Cold Feet?

Cold Feet?

I am engaged. My partner asked me to marry him and I said yes. We have begun planning our wedding.

On day one, I was excited and so happy that I couldn’t stop smiling. On day two, the anxiety began setting in.

I love this man and have wanted to be his wife since our first 6 months together. He will be an amazing husband and father and I would spend the rest of my life with him without thinking twice, but then he asked me if I would spend the rest of my life with him.

The proposal didn’t come as a great surprise, we’d talked about it a lot before and I even knew that he’d bought me a ring and was having trouble with getting it delivered during a pandemic, so I knew it was coming and never worried about it. I have looked forward to being his wife for years and never felt anything but happy and confident about it, so why am I feeling like this now that I’ve said yes?

I keep asking myself, as is my practice, what is this feeling and why am I feeling it. The first thought I had, in it’s rawest form was, if I swear on all that I believe in to be with him for the rest of my life, then I actually have to do that. I only make promises I intend to keep, I will only consider divorce in the most extreme of circumstances. So then the questions follow; do I not want to be with him for the rest of my life? Do I imagine us splitting up? Is there someone else I’d rather be with? Or would I rather be alone? But as I already said, I do want to be with him and only him until I die. I’ve wanted that with surety and steadiness for a long time. So it’s not that.

I delved in a little further and found a fear that I would lose my independence. Every decision I made in life would have to include or consider him. I wouldn’t be free to do whatever I wanted without first considering the impact that it would have on him. But I already live like that, and have done for the past two years. I don’t want to do anything that would impact him negatively, and everything I do want are things he wants too. So that’s not it.

Perhaps it’s the idea of the ceremony. I am religious and he is not, nor are either of our families, but if I’m going to make these solemn promises to him then I want it to be in my tradition and with blessings that mean something to me. He is more than happy for us to do that and is helping me to plan that kind of event, but it still feels self-indulgent. To stand up in front of our friends and family and say “this is who I am and what I want so this is how we’re going to do it” makes me feel uncomfortable. But then again, the wedding is about my partner and I making promises and commitments to each other, not about putting on a show for our guests, and as I said before, I would want to make those promises in a way that is meaningful to me, otherwise they won’t mean anything. So I guess it’s not that.

I have always feared change in my life and getting married seems like a big one. Except it’s not really. My name will change and some other legal formalities (nothing major, nor detrimental) will occur, but other than that, we will still live in the same house, with the same cat and the same jobs and hobbies, we’ll just be married, that’s all. So it’s not that either.

Currently, I believe that what I’m feeling is a generalised anxiety that comes with making any large decision in your life without having certainty of the future. We cannot foresee what may happen in our lives and making a commitment so big on faith is a scary thing to do. I have experienced similar anxieties when choosing a university to go to, or buying a car. The difference with those things is that the commitment was short term and reversible, this one is not. Therefore it is not completely unreasonable to expect a higher level of anxiety.

The fear of loss and hurt is strong in me too. Maybe he’ll leave me, betray me, lie to me, and even if he doesn’t, eventually he’ll die, and I don’t know if I can handle a loss like that. There have been many times in my life where I wanted to avoid investing emotion so I would not experience such pain, but I was convinced by well meaning people to ignore my instincts and take the risk (“Life is risky”, “What if everything goes right?”, “If you don’t take that chance you might miss out on something great”). Then my fears would come true, and I’d be destroyed again. Every time I have trusted someone not to hurt me, they have hurt me, usually very badly.

It’s also worth considering that I have never seen a marriage that I coveted or admired. I was never a girl who dreamed about her wedding day and never saw marriage as wonderful thing to aspire to.

So there are no real reasons for me to feel so anxious, and yet many reasons why I am. I will try to meditate on these things and hope that I am consoled by the idea that these fears come from nothing substantial. I have to assure myself that the potential gains outweigh the potential losses and then take the leap of faith.

What and Why?

What and Why?

Last night I felt a rush of very strong emotions. My partner was away for the night and I was alone in the house overnight (apart from the cat) for the first time since we started living together.

When I think about the chain of events, I guess it really started that afternoon when I abandoned my plans to get some work done that evening. Then on the way home I decided to order in junk food in stead of making myself a good dinner. Then I wouldn’t make myself a drink even though I was thirsty. I put on a film but divided my attention with games on my phone so I wasn’t fully enjoying either activity. I put off doing chores that I said I would do, claiming I was too tired and I’d do it later. When the film had finished and I didn’t know what to do next, that’s when the wave hit me.

