Jancee Dunn, HOT AND BOTHERED: What No One Tells You about Menopause and How to Feel Like Yourself Again

Jancee Dunn, HOT AND BOTHERED: What No One Tells You about Menopause and How to Feel Like Yourself Again

Zibby speaks to health journalist and New York Times bestselling author Jancee Dunn about her empowering, informative, and entertaining new book, Hot and Bothered: What No One Tells You About Menopause and How to Feel Like Yourself Again. Jancee talks about her experience with perimenopause and expresses how important it is for women to speak about this inevitable part of life. She and Zibby also chat about weed gummies, sweat, dryness, and brain fog, and living some of their best years now in their 40s and 50s.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jancee. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Hot and Bothered: What No One Tells You About Menopause and How to Feel Like Yourself Again.

Jancee Dunn: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: This couldn’t come at a better time. I am one of the thirty million people between ages forty and fifty, whatever, that you talk about in the book that are consistently ignored, never talked to about menopause, all of the stuff. I am in your audience. I am such an eager recipient of all of the information. This book was so funny. I love you and your mom and the whole thing and all of the scenes that you tell and write about. I loved it. It was like a memoir told in outrage.

Jancee: Thank you so much. It’s a difficult subject, so I really had to think about the approach and to make it sort of funny and relatable because it’s major.

Zibby: It’s true. One of the first points you make is how little people talk about menopause, not just us as people and not just as a society, but doctors and how so often, people are misdiagnosed and have to go to so many different doctors because there are thirty-four different symptoms, maybe more, forty-three. What? A million, essentially. Talk about that. Talk about anything. Talk about why you wrote the book.

Jancee: The misinformation, it’s on a couple levels. There’s the fact that menopause is the intersection of sexism and agism. Older women, in medicine, it’s like you fall off a cliff after you have babies. There was this famous study I cited in the book that OBGYNs get exactly one hour of menopause training. Even when you go to the doctor when you’re younger, when you’re in your childbearing years, there’s a lot of procedure-based medicine. When you’re older, it’s mostly about sitting down and talking about lifestyle changes and things like that. Then I am a health journalist. I have been doing this for decades. I couldn’t find any information, nor could — I connect the dots. When I started getting symptoms — first of all, I didn’t know that perimenopause — peri meaning around, the years leading up to menopause. It happens most often in a woman’s forties. I thought it was kind of Golden Girls land, some distant time period in my life. I started getting symptoms when I was forty-five. At the time, I had a toddler. I was in toddler land. I was going to bouncy castles and all that stuff. I certainly wasn’t thinking about menopause or perimenopause. I got a few symptoms, including, my heart started racing. I’m the “run to the doctor” type. Are you a “run to the doctor” type? I go for everything.

Zibby: I now do not go for checkups. I only go when I have problems. I’m the worst kind of patient. Anyway, yes.

Jancee: That was me too, actually. Instead of being on top of it, I thought, oh, lord, I have a racing heart. I went to a cardiologist. He said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you. You seem fine.” A couple of these symptoms piled up. I started getting bizarrely dry skin. I had no idea it was perimenopause.

Zibby: Wait, can I read the passage? I actually dogeared this one when you talk about your dry skin on your neck, which was the funniest. Wait, hold on, I have to read this section. Then you talk about the rest. You said, “Dryness is a recurring theme, which in my case tracked. Everything on my body that was capable of becoming parched did so from scalp to feet. Even my ears, normally fairly supple as far as ears go, assumed the precise leathery texture of Trader Joes Unsulphered Just Mango slices. My suddenly dry neck shed so much skin that my white towels turned brown. Perimenopausal sisters, I implore you to switch this minute to invest in a rich neck cream.” Then I just have to read this next paragraph. “My nether regions experienced a calamitous climate change, swiftly going from tropical lush to arid desert. Sex with my husband felt like he had strapped on a condom made of astroturf. The hair on my head not only thinned, but seemingly migrated down my body to sprout in unwelcome, WTF places such as my inner wrist.” Oh, my god, you’re so funny.

