I love advice columns, and, in some other life I feel like writing an advice column would be right up my alley (given that I consider myself a sage when it comes to knowing society’s “unwritten rules”). One of my favorite columnists is Emily Yoffe at Slate, whose Dear Prudence column covers a wide range of topics from the gravely serious to the persnickety trivial. A recent entry featured this Q & A with a bride-to-be:
Q. Maid of Honor Toast: My wedding is in less than two months, and I just heard from my maid of honor (my cousin) that she doesn’t feel comfortable giving a toast at the reception. She told me that she has a terrible anxiety disorder (which is true), sometimes vomits before presentations, and worries she won’t be able to get through the toast without shaking uncontrollably. I haven’t asked my MOH to plan a bridal shower or bachelorette party; I’m just asking her to give a toast, which I’ve told her can be as short as two to three minutes. She is insistent that it will be damaging to her emotional health if she is made to do this. She’s asked if she can do a toast with another bridesmaid (but I’ve already planned out who will give the other toasts) or if she can turn her toast into a newlywed game, which I think is tacky. I want to be sensitive to her anxieties, but I also kind of just want her to suck it up.
A: Definitely force her. Your wedding will be the most memorable of the season when out of anxiety she regurgitates her champagne all over your and your groom. Your cousin has a global problem that I hope she is addressing with a professional. It could be her crippling anxiety is affecting, say, her ability to be effective at work. But your wedding is not the proper venue for some kind of immersion therapy. Your cousin has worked herself up into a state, and your insistence that she give a toast is only going to result in a performance which will be uncomfortable for everyone. I like your cousin’s idea that she do the toast with another bridesmaid. They can write out their dialogue, and if having a friend there to buck her up would get her through this, I don’t understand why you are nixing this. But I think the kindest thing for you to do would be to hand this duty to someone you love who loves to work a crowd.
This advice is pretty much spot on, but I wanted to share it because it gets to a deeper issue about anxiety and managing a mental health issue. The Maid of Honor is someone who seems like she has a pretty good handle on her anxiety. That’s not to say she has it under control but she knows what is and isn’t good for her, what types of situations cause her stress and make her vulnerable to a panic attack. She offered alternatives to giving a toast- situations that would alleviate the situation without being particularly disruptive to the wedding (though I suppose this is somewhat subjective). This is what managing an anxiety disorder is like. It’s being able to identify your limits and find ways to live your life within them. Certainly there are ways that with treatment like therapy (which Yoffe prudently suggests) or meditation practice or medication you can eventually expand on those limits.
Her cousin, the bride, is a pretty good example of everything not to do when it comes to working or living with someone with an anxiety disorder. Knowing that her cousin has anxiety issues she could have asked her at the outset what she would and wouldn’t be comfortable with if she were to participate in the wedding. This could have avoided a lot of awkwardness and conflict. She doesn’t seem to be listening or taking seriously her cousins concerns, despite acknowledging that her anxiety disorder is real, and not simply a case of someone with stage fright. If she has a specific plan for her wedding and the role of maid of honor that’s wonderful, but she can no more tell her cousin to suck it up and accommodate that plan than if her cousin had two broken legs and was commanded to walk.
I raise this because sometimes it feels like when I’m writing about things like mental health stigma I’m going after straw-men. People can’t possibly be that bad in 2015, can they? So I wanted to share this example with you to highlight that, yes, this kind of stuff is out there, and not only is it out there, but in this case the ignorance and callousness is coming from a loved one. Rather than displaying an appreciation for her cousin working to find a way to manage her anxiety and support her, she goes to that old chestnut of “suck it up.”
Good for Emily Yoffe to tell the bride that commanding someone with an anxiety disorder to “suck it up” isn’t the way to treat someone.