Kate Walsh on Early Menopause, Acceptance and the Power of Gratitude

Whether you know Kate Walsh for her role of Addison Montgomery on Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice or Olivia on 13 Reasons Why, you probably think of her as playing a strong yet vulnerable woman. Turns out, she’s one in real life too. Kate has been honest about her real-life health over the years, most recently opening up about going through menopause.

She sat down with SheKnows and got real about her experience with early menopause (at age 39 — a total shocker), her own self-care routine and what she hopes other women know about this phase of life from the start. (Hint: It’s better than you think.)

SheKnows: You mentioned you went through menopause early. How did you find out?

Kate Walsh: My symptoms were sort of masked because I was on a regular birth control pill, so I was getting regular menstrual cycles. But my older sister — she’s 6 years older than me — called me and said, “You should get yourself checked out. I just found out I’m going through early menopause, and it can be genetic.” And I said, “Why are you trying to scare me? I’m fine.” The interesting thing is that my initial reaction was fear. For good reason, in some ways, because for me it was early and that meant no children as well, and that was a pretty dramatic and traumatic piece of information. Even when I went to my OB/GYN, he was like, “You’re just being reactionary.” And then, it turned out my my FSH [follicle stimulating hormone] level was very high and so it was true, I was starting menopause.

It was a massive transition. It was also a point in my life where I was working nonstop. I was transitioning from Grey’s Anatomy to Private Practice, and I was literally shooting both at the same time. It was crazy hours. It was a big piece of information and a lot of symptoms to deal with — and it’s not talked about a lot in our culture.

That’s why I was super excited to partner with EQUELLE, because I’ve found out all these years later — I’m now about to be 52, so around 12 years later. I’m excited about this supplement because it’s hormone-free and plant-based and interacts with your own internal estrogen receptors to help with hot flashes and muscle aches, which are symptoms of menopause. But it’s also just exciting to me what EQUELLE, as a brand, is doing in terms of getting women connected and getting information and support systems for women with their hashtag #LiveHotStayCool. They’re encouraging women to share their stories and solutions with one another, so there isn’t any shame or fear around this very natural, very awesome time in a woman’s life.

SK: That’s great! What’s so awesome about this time for you?

KW: I’ve found that this is the time for women in general. For me, I’m literally living my best life. I’m still in menopause, and I’m having the best time ever. The worst that happens is that I have to put my thermostat at 65-degrees every once in a while.

I have more confidence than ever. I know myself more than ever. I feel better than I’ve ever felt, honestly. I think there’s all the wisdom that comes with age. And I have all the information of the 21st century to go along with that. We know more today than we ever did in our mothers’ generation or any other generation about health and well-being. 

SK: What do you think is so scary about menopause to women?

KW: I think it’s the unknown. It’s lack of control of your own body. You know? All of a sudden, you start sweating out of nowhere. It’s funny and terrifying! When you’re young and you get your period for the first time, there’s your mom and your sisters and other people to talk to, and they tell you what to expect, so it’s not like, “Oh my god, why am I cramping up?” or “Why am I crying?” But with menopause, no one’s really talking about it, and I think there’s so much fear too because the solutions are so limited because the culture is: You either go on hormones or you don’t and everything goes to crap. And that’s just not true. There’s a huge in-between area, and I’m living that in-between area, and I honestly think I look and feel better than I ever have. That’s the truth. The truth also is that it takes a village. I mean, I’ve got a hair and makeup team here!

That notwithstanding, there are a lot of things women can do holistically in terms of self-care to make menopause, actually a great time of life. This is a time of life when women are either settling down, or they’re experts in their chosen field, or their kids are growing up and going off to college. There’s so much time for expansion, growth and joy — and confidence.

SK: How do you practice self-care?

KW: I try to get regular sleep, but that’s often impossible with my schedule. I’m a big meditator. I’m a huge advocate of meditation and yoga. Even just breathing, taking three conscious breaths a day to get you back in the moment if you’re stressed or thinking about what’s going to happen later or tomorrow.

One of the menopausal symptoms is sleeplessness. But rather than panic if I’m not sleeping, I’m just like, “Alright, I’m not sleeping, Maybe I’ll just sit here and breathe.” Or maybe I’ll read or I’ll write. I just accept it and think about how wonderful my life is, because anxiety isn’t going to do anybody any good, and it’s just going to exacerbate any symptoms that I’m having. The Irish in me wants to buckle at anything that’s super positive, but it’s true that a gratitude list goes a long way.

And I’m just trying to have fun. Joy is a big one. A lot of times, as women, we want to fix everything and make sure all the trains are running smoothly before we can relax and have fun. And that’s just not true. That’s one of the lessons I learned a long time ago, is to ask myself, “What are you doing for fun today?”

SK: And you’re staying busy! What do you have coming up that you’re excited about?

KW: I’m working like a little dog — actually, like a big dog, if that dog was pulling a sleigh in Iceland in winter when it’s dark. But it’s good. They’re all fun projects — one is a super top-secret project. And then I’ve got some films. One is a sci-fi thriller called 3022 coming out in November and this other one is a thriller with Liam Neeson called Honest Thief that will come out in 2020. I just did a film called Sell By, which is a gay-centered rom com that’s killing it at the festivals and just got nominated for a bunch of awards. I’m really starting to gear up, and I’m very passionate about the environment and dealing with climate change too.

SK: What do you know now about menopause that you wish other women knew from the start?

KW: People feel like they need to fix it or stop it or get ahead of it, but that’s just not the case. You have to accept that it’s going to come. People want to know when it’s going to end and what it’s going to be like. And that’s the beautiful thing I think, is that, really, I don’t know. The symptoms sort of come and go, and then they’re gone and I think I’m done with menopause because I don’t have any more hot flashes but then they’re back. Make friends with it. It’s not a beast. It’s not a haunted house. It’s not the end of days. It’s just another phase in life. And it’s not about fixing it, or avoiding it or getting through it quickly. It’s about saying, “Okay, this is a fact of life, and how can we deal with it in the most positive efficient and cool way?” Pun intended.

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