Jancee: Thank you. It is a constellation of — experts that I interviewed for the book said some people sail through menopause with no symptoms. I haven’t met any of these people, but apparently, they do exist. It’s bizarre, some of these symptoms. The dryness was just another level. They hit in these groups sometimes. I didn’t put it together. I never thought, oh, this is perimenopause. I just thought this is stuff that happens in midlife. What now? My ears have dried up. When I finally figured out what was happening and started doing research, I thought, okay, so I’m actually on track. I’m in my forties, and this is starting to happen. How I wish that women were informed of these changes, that they’re going to start happening. If I knew in my late thirties or something, then at least I would be prepared because there’s treatments for a lot of this stuff. The dryness, it is just — sex hurt so much. I was avoiding my husband. That’s the thing too.

Going back to what you had asked earlier about how we don’t talk about it, I never had a single conversation about menopause with my mother. I talk to her all the time. We talk about everything you could imagine. Never had a conversation. Didn’t talk to my sisters about it, my friends. It’s still taboo, which is silly because it affects half the population. It’s not a disease. It’s a natural stage of your life. When you enter menopause, you don’t go through it. You enter it, and you kind of stay there. You can stay there for decades. Why wouldn’t we talk about something that is so profound in your life? Now I make a practice, not just because I wrote the book, but I talk about menopause. I tell people all the time, if you feel safe talking to somebody about it, talk about it. It’s the only way. It’s starting at a grassroots level where people are talking more about it. People like you, thank goodness, you’re having me on your podcast to talk about it. It’s all moving forward. My hope is that when my kid who’s now fourteen is in her forties, she’ll be like, oh, all right, menopause, that it’ll just be banal, as it should be. That was a long answer. I’m sorry.

Zibby: No, it was great. I think it’s one of those things that is losing its stigma, mental health things, this. It’s almost a nice bookend because of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. coming out again this summer, and this book. You talk about them as bookends of the journey in the book. I feel like those are the two capstone books now of this experience. This is when it starts. This is when it ends. Maybe we need some sort of celebration. What you also point out is that there is no one definitive test because hormones shift all the time. You can’t say a hundred percent, okay, this is exactly where you are right now. You could go in and get blood tests every day for a month to have to figure the whole thing out. It’s not like it’s easy for people to — you just kind of have to guess. It’s not like it happens on a date like your first period or something.

Jancee: I know people are reassured by tests. I understand that, but every single expert — I don’t even know how many experts I talked to for this book — said save your money. It’s expensive. It’s out of pocket when you take these tests. Your hormones do change by the day. Most doctors, if they sit down and talk to you and get all the symptoms, can make a diagnosis just by finding out your symptoms. Of course, the definition of menopause is you’ve been without a period for a year, a whole year. Even if you get it in month nine, then you have to go back to the beginning and count up for another twelve months, which is also something I didn’t know.

Zibby: I didn’t know that one of the best treatments for menopause was weed. That was a huge surprise to me, that everybody’s taking gummies and everything for menopause symptoms. This blew my mind.

Jancee: Pretty much all my friends. I interviewed many of them kind of in disguise for the book. For obvious reasons, there hasn’t been many studies on it. Anecdotally, these women say that it’s helping a lot, everything from irritability to sleeping. The data is not there yet, but that doesn’t stop everyone from popping gummies like crazy because women need solutions. Who can blame them? If it works, great. That’s the thing too. I detail all these treatments in the book. Every menopause experience is different. If it works for you, great. There’s not a ton of data on some of these herbal supplements, but if it works and you’re not deranged from hot flashes, great.

Zibby: One of the funniest scenes was when you were preparing for that interview. You were drenched in sweat. You had three different fans going. You were trying to play it so cool for Vanity Fair or something like that and just trying so hard to hide the flashes. It’s so funny.

