As you’ll know, I got married last July. We had an absolutely amazing day but during the months leading up to the wedding I really struggled. There was nothing out there for brides or grooms with disabilities, nowhere to turn to – and at times it became a very lonely road (see article I wrote for thejournal.ie). I don’t want anyone else getting married to have to feel that way. We may have a disability but we are still totally deserving of the same wedding experience as everyone else, we deserve a platform where our thoughts, concerns, advice and pictures are shared.
I’ve drawn up a quick list of some tips I gathered during my time. I know most of these are from a personal (MS) angle but I hope that they translate across the board to anyone living with chronic pain or reduced mobility. I can easily add to these so please feel free to message me if there’s anything you would like included. I’ll be sharing these tips on Facebook via the new wedding group I’ve set up for people with disabilities. Please share the link with anyone you feel may benefit from it. Hopefully via the group we can provide a platform for advice and tips that will make planning a disability-friendly wedding that bit easier for everyone 😊😘
- Stay calm!! Remember the reason why you’re embarking on this journey. Find a part of the day you’re particularly looking forward to and visualise that whenever you get stressed about the wedding. For me, that was visualising walking down the aisle to Niall and I clung to that image even during the days MS threatened the whole wedding.
- Don’t allow your disability to dictate everything. While it might seem like it has to, think about what your dream day looks like and set about incorporating as much of that as possible. See how you can adapt things. I found hotels and vendors very helpful once I explained the complexities of my disability. And remember, regardless of who you are or how you do it, at the end of the day we all end up with the same outcome – married!!
- What do YOU want? For a moment, disregard everyone else and decide what’s right for you. Plan with this in mind. It’s not being selfish, it’s about self-care. Only you know how your disability affects your life and you are the one who will deal with the consequences of not putting yourself first.
- How much time should I give to planning? We gave ourselves two years, which meant more time to save and more time to book the vendors we liked before their dates filled up. This all cuts out stress in the early days. The con is, however, that it can feel like the whole wedding thing drags on for quite a while and, try as you might, you still end up being mad busy during the couple of months leading up to the day.
- Giving yourself less time to plan = more stress finding vendors you like and getting the dates you want and less time to save for the wedding. But, you’re able to throw yourself straight into the planning and you don’t have to wait as long to get married. Plus, you’ll need to make quicker decisions which is a positive if you’re someone who’s likely to mull over things for far too long.
- Make sure your venue is accessible even if mobility isn’t your concern. I was training for a half marathon when we got engaged and a year later I was using a stick and a wheelchair. Planning for the possible is not a negative thing to do – rather, it means that, as is the case with something like MS, should it flare up (which I hope it doesn’t), you don’t have the added stress of hoping you’ll be recovered fully in time for your wedding to go ahead. Also, the chances are you will be inviting a number of guests for whom accessibility is an issue.
- The ceremony. If it’s an option, think about having your ceremony and reception in the same location or at least within a short drive of each other. This will cut down on tiring journeys that can all take their toll on your energy levels.
- The photos. Think about booking a venue that has gorgeous grounds for your photos. This again cuts down on extra travelling.
- Go for a later start time. This might grab you an extra hour in bed on the morning of the wedding, giving you that little bit more fuel to enjoy the magical day ahead.
- Dress shopping. Think about how your disability affects you day to day. With MS, heat and fatigue can be issues. A big, heavy dress may not be your best friend. If you suffer from the MS hug, don’t go for a tight-fitting dress. Find a dress that you love and find comfortable – when you feel great, you will look great.
- If you use a wheelchair, think about buying your dress from somewhere that’s very good with alterations or can make your dress from scratch. This way they can ensure it fits perfectly when you’re using the wheelchair. Plus, they can even attach a nice train to the chair.
- The undergarments: You will wear these for hours so think carefully. Everyone raves about the perfect bra and underwear that ‘sucks you in’. This is a personal thing but from my experience such garments have only given my pain a licence to escalate. Whatever you go with, try wearing them under your clothes for a full day a few weeks ahead of the wedding so that you’ll know if you’ll manage on the day or not. I discovered that the lovely bra I had fitted flared up my MS hug so on the advice of the dressmaker I added a bra extender and that loosened it out nicely around my chest and solved the problem.
- Pick a hairstyle that’s comfortable. I’ve always suffered with migraines and add to that the head and facial neuralgia and a tight up-do was a no-go. If you’ve your heart set on an up-do though, go for something that you can let down after dinner.
- Shoes. Oh, the shoes. I spent longer looking for these than I did my dress. I’d dreamt of pretty blue shoes (think Carrie Bradshaw’s famous Manolo Blahnik blue heels in Sex and the City) but trying to find the flat alternative to these high heels proved a nightmare. It’s the one thing that still frustrates me – why do so few pretty but comfortable and supportive shoes exist?
- Tip: I eventually found my perfect shoes and got a cobbler to add ribbon ties so that they were more supportive.
- If you’ve your heart set on a pair of heels but balance is a problem then think about going for a pair with ankle straps and a very low and chunky heel as these will offer more support.
- Your health is your wealth. Keep the weeks running up to your wedding nice and relaxed and always stay focused on your health. Remember how you’ve felt at your worst and the way life’s little worries become so insignificant in those moments. Well, remember that and cherish what’s important. As your wedding approaches, nothing is worth risking your health for.
- Stay organised. Chronic pain and MS don’t mix well with stress. Stay organised and stay focused. Book the major things early on and then you’ll either have time for the little ‘insignificant’ things or you won’t and it won’t matter.
