No Lipstick on My Wedding Day: Post Party Traumatic Stress Disorder

The No-Lipstick Bride - Sept 29, 1990

Christmas dinner this year was hosted by my sister and brother-in-law. He made an amazing lobster bisque that took all day, she roasted an organic turkey that was juicy and wonderful. The dinner was a smashing success shared by family and friends and yet, as we were cleaning up, my sister lamented.

“Do you think it was OK? Did everyone have fun?” My mother and I assured her that it was one of her more stellar efforts, but she continued to worry into the next morning.

Her worries were reminiscent of my post-wedding days. Those 3am wake-ups where I worried that people were upset that the bar had closed too early, that people had been cut off (it was a good party!), that the food hadn’t been perfect, that my purse had been left in the limo and I had no lipstick. Dumb stuff. It was over. Why was I waking up in the middle of the night years, even decades later still worrying?

I too had a dinner party over the holiday and overcooked the main course. It was still delicious, but I woke up in the middle of the night for a couple of nights afterward and fretted about what I SHOULD have done.

Mostly we think of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as a problem among veterans who return from war and shoot people as was so sadly played out yet again this past weekend when a Park Ranger at Mt. Rainier National park was killed by just such a deranged individual. She was the mother of 1 and 3 year old girls. Beyond tragic.

Thankfully the only real tragedy that Post Party PTSD ensues are overcooked roasts and sleepless nights, but I do think it’s possible to have mild PTSD over even relatively innocuous events in our lives. We may not be suffering from war trauma, but regular life throws us some pretty wild rides. PTSD is why new mothers often need to recount their birth stories again and again and why there are so many stressed out travelers on airplanes. PTSD follows us through daily life.

Website research indicate there are three main types of  symptoms of PTSD:

  1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event
  2. Avoiding reminders of the trauma
  3. Increased anxiety and emotional arousal

Obviously, I don’t think that Post Party PTSD is life threatening, though the stress of it can be debilitating and can lead to more serious issues like depression and physical illness.

Why do we do this to ourselves? A need for perfection? A desire for everyone to think we are so amazing that they won’t reject us? A need to belong? Brene Brown talks about the need for perfection and its associated shame in her book, I Thought it was Just Me (But It Wasn’t), and how debilitating the pursuit of perfection can be.

Recently in the New York Times, I was comforted by this article about our pursuit for quiet in activities like yoga and meditation, potential antidotes to our daily stressors.

I wonder then if I might just be allowed one New Year’s resolution despite my distaste for them. To find the quiet and enjoy even the overdone food I prepare at dinner parties, the trips I take with kids who barf all the way home, and the fact that I had no lipstick at my wedding reception.

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  1. Kristine January 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    At my first wedding I forgot to bring a hairbrush so after the ceremony before the reception I could do nothing about the rats nest that my hair had become. Bummer. Why can’t I forget that? It was in 1985. I think you’ve hit on something with this piece!

    1. Abigail - Site Author January 4, 2012 at 11:44 pm

      Isn’t it crazy? So weird our minds do to us! Now if only I could find a solution to rid us all of our wedding traumas.

  2. Kitten Mother January 4, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    The joy you express in your wedding photo needs nothing more.
    You are already perfect.

    1. Abigail - Site Author January 4, 2012 at 11:42 pm

      Said like a true mum!

  3. Kerry January 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Abby, I have often though of and shared your idea that one can have minor (but troubling) PTSD over a range of different life experiences. So glad to see you writing about it here. Thank you for being so wise!

    1. Abigail - Site Author January 4, 2012 at 11:42 pm

      Thanks Kerry! Funny I haven’t written about my crazy theory sooner!

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