By Stephanie Fung
Truth-teller, crusader, hard-nosed writer: as the Globe and Mail’s star reporter for twenty years, Jan Wong had always seen herself as a voice for the voiceless, speaking for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. Writing had been her life; in fact, it defined her. All that changed when she suddenly lost her own voice after a story she wrote about a school shooting in Quebec in 2006 unleashed a violent public response. Wong was then gagged, spied upon, and fired from her job.
But she refused to be silenced forever. On May 24, 2012 at UBC in front of a small crowd, Wong spoke about her two-year struggle with workplace depression and how she finally found not just her voice, but also herself. Her latest memoir, Out of the Blue, reaffirms Wong as a brilliant writer and reveals a side of her we don’t usually see: she is human like all of us.
“They didn’t believe I had depression, but I fought back because I’m hard-headed,” Wong said softly. No one expected, least of all her, that a journalist as tough as her could crumble. But she did. From racist emails and parliamentary denouncements to snail mail including excrement, death threats, and a package of copies of her books sawn in half, Wong spiraled into depression. And through it all instead of offering support, The Globe censored her.
Wong couldn’t write. She couldn’t speak. Realizing that she wouldn’t be able to live for the rest of her life without doing what she loved, Wong revealed how she fought against the confidentiality orders imposed on her by The Globe, its insurer Manulife Financial, and her publisher Doubleday Canada. In the end, she succeeded.
She also drew laughter by comparing her treatment by The Globe to China’s repressive regime in the 1970s and 80s. “I feel like I’m in Communist China,” Wong said dryly. Manulife had hired Garda Security to spy on her and produce “evidence” that she wasn’t depressed. Playing a YouTube video that her son edited of footage shot by the firm, Wong emphasized the hypocrisy of The Globe and the absurdity of its insurer.
As Wong humorously stated near the end, “all bad things turn into good things, which is what Chairman Mao said,” perhaps life is really all about perspective. One can either stay miserable or choose to find a light at the end of the tunnel. In her case, she chose to not only rise above depression, but enlighten others by speaking out against the stigma.
“At first I hated to speak out about this, but now I feel liberated about something I wanted to talk about for so many years,” Wong said. She would speak again that evening at Foo’s Ho Ho Restaurant and a few days later at the Joy Kogawa House, but for now it seemed that the audience was strangely relieved by her words. It was as if she had unburdened them from their own fears and anxieties by saying that it was okay to “feel good about feeling bad.”