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Perimenopower: Be the Hero, Not The Victim In Your Perimenopause Story

Kim: [00:00:04] Welcome to episode 68 of the Fitness Simplified podcast. I’m your host, Kim Schlag. Joining me today on the podcast is author Katarina Wilk. Katarina wrote the book “Perimenopower,” and it is about perimenopause — which, if you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know, has been a great struggle in my personal life.
[00:00:26] I have been deep in the throes of perimenopause going on seven years now. I am passionate about connecting women with experts who know about perimenopause and menopause and Katarina has written an incredible book. We talk about the mental side of perimenopause, the physical side of perimenopause, our attitudes during perimenopause ,so much great conversation around the subject. 
[00:00:51] Let’s go.
[00:00:59] There we go! Katarina, we are now recording! 
[00:01:04] Good morning! I’m so glad you could be here with us all the way from Sweden — where apparently, you’re having a tropical blast — to join us, to talk about your book: “Perimenopower.” Welcome!
[00:01:18] Katarina: [00:01:18] Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. 
[00:01:21] Kim: [00:01:21] Absolutely. I was thrilled to make your acquaintance through our mutual friend, Amanda Thebe, great connector in all things menopause. 
[00:01:31] So, Katarina, I was just starting to ask you about your career path. So, you have been a health and wellness writer, tell us some about the kinds of topics you have covered. 
[00:01:42] Katarina: [00:01:42] Yes, that’s right. I’ve been a health and lifestyle writer. You can mostly say that I’ve been doing medical research and journalism, but I’ve also been doing a bit of lifestyle.
[00:01:56] I’ve been editor for a consumer magazine within sports in Sweden. So, I’ve been writing everything from physical exercise to medical stuff. 
[00:02:08] Kim: [00:02:08] Got it. Got it. Well, you’ve also written the book “Perimenopower: The Essential Guide to the Change Before the Change.” 
[00:02:16] Now, this book, in particular, is born of personal experience of yours. Can you tell us about that? 
[00:02:23] Katarina: [00:02:23] Yes, it actually is. I was 42 years old when it started for me. And I had some severe insomnia and some kind of panic attacks. I’d never been a panicky person before, so I couldn’t really understand what was going on. So, I went to my GP and she was like, “yeah, are you having a hard time at work or are you having a hard time with your husband?” And I was like, “no, I don’t. I cannot sleep. That’s my problem. There’s something going on in my body.” And after a while she said, “yeah, I think you’re having a burnt-out syndrome. And I think you are becoming depressed.”
[00:03:02] And I said, “yeah, of course I’m becoming depressed because I don’t sleep. But the thing is that I don’t sleep. And that is the factual problem. So please help me.” 
[00:03:13] So she, of course, put me on sleeping pills. I had the worst experience, I will never, ever in my life take sleeping pills anymore. And then when I just realized that I won’t get any help here from the medical side… 
[00:03:29] Kim: [00:03:29] What happened with the sleeping pills?
[00:03:33] Katarina: [00:03:33] I tried normal sleeping pills, but they didn’t work for me. So, she had to put me on like really strong sleeping pills and when she did that, I had nightmares, I was hallucinating, and she was like, “when you take these pills, you have to be near your bed.”
[00:03:58] And I was like, “okay, so will I fall asleep in a second? What do you mean?” She was like, “no, but you should stay close to your bed.” So, I was like, “okay.” And actually, I had to be close to my bed because in two seconds I just fell asleep, like very deep in a coma-sleep. So, no good. No good. No good. I do not recommend this.
[00:04:23] So finally I was like, “okay, they won’t help me. I have to do this by myself.” So, as I am a medical writer, I know a lot about the body and especially about my body. So, I started to research and I started to think about these symptoms that I had going on for quite a while, like panic attacks, I didn’t seem like myself.
[00:04:50] And then someone said to me, my gynecologist, she said to me, “how about you period?” And I said, “well, it’s on and off.” And she said, “well, maybe you are coming into the transition, but you’re not in menopause, of course, because when you are in menopause, you don’t have your period for 12 months.”
[00:05:11] So she helped me in a way, but I did the research by myself and then I thought, well, okay, if I, as a medical person, don’t understand what’s happening, how can normal women understand? So, it became like a mission. I really want to help women. I really want to help women understand that the menopausal transition can start really early.
[00:05:36] So, that’s the background to my book. 
