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11 Tips on Making It to the Ceremony: A Wedding Party Guide for Those With Chronic Illness

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Every time I’m in the bridal party of a wedding, I’ve thought about writing a guide for us low-energy, high-pain people. But even if you don’t fall into those categories, I think we could all use a little more prep when it comes to wedding weekends and everything that goes along with them.

I’m writing from the personal experience of being a spoonie bridesmaid four times over, but I’m not a medical professional, so please consult your care team for extra tips for your specific situation.

That said, let’s start months before the wedding festivities even begin:

1. Know yourself.

I don’t mean existentially. I mean physically and emotionally. I know a lot of us tend to dissociate from our bodies because living inside them is unpleasant, but it’s really important to know how your body reacts and responds to stress, stimulation, and surprises. Knowing the warning signs to your energy battery running low can make the difference between a delightful and an extremely disagreeable wedding party experience.

2. Enforce boundaries.

So many people struggle in this area, especially during exciting events. It’s especially important for spoonies to communicate their boundaries because it enables them to get the most out of festivities and make it through to the actual nuptials. If communicating or enforcing boundaries isn’t your forte, the only way to improve is to practice. Practice telling friends or family things like, “Hey, I’m going to sit down for a bit,” or, “I’m going to step out for a while.” Practice leaving somewhere early, or not participating in every activity at an event.

Practicing also helps you feel more confident in what verbiage you use with others. The people around you are going to want to know if you’re OK and knowing what to say in response can be anxiety provoking. Medical conditions can be pretty complicated, so my recommendation is to keep responses short and simple. For example, “I just need to rest,” or “I struggle with fatigue/low energy,” is sufficient. If whoever asked after your well-being is interested in having more of a conversation, it is 100% up to you whether you share more details. Remember, you do not owe anyone an explination for why you do the things you do to keep yourself well. Kudos to my rehab psychologist for helping me embrace this!

However, there is at least one person that needs to be aware that you aren’t an Energizer Bunny:

3. Inform appropriate individuals.

Let the point person, often the person of honor, know your medical condition and how involved you can be in running the show. It is not the job of whoever asked you to be in the wedding party to do this. It’s your job. Hopefully the point person will be able to help you with accommodations such as wheelchair accessibility, or providing a seat for you in case you need to sit during the ceremony.

Decide what your level of support can be for planning, prepping, and executing events, and communicate this to whoever is in charge of those events. Remember, you cannot predict how you’ll feel the day of these events, so be prepared to make adjustments.

4. Plan alcohol* intake.

Will you imbibe or refrain? How does your body function with alcohol flowing through those veins? Know how many drinks is safe for you to consume in any given time frame. How many days in a row can you partake without adverse effects? It might also be helpful to decide beforehand the specific events you will drink at. For example, deciding not to drink at the bachelor(ette) party so you can drink at the wedding, or vise versa. Causing a flare-up the day of a wedding because you took a risk and had a drink the night before, although tragic and unfair, can totally be avoided.

*Please do not consume alcohol unless you are of age. Also, I would be remiss if I did not say that the safest option would be to not drink at all. Alcohol kills your brain cells, and those are kind of important.

5. Prepare for FOMO.

You will be missing out in one way or another and although sad and disappointing, it’s how you will preserve your spoons. Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) make you compromise your boundaries, or alter your mood enough to spoil the fun. You probably won’t dance the whole time at the reception, or at all, and you might have to leave before the send-off. The important thing is you showed up! You were there for your friends and got to support them on their special day!

If the wedding festivities do not occur where you currently live and involve travel or over-night stays, these next tips are for you:

6. Plan meals.

Familiarize yourself with your body’s nutritional needs and plan accordingly. How does your body respond to inflammatory foods? Will you bring your own food or snacks for the weekend? Will you go grocery shopping when you arrive so you don’t have to eat restaurant food for every meal? Did you inform appropriate parties of your dietary restrictions for catered events?

7. Plan arrival.

Plan to arrive the day before any scheduled activities. This way you will have some time to recover from travel and acquire at least one night’s rest at your new location. You might need more than one day to recover from travel, so keep in mind your specific situation. Also, if you have spine/neck conditions and plan to stay at a rental with the wedding party, make sure you communicate that you need to sleep on a mattress versus a couch or floor.

8. Spread out packing.

Do not. I repeat. Do not, pack the day of the trip! Don’t even pack the night before. Packing always takes more physical and mental energy than anticipated so, if at all possible, spread out your packing in the week before departure. Make sure you don’t forget care products such as heat/ice packs, supplements, pain management tools, and the like.

With all this prep taken care of beforehand, you’ll experience more peace of mind and an increased ability to be present with your friends. With these last suggestions, you’ll hopefully be able to enjoy yourself when the wedding festivities actually begin:

9. Be flexible.

This is really hard to do in general, especially for me! It’s difficult to be flexible when you have your mind set on something going a certain way. Flexibility is one of those life hacks that once embraced, will ease frustration by many many degrees.

Because it’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel on any given day, you might wake up the day of an event and not be able to help or participate in the way you originally planned. If you still want to lend a hand, flexibility can help a great deal. This can look like, “Hey, I can arrange the table settings if someone else can set up the chairs.” Or, “I’ll help you with that, but I’m going to sit over here and do it.”

It’s also completely within your prerogative to skip an event entirely. If you don’t think you can make it through the rehearsal, welcome dinner, and bachelor(ette) party in one day, then skip something. If you just show up to the rehearsal and nothing else until the ceremony, that is OK. Hopefully the people getting married know you well enough to understand your decisions. If they don’t… well, then you probably wouldn’t be in their wedding in the first place.

10. Locate the essentials.

Find the water sources! Dehydration is a sure recipe for passing out at any party. Also, locate the quieter places where you can sit, lie down, or recharge. If it’s a bathroom stall, then it’s a bathroom stall. Bathroom stall breaks are better than no breaks at all. Take that time to rest. Maybe do some breathing exercises, or pop those salt tablets. These little breaks can counteract the effects of adrenaline and prevent a debilititing crash.

11. Enjoy yourself.

We’ve come to the most important part of the whole wedding party process — the joy of celebrating your friends get married! By this point, you’ve taken the time to plan and prepare and made sure to keep yourself well and safe, so now it’s time to give yourself permission to enjoy the festivities. Take in all the hard work that went into throwing this mother-of-all parties. Revel in the beauty of love and two people committing to stand by each other in sickness and in health. Delight in the gratitude of being asked to be a part of such a special day.

I truly hope you can enjoy the next wedding you’re a part of!

Getty image by shironosov

Originally published: August 25, 2023
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