Kate Walsh: Speaking Out Against Hollywood’s Ultimate Taboo
The former Grey’s Anatomy actress on hitting menopause at 39, working smarter (instead of harder), and loving life at 52
When Kate Walsh did the cover of More magazine several years ago when I was editor-in-chief, she not only looked gorgeous, she became a best-seller. No surprise there, of course. As the brainy, sexy, girl-next-door-gets-the-hot-guy on Grey’s Anatomy (Dr. Addison Montgomery), she wowed us and went on to have her own spin-off show Private Practice. So I was thrilled when the PR firm for the herbal menopause supplement called Equelle offered up an interview with Walsh, who has become a spokesperson. Here, Walsh talks openly about how she went through menopause unusually early, the issues it created, her search for information and solutions, and how and why she feels she is living her best life at 52. As always, such a frank and honest talker, she had to be chased off the phone to get to her next appointment.
Lesley Jane Seymour: You say you learned about menopause from a conversation with your sister (who was going through it at an early age), and then you checked and found out you were going through it, too, at age 39. Does early menopause run in your family and do you know how or why? Did it happen to your mom?
Kate Walsh: No we don’t know, unfortunately, because my mother had all of her children — I was the last one, at 34 — and then she had a hysterectomy a couple of years later.
But I know that it is very prevalent in the culture now and more and more women are going through it earlier than ever before. We do know that it’s gnarly when it happens.
For me it was terrifying because there was no real information.
I was very, very excited to partner with Equelle because they wanted to tell this story, the Live Hot, Stay Cool. It’s a very positive campaign. It’s introducing [women] to Equelle, which is a plant-based supplement that reacts with our body’s natural estrogen receptors and helps alleviate symptoms of heat, muscle aches, and pains. It is, for me, very effective. I’ve been on it now (they say you [have to] give it at least four to eight weeks), I’ve been on it for about four weeks, and it really does help.
[It’s also about getting] women talking to each other and [using] #LiveHotStayCool to be a part of the conversation. That’s what I found the most healing. Women talk to each other and we find out there’s still so much fear and anxiety about [menopause].
I have lots of friends now that are just starting to go through menopause and they’re calling me, like, “what do I do?” And this is so odd. We’re living longer, healthier lives than ever before in history. So the idea that there is no chapter post-40 or during menopause is crazy. I’m living my best life, I really am. But I’ve had to make a lot of changes to make space for this, too, and that’s just the facts.
Lesley Jane Seymour: Talk a little bit about your menopause experience. What were your symptoms? Did you think it was something else?
Kate Walsh: I was on NuvaRing, that was sort of masking a lot of symptoms. It wasn’t until I got off of that and I went to the doctor and they were like, “Oh yeah, you’re at this stage; it’s crazy.” That I was like “ow.” Once [I] wasn’t being regulated by external hormones then I really got mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, aches, pains. I was very interested in the homeopathic route. I didn’t want to do hormone replacement therapy so I did just natural stuff. I quit smoking. Meditation became a huge part of my routine. And eating better and exercise, of course — flushing out toxins daily.
Then I just accept[ed] it as opposed to getting freaked out. Rather than freak out about it, [I] just get into a kind of radical acceptance. It’s an opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth. And the more accepting I became of it, the better it was. There’s like a meditative quality to it, like “Oh here it comes! Oh, I’m sweating! Ok!” And then this too shall pass and it does. And it’s really listening to my body, what I need, and not judging it. Sort of losing the self-incrimination and just getting into radical acceptance. And that’s made it much easier and rather enjoyable.
Lesley Jane Seymour: I like radical acceptance.
Kate Walsh: Yeah, and surrendering to it. And in that I find a lot more freedom.
Lesley Jane Seymour: What’s the difference between menopause at 39 and 52? Do you find it’s different? Is it the mindset?
Kate Walsh: Yeah, it’s not as extreme. I’ll still get a hot flash or achy. But I’m like “how much of that is menopause or is it aging?” I’m more mellow about it. When I first was going through it, I was on Grey’s (Anatomy) and Private Practice so I was working ten months a year, those crazy weeks. I still work a lot, but I have a much more, as I say, ventilated schedule. I just don’t work as hard as I used to. When I do work, it’s still extreme because TV and film hours are at least 12- [or] 14-plus hours [a day] when you’re on. If I need to take a nap, I take a nap. I know a lot of women are in the workplace and they’re not able to have a cat nap. But even in an office, to step away and take five minutes or ten and shut your eyes and breathe. It’s so good for all the organs to have that respite.
Lesley Jane Seymour: You talk about how you’ve become the menopause maven among your friends. What kind of questions are they asking and what surprised you the most about what they wanted to know?
