She’s dined with queens and princesses, and danced with princes. She’s gone clubbing with the Rolling Stones. She works in Africa, sleeves rolled up and hair bound in a turban to bring clean water to women and children. She’s written three books. An author, actress, photographer and former television talk show hostess. At 22 years of age she became the First Lady of Canada.
Margaret Trudeau, now 66, recently visited Annapolis Royal and was the guest speaker for the Senior Women’s Summit held by The Women’s Place Resource Center.
For years Trudeau was known for her erratic behaviour, attributable in part we now know to bipolar disorder. She documents her struggle with the disease and her path to wellness in her book, Changing My Mind.
Now, she sits on the board at UBC’s Brain Health Center and is an advocate for mental health awareness. She is excited about innovations in the field and wants women to know that there is help. Attitudes are changing. They’ve come a long way from the 1970s when a common diagnosis for women was “it’s just the baby blues.” That’s what the first psychiatrist Trudeau visited in 1974 told her. Then he told Pierre Trudeau to pay more attention to her and all would be well.
While the stigma surrounding mental health issues have not completely disappeared, awareness and understanding grow daily. “We have to have compassion and understanding for those who have mental illnesses or they’ll never get better. They’ll just be isolated and afraid and alone unless they get the support and the understanding of people,” Trudeau said.
Mental health isn’t the only demon Trudeau hopes to help Canadian women slay. In her new book, Trudeau is taking on the problems facing an aging female population. As the ranks of senior women swell to numbers never seen before, women are going to face many challenges. “It’s really frightening, what’s going to be happening to women as we age,” she said. “A lot of us are going to be very poor, a lot of us are not going to have any resources. We are going to have to really band together as seniors and pool our resources and give each other tremendous support.”
However, what if women band together and use their uniquely womanly traits to save themselves. Sharing and nurturing, using brain instead of brawn. “There are so many innovative ways of using each other,” Trudeau said, quickly listing off a few. Tax breaks for those who care for seniors, cohabitation arrangements with your children — they get the house and you get the granny suite. A barter system — “You do that for me and I’ll do that for you,” she said. “Not having to be tied to money,” she said. These are all legitimate ideas of how to combat the challenges of aging.
But, there has to be a plan, a strategy, she said. You need groups like the Women’s Resource Center where women can meet, strategize and make plans.
“One woman in Nantucket, after she lost her husband, big family home, she started putting other elderly women in her house in her children’s rooms. They shared everything. I think we’re going to be looking at solutions like that,” she said.
“I see in Canada a huge wave of seniors who are coming and I think we can make the difference,” she said. “Believe me, the women are going to make the difference. If we can just get the girls educated, if we can just get the women heard. If we can just get their stories out, if we can hear their voice, then we’ll start having change.”