“There’s something different about Margie.”
It’s the first line in her third novel and the way Margaret Trudeau introduced her guest lecture on mental health at McMaster’s Health Sciences Building on Thursday March 21.
“Eighty percent of my bipolar is depression, ten percent is manic and the other ten percent is just when I’m doing my laundry I guess, I don’t know,” said Trudeau during the lecture.
Trudeau’s most recent book, Changing My Mind explains her past, living at 24 Sussex with former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and a confusing mental illness that has ruled her for parts of her life.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, about one percent of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder; Margaret Trudeau is one of those Canadians.
“When I turned about 18 and started really studying at university I started going into this darkness […] thinking thoughts that no healthy little mind should have”
Trudeau had trouble dealing with the illness, because of the lack of knowledge about the illness at the time. She was young, it was the 70’s and she discovered marijuana.
“I took unfortunately to marijuana like a duck to water,” said Trudeau.
This was the beginning of her attempt to escape her own mind, she says, but turned out to be a trigger to her first bits of mania. Mania, she said, is the opposite of depression, with sporadic, unfinished thoughts and hyper, high, and excited feelings.
“I was always trying to find that peace of mind … we were playing with our brains. I was playing with my mental health and I didn’t know it,” said Trudeau.
After Trudeau finished her studies, she and former PM Trudeau married and relocated to 24 Sussex where she said, being bipolar and thrust into such a hectic pace, made her feel like a bird in a cage.
“I had no friends … I was away from everything that had given me support and had helped me through, particularly my mom because she knew me and she knew that I was volatile.”
After the birth of their second child her bipolar disorder reared its head again. She visited a doctor who, she said, nearly patted her on the head and said, “It’s just a bit of the baby blues.”
For so long no one had any proper knowledge of the disease and Trudeau was given countless trials of drugs (Lithium, Thorazine, Prozac), which she has referred to as “chemical lobotomies”. She said the issue was that they’d only treated the symptoms of the disorder, without trying to diagnose why the disorder exists.
It was the death of her youngest boy, Michel that set off her mania once again, later on in her life.
“It triggered me into total madness. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think […] I couldn’t live, I just didn’t know how to,” said Trudeau.
She ran away, literally, as she said was her method in dealing with things. After this final episode she eventually received the attention of a good doctor, who managed to give her the proper help.
Medication is not the only thing to combat poor mental health. Trudeau says sleep is her number one, foods high in B12 and avoiding sugar, which can cause feelings of highs and lows in some people.
“I would not have got better if I had not gone to rock bottom […] Life is good now,” said Trudeau.
She went on to caution the crowd, men and women, to “get your hormone levels checked […] without help, you can’t get better.