re gay! We’ll be gay!” doesn’t solve the problem.
What DOES solve the problem? Getting married.
Eric: “But we’re basically married!”
HR: “When is the wedding?”
HR: “Cool. She’ll have health coverage in June.”
Eric: “HAVE YOU MET HER?! SHE NEEDS IT NOW.”
Ok obviously the conversation didn’t exactly go down like that, but the point is that the rules insist we show legal intent to wed (aka, get a marriage license)– and I, as someone prone to mental/physical/invented health issues, cannot wait until June for coverage.
Can I get temporary insurance until then? Yes, of course. For a CRAPLOAD of money. And what is the point, if we are getting married soon anyway? Why not just get the license a little earlier? We already live together and love each other and occasionally want to kill each other and that’s all marriage really is, right? (If not, don’t tell me. I’m a learn-the-hard-way kind of girl, which is why my life tends to be a complete disaster but also interesting).
So, with the most romantic of reasons driving us forward, we went back to the City Clerk this morning to obtain a marriage license. (No, this does not mean we are married. This means we have a document to prove INTENT to marry. Everyone calm down, Mom.)
Not many people get to experience the City Clerk office twice in 3 days, but I guess most people just aren’t as lucky as we are.
So there we are this morning, sitting in our seats, waiting for our number to be called, and, like all couples about to take that first legal step in joining their lives forever, we were on our iPhones playing Words With Friends.
With EACH OTHER. We’re not heartless sadists.
As I sat there waiting for Eric to play the next word, I took a moment to look around and do some people watching. There were several couples there who were getting not just a license, but having their official ceremony as well, so they were wearing nice white dresses and suits. Naturally, I then questioned my own appearance, which led to an existential downspiral (aka, a typical
Friday morning). “Is it ridiculous that it didn’t even occur to me to look nice for this event? I just threw on jeans, a sweater, Uggs and headed out the door. Does that say something about my maturity level and my preparedness for marriage?”
“Oh, Emily, stop it,” I counterpointed in my head, because having full conversations with myself is normal. “That’s just your anxiety going into overdrive. Yes, you’re dressed casually, but so are most people here. You’re a perfectly mature, responsible adult who is more than ready to enter this very significant stage of life.”
And that’s when I spotted the gigantic glob of Junior Mints melted into my pant leg.
Yes. It’s as big as it looks.
Some background context here, because I’m sure you’re having difficulty understanding how it’s humanly possible that I did this to myself without noticing:
Last night, Eric and I went to see Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway (fucking phenomenal, by the way). And like all people watching a show with themes of loneliness, pain and depression, I like my trauma with a side of Junior Mints.
Kramer gets it.
At one point during the show, I accidentally dropped one of the Junior Mints (again, Kramer-style) while attempting to put it in my mouth. I thought it fell on the floor and so I quickly forgot about it– but, apparently, it got squished between the seat and my leg for the rest of the night, where it slowly melted (because, as you can always assume, I was very sweaty) and spread across my pants. And yeah, I did wear the same pants two days in a row without washing them. You do it too, so SHUT UP.
“But how did you not notice it when you were getting dressed this morning, Emily?”
Because it was early, I hadn’t had coffee, and in general I am not a noticer of things.
“But how about when you took them off last night?”
I AM VERY BAD AT LIFE, OKAY?!
Which brings us back to this moment in the City Clerk’s office, when Eric and I are about to be called forward to sign a marriage license, and I have what appears to be a giant ball of (minty fresh!) shit spread across my pants.
Eric suggested I go to the bathroom and try to clean myself up.
I suggested we take a photo.
Needless to say, the papers still got signed (not by an officiant– just by us, Mom!) and Eric is still willing to marry me.
Now let’s see if I can make it down the aisle without a giant shit stain on my wedding dress.
* Chubbles = actual former pet of Eric’s
Me: “So, my building only allows dogs if it’s a medical necessity, and ’emotional support’ is considered a medical reason. Eric and I were thinking it might be a good idea for me to have a puppy around, so if you were to write a–”
Me: “So, I’m already having a really hard time this winter. I think I’m mildly depressed. I might need to up my meds. And I know what you’re going to say– that I don’t look depressed. That I look energetic and healthy. But don’t be fooled. That’s just because I’m trying REALLY HARD not to look depressed.”
Therapist: “No, I actually think you do look depressed.”
Therapist: “You don’t look well. For you.”
Me: “I see.”
Therapist: “You look tired.”
Me: “Uh huh.”
Therapist: “Your eyes look a bit sunken in.”
Me: “So the makeup’s not working…”
Therapist: “There’s a grayness to you.”
Therapist: “And you’re slouching.”
Me: “I think that’s just a thing I do…”
Therapist: “And is that ranch dressing on your shirt?”
Me: “Ok enough.”
So much for trying hard.