- Take plenty of time off before the big day. Only you know how your energy is. The week before the wedding will be busy – family arriving, collecting the dress, the excitement – lots of little things that will quickly zap your energy. Rather than heading from work and straight into that chaos, think about giving yourself a TLC week. Keep the PJs on, sleep loads and just focus on replenishing your energy. You wouldn’t drive a car very far if it was low on fuel, so don’t expect more from yourself. Your wedding day is too important.
- Bath, bath and more baths. If pain or angry muscles are a problem for you then live in the bath in the weeks running up to your wedding. Stock up on bath bombs and treats. The heat will help to relax any sore muscles and it’s also a great way to de-stress However, if you have MS or mobility issues, always make sure someone is close by to help you out of the tub if you overheat!
- It takes two. Don’t do it all alone and don’t be a control freak about it. List all the major tasks and then split the work that needs to be done between you both. Often giving each other a clear list of what needs to be done is far better than taking it all on yourself and then moaning about how your partner shows no interest in the planning. Give them something to be interested in.
- Delegate. Have different people take on various tasks in the weeks running up to the wedding. Questions from vendors is one thing but you will also find lots of guests emailing you with small queries that can end up becoming time consuming. Assign a family member or friend to deal with these.
Plan on DIYing? Is it really worth it? I work in graphic design so doing my own invites was a must as it was a process I loved and my favourite bit of the whole wedding planning. But leave the big things to the experts – it’s just less stress. I had a list of little projects I would love to have done but when it came to the crunch, they weren’t worth me ending up ill over!
Disability aids. After much searching, I found a place called Shopmobility in Dundrum, Dublin, that sells loads of amazing sparkly walking sticks just perfect for a wedding. Alternatively, think of attaching nice pieces of ribbon around the handle of your walking stick or wheelchair to give them a wedding makeover.
The hen party
- Plan an accessible hen. This was a nightmare based on what I wanted and I knew that settling for something I didn’t want would have been allowing my MS to take control. I wanted the party aspect but I didn’t want to be crawling from venue to venue. Most places didn’t get this and suggested their afternoon tea option instead. I emailed so many hotels to see if they could accommodate me within their current hen party packages but that instead of being shipped off on a pub/club crawl after the meal, could we use a function room to have a few drinks and hook up an iPod. After weeks of “NOs”, I finally found the brilliant Beacon hotel in Sandyford. They went above and beyond to accommodate me, even offering me a free upgrade to their penthouse suite. Remember, it’s your money so whatever you decide to do for your hen party, make sure your disability is catered for. Mine didn’t once become an issue during the day and that’s evidence that the whole hen was geared up to accommodate me.
On the day
- Is fatigue an issue for you? The little things all add up so save energy by sitting to greet guests rather than standing outside the church/venue. Even think about wearing darkened sunglasses at the same time if you struggle with your vision. My double vision has recovered but my eyes tire really quickly so the sunglasses just lessen the burden on them.
- Keep the morning of really relaxed. Plan carefully who you want around you that morning. I get a type of sensory overload – too much noise and too many people just seems to cause me to crash
- Handbag. Get yourself a pretty but roomy bridal handbag and pack it the night before with all the essentials. Your bridesmaids can look after this on the day of the wedding. Make sure all the medications you need for the day ahead are in it plus spares just in case any should go missing. In my case, I have the drugs I take daily plus emergency painkillers that are extra strong that I only take when things get really bad. If that applies to you too, pack those just in case. Always think of the worst case so that you’re covered.
- What helps your pain? I was living with a heat pack around my neck during the weeks running up to the wedding so this came with me on the day. The hotel was brilliant and constantly kept reheating it so that I could use it while greeting guests and sitting down at dinner. It was a life-saver and helped to control my neck pain and stiffness.
- Keep the speeches short – both for you and everyone else.
- Plan some downtime and don’t be afraid to escape to the room for a while. What’s a 30-minute cat nap if it gives you another two hours of wedding fun? I actually crashed about dinner time and my pain shot up. The hotel preempted this (it’s a common time for brides and grooms to crash regardless of MS) and they had already planned for our desserts to be served in the bridal suite, which allowed us time to chill and I was able to grab a nap before getting my second wind ahead of the first dance!!
- If you love dancing then don’t let your disability stop you. Chair dancing can be just as fun if you get the bridal party to join you. Our venue had this cosy dance floor area where they placed and reserved a big couch for me so I was able to stay a part of the night even when my legs were tired and sore.
- Make use of the bridal suite. No, I don’t mean like that! If heat helps your pain then think about making use of the gorgeous bath tub in the bridal suite. I climbed into ours at 2.30am. I’ve learned that even 10 mins of relaxing in the heat is enough to calm my muscles to ensure I don’t wake up the next morning in agony. But be careful as to much heat can do the opposite if you have MS. If I overheat then I lose power in my legs, so make sure that in advance of the day you learn what works for you
- Plan an accessible honeymoon. We planned our honeymoon ages in advance when my mobility was great. The relapses that followed totally changed that but because we’d already planned an accessible honeymoon (planning for the worst-case scenario) with a travel agent who specialises in holidays for people with disabilities (Helen Kelly of the Travel Counsellors – check her out. She went above and beyond for us!), we didn’t need to worry about that side of things.
- Don’t be stubborn. I had two choices – see how far I could walk before the pain sent me crying back to the hotel OR rent a wheelchair and spend the day exploring the city with my new husband. The same goes for the airport – avail of the wheelchair service and save your energy for what’s important
- ❤ Cherish every moment ! You’re about to marry the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. That’s the most important thing, so relax and enjoy. Once we were pronounced husband and wife, nothing else mattered. Little things will always go wrong but no one notices them on the day, yourself included. You’ve just got married and nothing is going to burst that massive loved-up bubble you will walk around in for weeks. So cherish every moment of it ❤