"More Than a Rose in my Husband's Lapel"; Margaret Trudeau & Beyond the Boardroom

Lana Larder with Margaret TrudeauLana Larder was lucky enough to speak to author, actress, photographer, former television talk show hostess and former wife of Pierre Trudeau, the 15th Prime Minister of Canada. 

Margaret Trudeau has garnered more publicity than any woman in Canadian history. She now shares her personal life story in her memoir, Changing My Mind, and is a trailblazer and leader for mental health.

“I first met Pierre at a lagoon at the end of a holiday". Margaret remembers what he said, “If I ever marry she’s the one.” At 22 years old, in 1971, Margaret Trudeau became the youngest First Lady and wife of former 15th Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau. Politics are again in Margaret’s life as her son, Justin Trudeau is the current Leader for the Liberal Party in Canada.

Margaret moved into 24 Sussex Drive (The Canadian Prime Minister's address) and brought both glamour and controversy.  When interviewed by the press she famously replied:

“I want to be more than a rose in my husband’s lapel.”

Margaret’s role as the youngest First Lady in Canada took her all over the world, with state visits, political campaigns and parties for world leaders where she was always in the public eye.  She hung out with the Rolling Stones and partied at Studio 54 in New York. 

Today, Margaret has taken her leadership beyond the boardroom, where she is courageous and a trailblazer breaking down the stereotyping of mental illness with her story and openness. One of Margaret’s life goals is to break down this stereotyping, and get others to talk about mental health at the kitchen table.

One out of every five people suffers from mental illness.   

The Centre for Women in Business with the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women hosted a talk-show event in June to celebrate 21 years for the Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. 

Down to earth, hilarious and entertaining Margaret told her story. “At Twenty-three it was confirmed I suffered from depression and was bipolar. Diagnosis back then was therapy and to be around family,” said Margaret. “I would fall to the depths of despair, and then to excitement. It was easy to laugh, and easy to cry. She was a different child from her four other siblings and called a drama queen.” 

Women are three times more likely to suffer from depression than men.

Bi-polar can be the result of a head injury and Margaret suffered a head injury as a child. Her Aunt Betty, a highly intelligent woman, said she needed food and isolation. It was in University when Margaret began to feel different. Margaret said: “I took to marijuana like a duck to water to medicate myself, Strawberry Fields Forever.”

When Margaret moved into the Prime Minister’s residence she was treated like a princess, and became very lonely. “My second pregnancy with my son Sash led to a difficult birth. It felt like the light had gone out of my brain. I just wept. I didn’t want to participate.”

Pierre went with Margaret to a psychiatrist where she was told she had the baby blues. She was given no medication and no diagnosis.   

In 1974, Margaret told Pierre he was giving boring speeches for his campaign. “I was getting skinnier because I was in the mania phase of bi-polar. I took off to Montreal, then Paris to walk on the beach.  My mind was racing and I didn’t know what to do. I was put in a hospital. Years went by, and I didn’t know what to do, and I was not surviving in my marriage. I ran off with the Rolling Stones, not facing things head on.” 

She eventually left Pierre and had a morning talk show. “Then I got really sick. The Doctor I saw put me on too strong medication that pushed me into mania. Finally, I went to a really good psychiatrist, and then Michel my son was lost in an avalanche.” 

Margaret was then in the third stage of mania – psychosis. “You can’t complete anything, have no rational thoughts, andmake bad choices. I stopped connecting the dots, went to the hospital, had therapy, and had to forgive myself.”

“Depression is not sorrow or sadness, it’s a part of my life, and it’s an illness. Our bodies have a hormonal system with serotonin that gives us a push and helps us find beauty in life. People who suffer from depression don’t care about a beautiful sunset from lack of serotonin. It’s like there’s no feeling left in you.” 

“Then there’s the other side of bi-polar – the hypo mania side where it’s madness. I would stop sleeping, forget to eat, and not listen to anyone.” 

“I would get higher and higher.”

Since then Margaret has been able to get the right diagnosis and medication. “I haven’t fallen - I now live in balance. I take my medication, sleep and eat properly. I’m now more consistent than the average bear! I’ve stopped eating sugar. I say no more. I hide, I try not to give too much of myself away. The daily maximum I drink is two glasses of wine. I’m leading a life that’s secure.” 

“If you think negatively, match it with a positive thought. Take a negative and make it positive.” 

The Minister for the Status of Women, Joanne Bernard said, “I understand the challenges women face. They need support and full commitment.” Joanne personally thanked Margaret for telling her story of mental illness. “Part of combating this is to speak out. Margaret is focused as an author and advocate.”

Eleanor Beaton, a long time author and journalist is a friend of Trudeau’s and specializes in helping women entrepreneurs like Arlene Dickinson and the Dove Real Beauty campaign co-creators tell their stories. She interviewed Trudeau and helped facilitate questions at the event. 

“If we see someone how do we help them? It all starts with acceptance, getting out of denial, and then the healing can begin. This is the real benefit of women sharing stories and I am so grateful,” said Eleanor.   

“Margaret Trudeau is a true example of a leader. She is a focused trailblazer.”

Margaret said:“I understand that 1/3 of people love you, 1/3 of people hate you…and whatever, rock and roll with the punches".

Margaret recounts her journey of recovery sharing her personal life story from becoming the Prime Minister's wife at a young age, to the loss of both her son and her former husband, to her journey of acceptance and recovery from bipolar disorder in her memoir Changing My Mind. 

With a sense of humor and spontaneity, Margaret reminds others how important it is to nurture the body, mind and spirit beyond the boardroom.

Lana Larder founded Halifax Finance Inc. in 2008 in Nova Scotia, Canada after seeing how difficult it was for business women globally to access financing to open or grow a business. Lana is currently working on founding the first angel fund for women starting up businesses in Canada. She is a huge advocate for women in business and wants to “shatter the glass box” and break the stereotyping of angels and angel funds in Canada. A published author, Lana has been recognized with local and national awards for her entrepreneurship and leadership.

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