By Nathan Gagné
People with mental illness often feel as if they matter less than the rest of the population or that their illness is an impenetrable handicap. Margaret Trudeau has struggled with bipolar disorder in the duration of her adult life and speaks openly about her experience so that others may find hope in dark times and improve their mental health each and every day. She is the mother of the current prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, therefore I find it appropriate to share her story so that others may be inspired by it going into the future. Ms. Trudeau was married to Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the man who served as 15th prime minister of Canada from 1971 to 1984. In an interview with CNN, she reveals that her marriage was not perfect. In fact, she married at the age of 22 when Mr. Trudeau was 51 years old. Mr. Trudeau was a practical man who was in charge of the political well-being of his country. Some would say it is not surprising that he was not entirely present when it came to maintaining a healthy relationship with his wife and was not always there for her when things took a turn for the worse. Ms. Trudeau says it herself: “it was sort of 12-hour days that he’d work. ‘What about me?’ I was self-involved then. But it is a hard, hard job”. The years of her unsatisfying marriage ended in a no-fault divorce in 1984 where she was left struggling to find her place in society. She sets the true breaking point of her mental disarray at the time following the death of her son, Michael, who was buried by an avalanche in Kokanee Lake, British Columbia in 1998. She calls it her “final psychosis, my complete breakdown”. The years after her son’s death were the worst for her because she did not understand why her depressive state seemed to linger. She looked for explanations everywhere: “I kept hitting dead ends, always searching for something else outside of myself”. In 2006, she discovered that her illness was not due to outside factors, but instead to chemical imbalances and was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The struggle to fight this illness was not an easy one. The depressive state, the first half of bipolar disorder, was what she first experienced. Ms. Trudeau says that the process of healing depression requires the presence of loved ones in your life, but that she did not know this at the time: “You need family. You need people encouraging you, helping you make the baby steps into healing and recovery. And I let myself get very isolated”. However, it was not the depression that she thinks is the toughest to overcome. The state of mania, in other words, feeling excessively excited and euphoric is equally as destructive, because it tunes out rational thought and can lead to more intense periods of depression. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, she describes the way manic episodes can be very dangerous: “Mania is the most destructive of the forces. Everybody around you will tell you you’re in trouble, and you can’t hear what they are saying”. Every time she speaks on the topic of her fight against bipolar disorder, she presents the fact that the healing process doesn’t conclude overnight. It takes a long time to be able to open up and forgive yourself as well as others who cannot understand what you are going through. I truly appreciate what Ms. Trudeau stands for as I have a family member who has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He has his own periods of manic and depressive episodes that have put a strain on the family. His illness has created a certain rift between our mutual understanding that is only able to be bridged thanks to people like Ms. Trudeau who try to show that mental disorders are not “unnatural” or “bizarre” but are a fact of life that should only make people be kinder and more compassionate with one another. Her message helps me understand this family member in a meaningful way and helps me come to grasp with the fact that it is not uncommon for people to suffer from mental health issues of some kind. Margaret Trudeau has become a respected advocate for mental health ever since her recovery and has inspired countless others around the world with her message of love and hope. In her book called “Changing My Mind”, Margaret Trudeau shares her experiences with bipolar disorder to give people a better understanding of the effects the illness can have on one’s life and how she was able to overcome the mental obstacles that were placed before her. I believe she is a true inspiration to all of those who struggle with mental illness.