Trudeau open about disorders



June 3, 2010

Margaret Trudeau does not seem like someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, as she jokes candidly about dinners at 24 Sussex Dr., and speaks openly about meeting Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and their life together.

The former First Lady was in Timmins Thursday, and even spoke of her evening with the Rolling Stones, adding that her now infamous trip to Toronto was likely a result of her disorder.


"It was inappropriate behaviour, and I realize now I should have been in a hospital," she said.

"But I'm 61 now, and I'm glad I did it," she added, as the crowd laughed.

"I have wonderful memories now that will last forever."

Trudeau has been travelling the country, speaking for the Canadian Mental Health Association on behalf of people suffering from mental illness. She said one of her goals is to remove the stigma associated with various disorders.

"In the height of my mania, I wasn't allowed to come down when my husband had guests," she said. "People didn't know what bipolar disorder was, and I think it scared them."

In her public speaking engagements, Trudeau has been extremely open about her illness, explaining that postpartum depression usually began her spiral into bouts of mania and depression.

"People with mental illness are often isolated," she said. "Here I was, coming from a big family in British Columbia, moving to a very quiet house, where everything was done for me.

"I was so bored."

Trudeau describes her episodes with mania as "nuclear bombs" for her family, but says things started to change when she began to understand her condition.

"I realized that it was a chemical imbalance," she said. "Untreated, bipolar disorder is like a roller coaster."

Being in the public eye was difficult, she explained, especially since she was married to a man who was so "calm, collected, and calculated."

"Although, he did pirouette behind the Queen once," she joked.

The former First Lady also spoke of her frequent use of mari juana to deal with depression, and her experience with various antidepressants, like Lithium and Prozac.

"You have to find that balance," she said. "It's about finding the right combination of medication, but I also learned to change my brain.

"I learned to self-monitor, and change my point of view from negative to positive."

Trudeau praised modern mental health clinics, like the Northeastern Ontario Mental Health Centre in North Bay, which she visited during her Northern tour.

"When Pierre put me in the hospital that first time, they just gave us magazines and scissors and glue, no real way to help us get back into the real world.

"Who goes around making collages?" she said, adding that modern facilities now include cooking and workout rooms.

During her presentation, Trudeau was also forthcoming about the death of both her son Michel in an avalanche accident, and her former husband, Pierre, describing these times as "dark."

"After I lost Michel, I could hardly breathe," she said, fighting back tears. "I went back and forth between depression and mania for a long time.

"Pierre's death was hard on all of us too, but for someone with bipolar disorder, things like this are very difficult," she said, adding that at times she felt like she was "going to die."

"The mania would take hold, and I had hallucinations, I couldn't swallow food" she said. "I felt I was going to just slip away and join Michel."

For members of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Trudeau's visit "hits home."

"It means a lot for her to come here," said Clark Mac-Farlane, acting executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Timmins. "It really drives home the fact that really, no one is immune to mental illness, but also that there is hope and recovery is possible."

Today, Trudeau lives a "happy, full" life, spending time with her grandchildren, exercising, and cooking.

"I've had the great fortune of getting medical help, and having a wonderful life in spite of the fact that I'm bipolar," she said. "I was given the tools to heal through therapy and medication, and I was given hope."

Through her stories of glamour, love, and despair, Trudeau's message is clear.

"If I can encourage people by giving them hope, then that's great," she said. "People are scared to say that they have a mental illness, but lives are lost because of it.

"People should first get informed. First of all, find out what the symptoms are of what you've been suffering from, and then see a doctor.

"There are many, many resources out there, more than ever before."

Trudeau continues to work with the Canadian Mental Health Association, advocating for seeking help with mental illness, and is set to release a biography in October 2010 entitled "Changing my Mind."