Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

Jan Wong’s memoir of workplace depression now out

Former Globe and Mail journalist Jan Wong has self-published a book about her descent into, and recovery from, severe depression.

It will have a priority place on my personal reading list. You can hear Wong talk about her book on May 7 at 7 p.m. at the North York Central Library.

The book’s title is Out of the Blue. As I mentioned, it is self-published. Why the book is self-published appears to be an interesting story, considering Doubleday Canada was to publish it.

Here is what Wong told Now magazine:

Having satisfied the legal team, Wong was surprised when she was called back into the Doubleday offices. “The big honchos were there,” she recalls, “– something that’s never happened to me before once a book has gone to copy editors.”

They’d brought back the manuscript with sections highlighted that they wanted her to change or move.

“That included every single mention of the Globe and a few references to [Globe insurer] Manulife.”

Wong says she and the publisher amicably agreed to part when she refused to make these changes. Doubleday is keeping mum about what went wrong.

“We had a difference of opinion about the direction of the manuscript. We wish Ms. Wong all the best,” is the terse comment from spokesperson and marketing manager Tracey Turriff.

Another take can be found at Back of the Book, an online magazine:

She was “a keystroke away” from sending it to final copy edit before printing when her publisher got cold feet, despite having had the book assiduously lawyered, because of some references she made to the Globe‘s “corporate bullying.” Wong refused to change the material, parted ways with Doubleday, and published the manuscript herself.

Even without the corporate bad-guy material, I’m sure this would be a harrowing read.

From the CTVNews.ca story:

In the book, Wong is excruciatingly graphic about her descent into a deep depression, including an opening scene in which she dashes from her car to her house without her keys and purse, hysterically pounding on the front door because she’s under the impression that a reader who sent her a death threat was waiting across the road.

“I began screaming,” she writes. “I banged on the door, bruising my knuckles. The blue-painted steel, insulated against Canadian winters, muffled the sound of my pounding. I was crying now, tears of pure terror. Did no one care if I died? I became convinced the killer was now standing right behind me. I still believed if I didn’t turn around, I had a chance.”

Wong recounts incidents like these throughout her book as she paints a picture of what she calls “a hockey mom having a nervous breakdown.” In scenes that will likely be familiar to readers who have ever dealt with an insurance company, Wong not only tells of feeling marginalized by her employers. She also writes of her struggles to get her employer’s insurance company to authorize her sick leave.

“And that’s the motivating force, that’s why I wrote the book,” Wong says.

“I felt I have to give a voice to all those people who are at work, who are depressed and who have employers who don’t treat them properly, who have insurance companies that push them around.”

Good on Wong for sticking to her guns.

The Now review gives Out of the Blue four out of five stars. Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick, who describes herself as a friend of Wong’s, calls the book an instant classic.

Addendum

I found this Ottawa Citizen look at the book after completing the main post.

Here are some salient paragraphs from Paul Gessell’s story on Out of the Blue:

This being a memoir rather than a work of unbiased journalism, we really only get Wong’s version of the story. And she does admit that clinical depression can skew one’s interpretation of events. But, in an interview, Wong said she remains very sure she has her facts straight. …

Out of the Blue contains an anecdote in which Wong hires an actor to burst into her Fredericton classroom with a cock-and-bull story. Some of the journalism students immediately see through the ruse. They got better grades from Wong when writing about the event.

“I gave them points for skepticism,” Wong says.

But what if her students read Out of the Blue and are skeptical? What if they think they are getting only part, maybe not even half, of a very sad and complicated story? Will they still get “points for skepticism?”

Somewhat fair criticism, but I would note that as an actor in the fiasco over the 2006 Montreal shooting story, Wong could hardly be expected to be unbiased — the real question is whether she’s truthful and offers a relatively in-context look at the events in question.

Others without a personal stake in the story will have to review the case.

I have no inside knowledge of what transpired between Wong and the Globe (I don’t know if Gessell has any more). I only have first-hand knowledge of what’s it’s like to experience an episode of severe depression.

From that perspective, the anecdotes I’ve seen so far from the book ring very true to me.

Here is a posting from my archive on the McGill shooting story:

Addendum 2

CBC’s Michael Enright interviewed Wong on May 6 for Sunday Morning. CBC News also published a question-and-answer with Wong.

Wong also appeared on CTV News Channel.

Sat, May 5 2012 » * Big Picture Stuff, Main Page, Media