NYC Big Book Award: GAB TALKS with Terence Ang
“Emerging From the Dark: Stroke...The Untold Stories,” by Terence Ang, is a collection of illustrated stories of people in all stages of stroke recovery. Ang, who himself has experienced a stroke, highlights post-stroke life in an interesting, unique, and powerful way. A stroke survivor himself, Ang’s right hand no longer functions like it used to, and using it is painful and agonizing. This is his second published book, and it is filled with illustrations that he drew himself. However, Ang has shown tremendous courage, grit, and determination in rebuilding his life.
What can you gain after losing so much?
PLEASE NOTE: The author has aphasia, a disorder that affects speech as a result of stroke. We have outlined his audio and video responses immediately after Gabby's question, but his full written response is included below the audio/video response. There are different types of aphasia, which can affect individuals to varying degrees in their ability to speak, write, and understand both spoken and written language.
Terence: Hi Gabby, thanks for having me.
Gabby: Terence, thank you so much for joining us today! Before we talk about your book, "Emerging from the Dark: Stroke…The Untold Stories," can you please share with our listeners your story, beginning with that fateful day in August 2020?
- That day in August was a turning point in my life
- I had a stroke
- And ended up in the hospital for the first time in my life
- I couldn’t talk and nobody could understand me
- It was a dark time
- I felt hopeless
- But I was determined to redefine my life
- And I ended up writing about my journey
- To prove that stroke was just a chapter in my story
- And not the entire book
Terence: That day in August was a turning point in my life. It was a day that brought me face to face with the harsh reality of a stroke. Initially, I was overwhelmed with shock and denial. I struggled with feelings of anger and self-pity, I questioned why this happened to me and what I had done to deserve it. It was a really challenging period emotionally, and I couldn't see a way forward.
It was during these dark times that I experienced the unwavering support of my partner and my sister. They were the beacons of light in my journey, guiding me toward a path of recovery and hope. So I was determined to redefine my life.
I knew that showing the world the new me was the best way to honour my own resilience and the support I had received. I wanted to prove that stroke was just a chapter in my story, not the entire book.
Gabby: Your debut book, “A Cry in the Dark” was launched in June 2022. It eloquently detailed your journey from victim to survivor. You were subsequently asked by the WORLD STROKE ORGANIZATION to speak at the 14th World Stroke Congress 2022 in Singapore. What inspired you to write and illustrate Emerging from the Dark: Stroke…The Untold Stories?
- I was angry and frustrated in the first year of my stroke
- So I channelled my feelings into writing “A Cry in the Dark”
- Many stroke survivors reached out to me after that
- Which inspired me to write the next book
- And share the stories of other stroke survivors
- I wanted to pay tribute to the strength and courage of
- those who have walked the same Journey
Terence: When I began writing my first book, it came out of a place of anger and frustration. I needed to vent my feelings and create a legacy for myself in case the worst happened. But I never expected that this endeavour would bring about a series of life-changing events.
The positive response to my first book opened doors I hadn't even realised were possible. I found myself connecting with fellow stroke survivors - each with their unique stories, struggles, and triumphs. Their resilience and the spirit they displayed in the face of adversity served as an inspiration.
And as I reached further into the stroke community, these connections fuelled my motivation to continue writing. The stories I encountered along the way resonated with me on a profound level and I decided to write and illustrate "Emerging from the Dark”. It was no longer just a continuation of my own story, I wanted to pay tribute to the strength and determination of those who have also faced the challenges of stroke.
Gabby: “Emerging from the Dark: Stroke…The Untold Stories” is incredibly inspirational. The narratives you've included from both survivors and caregivers are filled with hope, determination and resilience. However, some of the narratives and illustrations are also dark and disconcerting. Why was it important to share this side of recovery?
I wanted to be honest.
So that someone - who has not
experienced stroke would - learn about our struggles
Each stroke survivor’s experience is unique
Some may find their recovery more manageable
While others face greater obstacles
Through open conversation, I hope people can understand the journeys of stroke survivors
And learn more about our unseen struggles
Terence: Ultimately, my book's aim is to explore the multifaceted reality of life after a stroke, and the full spectrum of experiences. The last thing I want is to create false expectations or give the wrong impression of what life after a stroke can be like. Every stroke survivor's experience is unique, some may find their recovery more manageable, while others may encounter greater obstacles.
In sharing an honest although sometimes dark side of life after a stroke, I wanted to show solidarity with those who are navigating this path but also gain understanding from those who have not directly experienced the condition. My hope was to evoke support and a willingness to learn more about the unseen struggles of stroke survivors.
