Lifestyle: I'm not sure I'd be here without my girlfriends: Ulrika Jonsson
Following World Menopause Day last week, Ulrika Jonsson talks to Abi Jackson about self-care in her 50s and enjoying her own company...
LIFE is quite stripped back for Ulrika Jonsson right now – and she's very happy about that.
“I've got to a stage where I'm enjoying time on my own,” the presenter, writer and mum-of-four reflects.
“My youngest said the other day, ‘I'm worried you're going to be lonely, Mummy'. And I'm like, ‘Noooo, I'm really happy on my own'.”
While the nest isn't entirely empty yet, Jonsson's three eldest children – son Cameron (28), and daughters Bo (22), and Martha (18) – have all either spread their wings, or split their time between college, uni and home, while Malcolm, her youngest, is 14 (Jonsson announced she was divorcing Malcolm's father, Brian Monet, her third husband, shortly before the pandemic).
So the house is a lot quieter than it used to be. And although she's previously shared on Instagram about feeling “bereft” when the kids first started moving out, Jonsson has found her groove.
“I mean, I'm 55 now – when I was young, 50 was like you're dead. Anyone over 40 was past it,” she says with a laugh, talking over Zoom from her home in Oxfordshire.
“But it's different now, and I think we are all better at looking after ourselves.”
The TV personality – who started her on-screen career as a weather presenter, before becoming a household name on shows like Gladiators and Shooting Stars in the 90s – has been open about living with arthritis and having a “tough few years” with the pain recently. When asked what self-care looks like for her now, she says she feels “a lot more like I really listen to my body and what's going on”.
Jonsson continues: “I spend a lot of time cooking. Throughout my life, that's been my passion, so that's my main thing. And I have my garden. I take my HRT, I eat well, I drink occasionally. I'm home on my own a lot, but I'm really happy in that state.
“I think that's one good thing about the menopause – you do get rid of a lot of b******t,” she adds.
“You know your own mind a lot better, because you've gone through so much. I'm very patient with a lot of things, but I'm very impatient as well with other stuff.”
Menopause is the reason we're talking today. Jonsson has partnered with Always Discreet on their World Menopause Day campaign, aimed at breaking the silence around bladder leaks. According to the brand, more than 50 per cent of women may experience bladder leaks during menopause, yet new research found 52 per cent had no idea the two things could be linked.
While bladder leaks are not something Jonsson has experienced with menopause, “I did have them in my last pregnancy”, she shares.
“I can't tell you how out of control I felt. My body was doing something I felt like it shouldn't be doing, which was socially unacceptable. Also, we have this association with bladder leaks as being an age thing, but they can happen to women at any age.”
She's not surprised by Always Discreet's survey, which found 56 per cent of those affected feel embarrassed as a result, with 65 per cent saying they ‘suffer in silence' and believe bladder leaks need to be talked about more within menopause conversations.
“Until this campaign, I had no idea [bladder leakage] could be linked with menopause. But it's so many women, so why are we not talking about this? Well, we know why – because it's a bit awkward, it's embarrassing and uncomfortable – but it would be nice to try and change that.”
She hopes Always Discreet's Menopause Education Hub can play a part in this.
“It's not just about saying here's some panty liners, it's about saying we want to help you take control and support you. I think that's a big change. It's great we're having conversations about these things.”
When Jonsson started getting her own menopause symptoms around age 46, “Nobody was talking about it”, so it really “knocked me sideways”, she recalls.
“I didn't suffer with hot flushes, and I think I'd been presuming that would be one of the first signs. I didn't realise that's not always the case. For me, it was a lot of anxiety, mood swings, a little bit of weight gain, loss of muscle mass.
“The most scary thing was memory loss,” she adds.
“I'd be in the middle of a conversation and suddenly I'd forget a word. That started to really, really scare me. I kept it all to myself, didn't say anything, until one day I was talking with a friend who's a bit older, and I said I'm worried I've got early-onset dementia. She said, ‘Ulrika love, it's just the menopause'. And I went, ‘What?' It really threw me.”
Since then, she's been determined to help raise awareness and is a big believer in the power of sharing.
“I love that expression: A problem shared [is a problem halved]. I know from talking with my own girlfriends, having conversations as things come up – it really does help.”
Reflecting on the role friendship plays in her life now, she says: “All my life, I've never had a huge circle of friends. I've had a very tight set of friends, and some of that has changed over the years, because you have friends for different reasons, and as your life around you changes, your relationship changes too.
“I've got two or three girlfriends who are like my rocks. But we're also at an age where we're not having crazy nights or anything like that, sometimes it's speaking on the phone and texts. What I love most about my girlfriends is I can be 100 per cent honest – there is nothing, nothing, nothing I couldn't say to them.
“I'm not sure I'd be here without my girlfriends. You go through some dark times in your life, and there's an honesty with them. You need your girlfriends.”
Always Discreet's Menopause Education Hub has already educated over 100,000 women through resources from free menopause masterclasses to pelvic floor workouts. Visit: alwaysdiscreet.co.uk