[00:05:38] Kim: [00:05:38] And so that was the goal with the book, because you, as a person who is steeped in medical terminology, and were more deep in studying things in the medical world, we’re blindsided by this. And so, you wanted to help regular people, those of us who aren’t necessarily in the medical industry.
[00:05:55] Katarina: [00:05:55] Yes, you’re right. Yeah. 
[00:05:56] Kim: [00:05:56] Fantastic. And I do think that a lot of people are not clear even just on the basic terminology, perimenopause versus menopause. 

[00:06:04] Let’s have you give everybody a working definition of both of those. 
[00:06:09] Katarina: [00:06:09] Okay. So, the transition is perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
[00:06:14] And the perimenopause is the rocky part of the sensation. And that is what women don’t understand. It can start like 10 years before you are in actual menopause. Menopause is when you haven’t had your period for 12 months — which means actually one day — and then you have the post-menopause, which is the time after you haven’t had your period for 12 months. 
[00:06:41] And the post menopause can be very, very long. Some women have symptoms when they are 70. So, this is a thing that can happen from 40 up to 65-70. So, it’s quite a while, isn’t it? 
[00:07:01] Kim: [00:07:01] Yeah. I think that, Katarina, we haven’t spoken personally about my own experience. The reason that I’m a fitness professional — I help women get strong. I help women lose weight — specifically, I have a passion for helping perimenopausal and menopausal women because that’s where I find myself and my transition into perimenopause has been an extremely rocky one. 
[00:07:26] I was completely blindsided and had zero education on what was happening. And there were times that I thought I was going crazy, I thought I was having a stroke, I thought I had some kind of autoimmune disease. I could not figure out what was wrong with me, but I knew something was wrong with me. And no one could tell me what was wrong with me. 
[00:07:51] Katarina: [00:07:51] I think that is the situation for so many women.
[00:07:55] Kim: [00:07:55] Yes, absolutely. A big part of that solution is education. 
[00:08:02] Katarina: [00:08:02] Yes. Knowledge is power. You have to understand that you maybe are not that interested, but then when it starts with your body, something is happening. You have to get all the information you can. 
[00:08:16] And I think people like you and people like me we can really help. That’s what I think. And people like Amanda, of course, she’s the best. 
[00:08:25] Kim: [00:08:25] Absolutely. 
[00:08:26] So I was 43 when I first started having my very first menopause symptoms. And in my mind, I didn’t even think about menopause until many years later because that was too early in my mind. But it’s not.
[00:08:41] Katarina: [00:08:41] Yeah. I think that is one of the problems, because I think I can see now that the menopause discussion is starting up all around the world. My book has been translated to a lot of languages and I can feel that I get messages from women all over. But the thing is that we talk about menopause like something that is happening when you are around your 50s.
[00:09:04] But the problem is that we don’t talk about the perimenopause. And if we don’t, everyone will be prescribed antidepressants from their doctors. That’s the biggest problem. 
[00:09:17] Kim: [00:09:17] Yeah. And when people hear the word menopause, they know, “Oh yeah, that’s something difficult.” They don’t understand that a lot of the upheaval that the really difficult symptoms actually come before in perimenopause. 
[00:09:33] Katarina: [00:09:33] Yes, that’s the thing. That’s the thing. So, it’s time to start up this discussion, too, about the perimenopause. 
[00:09:41] Kim: [00:09:41] And do you find women are eager to talk to you about the subject or are they still kind of hesitant?
[00:09:49] Katarina: [00:09:49] I have to admit that even my friends were hesitant to talk about it until I wrote the book.  They were like, “yeah, well I don’t have any symptoms.” And then I said, “well, I’m going to write a book about this.” “Oh, are you? Well, okay. I maybe had some insomnia and I maybe have some mood disturbances.” So even my friends won’t admit that it’s happening. And I mean, what is the point of not talking about it? It’s like feeling that you are going crazy all by yourself. 
[00:10:28] Kim: [00:10:28] Yes, absolutely. 
[00:10:31] And I really do feel we’re at kind of a turning point here that women are more open to talking about it. And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that there are just more of us talking about it. I don’t stop talking about menopause, both in my static posts and on my Instagram stories. Here on my podcast I’m always sharing my own very personal — probably too much information for some people — information about my experiences.
[00:10:58] And what I have found is that the more I do that, the more women who come to me and start talking to me about the fact that they can’t sleep, that they tried to talk to their doctor and their doctor just thinks that they need antidepressants and they’re like, “I’m not depressed.”
[00:11:12] Katarina: [00:11:12] Yes. I know.