Gabby: What is the biggest misconception about strokes?
- Many people think that stroke only happens to older people
- I used to think that too,
- Being relative-ly young and healthy
- But, the truth is,
- stroke can happen to anyone, at any time.
- Even teenagers and young adults can also get it.
- So it’s important to learn more about the condition
Terence: To be honest, I, like many others, had a very limited understanding of what a stroke really was. I thought it was something that only happened to older people, or people with pre-existing health conditions… certainly not to someone like me, relatively young and healthy. The truth is that strokes can affect anyone, at any time. They happen to people of all ages, from teenagers, to young and middle-aged adults, as well as the elderly.
The more people understand that strokes are unpredictable, the better prepared they can be to respond and seek the help they may need. My own experience has taught me the importance of understanding the risk factors, recognising the symptoms, and seeking prompt medical attention.
Gabby: When you first suffered your stroke, understandably there was a period of denial, anger, and grief. At what point did you make the decision that you were going to conquer the stroke and not allow it to conquer you? What was your biggest obstacle and what has been your biggest triumph?
It was a slow process that didn’t happen overnight.
But I realised I had a choice to
overcome the stroke
and fight for my life.
My biggest obstacle was always self-pity.
I rejected the help of others.
But eventually, I stepped out of the dark
with the help of my partner and sister.
This led me to pursue new opportunities.
Last year, I spoke at the World Stroke Congress.
I was afraid of public speaking
so I was proud of myself
overcoming that fear
and help other stroke survivors through my voice.
Terence: Perhaps out of denial, I always thought I would get better soon after leaving the hospital. However as time went by, and my situation didn’t improve, I fell into despair and frustration. I then recognised that I had a choice. I could either allow the stroke to conquer me or overcome it. This didn't occur overnight, it was a gradual process of acceptance and understanding that I had a life worth fighting for.
My biggest obstacle has always been self-pity. I had lost the life I was so accustomed to, one where I had control over my actions and could do things with ease. This led me to reject the help that was being offered. I was convinced that I could handle everything on my own, even as I struggled with the reality of my condition.
Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I couldn't do this alone, and I needed the support of my partner and my sister. When I made this decision, I went into overdrive, determined to reclaim my life. One of the most rewarding moments during my recovery was when Dr. Moses Koh, my rehabilitation specialist, referred to me as his "star patient." This acknowledgment wasn't just a compliment; it meant the whole world to me and the progress I had made.
Something else I was really proud of was stepping onto the stage at the World Stroke Congress. It was an experience that I had never anticipated or sought out. In fact, I never wanted to show my face in public, let alone in publications or articles. My life had been a private one, and the idea of being in the public eye was not something I had considered.
However, this time was different. It was the encouragement and support of my peers that pushed me forward and helped me realise that through my voice, I could contribute to the awareness surrounding stroke and aid others on their path to recovery.
Gabby: Who is Terence Ang now and how has he changed since the stroke? What have you gained after losing so much?
- Before the stroke, I believed I was the best at everything
- I was ambitious and focused on success.
- The stroke forced me to reflect on whats important.
- I re discovered simple joys and even connected with my neighbours.
- Life changed, but because of that
- I became more self-aware, humble, and compassionate.
Terence: Before my stroke, I used to believe that I was the best at everything. I was ambitious and perhaps a little too confident in my abilities. In my pursuit of success and achievement, I sometimes overlooked the simple joys of life. But when the stroke occurred, everything came to a pause. Suddenly, the things that used to occupy the front and centre of my life were pushed to the backseat.
I found myself rediscovering aspects of life that I had previously taken for granted. For example, the neighbours I had barely noticed before became not just faces, but individuals with stories and warmth. Life after my stroke became a bit more different, but that difference was not always negative. The journey made me more self-aware, humble and compassionate towards others.
Gabby: What does gratitude mean to you?
- Gratitude reminds me to be thankful for the people who supported me.
- Their presence reassures me that I’m not alone,
- And that life is a precious gift, even in adversity.
- I learnt to cherish every small moment
- No matter how small and ordinary.
Terence: Gratitude reminds me to be thankful for the medical professionals who have helped me heal and regain my life, as well as my partner and sister, who have been my rock during the toughest moments. Their presence is a constant reassurance, a reminder that I am not alone in this fight,
Life is truly a gift. Even in the face of adversity, the challenges we encounter reminds me that life is precious. I discovered the importance of cherishing every moment, no matter how small or ordinary.
