How to Plan a Chronic Illness-Friendly Wedding

How to plan a chronic illness friendly wedding


















I was daunted about taking on the chaos that is wedding planning. Through trial and error we were able to plan a wedding that mixed tradition with our own style and my health needs. I wanted to share what I learned about how to plan a wedding that a spoonie bride (or groom!) can not only survive but enjoy.

*Spoonie: A person living with chronic illness, based on the spoon theory


1. Be unconventional –  the standard all day, all night wedding format is not spoonie friendly. You know, getting ready, early afternoon ceremony, pictures, sit-down dinner, speeches, and dancing until late in the night. Add to that the fact that a wedding is an emotional high in itself. Most of us would lose all our spoons before the ceremony was even though! So pick the traditional elements that are most important to you but design the rest of your day within your limits.


In our case we picked a venue where we could have both the ceremony and reception, to limit the travel time – a historic house and gardens in Toronto called Cedar Ridge Creative Centre. We had an afternoon wedding, from 1-5, which was the length of time I thought I could handle. We had a garden ceremony followed by a cocktail style reception inside, with buffet lunch and wine. I gave up on dancing, because it’s not something my body agrees with. Finally, our photographer took mainly candid photos, except for a few posed family ones during the reception. This saved additional time.
I brought a bar chair to sit on during speeches (but still got sore from standing for too long overall). I was lucky that my best friend was an incredible maid of honour, and she did an amazing job at keeping me hydrated and fed  and reminding me to take mini-breaks. As the bride, you become very distracted by meeting and greeting all of your guests, so asking someone to help you remember your self-care plan is a key element to you enjoying your special day.

2. Be budget conscious …without too much DIY
Spoonies are often on budgets because of constraints on work and expenses on care, but  there is no need to go into debt to have a lovely wedding. We spent approximately $7000. The only additional expense was our choice to have a green wedding – organic flowers, catering and wine is slightly more expensive, but we felt it was worth it.

Here’s how we kept costs under control:

  • We rented a municipal property, which was far less expensive then private venues. Cedar Ridge Creative Centre is a historic house preserved by the city as an art gallery with public grounds.
  • We limited flowers. We only had bridal/bridesmaid bouquets during the ceremony, with the garden flowers standing in for floral arrangements. During the reception we had a few floral arrangements on serving tables – mostly single flowers in vases.
  • We only served wine rather than having an open bar.
  • Most significantly for saving on expenses, we didn’t have a sit down meal but rather a catered buffet lunch.  Everyone mingled and enjoyed chatting, which we really enjoyed.
  • Finally, we didn’t go away for our honeymoon, mostly so I could recover without the stress of travel. It also kept our costs down!

DIY can be taken to extremes and will most likely lead to flares. I would rather keep it simple than crash because I decided to do everything myself!

See if you can delegate – Our families helped by creating wall hangings (wallpaper on rectangular foam hung like paintings), and favours (seed bombs). My best friend baked a delicious gluten-free vegan cake (yes, it is possible but it took several trial runs!).
The only DIY I did was using rubber stamps on craft paper to make signs for the serving tables.




3. Organize brain fog away

  • Make a spreadsheet or use a planning app. When things randomly occur to you, add them immediately. Set aside time to review your lists when you feel less foggy. Most importantly, have your partner and maid of honour double check regularly. You will forget things and things will go wrong, so try to be accepting that this is part of the process.
  • I became good at delegating, and this was a surprisingly rewarding thing to do, Initially I felt guilty, but it was a warm and fuzzy feeling that  my friends and family were happy to help, showing their love and affection. Our wedding was better than we had hoped it would be and part of that was the feeling that everyone had pitched in to make it that way.
  • In order to relieve my anxiety that  would forget to tell someone something they needed for their tasks, we made checklist spreadsheets for all our ‘helpers’. It may have seemed a bit OCD but as I’ve said, stress is toxic for spoonies, and since it made me feel better, it was worth it!

4. Plan around tension and keep your boundaries
Oh family – things can sometimes get complicate. For example, I have divorced, remarried parents. A sit down dinner with seating arrangements seemed like a nightmare, so a cocktail party was my solution.

Because we planned our wedding in under 7 months, we came up with our plans for our day quickly. One bonus was this gave less time for anyone to share unwanted advice during the planning process 😉 Actually our families were mostly happy for us to plan the day how we wanted. From talking to friends planning weddings, I advise not having conversations with people whose opinion you don’t want while you are still in the planning stages.

In my opinion the advice that it’s your day so you can do what you want is unhelpful. It’s your marriage and you can do what you want… But the wedding is a celebration with your nearest and dearest. The day is really about celebrating with them. We compromised on a few things, but then we stuck to our plans. I found the phrase “oh that’s an interesting idea, I will talk to my partner about it” helped so much to show you are listening to your family members, but reserving the right for you and your partner have the final say.  Boundaries are important for spoonies as a key way to manage stress and tension in relationships –  which can be toxic to our health and well-being.

5. Practice self-care and take it one day at a time
Plan your self care! I asked my doctor for stronger sleeping pills for the days leading up to the wedding, which helped relieve my anxiety that a sleepless night would ruin my day due to fatigue. I put in appointments with my massage therapist, physiotherapist and naturopath in the days leading up to the wedding. I planned time alone and time alone with my fiance,  just to have fun. Still, I did not do this enough and started to resent the wedding for taking up all my available energy, which is limited enough as is.  In hindsight I would double the time taken for self-care and to make time NOT spent wedding planning.

