Pubdate: Fri, 11 May 2007
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 The London Free Press
Author: Randy Richmond, Free Press Reporter


Margaret Trudeau: Reflecting On Her Life

After all the wild times and the hard times, Canada's first lady of
glamour, Margaret Trudeau, can look back at her life with loud
laughter and quiet reflection.

"I was in hypomania when I left (my marriage). I went off to a concert
with the Rolling Stones. I got in a lot of trouble for that," she
said, chuckling.

The next moment, she can add:

"My gaiety and my spark were drug induced. I smoked a lot of marijuana
and I tried to keep myself above the depression that was

In a speech with as many emotional hits as her own life, Trudeau told
more than 500 people at a breakfast meeting in London yesterday
marking Mental Health Week how she struggled for three decades with
bipolar illness.

 From those complicated years, though, Trudeau, 59, delivered a clear
message for others.

"You watch yourself and your family members and your friends pretty
closely about their moods and the way they are living their lives."

You help.

It seems like a bizarre message coming from the woman who cut a wild
and self-centred swath through high and low society in the 1970s.

In that decade alone, the former flower girl married a man 30 years
her senior, prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had three sons,
then left her marriage to party with the likes of The Rolling Stones.

Like she did much of her life, Trudeau plunged headfirst yesterday
into the issue at hand -- mental illness.

"I am actually astonished to be here today because six years ago I
couldn't function. I had reached the end of my rope with my bipolar

A lifetime before that, she grew up one of five happy girls in North

"Those were the days when we'd come home from school, mom would give
us an apple, send us outside and say come back before dark. Life was
very free. . . very simple."

It got more complicated as the 1960s erupted and she went to Simon
Fraser University, then to Morocco, to live as a hippy.

"One of my great regrets in life is the first time I smoked marijuana.
I took to it like a duck to water. It was the totally wrong thing for

Meanwhile, on a family holiday in Tahiti, she met Trudeau.

Years after that first meeting, he called her for a date. They fell in
love. She moved to Ottawa and found work in the government.

Their March 1971 wedding was a Canadian royalty and rock 'n' roll
wedding in one -- a popular young prime minister, 51, and his
beautiful bride, 22.

"I was blissfully happy with Pierre. We had a wonderful little baby
Justin, then followed by Sacha, and suddenly my world crashed."

Postpartum depression was the first assault from a bipolar illness she
didn't know she had.

"I had everything. I had a very loving husband. What was wrong? Why
did I feel so lost and alone?"

She was hospitalized, and recovered a bit, but began to blame her
marriage for her unhappiness.

Then came the manic phase, the high energy state that at first seems
like a lot of fun.

She separated from the prime minister and flung herself into a jet set
lifestyle of drugs and dancing.

"The next few years I flitted from New York to London to Paris. I
thought I had a lot of fun, but I didn't really have fun. I missed my
children and I didn't know where my place was."

She came back to Ottawa in the late 1970s, remarried and had two more

"I had many years of just joy, just real happiness. I had a good
ordinary, solid Canadian life."

Then came the warning signs her life was anything but

Her 14-month old puppy died, and "it put me on the floor. I was just

She fell into a deep depression that lasted several years and sparked
a series of depressive and manic stages.

In 1998, tragedy struck. Trudeau talked about it openly

"My son (Michel) was killed in an avalanche. Of course, that would
knock any mother off her feet. It certainly knocked me off mine. I
couldn't get up."

Two years later, Pierre Trudeau died. That was more than she could

She stopped eating and lost 30 pounds.

This time, she got the doctor and treatment she needed. She gave up
her "big love affair" with marijuana.

"To achieve balance and get back my happiness was to choose sanity, to
choose to have a clean and clear mind, not to alter it, to not try and
escape from the reality that was my life, but to accept it." And
finally, she accepted help from others.

"Life can throw you all kinds of things and knock you off balance, but
I think you have to reach for helping hands . . . there are a lot of
them in the community."
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