Author Jan Wong triumphs over workplace depression
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Some of the book’s most dramatic sections deal with the impact of depression on her life. She admits that she didn’t even know the symptoms of the disease before she became ill, nor how prevalent it is. She later discovered in Kay Redfield Jamison’s book Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide that one in five people suffering from major depression will attempt suicide, and 10 to 15 percent will die this way. Scientists, composers, and business executives are particularly prone, killing themselves at five times the rate of the rest of the population.
“I didn’t know the treatment for it,” Wong said. “And I didn’t know the different variations of depression. Some are lifelong and recurring. And some are episodic and situational.…I didn’t pay any attention because I never thought I would be vulnerable or prone.”
After the flap over her Dawson College article, she lost the ability to write and lost her short-term memory, which filled her with fear. At one point, in a Toronto subway station, she came close to taking her own life. Later, during a trip to China, she lost hearing in one ear, which is what convinced her that she should quit her newspaper job.
In Out of the Blue, Wong chronicles how most of the medications she took weren’t effective—at one point, she suffered heart palpitations as a side effect. She tried to recover by playing music and by spending more time with her husband, Norman, her sister Gigi, and her two teenage sons. To this day, she’s amazed by their efforts to help her heal. Her sons, Sam and Ben, took over cooking and cleaning duties and accompanied her around the neighbourhood.
“I know that some other mothers were very envious because they would see my sons going for a walk with me and think, ‘Gee, I wish my son would go for a walk with me,’ ” Wong recalled. “But they were doing it because they understood I was sick. My husband was even better because he helped them—like when they couldn’t stand me anymore.”
She made remarkable progress with the help of a psychiatrist, Bruce Menchions, who helped her become more aware of the nature of her illness. This gave her the strength to challenge her employer and gain an acknowledgment that she was truly ill. “It’s simple,” Menchions states at one point in the book. “You wrote a story. There was a big backlash and your paper didn’t back you. All the rest stems from those events.”
Wong, who teaches journalism at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, now believes that depression is a product of evolutionary biology. If this weren’t the case, she doubts that it would be so prevalent in society. “It’s a safety mechanism,” she states. “It makes you withdraw from the danger that is present.”
Her long-time publisher, Doubleday, refused to print Out of the Blue after it had already been edited. According to the author, Doubleday tried to keep this decision confidential by having her agree to a gag order. In characteristic fashion, Wong refused to be silenced.
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