Gabby: You are a passionate advocate of patient rehabilitation. What are the most critical first steps a stroke survivor should take? What do you wish you knew during the initial stages of your recovery?
- Through my doctors, I learnt that the early stages are the most important
- Recognising stroke signs can save a life.
- And quick medical intervention can improve recovery chances.
- So starting therapy early is important to maximise progress.
Terence: The initial stages of stroke recovery, or the "golden period of recovery," are crucial and can set the tone for the rest of the journey. Time is of the essence when it comes to stroke, and the faster medical intervention occurs, the better the chances of minimising damage and achieving a more complete recovery. Recognising the signs and symptoms of a stroke and knowing to call for help without delay can be a life-saving decision.
Early rehabilitation, including physical, occupational, and speech therapy, is also essential. It's crucial to start as early as possible to maximise progress.
Gabby: What is the biggest challenge stroke survivors face during their recovery journey?
- Stroke survivors all face different challenges
- and we must adapt to a new normal.
- Coping with these changes is the main challenge.
- At the same time, recovery can be unpredictable
- And pro- gress isn’t always linear
- So the journey is full of ups and downs.
Terence: Every stroke is unique, and as a result, the challenges we face can be very diverse. Among the many physical, cognitive and emotional struggles we face, we must also navigate a new normal. The life we once knew transforms drastically, and the changes can be mentally and emotionally taxing. Coping with these adjustments, as well as the grief is the greatest challenge.
What also makes these challenges so daunting is their unpredictability. One moment, you're riding high, beginning to gain some progress, and you feel optimistic. But then suddenly, the journey takes a turn. It feels like you've come to a standstill. Sometimes, you may even experience setbacks, where the progress you've made is undone before your eyes. It's a reality check, a reminder that recovery is far from a linear process.
Gabby: Your morning mantra is TODAY DOESN”T NEED TO BE THE BEST DAY OF YOUR LIFE IT JUST NEEDS TO BE BETTER THAN YESTERDAY”. Why and how is this so relevant in your life?
- Stroke recovery takes time and can be overwhelming.
- There will always be good and bad days.
- So I aim to improve each day, not to be perfect.
- Because It’s important to look ahead
- and set realistic goals.
- But at the same time, acknowledge the progress that I made.
Terence: Stroke recovery is a long journey and it can be overwhelming if you're constantly chasing after the "perfect" day. In reality, there will be both good and bad days. Focusing on making each day better than the previous one, is a more achievable goal. I try to be forward looking and acknowledge the progress I've made while setting realistic expectations, even if the steps are small.
Gabby: You share the stories of many stroke survivors during various stages of recovery. Was there one particular story or individual that resonates with you?
- All of the stories inspired me but Jane and Yizhen have impacted me most.
- Both have sadly passed away after my book was released.
- Jane was persistent and caring,
- she always made the effort to connect.
- I learned afterwards that she was unwell
- but it was too late to reach out by then.
- When she passed away, it was heartbreaking.
- She was a remarkable and kind individual.
- Yizhen was also very young when she passed away.
- Their memories remind me to cherish connections.
Terence: These stories have all left a profound impact on me, but the stories of Jane and Yizhen always have a special place in my heart. Sadly, they have both passed away since the release of the book.
Jane was a remarkable individual, someone who reached out to me persistently and in a genuinely caring way. She was eager to connect and engage, and she made the effort to stay in touch regularly. Although I initially found her approach a bit pushy, it was her kindness and genuine concern that eventually moved me. Yet, suddenly, she stopped sending messages and sharing her usual updates. I reached out to check on her well-being, and she assured me she was okay, despite not feeling well.
It was only after I learned she had passed away, that I felt her absence. It was heartbreaking. She had been incredibly kind to me, yet I had not been there for her in her final days. Yizhen likewise was very young when she passed away. Their memory remains a powerful motivator for me to cherish the connections we form along our journey.
Gabby: Are there words of wisdom you can offer caregivers, family members and friends of stroke survivors to help them navigate through this process.
- I think it helps to learn about stroke and the effects
- As it will help you make informed decisions and provide better care.
- Be patient with your loved one.
- But take care of yourself as well.
- Don’t hesitate to seek help when you need it,
- You don't have to go through this journey alone.
Terence: It’s important to learn about stroke and its effects as it will help you make informed decisions and offer better care. Understand that recovery is a process, and it can be slow and unpredictable. Be patient with your loved one as they navigate their challenges. But at the same time, remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish. You can't support others if you're not well yourself. Don't hesitate to seek support from stroke support groups, counseling, or healthcare professionals. You don't have to go through this journey alone.
