Leslie and Derrick walk down the aisle after getting marriedShare on Pinterest
Photograph by Mitch Fleming Photography

Getting married was always something I had hoped for. However, when I was diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 22, marriage felt like it might never be attainable.

Who would knowingly want to be a part of a life complicated by multiple chronic illnesses? Who would want to vow “in sickness and in health” when it’s more than just a hypothetical idea? Thankfully, although it wasn’t until my 30s, I found that person for me.

Even if you’re not chronically ill, planning a wedding can be a stressful experience. There are the fears that all brides have about their wedding day.

Will I find the perfect dress and will it still fit on the day of the wedding? Will the weather be good? Will our guests enjoy the food? Will they appreciate all the personal details that we included in our somewhat non-traditional wedding?

And then there are the fears that a bride with rheumatoid arthritis has on their wedding day.

Will I feel reasonably OK and be able to walk down the aisle pain-free? Will I have enough energy for the first dance and to greet all of our guests? Will the stress of the day send me into a flare?

Having lived the experience myself, I’ve gained an idea about some of the challenges, pitfalls, and helpful actions those who live with chronic illnesses can take. Here are 10 things to remember.

You will get a lot of unsolicited advice, but you have to do what works for you. We had 65 people at our wedding. We did what worked for us.

There were times when I questioned whether or not we should just elope because of all the noise from others. The people that love and support you will be there no matter what, so if people are going to complain, let them. You won’t be able to please everyone, but it’s not about them anyway.

Leslie and Derrick's wedding invitationsShare on Pinterest
Photograph by Mitch Fleming Photography

We did almost everything ourselves, from picking and sending the invitations to prepping the venue. I’m ‘Type A’ so that’s partially how I wanted it, but it was a lot of work. We had a coordinator for the day, who literally was there to get us down the aisle, and that was about it.

My mom and some of my good friends lent a hand to help us set up the venue the night before our wedding. It was a great way to bond and spend time together, but it also meant that I had people I could lean on to carry out my vision without me having to do everything myself — and without having to pay someone to do it.

You don’t want to be so exhausted by all the planning that you can’t enjoy the actual wedding. I was very organized, and tried to check things off the list well in advance so that nothing major was left until the last minute.

I was in two weddings last summer. From when I started to get ready to the time the event was over, a good 16 hours had passed.

For my wedding, we started getting ready at 8 a.m., the ceremony was at 12 p.m., and things started winding down around 3 p.m. By the time cleanup occurred, I was tapped out.

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Photograph by Leslie Rott Welsbacher

Even though you might have time off, avoid scheduling a bunch of doctors’ appointments the week of your wedding. I thought I was being smart by scheduling appointments when I had time off from work, but it was just unnecessary.

There’s so much you’re going to need to do before your wedding. Unless you have a reason to see your doctor or doctors, don’t push yourself. So much of chronically ill life is already filled with appointments.

While there should be plenty of smooching on your wedding day, that’s not what I mean. Rather, “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”

Along with having a small wedding, we had a small wedding party. My sister was my Maid of Honor and my groom’s brother was the Best Man. That was it.

It meant we didn’t have to organize tons of people, we didn’t have a rehearsal dinner, and it just made things easier. We also had the ceremony and reception at the same place so we didn’t have to travel anywhere.

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Photograph by Mitch Fleming Photography

I had two pairs of shoes for the big day. The first was a fancy pair of heels that I wore to walk down the aisle and that I knew I would have to take off immediately after the ceremony. The other was a casual pair of cute pink sneakers that I wore the rest of the time, including during our first dance.

Everyone wants their wedding to be perfect, but if there’s one thing that anyone with a chronic illness knows, things don’t always go as planned.

Your wedding day is no exception, no matter how much you plan. We had an issue with the sound system at our venue. It could have been devastating, but I don’t really think anyone noticed.

It’s easy to get swept up in the idea of getting married and all that comes with the wedding day, especially if you’re worried that it may never happen for you. But the reality is, the wedding itself is only a few hours out of the rest of your life together.

If you focus on your own needs and plan ahead, your wedding day will ultimately turn out to be that day you dreamed of — one you’ll never forget. For me, it was blissful. Sure, I was still exhausted by the end of it, but it was worth it.

Leslie Rott Welsbacher was diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in 2008 at the age of 22, during her first year of graduate school. After being diagnosed, Leslie went on to earn a PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in health advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College. She authors the blog Getting Closer to Myself, where she shares her experiences coping with and living with multiple chronic illnesses, candidly and with humor. She is a professional patient advocate living in Michigan.