A brain hemorrhage led to a life-changing stroke for Ade Djajamahardja at age 42. First came the fear. And then came his new life.
A bayside café chat with David Packman led Ade Djajamihardja to pen an intimate account of dealing with fear for The Good Men Project.
Ade was just 42 when he suffered a brain haemorrhage stroke that kept him hospitalised for seven months. After undergoing two major brain surgeries and an induced coma, he was lucky to survive, let alone potentially walk and talk again.
Now he has written The Little Book of Hope to help others cope with their own life-challenging situations.
My name is Ade Djajamihardja, pronounced “Ay-Dee Jaya-me-har-ja”.
My personal story is a somewhat complex one, riddled with irony, contradiction and poetic twists. Above all else, it is a cautionary tale colored heavily by life’s rich tapestry.
For 25 years – up until mid 2011 – I worked as a film and television professional in Australia and around the globe. Just like many other men, my professional career proudly played a dominant and governing role in my life.
I had often been described as a go-getter, in that I always enjoyed investing my unbridled enthusiasm and industrious work ethic to create and seize opportunity whenever it presented.
I have always thought, and was encouraged to believe, that this was the preferred, most respectable – and even ideal – behavior for a man. From that, I naturally thought that this was what success looked like.
I was Floor Manager of the ABC TV news at 19. That was followed by Assistant Director positions with ABC TV Light Entertainment. Comedy and Drama programs then followed. At age 25, I was expatriated to Singapore where I worked on many landmark production initiatives with Singapore Television’s first forays into English language comedy and drama.
In many respects, my ensuing tenures in Asia as CEO for Ten On Ten Productions, and its feature film subsidiary company Enfiniti Production represented my career peak point, in that I had the great privilege of being a co-producer in what was then the biggest budget, most ambitious film in Malaysia’s history, Puteri Gunung Ledang (A Legendary Love). It was also the first Malaysian film to be shortlisted in consideration for The Oscars.
As it was then, working 7-day weeks and 20-hour days quickly became my normal.
It is fair to say then that my lifestyle (and the four-packet-a-day smoking habit that came with it) finally caught up with me. In July 2011, I experienced a massive brain hemorrhage stroke that required immediate life-saving brain surgery—from which I was not expected to survive.
I then spent a further seven months in hospital learning how to breath independently, sit upright, eat and speak again. I am currently in the process of re-learning how to walk – and one day, hopefully, dance again.
Looking back, I feel as though I have returned from the brink of existence, and faced and shouted down the demons of my very own fragile mortality.
It was during that very isolating and confronting period that I had the time to come to terms with exactly who I was; the thoughts, actions, words and emotions that brought me to that pivotal moment, the brutal complexities of my situation, and most importantly, where I was to go from there?
I have always been a “legacy-oriented” person in that I find peace in the knowledge that I’m living my values. I hope to always make a substantive contribution, and that I’ll remain in everyone’s memory as a man of character who left the world in a better way than he found it.
I always have been—and always will be—a passionate advocate for equal opportunity and egalitarian meritocracy. As a man though, I also hold and treasure an overwhelming innate instinct to provide and protect.
I remembered reading that all human emotions were essentially an extension of either love or fear. Well let me tell you right now, if fear is an apprehension in response to the unknown and uncertain, then back then I held a torrid raging river of “premium gold” fear in limitless supply.
A part of me was preparing to meet my maker—and to answer a “please explain” for my life’s choices.
I recalled from childhood that only through sheer determination and stubbornness had I conquered the personal fears of my youth. My technique of coming to terms with them had been to confront them head on. “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is how I have since heard it termed.
I dealt with my fear of heights by climbing anything and everything in sight, and while having a very nervous disposition to spiders, I realized that by collecting spiders from in and around my Australian suburban home, I in turn nurtured and developed a genuine fascination and healthy respect for my arachnid friends.
It was during those many lonely nights in hospital where out of sheer desperation and survival instinct that I faced the most unexpected epiphany. If I was going to get through all this, I was going to have to create some ways to help myself grow from this experience.
As frightened as I was, I found calm in the realization that the battle would be won or lost in the mind. I also firmly believed that what we think about, we bring about, and – my personal favorite – if you can master yourself, you can master anything.
So my take out from all this entire experience thus far was that I needed to seriously work on my self-mastery.
As I lay in hospital not able to even press the nurse button to call for assistance – certainly not able to get out of bed – as I confronted being told I would probably never drive again, I had to decide between living and dying.
It was at this time that I begun to design the tools to deal with my fear.
I used humor and gratitude as my primary defense and coping mechanisms. I began to bookend my day by asking myself to list in my mind all that I should be grateful for. I quickly found that gratitude is truly the greatest gift.
After six months of wearing a helmet whilst part of my skull bone was being kept in the deep freeze, the time came for yet another operation to return it to its rightful place. I used humor to help me deal with the fear. I told the medical staff that if they let me die on the operating table, I would come back and haunt them.
I continually asked myself to “find the funny” in situations. I used the practical tools I came to develop to help me through my fears and the challenging times – and I still use them today.
I made decisions and set goals, which helped me to focus on what I wanted, rather than the fear. Making the decision that I was going to work on achieving optimal health was a real game changer for me.
As I lay in that hospital bed, I still did not know even if I would remain on this earth and I wondered what the future would hold. Most of all, I didn’t want to be a burden on my wife. As I said earlier, I retained a strong male instinct to provide and protect.
However, after hitting the lowest of lows, and then making the decision to get busy living, my life ultimately changed for the better. I started to see things everywhere that would help me achieve my goals.
That was all consolidated in the writing of my book, with the focused intention to try and help others who may have suffered the same or similar experience as me, and who may find some comfort and assistance in knowing how I coped with the emotional side of the journey.
The book is entitled “The Little Book of Hope”. It’s subtitle – “for stroke survivors, caregivers and anyone going through a really shit time” – gives an idea of the humor contained throughout.
Writing the book has been a blessing for me. I have had so many letters of appreciation from people who have found hope and practical tools to help them through tough times.
I hope you will join me as my journey continues.
You can follow Ade’s adventures, or purchase The Little Book of Hope – which has reached best-seller status in two separate Amazon.com categories: “Strokes” and “Self Help-Psychology Humor” – at www.LittleBookOfHope.com.