Mariella Frostrup is seen as a pioneer within the growing band of women who are battling taboos that still surround menopause.
In this candid and wide-ranging interview, the 60-year-old author of Cracking the Menopause – While Keeping Yourself Together, who divides her time between London and Somerset with her husband, human rights lawyer Jason McCue, and children Molly, 18, and Danny, 17, talks to me about spending two years “going out of her mind” before receiving help.
She also discusses how to keep your sanity while navigating midlife, the power of sharing experiences and what self-care in an always-on world looks like…
We’re going to kick off with our eponymous question – are you in a good place?
“I think I probably am in a good place. I’m at home, in my flat in London, where I spend a small amount of time – mostly I live in Somerset. And it’s always quite nice, I think, to be in the city for brief periods.
"But I’m always very grateful for the fact that we moved to Somerset 11 years ago, because that’s definitely my good place. I just get off the train, take a big, deep breath and I just get oxygen all the way through the body.
“Some days are better than others. Today’s a good day apart from the over-crammed tube. So yeah, I’m in a good place.”
What does being in a good place mentally mean to you?
“Being in a good place has come to mean – for most of us, I think – being comfortable, content, and feeling less angst and stress than you do on a bad day. It symbolises happiness and contentment, which I think are two of the hardest things to come by in the rather frenetic world that we live in now.”
Why did you decide to open up your life in your book?
“I’ve always been quite vocal about whatever’s preoccupying me. You know, I’m the eldest of five. I left home and school quite young. I’ve always fended for myself. So I’m probably more outspoken than a person needs to be.
“With the menopause, I was just completely gobsmacked. I spent two years feeling really quite dreadful, anxious, not in a good place, not sleeping, and really feeling like I was slightly going out of my mind and no real idea why… they seemed really indiscriminate symptoms. And it took me a couple of years to finally get to see a gynaecologist, who was just fantastic, and said: ‘Look, I’ve talked to you for five minutes, you’re definitely going through menopause. And what you need is some hormones, and let’s check your bone density,’ and so on.
“The thing I was so shocked about, though, was that I consider myself someone who’s lived through all kinds of different challenges. And yet, this was one that was not only very, very difficult, but was made even more so by the fact it seemed like it was completely unmentionable. I couldn’t believe that, and it felt incredibly unjust, and like yet another hurdle thrown in women’s paths that you really need like a hole in the head when you finally get to your 40s or 50s.
"And I thought: ‘I refuse to be ashamed; why should I be ashamed of something that’s completely natural, that happens to 50 per cent of the population?’”
Do you lean into self-compassion?
“When I’m feeling really rubbish, I’m really nice to myself. If I feel like getting into bed and listening to sad songs, or just like devouring a box set and hiding from the world, then I’ll do it because ultimately, at the end of it, you do come out feeling better.
“You can’t be sad forever, just like you can’t be happy forever.”
Does the ageing process bother you?
“Yeah, it bothers me because it’s hard to deny that time is passing. And you can see the visual manifestation of it and you feel a bit of nostalgia and a little bit of mourning, perhaps, for youth. I look at my kids and their friends and I just marvel at how perfect they are, which makes it all the more frustrating that they don’t realise it.”
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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“I used to travel a lot to Africa – I still do when I get a chance, because I’ve worked with a lot of different NGOs, with Oxfam and now I’m an ambassador for Save the Children.
“And I think African women are amazing. I’ve met so many magnificent women there. They are so strong and so resilient, they battle against enormous odds, but they always seem to have the right priorities. And they’ve also got the best sense of humour.
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“There’s this Ethiopian saying that a woman I met in Addis Ababa illuminated me on and it was: ‘As the baboon can’t see its red bottom, so a human being can’t see their own shortcomings.’
“And I thought it was just brilliant. I just loved the idea of it. And I’ve always held that close to my chest.”
What is the one thing guaranteed to put you in a good place?
"A great song – you know, one of those songs that transports you. U2’s Beautiful Day would probably be my top choice, just because I love the lyrics."
Listen to the latest episode of In A Good Place below