Kate Walsh: A lot of people are like “Do I do hormone replacement or not?” People are afraid of the connection with cancer. Or if they don’t do HRT is their skin going to become like wax paper? [Or is their] hair going to fall out? There’s a lot of fear about “Am I instantly going to become a crone?” [Then] sex drive [and] the middle spread. This is all stuff that I’ve dealt with. I do take supplements: collagen for my skin, Biotin and Reservatrol; I love Equelle. People ask if it’s really working. It is. You gotta give it time because it’s natural and it’s not prescription and it’s not a hormone. So it’s a slower effect but it does alleviate some of the symptoms.
I just relate my own experience: I do meditation, yoga, ballet; I walk. I do strength training as well. Hopefully the #LiveHotStayCool campaign [will help] people feel inclined to talk to their friends, share their experience and talk to their doctors.
Lesley Jane Seymour: What do you see as the stigma that is out there, Kate? How do you think we attack it?
Kate Walsh: There’s all sorts of information about adolescence and puberty and menstruation. There’s all sorts of information about prenatal and pregnancy care. But there’s just nothing about [menopause]. So it’s almost like an erasing. You get to middle age in our culture and, this is my personal opinion, I just feel like culturally, people just don’t want to talk about aging. It’s taboo; it’s scary. And for women, particularly, it’s almost like your menopause means you have no value. It’s sort of an unspoken message of like, “uh oh, you’re done.” And it isn’t true. I’m not done! I’m just getting started. And it’s not about [how] I’m performing more than ever. It’s really about I’m living my best life with a lot more ease and rest. And fun. And relaxation. And sexiness. And great relationships. And great joy. And I have a fabulous career that I’m very proud of, and I feel blessed to have a lot of love in my life.
But I live a different life than I did in my 20s and 30s and even [my] 40s. It just constantly is changing.
Lesley Jane Seymour: You’re very brave to come out and speak about this. I know, having dealt with celebrities for so long, money is placed on you being 15 years younger than the guy on stage with you and how sexy you are. Are people shocked that you are willing to put this on the line and speak up?
Kate Walsh: I mean it’s something that we discussed, but definitely when my agents and I talked about it. I honestly feel like I’m living my best life. I’ve never looked better; I’ve never felt better physically….I’m working on great projects and there’s been no pushback for me. I just signed another deal to create another show. I don’t feel any threat. I think it’s a great time to be a woman.
Lesley Jane Seymour: How do we get Hollywood to change its idea about how older women are valued and portrayed?
Kate Walsh: I think it’s starting to happen. I personally feel a little spoiled because I came up in Shondaland. But I do see casting changing.
Lesley Jane Seymour: Yes, Shonda Rhimes is so radical.
Kate Walsh: She’s like, “I’m going to make stories diverse. I’m going to have great stories for women.” I’m out of Shondaland now and I work with so many other great people. For Umbrella Academy, they wrote that part of the handler for a man. Like a Jon Hamm type. So they’re like “We’re not going to get him: do you want to play it?” I was like, well that’s a first. Jon Hamm’s leftovers. Sure, I’ll take it.
I’m seeing better casting. My very dear friend Amy Brenneman was just cast opposite Jeff Bridges in his new series. And I know it was really important to Jeff to cast someone that looks like his partner. That’s age-appropriate. And that’s the beginning of it. I think that it’s happening more and more. You see these great actresses like Helen Mirren and, of course, Meryl [Streep], and Jane Fonda. There are more and more stories being told for women of different ages. You know, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Everyone fangirls over her on Downton Abbey. And it’s like, look, you just keep going.
Lesley Jane Seymour: Talk about what’s upcoming for you, Kate: what projects are happening so readers can see you?
Kate Walsh: I’ve got a film out right now that’s been in the festival circuit but it’s about to get distribution, I’m super proud of, called Sell By. My friend Mike Doyle wrote and directed. And I’m in it; Patty Clarkson’s in it, Colin Donnell, Michelle Buteau, Scott Evans, it’s a great ensemble cast, Zoe Chao. And it’s an ensemble rom-com, based in New York. And Michelle Buteau calls it the real Friends. It’s based around a same-sex couple; Augustus Prew and Scott Evans play this delightful couple that have been in a relationship for a long time. I play the best friend. And it’s just got so much heart, it’s delightful and funny.
And then I have a sci-fi thriller called 3022 coming out in November. And then I did a film with Liam Neeson and Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos called Honest Thief. That’s coming out in 2020; we’re not certain yet of what date. I did another little film with Donal Logue that was fantastic called Sometime Other Than Now. So we’re looking to see when that’s going to come out.
Lesley Jane Seymour: You’re not slowing it down at all! I’m thrilled!
Kate Walsh: Yeah, it’s not slowing me down, it’s fun. It’s like I said, I’m really fortunate at this time. I get to pick and choose kind of what I want to do. But there’s been no lack of desire. That’s been really cool.