Amanda Burrill, a Navy veteran and survivor of two traumatic brain injuries (TBI), thought she would have to struggle through her recovery alone. While she was in the Navy, she often felt like her peers disregarded or misunderstood what she was experiencing. As a result, Burrill didn’t have high hopes for finding a supportive community.
Burrill likes to think of anyone in her support system as a caregiver, such as her partner and sister. “Having people in your life that understand and are not just willing to listen, but willing to fully witness and acknowledge what you’re going through, is very important,” she says.
Burrill adds that she thinks caregivers are “an underrated part of people’s recovery.” She believes her caregivers helped validate her, and even helped motivate her to get better.
As much as her loved ones provided support, Burrill also wanted to talk to people who knew exactly what she was experiencing. This is when she sought out support groups. She was able to find camaraderie in fellow veterans and other TBI patients who had experienced or witnessed the same trauma.
The support groups were a way for Amanda to learn more and even contribute to the conversation. They knew where she was coming from, which made it easier for Burrill to open up and connect. She admits that she used to think that “this wasn’t a thing for other people,” but she quickly realized that wasn’t the case. This helped her feel less alone.
Burrill might look happy and vibrant, but she remarks that looks can be deceiving. Amanda still suffers from headaches and problems with her nervous system. She uses that invisibility as a chance to speak up about her condition so that others become more aware.
“I now have a voice and I can talk about [invisible illnesses], and I can make these things visible to others,” says Burrill. “A huge part of my progression is learning that the invisible doesn't have to be invisible anymore.”
For help finding support groups for veterans, check out the U.S. Department of Defense Veteran Support Organizations.