“There is no magic pill that makes you better:” Trudeau
“I had no idea that I was bipolar,” said Margaret Trudeau, addressing a crowd of United Way donors on Nov. 20.
Trudeau was the keynote speaker for the United Way’s Leadership Thank You event sponsored by Manulife Financial in honour of those who donate $1,000 annually.
“A lot of us feel we’re living in quiet desperation,” said Trudeau, noting the prevalent yet often ignored issues of depression and mental illness.
Canada’s first lady
Reminiscing about her first encounters with the yet-to-be Prime Minister Pierre Elliott while on vacation in Tahiti, Trudeau said, “He made you feel like you were the only person in the room.”
Trudeau, at the age of 22, became the youngest woman to be the prime minister’s wife in Canadian history.
The couple would have three children together. However, it was after the birth of their second child Alexandre that Trudeau said she fell into depression.
“He was as bewildered as I was,” said Trudeau regarding Pierre Elliott’s reaction to her unexplainable state of depression.
Trudeau expressed the difficulties she had in adhering to the expectations of the role of a prime minister’s wife.
“It was very difficult to be put up on this pedestal of what I call the crown jewel of the federal penitentiary system.”
Many average daily activities, such as gardening, were taken care of by hired staff, leaving Trudeau feeling purposeless.
Being young and unaware of her condition, Trudeau discussed the use of recreational drugs and alcohol and their impact on her disorder.
“Recently they’ve put the two together: mental illness and drug addiction.”
The extremes of deep depression and mania that encompass bipolar disorder as a result of chemical imbalances in the brain can be worsened with the use of drugs and alcohol.
“What happens with marijuana is it gets you high and can trigger you into mania,” explained Trudeau.
Realizing this connection has helped her better understand both the disorder and the requirements of ensuring a healthy mind.
“There is no magic pill that makes you better.”
Trudeau would continue to struggle with her bipolar disorder after her marriage to the renowned politician ended; the disorder would escalate out of control at the death of their youngest son Michel in 1998.
“I felt the most defeated and humiliated when I was thrown in the psychiatric ward,” she said, noting the ease of putting on a mask to hide her disorder from friends and family.
“One of the real problems with people suffering from a mental illness is denial.”
However, in reaching what she considered rock bottom, Trudeau stated that she was left to either find treatment or face death.
“We need to understand that our brain is an organ, just like our other organs,” said Trudeau, expressing the importance of treating mental health with the same care as physical health.
The medication available, often prescribed in strong doses, had severe effects on her as she searched for the proper balance.
Once establishing a proper regimen for medication, Trudeau was able to tackle other areas of her health, including rediscovering physical activity.
“I did get a very cute personal trainer,” she joked in expressing her love for exercising daily.
Although she feels she has regained control over her life, Trudeau is not completely free of her mental illness.
“I hate having my children watching over me all the time, but they do.”
Trudeau noted the importance of having supportive friends and family in getting through the rough areas of her disorder.
Through that support, increased awareness and improvements in the types of treatment available for mental illness, Trudeau was able to seek out the means necessary to find stability.
“I think not getting treatment is the insanity.”