Jancee: I was melting like a snowman. It was awful. My hair was blowing, which must have looked ridiculous, from the fans, but I had to stop sweating. It was really, really obvious. My makeup was melting down. Who can understand? It was a younger celebrity. Until you’re in it, they really don’t understand. I can remember — I used to be a reporter at Rolling Stone. Every time I had to interview an older female musician, like Cher or somebody, they would say, “Ask her what it’s like to get older.” I didn’t even realize how obnoxious that question was. I can remember Dolly Parton said, “It sucks,” in that accent. I love that. It also sucks to be asked that question by some stupid twenty-five-year-old, that being me, who just didn’t realize. That’s the thing, too, that makes me feel so depressed. Again, until you’re going through it, you just don’t have that empathy for your menopausal sisters. Then when I talked to my mother, I said, “What was your experience like?” She used to sell office furniture. She would be in this conference room with a bunch of men. She would be dripping like I was. She said that she’ll never forget the sound of her sweat dripping onto the conference table. Plop, plop, plop. She wouldn’t know what to do. She learned not to wear white blouses because she would get soaked, and then her bra would show. I just thought, god, I didn’t know any of this. I found some diaries not long ago that I had saved. Did you save your diaries? Did you keep a diary? Did you save your diaries?

Zibby: Kept many diaries. Saved them all.

Jancee: Have you looked through them recently?

Zibby: No, but I walked into my office one day, and my teenage son was sitting on my windowsill deep into this one. He’s like, “Mom, this is when you’d had five drinks,” and blah, blah, blah. I was like, “Okay, let’s put that down.” He kept talking about all these people. He’s like, “Where were you?” I was like, “Give me some more context.” He kept mentioning all these people. I have no idea who they were. I have no memory of these people at all. I basically have finally figured out it was a summer trip I went on. To your menopause point, I have no memory at all. I can’t remember anything anymore. Names slip, everything. I haven’t read them recently, but I probably should. The long answer.

Jancee: I find this fascinating because I read my diaries for the first time — I have a daughter who’s fourteen. I thought, maybe she can relate. I looked through them. It was all about, my mom is so crabby. What’s wrong with her? She’s so irritable. I was just clueless. Now of course, I put it together that that’s what was going on with her. I just didn’t know. I feel bad. Now we talk about it a lot.

Zibby: My daughter was asking me the other day about — now I have a belly. I used to have other places that the weight deposited, which I had become good at figuring out how to conceal. Now there’s a lot of weight in my belly. My daughter was like, “What did you do from before until now? When I grow up –”

Jancee: She was asking for tips?

Zibby: Yeah, looking for tips. “What did you do wrong, Mom?” type of thing. I was like, “Well, honey, when you’re a certain age, you go through menopause. All of a sudden, your metabolism slams on the breaks, and you get a belly. Congratulations.”

Jancee: That’s a nice, simple way to put it. That was another thing that I wrote about. I was kind of keeping it a secret from my husband. I was playing into that unnecessary stigma. When sex started to hurt, when I was running to the bathroom a lot more often, I didn’t tell him a very simple explanation like you gave to your daughter. It’s kind of like reverse puberty. The hormones are leaving my body. It makes the tissues a lot more irritable because estrogen keeps your skin supple. That’s why I race to the bathroom, why I cringe and grimace during sex, which is probably not an aphrodisiac. Once I explained to him, then the pressure was off. He assumed I didn’t care for him anymore. I was doing him a disservice. Then he was able to know what was going on with me. He could sort of be in on it with me instead of — PS, he’s getting older too. He’s getting older too. We’re all getting older. It’s not the sexist topic in the world, but I felt immediately better after I talked to him about it.

Zibby: I said something recently to my husband about it too. I said something like, “I’ve passed my prime.”

Jancee: Did he know that that was a que for him to say, “No, you haven’t”? How did he respond?

