Margaret Trudeau spoke to a sold-out audience in Castlegar Wednesday night.

Divine evening with Margaret Trudeau

Prime Minister's mother speaks to sold-out crowd about her life and her struggles with mental illness.

Over 300 women, and a few brave men, attended the Find Your Divine event in Castlegar Wednesday night. The sold-out event was filled with amazing appetizers, informative displays, heart-felt inspiration and lots of laughs.

The highlight of the event was a speech by Margaret Trudeau, who is well know to Canadians as the mother of current prime minister Justin Trudeau and the wife of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who served as prime minister from 1968-1979 and again from 1980-1984.

Through dealing with the struggles of her own mental illness — bipolar disorder, Trudeau has become an outspoken advocate for mental health issues. Her speech was given in a down-to-earth, conversational style that captivated the audience.

Full of humour and heartbreak, Trudeau wove the story of her life from manic highs and depressive lows through personal tragedies and victories. She shared stories from the wild days of her youth, meeting and secretly dating Pierre, the turbulent years of her marriage, her journeys of self discovery, the loss of her son and finally getting the help she needed to learn to live with her illness.

She explained what it is like to be in the depressive side of her illness. “I lose all sight of my life, all my interests — everything,” she said. “Depression is a thief.” As to the mania side she said, “Mania is wonderful for the person who has it; but not for anyone else… You get addicted to that mania. You want to be in that mania forever — but it is that mania that will destroy you.”

Trudeau told personal anecdotes from her life as a Prime Minister’s wife including the fact that she considered 24 Sussex Drive as “the crown jewel of the penitentiary system.” She was unprepared for such a restrictive life and the wide gap between her and Pierre’s ages added to the the problems. “He thought my friends were young and immature,” she said. “I though his friends were old and boring.”

At one point, after spending time on the campaign trail, she asked Pierre for a day off alone in the city. When she got there, she decided that wasn’t what she really wanted, what she wanted was Paris. So after ditching her driver and a trip to Eatons to buy luggage and clothes, off she went. Paris didn’t satisfy either, and it was a trip to the Canadian Consulate to get a passport to visit Crete that finally tipped off her family as to her whereabouts. This incident marked an extreme point in one of her stages of mania.

Over the years Trudeau went through numerous doctors, misdiagnoses, medications, adverse side effects and extremes in her behaviour before finally getting the help she needed. The death of her son Michel in 1998 followed closely by the death of Pierre brought her to an ultimate low. “When I realized I had lost my boy, I lost my will to live. I lost my faith, I lost my hope,” she said. “I lost everything.”

She pushed everyone away, lived reclusively, stopped caring for herself and stopped eating. She had entered into a state of psychosis. In describing it she said, “I had lost touch with reality.” Her family staged an intervention and had her forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital. This is where she would begin to get the help that would lead to the more balanced life she lives today. “I felt defeated, humiliated and ashamed,” she said. “but my good doctor helped me to forgive myself… and learn to start over.”

It would involve hard work, years of cognitive behavioural therapy, a new way of eating, a new way of thinking — a new way of living. “I never want to be that person again,” she said. “It is a choice to be well. You can choose to reach out for help and get back your life.”

Along with her message of hope and encouragement to seek help if you are struggling, Trudeau shared an admonition to be supportive and kind if you know someone who has a mental illness.

Many people in the audience were deeply moved by Trudeau’s story. “It was so personal and emotional you could just feel how she felt,” said one audience member named Dianne. “It is hard to talk about it even now, because it was so emotional.” Other guests called it inspirational, moving, heartwarming and encouraging.

The event inspired many to open up and share their own experiences with mental illness and heartbreak and thus also served as a catalyst for change.

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