Skip to main content

Just two days after admitting that she has for years suffered from a bipolar disorder, Margaret Trudeau says she has also dealt with anorexia nervosa and that the eating disorder almost killed her.

Ms. Trudeau said during an interview that she became anorexic after the death of her youngest son, Michel, and that it would have killed her if she had not received professional help.

"I had developed anorexia nervosa because I was starving myself, so I wouldn't have lived much longer," she told CTV's Question Period.

Michel Trudeau died eight years ago when an avalanche swept him into a frigid lake in British Columbia.

Ms. Trudeau, now 57, said the tragedy left her gripped by "incredible" grief and pain and that there were times when she simply didn't want to get out of bed.

"I couldn't lift myself out of it," she said. "My life, as far as I was concerned, was over."

Anorexics, who often deny themselves food to the point of death, have an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, despite being clearly underweight.

Ms. Trudeau, who spent much of her life in the public eye after marrying former prime minister Pierre Trudeau at the age of 22, said she first experienced mental health problems after the birth of her second son, Sacha.

She said she was hospitalized at one point, but the drug therapy she was given made her problems worse.

"I had postpartum depression, and it was sort of called baby blues, and it didn't get better, and I didn't get help," she told CTV. "I did get help at one point, but the help in 1970 was very, very different from the help that you get now."

Ms. Trudeau pointed out during the interview that the suicide rate among people with mental disorders such as bipolar disease is very high.

She said her husband, Mr. Trudeau, was "very, very concerned" about what she was going through, but nobody seemed to know what to do about it.

Her own family could not help much because they were on the West Coast, which contributed to the extreme loneliness she felt living in the prime minister's residence in Ottawa.

"I was just so sad, and I had no reason to be. I had the most beautiful children, I had a wonderful husband who I was so in love with," she said. "But the experience of living at 24 Sussex, isolated from friends and family, suffering from depression, was not fun."

Ms. Trudeau also admitted that she is embarrassed about some of her well-documented behaviour from decades ago, but that she blames immaturity more than her mental issues.

"One of the things that happens with, when you have bipolar depression and mania, is that you lose your sense of self, and make bad choices," she said.

"But I have to take responsibility as well for my own choices. That's part of maturity, and I was immature then."

She does, however, blame her mental disorders for the breakdowns of two marriages, to Mr. Trudeau and, years later, to Ottawa developer Fred Kemper.

She said she went through a long period during her marriage to Mr. Kemper when her mental health was good, but entered a period of despair with the death of her dog. Her roller-coaster existence also became more difficult as she went through menopause.

Interact with The Globe