Ten of my coupled friends got married last year. Five weddings amidst a cascade of other acquaintances and people I had met at parties tying their respective knots and I didn’t go to a single one of them. I didn’t even try to explain or make excuses, send a card, a gift, nothing. I just disappeared for those weekends and reappeared a few weeks later. The part that wore on me the most wasn’t that I skipped their weddings. It was that it was never even mentioned. My friends had an idea of what happened, but they were too polite to even address it. Call me out. Tell me how disappointed they were. We just… didn’t talk about it at all.
I have depression. That’s the best way to sum it up. That’s the best umbrella, the most convenient string of words to express a perpetual sadness, anxiety, and contextually-appropriate aversion. A new therapist I visited for the first time last week shrugged when he said that was his opinion. “You’re depressed. (shrug) And you always will be.” But I resist that label – and certainly his reductionistic fifteen minute diagnosis – like many in my position would. It’s too easy a statement. I’m not “depressed” when we have problems in our relationship. When you’re a terrible person, I’m not “depressed.” I’m angry that you’re a terrible person. When I see the suffering on the news, I’m not depressed. I’m a human who feels compassion. It’s not some sort of catch-all. “Oh, Randall just texted. He says he’s stuck in traffic. Psht. That guy is so depressed.” It’s not the simple.
Or maybe it really is that simple. Maybe the therapist was right. Maybe these are each and all ways that I am making poor life choices or participating in micro-aggressions because of the depression. Sometimes, I don’t really know until weeks have gone by. So, here’s my best guess for why I didn’t go to your wedding:
Years ago, I bought an engagement ring and was going to propose to my girlfriend. But instead of that ever happening, the day I bought the ring, she happily told me she was cheating on me and I was “so stupid” for wanting to marry her because “God told me we’re supposed to break up. Satan visited me in a dream last night, and I know that was God.” I still don’t fully understand that last statement, even having gone to and completed seminary. Like Liz Lemon, every time I recall those words, my brain goes “Wha the wha?!” But mazel tov, the universe is a strange place. The catch is that after that happened, I began to see the pageantry of relationships encapsulated in Wedding Season through broken lenses. Taken together with depression and a mild social anxiety where I am compelled to either be The Funniest Guy Here or That Guy Over There Staring At Me, Who Is That? and nowhere in between those two points, making cookies with a new sex partner (not a euphemism) seemed like a much better idea than dressing up and doing the Wedding Chicken, though I love dressing up and am very happy for both of you. Many times, I “flake out” with an admittedly lame excuse because I am busy writing or I’m a shitty friend or I wanted to meet up with this girl I’m seeing and have sex instead or I don’t know, maybe I just don’t understand why you two got married in the first place. Maybe I have a hard time celebrating when so many other parts of the world are awful. And sure, I know I’m supposed to power through. I’m supposed to celebrate and be thankful to the Universe for a momentary reprieve. I’m supposed to dance. But… I just can’t. On the day you got married? I just couldn’t. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, I really tried. I promise you, I tried. But I could not do it. And the nature of this thing necessitates that I have felt awful about it every day since.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that depression involves me laying in bed with the shades drawn, mildly drooling and/or crying. Those days are thankfully infrequent. I’m not speaking of “all people with depression.” I’m not stupid enough to make a generalization on the Internet like that, at least not yet. I speak only for my own experience here; more or less, my depression confuses me. My brain convinces my body that if I went to your wedding, I would say something awful, make a wrong dance move, probably drink too much, and ultimately be escorted from the occasion while Cousin Jeremy takes a momentous Polaroid of me, red-faced and screaming an obscenity. Logically? This would never happen. That doesn’t sound like me on any level. (Well, I was once called “The worst best man ever. EVER. The. WORST.” by a bride. And, okay, I admit, I did whisper to my friend, as his bride was walking up the aisle, “It’s not too late, buddy. We can stop this. I will stop this. Just give me a sign.”) But logical sequence patterns are overridden and the mind drifts towards worst-case scenarios, creating a rising tide of anxiety that washes over me as I am drowning until tender footsteps towards the shore (be that my bedroom, a bookstore, or any other location of avoidance) allows greater ease of movement, thought, clarity, perspective, etcetera. When I think about my eventual wedding? I don’t even want to be there. So, hopefully this provides you some dark comfort – it’s not you. I didn’t go to anyone else’s wedding last year, and I don’t want to go to my own.
Which is why I didn’t go to your wedding. I went somewhere else. It wasn’t about emotions; I wasn’t afraid or angry or even sad. I just didn’t think about you at all. Depression is selfish that way, the ultimate expression of self-centeredness. Don’t worry. All those generalizations are true – I felt bad about it. Just maybe not right away or even “the right way” while I struggled to find any kind of happiness in the world for myself. The next day I felt awful and have felt awful every day since. I felt awful when you invited me over for dinner when you got back from your honeymoon. I felt awful as I stood outside on the balcony smoking a cigar with you. I really felt awful when I saw all the gifts you were showing me. And I feel awful now that I am putting all of this in print, finally, and explaining myself. My depression, that part of me, of who I am, punishes me for every mistake and makes me second-guess even the best days. And in a curious turn, it guarantees I feel everyone else can be happy – including you. Everyone else has the ability to feel happy, should feel happy, just not me. Everyone else deserves happiness, just not me. The turn is that, again and again, I want everyone else to be happy. To find and unite with Someone Special, to feel the spectrum of joy and anger and rebonding and personal growth and full plates at holiday meals. But I do not feel I am allowed those same experiences.
And while we have done a great job at helping contour the discussion around depression, even the discussion around depression, it does not minimize the emotional fallout. Right? The exhaustion of a partner trying (and failing) to cheer us up, give us hope, or wondering whether they can live like this. It does not minimize the hurt and anger when someone with depression “flakes out” or misses a big life event like a wedding. It does not stop us from firing someone who “can’t cut it” or whose head “isn’t in the game.” It does not explain the residual toxins, depression at times becoming an abiding anger or causing us to grind and break our teeth at night. These other areas – friends, overall health, social performance – are blind spots in our compassion.
I certainly do not ask for sympathy for myself. I trust we have already had those discussions (with me or about me, either way) where you said what a terrible friend I was for missing your big day or that I was “the worst best man ever.” Rather, I think – if anything – I’m putting another piece of the boardwalk down to say, “Your friends are not terrible people. They’re trying.” They are trying in their own way, at their own speed, to do the right thing and invest in you the way you have invested in them. But the struggle is real. And the struggle is hard. It takes time to rebuild what our hearts and minds and circumstance have torn down. We are not absent. Even as we might be miles away from you, from your special days and parties, let me assure you that – miles away, in the back of a bookstore where we are hiding from our life – there was, is, and will be a part of the universe wishing you all the best just like I am doing right now. Your friends and family, whoever they may be, are pushing and pulling an alternate version of themselves evenly matched to their level of awesomeness, strength, courage, and fortitude. They are trying to get back to you, trying to be there. But sometimes they can’t be.
And that’s why they weren’t at your wedding.