Joanne Lee Wong
Forgiving Those Who Know Not What They Do
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
WHEN my Husband and I went on our first date, we held nothing back. Maybe because we were of a late age to play games: I, 39, and he, 58. It almost became a “who has suffered more?” conversation. Then I whipped out my trump card.
I was stalked.
Now, I’ve mentioned this briefly in Chapter Two and 16. And once I told the Husband the whole story on our first date, he asked me gently: “Have you forgiven her?”
And my answer was: “She was schizophrenic. She had no idea what she was doing. There is nothing to blame.”
You see, during the five years I appeared every night to present a business show on Channel NewsAsia, her schizophrenia had convinced her that we had gotten to know each other, we had married and had a baby together. I remember receiving a strange, totally incoherent letter from her and just put it aside as a fan letter that made no sense.
After I left the channel to pursue my Masters of Business Administration, she thought I had left her and taken the baby away.
When I returned to the media almost two years later, going back to The Straits Times newspaper where I started my career, my very first column appeared on Page One with my byline photo. It would seem she noticed it immediately and started sending me emails.
They first discussed what I had written, signing off with a “Yours Sincerely”. Then, they got more and more personal, signing off with her initials. One day, her sign off was “Your Hubby”.
Okay, this was becoming weird. Her writing also took an odd turn, reminding me of that letter I had received while on telly a few years ago. Several emails later, her story unfolded.
I, her “wife”, had left her and stolen the baby. But she also took heart that I still went to church. Once, she said she spotted me at her church, wearing a mini-skirt and an afro. Um, okay, not quite my style but if you say so.
Then one Saturday, as part of my weekly column, I had written that I used to spend hours on my weekends at Borders, looking for my favourite books to build my library, despite having a Kindle. That Monday, one of the first emails that appeared in my work inbox was that she had staked out Borders that entire weekend, hoping to see me and reconcile.
That was Freakout #1.
I immediately asked one of my trusted former editors at work, Leslie Fong, what to do. He told me to file a police report. A psychiatrist I had been consulting on the matter said that was not enough and that I should also provide all the evidence I had. Thankfully, something – or Someone – had prompted me to keep every single email she had ever sent me and I took them all – including rather disturbing art work – to the Police and filed my first report.
Their response was to warn her never to email me again. A positive response, but clearly a little too specific. So she took to calling me.
Now, in a newsroom as big as The Straits Times, you just call the mainline operator, ask to speak to a certain journalist and they will immediately patch you through. After two or three times picking up the phone and pretending not to be me, my sweet colleagues told me not to worry. They would be my “secretary” and answer all my calls henceforth. I also asked the IT department to stretch my voice mail to an indefinite period so I could record her phone logs in preparation for my next Police report.
That’s when the nasty stuff emerged. When she was medicated, she would be all lovey-dovey and express her love for me. But when she wasn’t medicated, she would accuse me of sleeping with a variety of men and women. Once, she even described an act she would frequently do with her bolster, all the while thinking of me. Ick.
That was Freakout #2.
This time, the Police sent her to the Institute of Mental Health and informed me three weeks later that she was a confirmed schizophrenic but they did not have enough to hold her. This time, however, they told me if she contacted me by any means, they would take action against her.
What did all this do to me though?
I developed severe insomnia, I had to take sleeping pills just to get four hours of sleep. My anxiety levels went through the roof. I was browsing magazines at Borders when a shadow loomed up beside me into my personal space. I screamed and cowered… until I realised it was a perfectly respectable friend from the United Nations who was in town and had spotted me. I went into a severe panic attack and he had to spend more than 15 minutes calming me down.
More severely, it was affecting my efficacy at work. My performance was sliding because I was little more than a walking zombie and the lack of sleep was triggering multiple migraines a week.
Every day when I went to work, I had to take different entrances and different lift lobbies. I had to wait till the building shut every night before I could go home. My loving cousin even taught me some martial arts movements to disarm her if she ever confronted me.
