Monday, May 29, 2006

Margaret Trudeau reveals fight with bipolar disorder

By Lee Berthiaume (Vancouver Sun)

OTTAWA- Margaret Trudeau has been waging a secret war for decades.

Controversy has followed her ever since she married former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1971 at the age of 22. In the ensuing years, she became a controlversial figure for her unusual antics and escapades.

But, for the first time Friday, Margaret Trudeau revealed that behind the lights and cameras that recorded her life over the next 30 years, she was fighting a personal and lonely battle against bipolar disorder.

"I suffered tremendous loss because of my reluctance to come forward for help and not recognizing what was happening to me," she told reporters at the Royal Ottawa Hospital on Friday.

After Margaret Trudeau, now 57, gave birth to her and Pierre Trudeau's second son, Sacha, on Christmas Day in 1973, she was struck with an overwhelming depression. She was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and while she received some treatment, doctors didn't realize she was suffering from the more serious bipolar disorder.

Her life at 24 Sussex, she said, was "very lonely- a long tunnel of darkness for me- coupled with the pressues of public life while trying on my own to manage the symptoms of bipolar depression."

Margaret Trudeau said she was forced to cope with these mood swings in secret. Her family, including Pierre Trudeau, tried to help her, but no one, including herself, knew what was wrong.

"It was never talked about in those days and barely recognized, no matter what sector of society you lived in. And so, in the public eye, and under public scrutiny, I tried to manage as best I could," she said.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental illness that manifests itself through extreme mood swings; a person with bipolar disorder will alternately experience extreme euphoria and severe depression.

While married to the former prime minister, Margaret Trudeau made international headlines for the way she acted around heads of states, and after the couple seperated in 1979, for romantic links to numerous celebrities, including the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger.

Margaret Trudeau, who made Friday's announcement to spearhead a fundraising campaign for the Royal Ottawa Hospital's $120 million expansion, did not speak about her past actions, but said her illness created problems in her marriages to Pierre Trudeau and her second husband, Ottawa realtor, Fried Kemper.

"It's not easy to live with an illness that impacted my family life for years, that tore away at my two marriages, and ultimately, the very meaning of my life" Margaret Trudeau said.

When Pierre Trudeau died two years after the couple's youngest son, Michel, was killed in an avalanche in British Columbia, Margaret Trudeau was forced to come to grips with her depression.

Overcoming the stigma that had held her back for years, she admitted herself in to the Royal Ottawa Hospital in 2001 and was diagnosed with bipolar depression.

As an in-patient at the hospital, she began receiving medication and therapy as doctors tried to stabilize the fluctuations between extreme euphoria and severe depression. She said she now is coming forward with her story to try to encourage others to seek treatment.

"I have my life back and I'm here to champion the cause," she said. "There is no shame in coming forward for help. If you feel you are being judged, and I certainly feel I have always been judged, you must ignore the unfair prejudice society has placed upon you.

"I felt like I was broken for a long time, and now I feel whole again."

Margaret Trudeau said she has been healthy for the past two years, but Dr. Pierre Blier, chairman of Mood Disorders Research at the University of Ottawa's Institute of Mental Health Research, said bipolar disorder takes years to treat, sometimes even a lifetime.

"The pivotal stone for treating the illness is medication," said Blier, who also attended Friday's conference. "It's really a longterm disease."

Having prominent figures like Margaret Trudeau go public with their personal battles will encourage others to shed their fears and seek help as well.

"I think it will really help people," Blier said, though he acknowledged it will be a long time before the stigma is eliminated.

"It's going to take repeated attacks to make a difference."

Ottawa Citizen


MARYBETH said...

Thank you for sharing this!