Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod used Bell Let’s Talk Day to open up and talk about her own mental health struggles which have been with her since she was first elected in the old Nepean-Carleton riding six provincial elections ago.
MacLeod has been very public about her mental health struggles since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder after the 2022 provincial election.
MacLeod made a video and posted it on the X platform (formerly Twitter). The video was posted Jan. 24 to coincide with Bell Let’s Talk Day.
Above the video, she wrote MacLeod wrote, “What does burnout look like?”. She added that she had patterns for years that she looks back on and notices they were part of her bipolar diagnosis and mental health issues.
She added that after her diagnosis, she did not know what her future would look like. MacLeod said it has taken months of therapy and new medication to figure that out.
“For many years, I was able to burn the candle at both ends, like work really hard during the day and stay up in the evenings networking and making sure I was getting the best briefings possible,” MacLeod said opening her video. “I notice now that I was dealing with very limited sleep. I notice now that I would go between periods of overeating and starving myself. I notice now that there were times I was very mercurial or my mood was inconsistent. People would say that to me and it would hurt.”
Looking back at her workaholic tendencies and her behaviour, she has a better understanding of herself during that time.
“I didn’t realize I had a chemical imbalance inside my head that was making me a different person than whom I thought I was,” MacLeod said. “I think it was when I started to understand what I had, it became more important for me to have a regular schedule and to be with my family, to have a consistency and a daily routine.”
MacLeod won the Progressive Conservative nomination for Nepean-Carleton in 2006, after MPP John Baird vacated his seat to run for federally for the Conservative Party of Canada in Ottawa West-Nepean. She said at the time she wanted to go to Queen’s Park and hit the ground running. She quickly made a name for herself as a vocal member of the opposition.
“At the beginning, I was young when I was elected and I felt like all I could do was work, work, work, work, work to be taken seriously,” MacLeod said. “I used to be called the lioness of the legislature and I was always on a hunt and I was considered aggressive.”
In 2014, MacLeod became a candidate to run for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. She removed herself from the party leadership race after Baird announced he would not seek re-election. MacLeod said at the time she was under pressure from her constituents in Barrhaven to seek the federal nomination to replace Baird in the new rising of Nepean. Nepean-Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre, whom MacLeod had at one time worked for, was staying in Carleton when the riding was split into two. MacLeod opted not to run federally, and in 2015 the new Nepean federal riding was won by Indo-Canadian businessman Chandra Arya, who ran for the Liberal Party of Canada. Arya capitalized on the declining popularity of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the surging popularity of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to win the seat.
I’d Rather Be Baking Cookies
Early in her career, MacLeod also showed she had thick skin and could turn political lemons into lemonade. Liberal strategist and blogger Warren Kinsella satirized MacLeod in a cartoon that showed her in an altered photo with fellow Tory MPPs John Tory and Scott Reid, listening to Randy Hillier. In a thought bubble over her picture, MacLeod is thinking that shed would rather be in the kitchen baking cookies.
MacLeod turned the cartoon around in her favour. She published a cookbook called ‘I’d Rather Be baking Cookies: A Collection of Recipes from Lisa MacLeod and Friends’. The book contains recipes from MacLeod, constituents in her riding, and fellow politicians. It served as a fundraiser for her re-election campaign.
During her last two election victories, MacLeod said that, looking back, she was having mental health problems but was unaware of her condition. In the 2014 provincial election, which was her last as MPP of the Nepean-Carleton riding, MacLeod beat Liberal candidate Jack Uppal by about 9,000 votes. She was aggressive in her campaign, but faced criticism for a smear story against Uppal that appeared in the media just hours after her campaign office in Barrhaven held its grand opening, ribbon cutting and cake cutting in the Barrhaven RioCan Shopping Centre.
Her victory party on election night at the Black Dog in Manotick gave her constituents the first glimpse that she could be suffering from mental health issues. Despite her win, her party suffered a crushing defeat to the Kathleen Wynne Liberals. MacLeod took the loss hard, and she wore her emotions on her sleeve and in her body language. Her voice shook as she spoke to thank her supporters, and she lacked the usual energy that she was known for throughout her career. The Barrhaven Independent/Manotick Messenger was the only media in attendance at the time, and she avoided the local press and was not around long enough even to decline comment on the election.
She did taken on some high profile files in this time, fighting hard for the creation of Rowan’s Law, a bill that would improve concussion awareness and treatments for student-athletes. Rowan Stringer was a high school rugby player at John McCrae Secondary School in Barrhaven who died after suffering a concussion in a game they were playing against rival Longfields-Davidson Heights secondary School. MacLeod worked tirelessly with Gordon and Kathleen Stringer on the project.
In 2018, MacLeod chose to run for office in Nepean as the Nepean-Carleton split. The Doug Ford Progressive Conservatives won the election, and MacLeod became a cabinet minister. MacLeod had to fight through her issues, which had not yet been diagnosed. She was hit hard by the media and the public after an incident where she an unpleasant and profane encounter with the late Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.
MacLeod had promised herself she would not run in the 2022 election, but it crept up on her and she ran. She was almost absent during her campaign, and there were signs up throughout Barrhaven criticizing her for the work she had done on the autism file in 2019, and for her acceptance of $44,000 from a PC riding association for housing. She did not break any rules in accepting the money.
After winning her sixth election, MacLeod took a step back from politics to focus on her health. It was during this time she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. MacLeod was facing the biggest challenge of her life. She built her career fighting for constituents. But this time, she had to fight for herself, something which is much more difficult for people battling depression.
“A year ago, after I was six months, eight months into being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was in the most fragile state of my life, wondering where I was going to go, what I was going to do, who was going to speak to me,” MacLeod said. “I was afraid of my own shadow, and it has taken months upon months upon months, over a year, to deal both with my therapy and the new medication to keep me whole.”
In her video, MacLeod describes the ups and downs of her condition.
“I want to stay here because I can tell you, when I’m high, I’m euphoric, and I can be the Energizer Bunny and I can accomplish more in one day than some could in a year,” she said. “But when I’m low, I’m depressed. I’m desperate. I just feel so much despair and I feel like there’s no life out there for me.
“And so that’s what I deal with on a day to day basis.”