Zibby: No. Now he’s making all sorts of funny jokes about it. He’s very funny. Whenever I do something now, anything that — he just makes jokes. Here’s your prime, huh? Here we are. Here I am in my prime. It’s not exactly something you want to advertise to your partner because it’s not the most — not like they don’t see you in all your various glory anyway, but there’s some allure. It’s mixed up with coloring your hair and wrinkles and this compulsion to hide that you’re not this young, youthful, dewy spouse.

Jancee: A hundred percent. I had that exact dilemma as well. It even extended to when — you often get brain fog. I certainly did. I was very worried because that’s when I started writing the book. I thought, how am I going to even talk about this if I can’t remember words? I would trail off. I remember saying to Tom, my husband, “Can you hand me the…?” I could not think of the words butter knife. I yelled, “The shiny thing. The shiny thing. You spread butter on it.” I could not remember. I thought, oh, boy, this is not good. There is very good research, many experts told me, that brain fog goes away. I just found that so exciting. It really isn’t all bad. When you lose something and it’s returned to you, I think that’s a miracle. In fact, my brain fog did largely go away. Some of it is just getting older, and it’ll never go away, but much of it did. My memory became sharp again. I was able to remember what a butter knife was. That was a plus. Now I’m mostly kind of through it. I’m out at the other side. I went through menopause properly. I did the year-long thing. See, maybe I do have brain fog. The year-long thing.

Zibby: Wait, what year-long thing? What do you mean?

Jancee: You’re asking for clarification? I know. What am I even saying?

Zibby: Just a little bit. Just a smidge.

Jancee: I went officially through menopause because I went a whole year without having my period.

Zibby: Oh, the twelve . Got it.

Jancee: That’s the translation of the year-long thing. I remember at one point I was swimming. I used to do open-water swimming where you swim in large bodies of water. I remember getting — it’s not an official term — a flash period. I got an epic period while I was swimming in the water. A group of barracuda were following me. That was a little awkward. I really had the crime-scene period that you read about. However, that said, I am through everything. I get a hot flash every once in a while, but it’s more like Miami than Satan’s space heater. It’s mild. It’s not so bad. I wake up occasionally. Once you’re through, it’s kind of great. You really do revert back — I was just listening to Jane Fonda talking about this. You revert back to your premenstrual self when you were a kid and kind of a weirdo. You’re really inhabiting your weird self. That’s the way I feel now. It’s great. Do you remember how you used to be before the whole period thing started, before you were tethered to your monthly cycles one way or another? I’m not anymore. I know it sounds so meno-positivity that I don’t care what people think. If I did care what people think, would I be talking about how I pee myself on your podcast? I really don’t care. That’s freeing also. I told my daughter — I’m in my fifties. She said, “What was the best decade that you’ve ever had?” Fully expected me to say my teenage years or my twenties or whatever. I really think it’s now. I’m just having a lot of fun now. I don’t know. Who would’ve thought? If I had told myself that when I was her age, I would’ve said, yeah, right. That’s some sort of propaganda that you tell people when they get older to make them feel better. It’s not true, in my case anyway.

Zibby: My mom actually always told me that the forties were her favorite time. My grandmother would always say she felt like people told her she looked better and better the older she got. She’s like, “I’ve never looked better than in my nineties. I’m hitting my stride.”

Jancee: See, I want to be like that. My mom just called me recently and said, “There was this old lady in the supermarket. She was getting on my nerves. She wouldn’t move. I was behind her. I was getting so impatient.” I thought, you’re eighty-two. It’s that expression that old age is fifteen years older than you are. I think that’s just people’s general discomfort with being labeled as old, which I do get. My mom doesn’t consider herself old. I don’t know if I can even ask her, what is old to you? Every age has its difficulties but also its joys. Am I saying things that are making you throw up? It’s really true.

Zibby: Actually, I thought it was really interesting when you talked about grandparents for a while. You said that women live longer than men. Scientists think that’s because women are such good caregivers for the young, for their grandkids, and so they should live longer so that they can help take care of the young. I had never known that. I love evolutionary stuff like that.