Gabby: Both “A Cry in the Dark” and “Emerging from the Dark: Stroke…The Untold Stories” are filled with Illustrations and quotes. You drew and wrote them with your right hand which was deeply affected by the stroke. What is the significance of this?
- We often underestimate our abilities.
- I didn’t think I could draw, but my doctor encouraged me.
- So I wanted to show that my stroke didn’t define me.
- My drawings and writings may not be perfect
- But they mean a lot to me.
Terence: I didn't think I could draw, but Dr. Moses suggested I try drawing and express myself in a new way. It's also an example of how we underestimate our own capabilities. By using my stroke-affected hand, I wanted to demonstrate that my stroke didn’t define my capabilities. My drawings and writings may not be perfect, but they mean a lot to me.
Gabby: What impact do you hope to make on the stroke community and society as a whole?
- I want to be able to encourage stroke survivors.
- And show them there's hope for improvement, even during difficult times.
- I hope to raise stroke awareness and compassion
- so that we can better support those on the path to recovery.
Terence: I want to be a source of encouragement for people who have experienced a stroke - to show them that even when things are tough, there's hope for improvement. By raising awareness about stroke, I hope to raise compassion and support in our communities. When people understand the challenges that stroke survivors face, they can offer more meaningful and effective support to survivors on their path to recovery.
Gabby: Why is it vital to raise awareness and inspire conversations about strokes and those afflicted?
- Many people still don't know much about strokes
and might have wrong ideas
- Some may even think having a stroke means life is over.
- Raising awareness can help break down these stigmas
- I believe that life can still be fulfilling
and meaningful after a stroke.
Terence: Talking about strokes and sharing information is very important. Many people still don't know much about strokes and might have wrong ideas. Knowledge is vital for early recognition and response in case someone experiences a stroke, as quick action can save lives. Some people may also believe that having a stroke is the end of a good life, which can be discouraging. Raising awareness helps break down this stigma and negative belief. It shows that life can still be fulfilling and meaningful after a stroke.
Gabby: You are a celebrated author who has made great strides in stroke awareness. What is next for you?
- I want to write more books to help stroke patients and share survivor stories.
- Currently, I'm writing my next book "Strength in Motion: Dancing through Stroke Recovery."
- It focuses on the healing power of exercise
- And how movement can transform lives.
- Through this book, I hope to share the things I’ve learnt along my journey
- And create a supportive community for stroke survivors.
Terence: I don’t consider myself a celebrated author but I’m grateful that I went on this journey because of my stroke. Before it happened, I never envisioned myself as a writer. But sometimes, life takes unexpected turns, and we discover new passions and purpose.
I hope to write more books that can help stroke patients in their rehabilitation journey and continue sharing the inspiring stories of survivors and their caregivers. In fact, I'm currently writing my next book, "Strength in Motion: Dancing through Stroke Recovery." This book is about the incredible role that exercise plays in stroke rehabilitation, showing that healing is possible through physical activity. I hope to build a community where everyone impacted by stroke can find support through a network of people who understand their journey.
Gabby: What has this journey taught you?
- The journey has taught me a lot about the resilience of humans.
- We can adapt, persevere, and find inner strength
- even during dark times.
- Perspective is also really important
- It affects our ability to overcome challenges.
- And a positive mindset can make a great difference.
Terence: I've learned that the human spirit is incredibly resilient. When faced with unexpected challenges, we have the capacity to adapt, persevere, and find strength within ourselves. This journey has also taught me that perspective matters. How we view our circumstances can greatly affect our ability to overcome them. A positive outlook can make a world of a difference.
Gabby: How can our listeners and viewers follow your work and purchase your books?
- You can find my books on Amazon
- And my website, Grateful Steps, provides updates about my work.
- For those interested in following my journey,
- I also share stories and insights on my social media.
- Thanks again for your support
- Looking forward to share my new book with you
Terence: My books are available for purchase on Amazon, you can find my works by searching for my name or book titles on the Amazon website. I have an official website, Grateful Steps, where you can find information about my books and updates on my work. At the same time, I also often share updates, stories, and insights on social media platforms for anyone who’s interested to follow my journey.
I want to thank everyone again for your interest in my work. I hope that my books can provide inspiration and support to stroke survivors, caregivers, or just anyone interested in learning more about stroke.
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Emerging From the Dark...The Untold Stories
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