In this episode:
The last thing Aidan remembers of December 4, 2015 was getting into a friend’s car for a sleepover. He doesn’t recall their car reaching speeds of 80 mph in a residential area. That the driver, who was under the influence, lost control of the car. That they hit a brick wall. Head on.
Aidan was not wearing a seatbelt and his head first dented the dashboard and then shattered the windshield. Found unconscious, he was rushed to the trauma center. His diagnosis? Diffuse axonal injury; severe traumatic brain injury. His prognosis? Grim.
Aidan warns teens against the dangers of drinking and driving. Teens don’t believe such a catastrophic accident is possible; they are, after all, testing their limits. His biggest piece of advice is to always protect yourself and your friends. It was one of Aidan’s closest friends who was driving the car the night they crashed. The driver and Aidan remain close friends; Aidan knows that the driver’s life was significantly impacted.
Aidan was hospitalized for about two and a half weeks. What he remembers of that time is the support and love of his family, friends, and community which were instrumental to his recovery.
Despite being told he wouldn’t attend school until the following September, Aidan went to school the day after he was discharged from inpatient rehabilitation. Aidan simply wanted to be an ordinary teen. Although his injury continues to impact his daily life, he wanted to push the limits and test his abilities.
Aidan’s mindset, “I’m going to get better. I truly believe that this will not hold me back in life.”
Returning to school was challenging. He was treated differently and felt like an outsider, even around life-long friends. Not to mention, he was simply exhausted. Able to maintain concentration for only 15 minutes at a time, effective learning and completing homework were impossible. Although he initially attempted to maintain his full 7-course load, Aidan came to realize that he needed to take a break and ease up. He finally acknowledged that the accident had a significant impact. Aidan ended up dropping the majority of his classes. While this felt like a shock, Aidan realized it was the only way to stay in school and continue with his recovery.
What is it like to be a 16-year-old boy recovering from a brain injury? “It’s tough. There’s no doubt about that.” Trying to assimilate back into a normal teenage life after a severe brain injury is impossible. While Aidan’s friends were living their life, participating in school and activities as they always had, Aidan could not.
Aidan was afraid of almost everything. He feared living with this brain injury for the rest of his life and being unable to pursue his dreams. That his future was so unknown was terrifying. Aidan questioned everything that he did. Aidan experienced severe, uncontrollable anger for months following the crash hurting those who loved him the most and resulting in the loss of friendships. Yet another loss as a result of his injury.
Afraid to return to his high school for senior year, Aidan finished high school in Viterbo, Italy. Aidan was seeking his own path forward, looking for a way to diminish the stress of feeling like an outsider. The change in culture was an amazing, life-changing experience. It opened Aidan’s mind to the larger world awaiting him. The experience was instrumental to his recovery.
Upon his return from Italy, Aidan’s path forward was unclear. He spent six months working while contemplating next steps. His original plan, college, was not an option given his brain injury. Ultimately, he applied to and was accepted at ICON Collective, a year-long music production academy. He learned that to find success in music, he needed to be dedicated and give 100% effort every day. Aidan is now interning at a music studio honing his skills.
Aidan struggles with depression and considered suicide on a number of occasions. Knowing that tomorrow is another day kept Aidan moving forward. At every turn, he reflected on accepting change and seeking opportunity. Realizing that life can change in an instant – for the better – was reassuring. He stayed true to himself, kept pushing forward and accepted that he will feel sad. He acknowledged that mental healing takes time and effort.
Aidan’s dad came out as gay two months before the car accident. Aidan struggled with knowing this would change his life, day to day, how he lived, and how he viewed the world. Aidan was angry with the world, angry with having to deal with his brain injury, having to move, and the inevitable change in his life. Aidan loves his dad deeply yet admits taking out some of his anger on him.
Aidan’s primary source of strength was the desire to prove to himself and others what he is capable of.
I knew I was capable of great. I wanted to show people that I was more than my brain injury. This pushes me every day and makes me happy with myself.
Aidan turns to his car crash for inspiration. He hopes to pave a way forward for others, to give them a glimpse of what is possible in life.
“Everyone has greatness; it just needs to be unlocked.”
He aims to reach as many as he can in the hopes that his experiences help transform their life for the better. He hopes people can come out of their shells and show who they really are and push for greatness.
“Every single human can achieve greatness – whether they have a brain injury, learning disability, or a challenging situation. You can turn anything into gold.”
He hopes that if you know anyone going through a difficult situation, you’ll take your time and be kind, supportive, present, and check in. That support means the world to those in those challenging situations. Go into life with an open mind and a big heart and everyone can win.
COLAGErs are people with one or more LGBTQIA+ parent or caregiver—they are skilled, self-confident, and just leaders in our collective communities. Our stories are important, and so is yours.
Thank you for listening!
May our stories help forge your path forward. I hope you’ll stay tuned for our next episode and in the meantime, learn more about my story on my blog.