My maid of honour carried an ’emergency kit’ throughout the wedding day. In addition to make-up and comb, we put in pain killers, indigestion relievers,  and scented calming oils.

Secondly, what I eventually learned was that there is only so much you can organize in one day. At some point you have to let go of what you can’t control and focus on the point of it all – celebrating this love you have found. I learned this by just getting too overwhelmed and having to give up on extra tasks. I  wish I had started by taking it one day at a time! But being a bride inevitably takes over for a little while, as any married person will agree.


6. Finally, don’t read bridal magazines! This is NOT “the landmark taste-making event of your life” or whatever panic inducing nonsense they write. This is about love and family and friendship and fun. It’s A day, a big day, true, but not THE day. Spoonies don’t need extra stress! Or extra work! Or hand-dyed organic cotton ribbons to tie around chair backs for a shabby chic effect… Plan this day for you, your love, and your family and friends, not for anyone else!




24 thoughts on “How to Plan a Chronic Illness-Friendly Wedding

  1. Dr Ruth 2point0 says:

    Love spoon theory. I feel extra lucky that I didn’t hurt myself until after my wedding. I can’t imagine doing all of that in pain. So glad you found a way to have a beautiful day with your partner!

    • Katarina says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words! We had such a lovely day and I wanted to share my experience for anyone who has maybe given up on this as a possibility for themselves 😉

  2. Heather says:

    This is amazing, thank you so much. I am totally going to have to show this to my maid of honour and get her to keep an emergency kit on hand. I’ve been engaged for 6 years now, and health issues have caused a delay in us getting married. Not sure when we will, but when the day comes your tips will come in handy.

    • Katarina says:

      I’m so glad that my post might be helpful! I totally understand that health issues put a brake on wedding planning, which is stressful enough on it’s own 🙂 When the right time comes I hope you have a wonderful day!

  3. Katrin says:

    So agree with all of your points. One of the things that I loved about my husband’s and my wedding was people kept saying how ‘us’ it was and in a good way. I did laugh at how everyone we invited knows us so well that by 6:30p they were all saying their good byes, perfect timing and they all arrived exactly on time knowing we wouldn’t be starting a minute late. lol. One thing I found was to extra special double check clear with the caterer about dietary restrictions. I nearly had a panic when at one point during planning he said in passing “ritz crackers are gluten free so I’ll use those in the recipe…” NO!!!!!!! they aren’t! After that he and I had way more communication on menu and recipes and made sure he cleared all ingredients with me before approval. And it all worked out great.

  4. fibroandfertility says:

    Such great ideas. My fibro didn’t kick in fully until I was married several years, but if I were doing it now, I would definitely incorporate a lot of the things you did! Love the stuff you wrote about boundaries, avoiding bridal magazines, etc. On that note, I was married long before Pinterest and think I would’ve just obsessed the entire engagement if I had access to all of that!! So many spoons!!!
    Love your blog. Congrats!

  5. LydiaA1614 says:

    I love this! I had a wedding where I did pretty much everything. This was before many of my chronic conditions were diagnosed; however, I did have depression, anxiety, OCD and fibromyalgia at the time. When I married my now husband, my family (Dad, sister & 2 nephews) didn’t care if we had a wedding or not. His family wanted a huge party and their family was close to 200 people! All of a sudden there was infighting in the family and we decided we just wanted to be married. It was labour day weekend in 2001 and we said we could call marriage commissioners on the list we were given and if none could take us we would hold off for now. Well, the first one said she could fit us in at 5:30 pm. We called friends to stand up for us, went to the grocery store and bought a bouquet of flowers that didn’t make me sneeze, steaks and the trimmings and went home to get ready. We were married in the backyard of hubbies house under an apple tree. I can remember every detail of that wedding because I was not in so much pain and was very relaxed! All I can remember of my first one were the bad things…and there were many! Thanks for this post.

  6. Katherine WG says:

    I got married last year and found planning a wedding with a chronic illness to be difficult. There was so much I had to cut out as I didn’t know if I would even be well enough to walk down the aisle. You’re right, self care is so important when planning your wedding as it’s easy to forget when you’re focused on making your guests comfortable.

  7. Line Bech says:

    Thank you for great tips! For myself, one of the big things is not just how to best prepare and arrange the wedding for my needs, but whether to be able to do it all. The night before or even in the morning, I have no idea if in an hour or two I will I be in so much pain that I can only scream out loud and lie down, throw up for hours or even have to go to the hospital. So I just wanted to hear if you had any thoughts or reflections on this yourself?

    • Katarina Zulak says:

      Hi Lina, Unpredictable symptoms definitely make planning an event very challenging. I was fortunate in that, by increasing meds around the time, and having flares I can usually see coming, I had an 80% confidence level I could go through with the wedding. I think in a situation like yours I would plan a very casual backyard BBQ with a relaxed officiant who would understand a last minute cancellation. Then the worst thing that happens is family and friends have a BBQ even if the wedding is on a rain check because I have a flare. Or I would just go to the court house (no show if I don’t feel well) and have an intimate dinner party whichever day I next felt well enough. It’s tough though, as you can’t guarantee guests. Xx

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