It began with a tight anxiety in my chest, then I started to cry and I held the cat on my lap, even though he clearly didn’t want to be there, and began begging him not to leave me. I let him go after a couple of minutes because he wasn’t happy being held, but that made me cry harder. I felt desperately lonely. My partner wasn’t easily contacted and I’d also been hoping to hear from someone that I haven’t in a long time but they never responded to my message. I was chatting to one friend online but that contact wasn’t filling the need I had. I remember having the thought “I wish I was somebodies everything.”

My practice when I get uncontrollable feelings like this is to ask myself what exactly it is I’m feeling and why I am feeling it. More specifically, where are those feelings coming from? What triggered them in that moment and what is the underlying psychology that caused this response to that trigger. In the moment I tried to ask these questions but the feeling was too overwhelming and all I could come up with is “I’m just a depressed person. This is my default setting.” This is an old habitual response, something I told myself for years to excuse my behaviour and avoid dealing with my issues. I recognised that then and told myself that it probably wasn’t true but my mind refused to entertain any other idea, so I employed distraction techniques until I was tired enough to sleep reasoning that it could be stress related.

This morning I still feel the residue of last night’s experience but I have a clearer head so I can analyse it more carefully.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strong fear of abandonment. This is a learned behaviour. As I eluded to in my earlier posts, I have always been a vulnerable person and as such I would cling to others for support. I have had a number of people in my life whom I loved and trusted and who promised that they would always be there for me. However, when I became difficult, needy or combative, I discovered that those promises were conditional and more often than not those people would disappear without a trace. This inevitably left me feeling unwanted, lied to, betrayed, vulnerable, created ideas about my own lack of value and triggered unhealthy behaviours such as pushing people away when they are present and clinging to them when they are distant. I also formed unhealthy relationships with people who were emotionally unavailable and then tried to manipulate them into fulfilling my needs. Then, of course, when those relationships don’t work out it feeds into the ideas about my self worth and how no one can be trusted.

I also felt and feel extremely unloved and unwanted by my family who were also emotionally reserved. My family dynamics are complicated and not something that I will delve into here but suffice it to say that I was a child who needed a lot of attention and desired clear and obvious affection, but those needs were never met. My memories of my childhood are almost exclusively negative. This is not to say that there were no good times, only that the mind clings to memories that have the most emotional impact and for me very few of the good times were good enough to leave lasting impressions. I also wish to mention that I no longer harbour any ill will towards my parents for their failings. I have held a grudge for a very long time, even entering adulthood and being able to reflect and understand that they did the best they could in a difficult situation, I couldn’t let go of the anger and grief of never feeling loved. It is only since starting this journey that I have been able to look at my parents as people who were also conditioned by the world and their experiences and who were ignorant to the harm they were doing. I can’t be angry at them anymore than I could be angry at a child for doing or saying something hurtful, they don’t mean to, they just don’t know any better. But, nevertheless, trauma and conditioning from your childhood is some of the hardest to overcome so those feelings of being unloved and unwanted are like thin scars on my soul and it doesn’t take much to open them up again, and when they do I bleed heavily.

Understanding my psychological history makes it easier for me to forgive myself for having moments like this one. I don’t remember a precise trigger, it could have been building for a while with stress, lack of sleep, the moon phase, stories I tell myself about how the world should be, but it definitely wasn’t just because ‘this is how I am’. It happens, I recognise why it has happened, I forgive myself for reacting that way and I try to spot the signs before it happens next time. I know that the best way for me to keep my mental health on track is to make plans and stick with them, and yet on this occasion I abandoned one plan after another. I also know that waiting to hear from people can trigger my fear on abandonment, so I should send a message then make myself busy so I’m not consumed by the waiting. I didn’t do that either. I know that I gain more pleasure and distraction from games than film and yet I chose to not fully engage in either. All of these things are tools that I could have implemented to get me back on track but sometimes, in these moments, you can think of nothing but what you are feeling.

Sometimes all you can do is ride it out. And that’s okay. Wait for the storm to pass then reflect, forgive, and try again.