[00:11:15] I think that is a really sad thing that the medical society so quickly gives the antidepressants to woman, I think it’s such an over-prescription of antidepressants all over. I mean, in Sweden, I think we have 1 million out of 10 taking antidepressants. I would so much want to know how many of these 1 million are women 40 plus.
[00:11:44] But that is a figure I can’t even research. I haven’t found it. They don’t want to talk about it. An
d one of the topics that I’m now diving into, maybe for my next manuscript, is that we seldom want to admit that women’s and men’s brains are different because we are struggling for a gender equality.

[00:12:13] If we would admit that, “I’m sorry, your brain is not the same as mine,” it would be like a backlash. But I think that if we would admit that we are different, it would be a step forward. So, I think the brain thing is really important here because everything starts in our brains. 
[00:12:36] Kim: [00:12:36] I am currently reading “The XX Brain” by Dr. Lisa Mosconi. 
[00:12:40] Katarina: [00:12:40] I love it. She is the best. I mean, it’s such an important book. 
[00:12:50] Kim: [00:12:50] I just discovered her very recently and I’m only on chapter four of the book, but it’s quite impressive. And that was exactly the point so far, is that, the female brain and the male brain are different and it doesn’t mean that we’re inherently not capable of the same things or that somehow it sets us back, but understanding these differences is incredibly important to our health. 
[00:13:12] Katarina: [00:13:12] Yes. Yes. That’s the thing. 
[00:13:14] Kim: [00:13:14] Yeah. I’m hoping to get her on the podcast when I’m through the book. 
[00:13:17] Katarina: [00:13:17] Oh, that would be great. I would listen to that. 
[00:13:21] Kim: [00:13:21] Yeah. I would really, really love to have her on for a chat.
[00:13:23] So what do you think, Katarina, that women, as they’re entering their forties, what do you think they can do to be proactive about their wellness? 
[00:13:33] Katarina: [00:13:33] I think that one of the most important things is to realize that you can’t go on like you did before. You cannot eat like crap if you did that before, you cannot exercise as you did before, you have to take care of yourself, of your body and your mind in an extra, extra way. You have to be really careful what you do. Because what you do during perimenopause, that will affect your coming years.
[00:14:12] So I think lifestyle changes during this period is something really important. I write about that in my book, what to do. I’m not that into diet and physical exercise. I mean, I’m not that strict into it, but I think there are some small changes you can do during the perimenopause, which are really important.
[00:14:36] And eventually, if you don’t cope with it anymore, then maybe you should try HRT. That’s what I think. 
[00:14:45] Kim: [00:14:45] What were some of the big lifestyle changes that you made personally? 
[00:14:50] Katarina: [00:14:50] Well, one thing is that when I had been doing physical exercise, I did a lot of cardio training. I was running, I went to the cycling classes and I was like, always running. I was a bit of a stressed person. So, I added some mental training, like more calm, physical exercise like Pilates, like restorative yoga — which is this forum where you stand in the positions for a couple of minutes — that was the best medication for me because I got energy and I was calmed by the yoga form.
[00:15:34] So I think that if you just add something to your normal physical exercise, but in a calmer way, then I think you will cope. And one thing I did also was that, usually when I went out running, I did that in the evenings. So, I did like 8-9 o’clock and then I went home and I tried to calm down and get to sleep at 11.
[00:15:59] That didn’t work anymore because if I did my running at 8 in the evening, I could not fall asleep. So, I could see that my body didn’t know, “is this a positive stress or is it a negative stress?” It’s some kind of stress in my body. So, I just decided that, if I’m going to do my running, I’m going to do it in the mornings and in the evenings, I do my yoga. 
[00:16:25] And that worked. That was a really, really big change for me. So, that was about the physical exercise. And then about the diet, well, I mean, I can be unhealthy too. I drink Coke sometimes and I eat a burger sometimes, but during this period, I was like, “okay, what can I do? If there are any studies showing you can do something with your diet, I’ll have to try that.” 
[00:16:53] So I stopped eating meat. And when I say that, I mean red meat. And then eventually when I got the hot flashes, I could see that when I stopped eating red meat, my hot flashes decreased. So, I think through diet, not totally vegan, just minimizing meat and minimizing sugar, minimizing alcohol and coffee, those were my big changes. 
[00:17:25] Kim: [00:17:25] And those things helped you, in specific, with your hot flashes? 
[00:17:28] Katarina: [00:17:28] Yes, yes.
