Many of us deal with an invisible illness (physical, emotional, mental), and/but 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, hopefully we feel compassion, give them space, and help them, usually without thought or frustration.
Sometimes, out of pure surprise, when people find out I have PTSD, they say, “You don’t look sick.” I don’t take offense to it because it’s a natural thought. It’s not coming from a place of dismissal, or maliciousness. But, I do take offense when the next words of “Can’t you just get over it?” are said aloud.
I don’t know why, but 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 physician’s 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?”
When I’m triggered, 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, there are times 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 me and know my “tells,” but if I’m with people who don’t really know me, it can become uncomfortable for them. I don’t like feeling 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 realized 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.
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 someone’s 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, despite 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, and for the pain, the suffering, and the squashing of my potential. But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished despite 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, “Yes, I did survive 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 know I don’t look sick, and I probably will never get over it, but I have learned to live with PTSD.
Thankfully, I did survive, but just surviving doesn’t suit me any longer; living and thriving is my gold-standard now.
(Excerpt from the Book, If I Could Tell You How It Feels)