Margaret Trudeau is a Canadian icon, celebrated both for her role in the public eye and as a respected mental-health issues advocate. From becoming a prime minister’s wife at a young age, to the loss of both her son and her former husband, to living with bi-polar disorder, Margaret tirelessly shares her personal stories to remind others of the importance of nurturing the body, mind, and spirit. The Hamilton Spectator sat down with Margaret recently while she was at McMaster University for a talk:
When Margaret Trudeau’s mother died at age 93, something clicked.
“Oh, now I’m a grown up. She’s gone,” she tells an audience at McMaster’s downtown health campus Thursday evening.
The spectre of slipping into the complacent old age of her parents dogged her.
“I want to be youthful and alive all my life, I hope,” Trudeau, 67, said near the end of a roller-coaster talk closing out McMaster’s three-day symposium on the plasticity of aging.
In an hour-long speech that was at turns humorous and sad, the mental-health advocate who has bipolar disorder gave a Coles Notes version of her decades of coping with depression and mania.
When she left home to study at Simon Fraser University, living in a basement apartment and spending long hours in the library, she fell into a deep depression, Trudeau said.
It also caught up to her when she arrived at 24 Sussex Dr., as the much younger wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, where a cadre of staff made it seem like “Downton Abbey.”
But in touching on various bouts of depression, and the mania of being bipolar added to the mix, Trudeau chronicled how misdiagnoses, denial and resistance prevented her from becoming well.
At one stage, when she was an emaciated wreck in hospital, a doctor challenged her to take on the challenge of healing: “You have to do it if you want to live, or go home.”
“And that’s the secret, really taking it on,” said Trudeau, who afterward signed copies of her new book, “The Time of Your Life: Choosing a Vibrant, Joyful Future.”
Trudeau spoke of the importance of not wasting away in institutional settings, remaining active through new experiences and embracing humour.
The mother of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau couldn’t resist letting her partisan leanings show, muttering “Real Change” during one quip.
She also jabbed Conservative Leader Stephen Harper for not investing more in health. “Apparently, our government thinks it’s more important to have cells than beds.”
Trudeau sprinkled vivid metaphors into scientific terminology in explaining the causes of depression and mania.
That simple delivery was why she was asked to speak at the symposium, said Dr. Parminder Raina, director of McMaster’s Institute of GeroScience.
“The reason we wanted to bring (her) to speak was that she uses science and speaks in a very simple language to send a message to people about mental health and the things that allow us to age in a healthy and successful fashion.”