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Hiding TBI Symptoms to Keep Her Military Job: Amanda’s Story

Read Amanda Burrill’s story on how she found out she had a traumatic brain injury from military service and how she dealt with it.

Preeti Parikh, MD
Written by Venus Sánchez | Reviewed by Preeti Parikh, MD
Published on January 20, 2021

Amanda Burrill, a veteran of the U.S. navy, worried that many of her deployed peers thought she was a hypochondriac. After getting a traumatic brain injury (TBI) on the job, she started having unusual symptoms. However, she sensed her colleagues thought she was just “struggling mentally and emotionally” because she was at war, and she was a woman amongst men.

Raised in a Military Family

Burrill had very little doubts about joining the military. Growing up, she knew it was something she wanted to pursue because it ran in her family. Conversations in her household would almost always revolve around things pertaining to conflict and that particular life.

“I was well aware my father had served, before I was born,” says Burrill. “I had a lot of exposure to military jargon and this knowledge that this war had happened.”

Amanda was commissioned the day after graduating college. She trained in combat ammunition in Newport, RI. Next, she was stationed in San Diego for eight years. During that time, she was deployed twice—and had two separate TBIs.

Amanda’s Traumatic Brain Injury

Burrill’s first TBI happened during her initial deployment. Her ship had been converted into a prison and there was a lot of activity. She went down a hatch and was found unconscious soon after. “It’s an interesting thing to talk about because I don’t actually remember it,” says Burrill.

Active duty and reserve service members are at an increased risk of suffering a TBI compared to their civilian peers, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Research shows that symptoms can appear as:

  • Depression

  • Sleep disorders

  • Alcohol use

  • Vision loss

  • Balance problems

This seemed to correlate with Amanda’s sudden problems, including difficulty with sleep, balance, lack of emotion, hand-eye coordination and reading.

Hiding Her Symptoms

The breaking point was when she noticed the emotional consequences. Amanda remembers being completely devoid of feeling. Despite being married, she didn’t seem to miss anyone special in her life.

While reporting all of her physical symptoms, she struggled to voice her emotional ones because it was something that just wasn’t discussed in the military world. However, this took a toll on her, and the more she didn’t feel heard, the more it affected her.

This bled into Burrill’s daily life and it was heightened when she was surrounded by men. Amanda worried she was being “extra” and that there was drama surrounding her. This made her downplay her symptoms and struggles for fear of losing her military job.

Finding Support

It is important to recognize the symptoms of a TBI and voice your concerns before it becomes life threatening. Common symptoms of a TBI include:

  • Inability to remember the cause of the injury or events that occurred immediately before or up to 24

  • hours after it happened

  • Confusion

  • Headache

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Blurriness

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Trouble speaking coherently

  • Changes in emotions and sleep patterns

Learn more about treating traumatic brain injuries here.

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