[00:17:29] Kim: [00:17:29] Interesting.
[00:17:32] You brought up HRT. Did you, in the end, decide that that was the right choice for you? 
[00:17:37] Katarina: [00:17:37] As I said, this started when I was 42 and I started with HRT when I was 48. And I did that because it was not that I couldn’t cope, but I felt that it was getting harder and harder to keep up with these lifestyle changes only. So, I decided to try HRT when I was 48. And for me it’s been a good choice. 
[00:18:08] And, of course, it is up to everyone to choose, but I’m an unbiased medical writer, I don’t work for any medical companies, and through the studies and through the research I’ve done, I can see that the HRT might be good and not bad as most of the women think it is. 
[00:18:29] It actually decreases our risk for cardiac diseases and we think that it only increases our risk for breast cancer. But the number one killer for women is not breast cancer, it is heart diseases. So, there are some good things, positive things with taking HRT too, but ultimately, it’s your choice.
[00:18:49] If you can cope with lifestyle changes, I won’t say anything about that, but I know that the discussion here in Sweden is that maybe in the future, they will give women HRT even without symptoms. Because it’s like when you’re diabetic, you get an insulin, when you have an estrogen decrease, maybe you have to have your estrogen.
[00:19:14] It’s a very complex, it’s a very controversial discussion, but I am quite satisfied with my choice. And actually, it felt so much better for me. It was like, finally, I was me again.
[00:19:33] Kim: [00:19:33] Oh, I absolutely understand 
[00:19:38] Katarina: [00:19:38] Are you taking it? 
[00:19:40] Kim: [00:19:40] I am. I have very similar ages to you. I started having symptoms at 43 that got increasingly worse and then I started HRT when I was 48. 
[00:19:50] Katarina: [00:19:50] Okay. Okay. So, we are the same. 
[00:19:53] Kim: [00:19:53] And I’m 49 now, I’m almost 50, so I’ve been using HRT for a little over a year at this point. It was absolutely life changing for me. I had zero knowledge of it in the many years leading up to beginning to take it and the little knowledge I had about it was all negative.
[00:20:12] And as I actually began to research — and I had no idea about the things that you just mentioned until really close to when I started taking it — about the idea that they’re discovering that it actually has cardioprotective benefits and that it might be something that they’re going to be recommending, in the future, for all women, not just those of us who are symptomatic. 
[00:20:31] Katarina: [00:20:31] Yeah, it’s been changing for me too. I have to admit that. And in the beginning, I was quite shocked that it had that effect on me, because as I said, it was like, “okay, this is who I am.” I could, in a way, feel that those years between 42 and 48 — I mean, I had a good laugh, it’s not, it’s not that I was depressed or anything — but I could feel it was a struggle. And suddenly when I took the HRT, it wasn’t the struggle anymore. It was like, all the world just opened up again. I mean, it is hard to hard to admit because some women that are still afraid of it might think you’re crazy.
[00:21:19] Kim: [00:21:19] You know, when I started, I had been sleepless for many months at the time that I started HRT. I was feeling quite desperate when I started. And I did not expect it to work as quickly as it did and it was absolutely life changing to actually be able to get a good night’s rest again after many months not sleeping. That started a new chapter in my life.
[00:21:46] Katarina: [00:21:46] You and I are maybe role models for how good HRT can work. 
[00:21:52] Kim: [00:21:52] Yeah. And I know it’s not the answer for everyone. And there are certainly lifestyle changes that people can make. One of the things I really liked about the title of your book, “Perimenopower,” is that it sounds positive.
[00:22:06] And in the book I saw a sentence where you said, “we’re not victims, we can actually be the heroin in our story.”
[00:22:15] Katarina: [00:22:15] We can. We have to understand that we have a power just being women. We can bear babies in our bodies. That is a miracle. So we have this power just being women, but during this quite hard period in your life it’s like these powers within you are hidden and I think if we speak about this period in a positive way, if we can regain the power we have within us and just understand that it is a perimenopower, you have the perimenopower within you, you just have to find it again.
[00:23:03] That’s the thing. 
[00:23:05] Kim: [00:23:05] And I will admit, I have to do better at not speaking so negatively, constantly about menopause. But so much of what is happening with the symptoms is very negative. 
[00:23:15] Katarina: [00:23:15] Yeah. Yeah. 
[00:23:16] Kim: [00:23:16] But we say that menopausal women, perimenopausal women are some of the strongest people. I know. 
