Margaret Trudeau Opens Up Before Human Library Online Chat

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MARGARET TRUDEAU FAMILY JUSTIN
Margaret Trudeau says she is concerned about the scrutiny her son Justin faces in his campaign to become leader of the federal Liberal Party of Canada. (CP) | CP

After her very public life as Canada's youngest prime minister's wife, Margaret Trudeau says privacy is one of the "biggest luxuries one can have."

But she has decided to open up about her struggles with mental health and participate in a live chat as part of the CBC's Human Library, a series of events across Canada where people can check out a human "book" and have a conversation about their life experiences.

"I strongly believe that privacy is one of the biggest luxuries one can have in life — to have your own private world, and not be invaded by the outside," Trudeau told CBC News on Friday.

"But I gave that up in a way, in order to be of help …. I was encouraged to write my book on my struggle with mental illness by my doctors, because they witnessed what I went through, which was to hit absolutely rock bottom — but [also] how I rebuilt my life with their help."

As part of the National Human Library Day, there will be 24 events held in 15 cities across Canada on Jan. 26, including live chats with Trudeau and other prominent Canadians starting at 11 a.m. ET.

People have already sent in some questions for Trudeau, including about her marriage to the late prime minister at age 22, and how she summoned the courage to come out publicly about her bipolar disorder in 2006.

Ahead of her online chat at 4 p.m. ET today, the writer, actor and mental health advocate talked with CBC News about her tumultuous time in the spotlight, her son Justin taking a bigger step onto the political stage, and the ongoing stigma surrounding mental health issues.

Q: Why have you decided to talk so publicly about your life, and your personal struggles with mental health?

A: "I have some time under me that has played out in difficult ways and great ways. And all I'm trying to do is pass on the courage to others that I had to find to not accept living in a life of quiet desperation and depression and sadness …. I'm just so grateful. I have my full life back. I live with being bipolar, but it doesn't define me anymore."

Q: What role did the fame that came with being the prime minister's wife have on your disorder?

A: "The main thing that triggered my depression was my isolation that was imposed on me by becoming the wife of the prime minister, and leaving my home, my family. I was young, very young, and very naive, and very hopeful and enthusiastic about my wonderful new life, but it was the loneliness and the lack of being able to properly relate to people."

Q: With Justin Trudeau attempting to follow in his father's footsteps …, are you concerned about the scrutiny he faces?

A: "Oh my goodness, yes. Fortunately, nobody asked me whether it was a good idea for him to get into politics. Because that's not my role. I'm his mother. His choice is his own. But I know what the world of politics is like, living inside it …. I see so many differences from what my situation was as a young, 22-year-old taken out of North Vancouver and put into the spotlight …."

Q: If your bipolar disorder had been discovered and treated earlier, do you think your marriage to Pierre would have lasted longer than 13 years?

A: "Of course it would have. There was nothing but love between us. The black cloud that was over us was my unquiet mind. And until I got that sorted out, there wasn't going to be peace. And without peace you don't have trust, and you don't have a healthy marriage."

Q: What do you hope to get across in the live chat today?

A: "To help people understand. For myself, it will be another attempt to break the stigma to allow people to openly talk about mental illness — about brain issues, about disorders, about anxiety, about feeling defeated and hopeless. And not hiding any more, and getting the help you need to get you back on track to enjoy this extraordinary life we've been given the chance to live."

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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