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Margaret Trudeau is solo, sane, 60 – and irrepressible as ever

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“I went into complete and utter madness,” she says. She dropped 30 pounds. “I couldn't leave my house to buy groceries.”

Why did her children or her husband (even though they had separated) not step in? “I can easily put on such a good mask. I can fool anybody into believing anything,” she says. “I have done it all my life. I was a very sick woman and nobody noticed.” All the weight loss only caused people to praise her svelte silhouette.

Her second marriage soon ended in divorce.

The turnaround did not begin until 2001, when she checked herself into the Royal Ottawa Hospital. But, contrary to some reports, that was not the first time she had been diagnosed with a bipolar (or manic-depressive) disorder.

“Early on, when I was married to Pierre, [Liberal politician] Stuart Smith, who was a psychiatrist, had written to Pierre suggesting that Pierre and I should look into the idea that perhaps I was manic-depressive, that this might account for my strange behaviour and my acting-out and the difficulties we were having.

“We immediately had a meeting. [But] there wasn't a treatment. There weren't the drugs. There wasn't the perception that we have now of how easy it is to manage your manic depression.”

And in 1979, when she was on her own in New York, a psychiatrist who “was a socialite as well,” prescribed lithium as a mood stabilizer. “I immediately started taking it, and within a month, I wrapped up my acting classes and moved back to Ottawa. But I didn't have a psychiatrist there.” Coming out

And so it was only in 2001 that, at last, Ms. Trudeau was prepared to accept the diagnosis and long-term treatment. Afterward, in gratitude, she offered to help the Ottawa hospital any way she could.

“I thought I would be selling tickets to the gala,” she laughs. “But they said, ‘I think you should be an advocate. Be a champion.' It was scary the first time, but it was the realest moment in my life. ... I am sure it's how someone who has hidden something all of their life feels. What a relief.”

She now travels the country to speak to audiences about the need to remove the stigma of mental illness. “I say, ‘I am not bipolar. I am Margaret.' ”

She is writing a book about living with the condition, to be published next year by HarperCollins. And next Saturday in Vancouver, she will be honoured with a humanitarian award by the Society of Biological Psychiatrists.

The greatest casualty of her illness has been her relationships. “Ninety per cent of bipolar marriages fail if one of the spouses goes untreated, because you get tired of being on the roller coaster. You get tired of the unpredictability, of the inconstancy. Unfortunately, both husbands were Libras, so they were always looking for balance. …

“There was imbalance with my first husband just by the given of our 29-year age difference and the difficulty of me being this unformed, enthusiastic young woman and he already completely in place being the leader of the country.

“Too much imbalance, but such genuine love. And his care for me all my life was the thing that kept me going. He was the constant, always. Our relationship was based not as a man and a woman but as parents … and our conversation, our closeness, our intimacy was all centred around our beautiful sons.”

She tears up when asked about his death. “Pierre was always my husband in the true sense,” she confesses. “I think I devoted my life to Pierre Trudeau and our beautiful children. Perhaps I'm a Canadian polygamist because I have a second husband too, and I have raised beautiful children with him.”

But her husbands were not helpful as she was swept from highs to lows. “It takes two to help,” she says. “It takes a person to ask for it, which I never did. … And it takes a totally informed person to be able to offer help … to not be offering, as Pierre did, bewilderment: ‘Margaret, you have everything, these beautiful children, this world, and yet …'”

“My second husband … expected perfection, and mostly I delivered it – whatever he wanted, whether he wanted someone to sit and talk about Plato or someone to make the perfect lemon cake.”

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