Katarina Wilk wants us to change the way we think about midlife. Like so many phenomenal women we meet at this lifestage, her own menopause journey was the catalyst for her mission. Misdiagnosis in her GP surgery in Sweden led her to channel her skills as a medical writer and journalist to effectively self-diagnose her peri-menopause. She knew she was one of the lucky ones; she knew where to find the research and evidence. She knew how to evaluate data. So, she wrote a book to ensure other women could arm themselves with knowledge too. Perimenopower is a fantastic read. And Katarina is an inspiration. We loved this conversation.
First, tell us a little bit about you. What motivated you to write Perimenopower?
I was 42 when it all started. I had strange and sever symptoms; insomnia, panic attacks from nowhere…so I went to my doctor here in Sweden, who quickly diagnosed depression and burn-out and prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills. I’m a medical writer and have spent my career immersed in research and the medical community. I felt there was something else going on with my body. So, I started researching - and realised I was in the perimenopause. It was a shock that I hadn’t known more - and that my GP didn’t identify it. I realised that if I didn’t recognise it, how could people without a background in medicine and research hope to recognise it? If the medical community couldn’t join the dots together - what would happen to those women? So I decided to write a book!
Sweden is very like much of the western world. The GP situation is exactly the same as in the UK. Menopause isn’t taught in medical school. This year, for the 2020 intake there is talk of a more gender-acknowledged training syllabus. Slowly new research projects are coming to light that focus on women, specifically; Uppsala University is starting a project looking at the mental health of women in their fertile years. But progress is so very slow.
When my book was released two years’ ago, there was hype. There was a TV show about the menopause! I really felt like the conversation about menopause had started. I felt my mission, to avoid misdiagnosis, to act as a catalyst for change, was happening. But then - it just died. The conversation stopped. It was ‘shut back in’. Today we’re behind. There is no support here for menopause in the workplace. There isn’t a groundswell of activism. In the UK you’ve had celebrities talking, you’ve had grass roots action leading I lecture - I continue to fight for awareness and support, but it is difficult.
One of the biggest issues is that people don’t understand that perimenopause is often the rockiest part of the journey. The burn-out diagnosis. The prescription for anti-depressants. This is not what we need.
We need to recognise that female bodies are not the same as male bodies! We need to understand rather than ignore our hormones. Then we could have a much broader conversation as a society.
How has midlife influenced your outlook towards work and life?
Quite simply, it gave me a mission. I was most creative during perimenopause. I got a sense of power and purpose from feeling I could help people. That I could spread knowledge.
I realise now that I come from a family taught to care. My grandparents are doctors. I always thought I’d go to medical school. This, now, is a return to that purpose! And realising I could help others is what gave me strength.
What correlation, if any, do you see between age and ambition?
That is an interesting question! I think there is a sense that ambition decreases as we age. And on a practical level, it is hard to change career, or step back and re-evaluate when you are in the midst of a hot flush, insomnia and anxiety attacks;
When you’re struggling, your career is the last thing you think about. You simply want to get through the day. But, there is power in menopause. And I think that the power we have, because we are women, can come back - we just need to find ways to cope with the transition.
What are your aspirations for your business over the next 24 months?
My future will always be in research. Some women have a passion for shoes or handbags. Mine is reading medical journals! I read so much. But my next project will be to release a book focused on the brain. It’s working title is Perimenobrain! - and it is about the female brain throughout fertile life. I want to help women and society understand how a woman’s brain differs from a man’s. I read some research recently that show depression levels in young people are the same until they become 12-14. Then girls become far more susceptible. Hormones affect female brains. It is extremely important to acknowledge this difference. And we’re not doing it today.
What do you wish your younger self had known about:
Life: That every step you take, good or bad only leads you to a better life.
Love: That love is extremely important, but that you shouldn’t live in a bad relationship. That you should turn the page when the chapter is over.
Health: That you can affect your health by lifestyle changes.
Work: That everything is possible if you work hard for it.
What would be your key advice to women transitioning through menopause today? What practical steps could they take to better support their bodies and minds?
The most important thing to know is that this should not be a struggle. If you’re not coping, do not be afraid of HRT. In Sweden there is a stigma associated with medical intervention. Some doctors and journalists repeat the story that it is dangerous. But there is stigma, too, around natural remedies and alternative medicine. They’re seen as insubstantial. Seek help. And don’t let others convince you it’s nothing.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the MPowder community about our second spring?
Just being a woman is a superpower, we bring babies to the world. So never forget that you have the power within you and that you can regain it by taking care of yourself.
Then in terms of coping tools, sleep was the most important thing for me to get right. I found restorative yoga really helpful. It takes you to a deep calmness. I cut out sugar too. I cut out alcohol. And I minimise how much meat I eat. There is research now showing that minimising red meat could reduce hot flashes - and it did do that for me.
I took magnesium, and I supplemented with B6 and B12. It can also be really helpful to get your thyroid and iron levels checked.
Finally, knowing you’re not alone is so powerful. In writing the book, suddenly everyone started talking to me. Realising I wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t ‘just me’…seeing that people believed me, that it is something everyone goes through, made it better.
Finally, we're living through unprecedented times. What counsel are you giving to your clients about managing their health during this period ?
Keep sane. Prioritise sleep. Try to exercise when you can. Eat good food. And remember, this too shall pass. As everything does.
Katarina’s instagram feed is a fantastic blend of insight and practical tips - you can find her @katarinawilk AND @perimenopower And we highly recommend getting a copy of her book, Perimenopower - translated into 7 languages with the UK edition hitting shelves in May this year, it is an honest and unbiased guide through perimenopause.