[00:23:22] Katarina: [00:23:22] Yes. You are right. You are so right. Because in a way we struggle, but we get up every day and we continue the struggle. And for that, we should have a medal. No, but I understand what you’re saying, because I think also you can see that in the menopause community, also on Instagram, there are so many strong women trying to help other women, and that is the best thing. If we can help other women, we can make other women strong. 
[00:24:01] Kim: [00:24:01] Yeah, I think about trying to help myself figure out how to thrive during this period and to speak to other women about how to thrive during this period. And being
very realistic about the difficulties, because there are a lot of them, but I suppose the idea would be speaking about them in the way of how we can overcome them and help you to still have this be an amazing time in your life.

[00:24:24] It’s not all downhill.
[00:24:27] Katarina: [00:24:27] No, because what is the alternative? The alternative is that we die and we don’t want that. So, we have to make the best of every situation. And now this is the situation we are in in this period, so just let’s make the best of it. 
[00:24:48] Kim: [00:24:48] Absolutely.
[00:24:48] Thank you so much for coming and speaking to us. Tell everybody where they can find you and where they can find your book. 
[00:24:55] Katarina: [00:24:55] Yes. So, you can find me on Instagram under my name, @katarinawilk. And then my book is available, of course, on Amazon, and in the UK, you can also find it in bookstores.
[00:25:12] I don’t know if you can do that in the US yet, but you can find it on Amazon. 
[00:25:18] Kim: [00:25:18] Okay, great. Yeah, I don’t even know if you can find it in bookstores because with Corona, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to an actual bookstore.
[00:25:28] Katarina: [00:25:28] How was the situation? Where are you in the States? 
[00:25:31] Kim: [00:25:31] So, I’m in Pennsylvania, which is just a little bit south of New York. And we were on complete lockdown here in my county for three months. In June, we came off of total lockdown, but things are still pretty tight. My kids are going back to school next week and they’re not allowed in the building. They will be schooling from home. 
[00:25:51] Katarina: [00:25:51] They will be schooling from home. Okay, so in Sweden, we didn’t even have a lockdown. 
[00:25:57] Kim: [00:25:57] You didn’t? 
[00:25:58] Katarina: [00:25:58] No. 
[00:25:58] Kim: [00:25:58] Wow, it passed you right by, you are blessed. 
[00:26:02] Katarina: [00:26:02] Yeah, we are. But I mean, we still had, compared to how many people live here, we have had a lot of people die.
[00:26:12] Kim: [00:26:12] Oh, you have? 
[00:26:13] Katarina: [00:26:13] Yeah, but we have flattened the curve, so our health system has never been overwhelmed. They could cope with it in the ICU. So, I think the situation in Sweden has been quite good compared to other places. But still, we still have the virus here.
[00:26:32] Kim: [00:26:32] So you’re saying that you just weren’t on lockdown. Got it, got it.
[00:26:40] Katarina: [00:26:40] We didn’t because our health minister– in Sweden, it’s like, if they recommend a thing, Swedish people follow that. They recommended, they didn’t force us, it’s not a law, but they recommended to give your kids the measles vaccine. So, 97% of the kids are vaccinated. 
[00:27:09] So if the state says that, “okay guys, stay at home, do social distancing, wash your hands, blah, blah, blah,” the Swedish people listen. They don’t have to lock us down. 
[00:27:23] Kim: [00:27:23] Got it. Not all Americans are like that. 
[00:27:30] Katarina: [00:27:30] I know. I’m so sad hearing about what’s happening in America right now, but I hope things will get better.
[00:27:36] Kim: [00:27:36] Here’s hoping. You and me both. I would love for things to get better, for us to be able to return to a somewhat more normal life and be able to travel and have our kids in school and everything.
[00:27:46] Katarina: [00:27:46] Yeah, for sure. 
[00:27:48] Kim: [00:27:48] Thank you again for coming on. Your book, “Perimenopower,” fantastic book. I highly recommend it to all of those of you listening and, Katarina, let’s for sure stay in touch and continue this conversation.
[00:28:02] Katarina: [00:28:02] Yes, of course. Thank you so much. 
[00:28:05] Kim: [00:28:05] Thank you.
[00:28:11] Thanks so much for being here and listening in to the Fitness Simplified podcast today. I hope you found it educational, motivational, inspirational, all the kinds of -ational. 
[00:28:22] If you enjoyed it, if you found value in
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[00:28:36] Thanks so much.