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Margaret Trudeau

October 24, 2017 by Speakers' Spotlight

Struggle and Survival with Mental Illness

Canadian icon Margaret Trudeau is 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.

In a great interview with NPR’s Boston affiliate, WBUR, Trudeau discusses everything from her early days married to Pierre Trudeau, to the struggle leading to the discovery of her mental illness, what that road to discovery taught her, and what those currently dealing with mental illness can do to make their lives better.

Here’s part of that interview:

Margaret Trudeau shot to international fame in the 1970s as the young wife of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. She entranced the country and the media with her behavior — late nights with the Rolling Stones, short skirts at state dinners, dancing in New York’s Studio 54. But Trudeau suffered greatly with undiagnosed mental illness.

The mother of current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Here & Now‘s Robin Young about her struggles with mental health and her work today as an advocate.

On how her mental health struggle began

“When I was having my second son, I woke up about, within a month of his birth, and I had no more interest in my life. I had a beautiful life — I had a gorgeous 2-year-old, I was pampered, I loved my husband, he adored me, and I was just from a very provincial North Vancouver in British Columbia, so I wasn’t sophisticated at all. But I was a hippy, and I had a big, huge heart. Pierre and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I couldn’t even make a decision as to what to wear, so I would cancel all my engagements. I didn’t find any of the delight in being with my little 2-year-old, I just wanted to crawl back into my bed.”

On what she was told after visiting a doctor

“[The doctor] said, ‘Baby blues,’ and, ‘Pierre, pay more attention to Margaret.’ As if he somehow could fix me out of the beginning of a real illness. And it was my first clinical depression. I got better, my husband asked me to join him on the campaign trail, and I weaned my baby in one day, because it was no place for him, because on the planes they still allowed smoking. So I left him, and that in itself was such a hormonal fluctuation. A lot of our bipolar episodes are triggered — not caused, triggered — by fluctuations in hormones.”


On advice for people who are dealing with their own struggle

“No matter how good a family you have, how intelligent you are, how educated you are … it doesn’t matter. Your family can’t fix you. What you really need is a third party, a dispassionate person. It doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist, it could be a psychologist, it could be a guidance counselor, it can be a teacher, it can be a pastor, it can be somebody who will dispassionately listen to you and you will be totally honest … which you won’t be with your family, by the way. But the other thing is that, then you try and blame everybody. The two things that go along with mental illness I’ve discovered, first of all denial: ‘There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. If you think there’s something wrong with me, there’s something wrong with you.’ I would say that constantly. And then blaming everyone else for all the mistakes you’re making. So if you can stop both the denial and the blame, there’s only one person who can help you. And that is yourself. You have to find the courage to say, ‘I want to have a better life,’ and then you reach out for help. You don’t know how many people are out there just longing to help you.”

For the full interview (and audio) visit WBUR.