A little while back, I picked up a used copy of Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau, the famous ex-wife of our phenomenal prime minister of years past, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I was nearly salivating as it was a hardcover in mint condition and I had wanted to read this book ever since I heard it had come out. To give you a background of what it covers, read the following excerpt from Andrew Cohen’s review which appeared in the Globe and Mail shortly after the book came out:
In the autumn of 2000, Margaret Trudeau was falling apart. Two months before, Pierre had died. Two years earlier, Michel had been killed. The death of her former husband and the loss of her youngest son were body blows. A life of divorce, drugs, alcohol – ricocheting between celebrity and notoriety and wealth and privation – was now presenting a bill. It was all too much.
In the last days of December, she lost control. When her middle son, Sacha, found her disoriented at her home and called a doctor, she learned that her depression and mania had become a wasting malaise demanding treatment in a psychiatric ward. At the hospital, she begged nurses not to lock her up. “I had hit rock bottom,” she writes. “There was nowhere lower for me to go.”
And so it was Margaret Joan Sinclair Trudeau Kemper at the nadir of her descent into mental illness. She had been the flower child of Morocco, the temptress of Tahiti, the child bride of the prime minister and the unhappy chatelaine of 24 Sussex Dr. She had been the drug-addled hipster and the high-octane jet setter. She had been tastemaker and mischief-maker and, once upon a time, the enfant terrible of cold, grey Canada.
Since that awful Christmas 10 years ago, she has come back from the abyss. She has gone public with her medical affliction and works to raise public awareness of mental illness. It has been a long, strange trip for Margaret Trudeau, whom we respect today for her honesty and her courage. She has changed her mind – and now, perhaps, we’ll change ours about her.
From a therapist’s perspective specializing in women’s emotional wellbeing, I applaud the courage it must have taken for Margaret to a) write her story and thus, relive some of her darkest moments on earth and b) publish it in its entirety for the entire world to see. Mental illness is still highly stigmatized in Canada (and in most parts of the globe unfortunately) and highly misunderstood. I think it’s about time that people learn what it is actually like to struggle with mental illness over a course of a lifetime and what social obstacles they face in the process.
While I wouldn’t call it a literary genius, the book does the job it was intended to: it teaches readers about the horrors of living with mental illness (and those horrors appear to be equal regardless of one’s socioeconomic or celebrity status), the struggle to accept one’s diagnosis and treatment, and how we can all become activists to make our society more accepting of mental illness through educating ourselves, and finally, figuring out a way to integrate people with mental illness lovingly in our world; both personally and collectively.
Margaret Trudeau- you have done us Canadians proud by encouraging this social conversation on helping people get treatment for mental illness early on and demanding equal treatment for people who struggle with these issues.
To find out more about mental health in Canada and how you can become an activist in your community, go to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website.