Life + Love, Love + Sex

I’m terrified to get married this year – for this reason

My survivors' guilt from living in a safe country is mingling with the guilt I feel every time I fall to pieces in Ben's arms.

I am staring into 2017 and I am terrified and it’s not just the news that has me scared to death.

I am mentally ill, and later this year, I am getting married. I used to think that marriage, for me, was contingent on my getting better.

My personal cocktail of mental illness is marked by constant anxiety, panic, depression and bouts of self-harm. My mental illness has been the biggest factor in every one of my failed relationships. Dealing with my constant doubt, my existential dread and maybe worst of all, my tendency to tear out my own hair and hit my head against walls. The people I have dated have cared deeply about me, and all of them have had to watch me beat myself up verbally and physically when my illness rears its head.

My mental illness follows me around, like a big black dog always threatening to pounce and maul me until all that’s left are shreds of the woman I was.

So, every time I have begun a relationship, I have done so consumed with fear.

I didn’t think I would meet my husband when I met up with Ben at a museum in January 2015. I was just visiting my parents for the holidays.

I am mentally ill, and later this year, I am getting married. Click To Tweet

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the quiet man reading in the lobby would be my partner for life and the father of my children. Our first two weeks were a blur of happiness. We fell in love deeply and, immediately, we were sure. It came time to decide whether I would try to stay in Germany and be with him but I hadn’t yet told him how broken I was.

How broken I always would be.

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Sitting on the bed in his sparse bachelor pad, I detailed my long, painful history with my illness.

It felt like revealing that I had been cursed. A curse I didn’t ask for, but that would never leave me. A curse I could pass down to our children. He listened in silence as I detailed my attempted suicides and how the illness ebbed and flowed. I told him that sometimes it would feel like I would always be well and that would be a lie. I told him that it would sometimes also feel like I can never recover, but somehow we had to know that too was a lie.

He looked at me and told me he loved me for the first time. He held my hands in his and told me that we would always fight this together. We could survive, we could build a family and be honest and fierce in our battle against my demons.

That battle so far has not been easy.

I have had periods of being well and periods of anxiety, but it was manageable. It was manageable until the fall of 2016, shortly after we got engaged. Our future in the EU had been threatened by Brexit (Ben is British, I am American), and the possibility of moving back to the US one day to start our family disappeared after the election.

I had a glorious few weeks in December when I was distracted by family and my new medication was keeping my panic at bay.

That is already a distant memory, though.

With every executive order and bald-faced lie I have grown more paralyzed. Click To Tweet

In the weeks since the inauguration, with every executive order and bald-faced lie, I have grown more paralyzed. The terrifying online chorus of praise that is dripping with wild-eyed right-wing nationalism has vanquished any hope I had that the country I loved and defended could survive this new era intact.

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Watching paranoid white supremacy flourish in the White House feels like being eviscerated.

I am cut wide open. I feel like everything inside of me is being removed piece by piece. I wake up in a panic. I cry in great unstoppable waves, late at night, when I wake up and often in the middle of the day at my office. I am attempting to function by faking emotions at parties or when I’m Facetiming my parents. My survivors’ guilt from living in a safe country is mingling with the guilt I feel every time I fall to pieces in Ben’s arms.

I have relapsed into self-harm. I think I gave myself a head injury a few nights ago.

The headaches won’t go away.

Even my mentally well friends are struggling. I never stood a chance. Click To Tweet

Even my mentally well friends are struggling to keep their heads above water.

I never stood a chance.

It is in this context that Ben and I are getting ready to vow to love and protect each other until we are in our graves.

I want to be happy, but I am more scared than I ever have been before.

My constant pain and my cruelty toward myself are chipping away at him. Every day that I am pinned down by this exacerbated version of my big black dog, he is also suffering.

In my hollowed-out, broken state, I can’t be there for him in return. I have promised him that much and I don’t know how to make good on it.

I just know I have to figure it out, because in nine months, I make that promise in front of God and everyone we love. The only thing I have now is hope.

Katherine Kaestner

Katherine Kaestner

Editorial Fellow Katherine Kaestner is a writer, photographer and marketer currently based in Germany. She is passionate about wine, farmer's markets, unapologetic feminism, and foreign policy. She is a nomad who's lived in 12 countries and cities around the world and doesn't really know where home is.

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