Margaret Trudeau working to break stigma around mental health

Trudeau shares journey with suffering from bipolar disorder 57

Mental health issues advocate Margaret Trudeau engaged a crowd at Northern College in South Porcupine, sharing her journey with being bipolar. Afterwards she signed books and met with people.

The mental health issues advocate shared her story with more than 500 people at Northern College in Timmins Feb. 13. The night before, she spoke at the college’s Kirkland Lake campus.

“I don’t know why I’m bipolar,” she told the crowd, light-heartedly singing that maybe it’s like Lady Gaga says and she was born this way.

Sharing her journey, she engaged the room with stories about her family, including her son, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and first husband, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Afterwards people lined up to have her sign a book or take a photo, with Trudeau staying longer than the allotted time to meet everyone.

“I have obviously some great stories and people know my stories, so that works as a good vehicle, but I’m giving a mental health message. I’m trying to teach people from my terrible experiences of what not to do, and I know what the proper way is to have recovery from mental illness,” she said.

While she chooses to live a private life now, the choice wasn’t always hers.

“When I was living Pierre’s life, I did not really choose it. I chose him but not the life so I never wanted to be in that kind of spotlight. But this kind of spotlight where I can help people is good for me,” she said.

With bipolar, Trudeau would go from depression to mania, all in the public eye.

The depression, she says, is a thief; taking your life away from you and when you’re out of it there is a lot of brick-building to do.

In mania, she describes feeling powerful, enlightened and having a busy brain.

There is a third stage of the illness she said nobody told her about.

“I pushed myself into insanity,” she said.

The illness has meant two stays in a psychiatric ward. The first, she describes as the worst time of her life. The second, which came after her son Michel’s and Pierre Trudeau’s deaths about two years apart, saved her life.

When her mental health journey started, she said she was well-educated, but didn’t know anything about psychology.

With the knowledge that there is about it today, she believes it can help break the stigma around mental health.

“Because stigma is based on fear, on not wanting to be humiliated, not wanting to be ashamed,” Trudeau said. “And yet everything has shown me that the shame that I should have carried was not for the mental illness, but having one and not getting accepting and getting help so that my family and my friends and everyone we could have a good life, because you cause a lot of collateral damage by not getting treatment.”

There is no cure for bipolar, but there are ways to deal with it.

Today, Trudeau has the illness under control and proactively manages it.

She said she works every day, one day at a time, to keep herself out of mania.

“I’m living with it, but I’m not letting it control me anymore. I want to be the one in charge of my emotions, I don’t want them to be in charge of me,” she said.

Part of tackling it is being mindful.

If she has a bad day and needs to take a higher dose of pills, she’ll take a ‘healing day’.

“I don’t have to do it very often, sometimes if I’ve been out on the road for five or six days, you know doing a lot of events and I’m tired, I can feel it happening and I say ‘oh I’ve just got to go down’,” she said.

With the knowledge of hindsight, Trudeau knows now that being in the spotlight was a trigger.

At the same time, she said she was a young woman and mother trying to find her way.

“As well, I was a little bit of a revolutionary, or so I thought in my own mind. I wanted love, peace and happiness to reign, and flowers in our hair,” she said.

For people who think they are dealing with a mental illness, she encourages going to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“Get your courage and walk through the door,” she said, adding they can do an assessment to see if you need the hospital or, maybe, just a friend.


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