Indeed, there was a Sunday when, in the New York Times, a very well-circulated article “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom”, was making the rounds, I eventually read it at night in the privacy of my bedroom. Alas, the writer’s name was the same name as my stalker’s. And when I saw that name, on my private laptop in my private living space, I just had an inexplicable meltdown and cried for hours.
Then out of the blue, I got a bouquet of flowers and a teddy bear from her. Somehow she knew when my birthday was – did an ex-television colleague wish me on-air years ago? What was really alarming was that the teddy bear had a bandage on its head.
A couple of weeks later, when I was on leave, she showed up at our office lobby and insisted to the receptionist that she had an interview with me. The receptionist called up to my desk and my colleagues said to usher her out immediately because I was on leave and she was clearly the stalker. Taken in conjunction with a previous email in which she said she was going to take out all her life savings to hire a private investigator to find out where I lived so she could “whisk me away on holiday”, I saw it as a big abduction threat.
That was Freakout #3 – and I couldn’t take it anymore.
I went to the Police for the third time, and my former editor, Leslie Fong, asked the Commissioner of Police to take this seriously. And, blessedly, they did. They had collated all my evidence and passed it all to the Attorney General’s Office to charge her.
Unfortunately, at the time, “harassment” only fell under the Miscellaneous Offences Act – mentioned after animal abuse, if you can believe that. (I love animals so I don’t say that lightly.)
So, she got away with a light slap on her wrist – just fined S$4,000. Just that? For my four years of torture and career decline? Sigh.
Source: Her World
Everyone in the newsroom, who only found out then about my ordeal, said to me that I could finally take it easy because she had been charged in court. But at the same time, the Police and my psychiatrist consultant told me that I had to take things even more seriously then because her “love” might now turn to “hate”.
That was Freakout #4 and the final one I could take.
I continued for a while more in the media, but eventually I just felt too exposed and my work performance was something even I was ashamed of. I needed a break. I needed a long absence from Singapore. I needed God’s healing.
So I left. And I left journalism for good. Journalism – something I held as my calling ever since I was 18.
I know this chapter does not seem to have anything to do with my Christian ponderings, but going back to the beginning, when the Husband asked me if I blamed her for the disruption to my career, I quoted the beginning of Luke 23:34 when Jesus said on the cruel cross:
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
There’ve been many people who have hurt me since the stalker years, but I’ve always held on to this tiny verse. They may not be schizophrenic, but when people don’t know what you’ve been going through, they make all sorts of assumptions and they don’t know what they are really doing.
Today, I am still misunderstood by many and being ghosted by people I’ve loved. But I don’t hold any grudges. They know not what they do.
I’m no angel. I did not write this to show how big-hearted I am. But I do believe that if we don’t forgive and we don’t let go, we would be the worst for it. Blame, resentment, hatred – these are ways the Evil One tries to shrink our hearts.
Let’s not let him get the better of us. Whatever people do to us, let’s let it go and lighten our hearts with God’s grace. What do you say?
Shortly after I left the media, the Law Ministry said they were looking into a standalone anti-harassment act. I immediately wrote to Law Minister K. Shanmugam not to forget the victims of stalkers. Cyberbullying was being championed by the Singapore Children’s Society and sexual harassment at the workplace was being championed by AWARE. Nobody championed stalking victims because we tend to just shrink into our private lives and not want to remember the terror we went through.
The Law Ministry eventually contacted me and asked me to share my story and contribute what I think should be done. It turned my four-year nightmare into something positive. At this stage in our converstation, the Husband shared this from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.”
Today, stalking victims occasionally get in touch with me confidentally. I give them practical advice on how to protect themselves, how to get the Police to listen, and how to use the Protection from Harassment Act.
It is only by God’s grace that I can help others after going through four years of distress and suffering. Praise the Lord, indeed.
Joanne Lee Wong is a writer, wife and corgi mum. She’s not a bible scholar, teacher nor church leader - just a former journalist and member of a Methodist congregation who struggles reconciling her faith with everyday experiences. All views expressed are her own.