You Don’t Look Sick, Can’t You Just Get Over It?

Many of us deal with an invisible illness (physical, emotional, mental), we don’t look sick!

Typically, if we are out and about and even within our own family,  if we see or know someone that looks outwardly ill or has a visible disability, we hopefully (but I know not everyone) feel compassion, give them space, and help them, usually without thought or frustration. I’m not addressing caregiver fatigue in this post, I’m talking about our very human nature that if we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

Sometimes, out of pure surprise, when people find out I have PTSD, they say, “You don’t look sick.” I don’t take offence to it because it is a natural thought. It’s not coming from a place of dismissal, or maliciousness. But, I do take offence when the next words of “Can’t you just get over it?” are said aloud. I don’t know, there is something about those six little words that rub me wrong. I had a doctor say to me once, “You look fine, you survived, can’t you just get over it?” Strange, coming from a physicians mouth, and I’m smart enough to never go back to that person again, but, whoa, that stopped me in my tracks. I looked at her, and said, “Did you really just say that?”

Some of the invisible symptoms of my PTSD are flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and becoming extremely overwhelmed because of triggers. I don’t freak out and run through the streets ranting, raving and screaming; but I do get out-of-sorts, can become kind of spacey, decisions become impossible and I’m sure I look shut-down and unhappy. OR, I look shut-down and have that ridiculous, I’m okay smile plastered sweetly on my face. When I’m out with friends it usually not a problem because they are aware of my “tells” but if I’m with people who don’t really know me and what to look for, it can be uncomfortable for them. I don’t ever want to feel like the elephant in the room, so I will try to talk about it.

I recently had breakfast with my good friend. We have known each other for years. We were talking about how after my recent travel experience,  I realised that my family and friends have created a “new normal” for me because of my many deficits. When someone wants to hang-out, they tend to say that they will pick me up. When we go to restaurants, we tend to go to the same place so I don’t get overwhelmed with menu choices; even my boss will end a meeting if she sees my concentration waning. A 2 hour scheduled meeting may end after 15 minutes. My breakfast buddy was nodding her head in understanding because she has had two knee replacements in the past year and has had to make changes in her life because of physical challenges. We were getting ready to leave, and wincing, my friend said her body was sore from the weather changing. My tongue-in-cheek response, was, “Really, you don’t look sick!” We laughed and laughed because that’s how easy the thought and words can form when we don’t see someones’ challenges.


For many of us who have survived trauma (I expect it may be the same for people who have a chronic physical illness), we can be the master of minimizing our experiences, with our own tired, worn out mantra of, “I survived it, so what’s the big deal.” I know I have questioned ad nauseum to myself and my therapist, why can’t I just get over it?  It’s tired and worn out because why would I just get over it? And If I could, I would have chosen that a long time ago.  I wouldn’t ever expect someone else to just be okay, would I? No, absolutely not. A person feels the way they feel until they have processed and passed through all the transitions of healing. And if there are multiple events it will take that much longer.

I can’t even imagine the depths of grief that still lingers inside of me. Part of the grief is sadness for the life I know I was never destined to have because my decisions were pre-determined for me for so many years.  But, in spite of that, I chose to make a good life from my lied to, tattered soul. Part of the grief is sadness for the life I had for the first 20 years.  For the pain, the suffering, and the squashing of my potential.  But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in spite of what happened to me. So when others say to me, Why can’t you just get over It. You survived and have a good life with a great family and lots of great friends and support. I say, “Yep, I did survive it, because I stuffed all the feelings, emotions, abuse, terror and pain down as deep as they could go.” The plan was never to resurrect any feeling or memory. But PTSD doesn’t work that way.  I have complex PTSD. It’s an invisible illness, which because of the severity of my trauma will most likely leave me with symptoms (although hopefully more manageable) for years and years to come. 

I know I don’t look sick, and I probably will never get over it, But I have learned to live with PTSD. Yes, thankfully, I did survive, Otherwise, I wouldn’t’ be writing this post. Just surviving doesn’t suit me any longer, living and thriving is my gold-standard now.


Thank you for reading Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

45 thoughts on “You Don’t Look Sick, Can’t You Just Get Over It?

  1. Thank You! I agree with everything you said, especially when it comes to the work place. Hopefully the more we talk about the less stigmatized it will be. Have a wonderful day! Alexis


  2. Pamela

    Well said. I can’t begin to imagine what’s it like to live with PTSD, but I do have experience with depression (even typing it for some reason makes me feel a bit of shame). So I know all too well the feeling when someone says “Why don’t you just get over it?”. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

    It blows my mind that people can call in sick for a headache for example, and not for PTSD or depression… I end up lying to people about what’s wrong with me and start doubting myself… “Maybe I am overreacting and I should get over it”… which of course only triggers the illness more and buries the hurt even deeper. It’s important to speak out, so that people can educate themselves about these illnesses. Especially because you can’t see them.

    Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Caroline, I love when you comment on my posts. You’re so honest and forthcoming with the struggles and success you’ve experienced. You keep me motivated to keep writing and sharing. Thank-You! Alexis


  4. It is a terrible thing to say to someone with PTSD why don’t you just get over it as I believe that without treatment you do not get over PTSD. If you could get over without treatment it wouldn’t be PTSD! So because of my PTSD I had a nervous breakdown when I was 9 years clean. I had been doing therapy, recovery the Steps but because I hadn’t had effective treatment for the Ptsd when I had a financial crisis that triggered it I fell apart. It was only after increasing my medication and have a lot of EMDR sessions that I am now in recovery from the PTSD. Yours sounds very bad and maybe you will never get over it but you are so right that we don’t just want to live with PTSD we want to thrive. I am also thriving.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh wow, Michelle thank you for sharing that with me. It is absolutely amazing what people say, and yes I understand it isnt malicious its still a test of our abilitys to as you said, just smile and throw away your trash. Have a great evening. Im so happy we’ve connected. 🙂 Alexis

    Liked by 2 people

  6. You are strong and courageous! I’ll pray that you get stronger and stronger each day. I’ve lived with Crohn’s Disease for the past 30 years, and I eat small meals (all day). It used to anger me when someone would say “That’s why you’re so skinny. You don’t eat.” or something equally ignorant. A dear friend of me watched me eat an entire meal and said, “OMG, I’m so proud of you.” I wanted to slap her; instead, I smiled and threw away my trash.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Reblogged this on Espiritu en Fuego/A Fiery Spirit and commented:
    This blog post resonates with me. I suffer with chronic pain and PTSD from domestic violence and sexual assault. People are always telling you to get over it but they don’t realize that it lies under the surface waiting to strike whenever a trigger appears. You do not have control over your subconscious mind. Just when I think I’m doing okay like the Hydra a trigger attacks and I’m beaten down once again. Here is another article from Medium that discusses the issue.
    “When people tell you to ‘get over it’” @Jonwestenberg

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Michelle thank you for your heartfelt comment. Yes, I totally understand how confusing that would be for you as a child. It sounds like you a lot of understanding for your dad and his struggle. Enjoy the rest of your evening. Alexis

    Liked by 1 person

  9. michelle213norton

    My father is an alcoholic and I remember when I was young my mom would tell us kids that he was sick. We were confused at the time as it wasn’t an obvious physical ailment. As an adult I understand and I’m sad that he struggles with it to this day even though he hasn’t had a drink in over 30 years!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: You Don’t Look Sick, Can’t You Just Get Over It? – Hummingbird Redemption

  11. I think I saw what you are saying in play more than the average. After a year in an environment of wounded and ill, this is an experience I’ll never forget. Some have a long journey to recover. Some were there for three years at a time. I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for those who serve our country. I already had a sense of respect anyway. From time-to-time, I will share blog posts in regards to my experience as a caregiver there.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Wow, what an incredible expereince and deep insight you now have. Thank You so much for sharing this. Im really grateful that you read this and commented. It validates what I was trying to convey in my writing. Have a good evening. Alexis


  13. I just spent a year as a non-medical caregiver with a family member at Walter Reed Military Center. There were many wounded active duty and veterans with physical wounds, and there were many with invisible wounds. Normally, the public tend to think unless the wounds are visible there is no illness. Walter Reed provides care for the wounded soldiers who were wounded, ill, or injured while serving. Invisible scars fall in ill category. Many suffered from invisible scars as you mentioned who did not like like they were ill. I’ve found during my time there others tend to question those with invisible scars more as to why are you here, what happened to you?

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I Sing the Body Electric

    BEQB-love it! I was reading in make it ultra psychology’s post about a problem he’s having with trolls, let’s hope the respect continues in the survivor community otherwise they’ll have queen bee to sort them out 😆 I genuinely believe we have so much to offer, and a bit of cheerleading has a positive ripple effect on others too, the support keeps on rolling 🙌💜

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank You for reading and commenting on this post. It was one of those…Should I hit publish kind of days. I really understand about being open about having PTSD, I’m fairly careful about who I tell, but I am learning to leave the embarrassment behind. Have a great rest of the day today. Alexis

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I so agree with you, we can support each other as a collective. I think we have all suffered alone for so long, that its a strange thing to cheer lead for each other. But I love how respectful this community is of each other. AND yes, happy, humbled tears. Queen Bee, sure why not..BEQB 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Wow, thanks for writing this it really touched me! I’m glad you are spreading awareness on PTSD. I have had it for awhile now so I know how hard it is to live with and telling people about it isn’t always easy for me to do, but I have been more open about it lately.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I Sing the Body Electric

    💜😘💜 I am creating to create a collective blog synergy, rather than survivors blogging individually, pouring our heart and souls out, I believe we should support one another by sharing our messages as widely around the blogging community as possible. As individuals we can only do so much to raise awareness and reduce stigma, but collectively we potentially have great power within us. That is what singing the body electric is about, we all sing together 😊 I’m glad I made you cry (I think!?) 💙💙💙 B.E (my new name I’ve thought up today is queen bee) 😆

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I Sing the Body Electric

    Reblogged this on I Sing the Body Electric and commented:
    This is a brilliant post by one of my survivor friends 🙂 Her words are so true and NEED TO BE SHARED. If her words resonate with you, please reblog it to your followers so it travels around WordPress. PTSD is an invisible illness, but needs the same type of accommodations as any physical illness. Please people, have more compassion for the’ unseen’. You wouldn’t last five minutes in our heads with all the torture that goes on, but because you cannot touch it or taste it or feel it yourselves you don’t see what’s happening under the surface. You never know what someone you see may be going through, and to survivors my message is to “tell people”. Of course it has to be the right people-you need to make the judgment call on that… but when someone asks you how you are, do you really have to say “fine”? More openness and compassion has to be a good thing. Spread the word Xxxxxx

    Liked by 2 people

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