Out of the Blue: A Memoir of Workplace Depression, Recovery, Redemption and, Yes, Happiness

Out of the Blue: A Memoir of Workplace Depression, Recovery, Redemption, and, Yes, Happiness - Jan Wong Out of the Blue is a brave narrative of one journalist's depression, triggered by a stressful episode and exacerbated by her treatment by her employer's HR and insurance departments.From seeing it pass by on the covers of her several books, Jan Wong's name was not unknown to me before this memoir, but because I'm horrible about keeping up with current events, I had not read any of her articles and indeed knew nothing of the circumstances that led to this book.It began when Wong covered a school shooting in Montreal, Québec, and looking for a spin, brought up the fact that this shooting and the two previous to hit the news were perpetrated not by someone from either of the francophone/anglophone factions for which Québec is known, but by those of newly immigrant extraction who did not fit wholly into either group. She also decried the term pure laine, which translates as "pure wool" and denotes the "true" Quebecquios francophone. Basically, she implied that racism is alive and well in Québec.What resulted was a political and emotional storm for Wong. She was inundated with hate mail, a portion of which was ironically laced with racism toward Wong's Chinese background. Considering feedback an important part of journalism, Wong read every message, not realizing she needed to set up protections around herself. Though her editor had approved the spin, and even asked for more in that direction, the paper later denounced her article, claiming journalism's rushed deadlines let it slip through. Wong was further criticized by fellow journalists, by the Premier of Québec, by Parliament and the Prime Minister of Canada. Her father's restaurants were the target of a boycott. Racist political cartoons featuring Wong appeared on more than one occasion. Then came the death threat. Wong found herself more and more unable to write.Amidst everything that was happening, Wong found herself in the position of having to prove she was sick. Of course, because of our society's attitude toward depression, she was forced to keep asking herself if she was "really" depressed, even after diagnoses from more than one specialist, because her insurance company still refused benefits pending more and more investigation.A fascinating part of the book lies in Wong's comparisons of how she felt in the midst of depression and what was really happening from her family's point of view. At the time and in remembering afterward, she felt like she held it together, cooking for her family and basically hiding the problems well. Talking with her son later, she heard about the crying jags, the manipulation, and how much her teenage sons had needed to take on just to keep the household functioning. There's a heartbreaking passage about the elder brother telling her how he struggled all day to make a birthday cake for his younger sibling.Wong is careful not to paint all of depression with one brush, noting among others the depression of Wade Belak, whose illness had a more cheerful façade but more tragic results. Though this is primarily a memoir, which Wong carefully establishes early in the book, she does track historical attitudes to depression and current theories of treatment, tying them into her own experiences.Even in the midst of her dark days, the journalistic instinct to share the truth never left Wong. She might have reached a settlement with her employer much earlier, if she had not held out on one issue. They wanted her to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which she describes with the harsher term "gag order". She called on that same strength again when, a few days before it was to go to print, her memoir was dropped by Doubleday and they, too, wanted to silence her.Thankfully, we are living in a different publishing world than we were even five years ago. When Wong could not find a replacement publisher, she struck out on her own, choosing to self-publish. Wong's story is being heard, and giving hope. Society's attitude to depression won't change overnight, but we can shore ourselves up beside Wong and, little by little, start to shift its position.This review has also been publishing on Boxes of Paper.