Jancee: That does make sense, doesn’t it? I’m not an evolutionary scientist.

Zibby: It does make sense. I just hadn’t thought about it.

Jancee: It makes sense. Although, now — we were just talking about this at The Times. There’s a couple different biotech companies that want to eliminate menopause forever. One company said that that was the moon shot, to just delay it and delay it so that you don’t go through it and that you’re in sync with men, like male rock stars who can run around fathering children when they’re eighty or whatever. I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not. It’s kind of an interesting area, delaying menopause.

Zibby: The idea of getting rid of all the symptoms of it and all of that sounds good, but indefinitely being able to have children — these poor kids who are going to have ninety-year-old parents. Nobody will be able to pick them up. I don’t know.

Jancee: Speaking of kids, another fun thing that I always ask people is the best age for a kid. I know every kid is different. I love the age of seven. I also love thirteen for my daughter. What do you think it is? What ages are especially sweet to you?

Zibby: I have an eight and a nine-year-old right now and two sixteen-year-olds. I agree. I think this seven, eight, nine, ten, oh, my gosh. They’re verbal enough that you can have really funny, interesting conversations, but they’re not old enough to have a total attitude or anything.

Jancee: They still think you’re cool.

Zibby: What is coming next for you? You wrote this book. You’re a reporter, journalist, everything. Where do you go from here? You’ve told the world your innermost secrets. What next? Are you going back to more purely reported stuff? Are you diving deeper into this whole menopause lifestyle thing? Where are you going?

Jancee: You know, I don’t know. My books, they definitely reflect what’s going on with me. I’ve been looking around, and I don’t know what to do next. I write about health and wellness. That’s always an area that I like. I really don’t know. I wonder if there’s a way, as you say, as to delve more deeply with menopause and just aging in general. I don’t know. It took me long enough to figure out this book. Even a couple years ago, I floated the idea to people, to publishers and my agent. People said no. Now things have really changed. When I feel frustrated, it’s not like policies are reflecting that now or anything like that. Even a few years ago — things are really different. We are moving forward about awareness, just as you said earlier. It’s great. It seems slow, but it’s really not.

Zibby: This is my suggestion for you. I think you should write a sitcom. I know you referenced the times where menopause even played into things like All in the Family and whatever. I think you should do something because your mom character is so funny. I know she’s actually your mom, but she’s like a character in the book. Something with you and your mom and your daughter. Have it be this very funny three generations. Have this whole theme between the periods or something.

Jancee: Okay, that is a great — you talk to authors. We’re always looking for projects. It can be really hard sometimes. Oh, my mom would love that. When I do book events, my mother sometimes stands up and answers the question. She would be so very much on board with this idea. Let’s put it that way. When I was looking back on how menopause is represented in pop culture, there are a few television shows or movie scenes, but most of it is pretty abysmal. We could certainly do better in that area.

Zibby: Plus, you have all these quotes from famous people. I think you could really make this something fun and very cool. That’s your task. Where are you based, by the way? I think I read this, but now I can’t remember.

Jancee: New Jersey. I used to live in Brooklyn for twenty years. Then my daughter didn’t get into the public middle schools that she applied to. You hear this a lot. We put the apartment up for sale. I moved to New Jersey because I didn’t expect — this is a long story. The short story is I have moved one town over from where I grew up for various reasons. Daily, I drive by the cul-de-sac where I used to make out with Mike McCluskey. Is that a good thing? Is that a good thing to be so immersed in your past? Is it ?

Zibby: This is perfect for the sitcom. This is great because Margaret and her family in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., they moved to New Jersey also from New York.

Jancee: They did.

Zibby: There’s something there. You can figure it out.

Jancee: It’s a cosmic sign.

Zibby: It’s a cosmic sign. Thank you so much, Jancee. Not Jay-cee. Jancee Dunn, fellow odd name woman like myself. I’m glad you’re in the area because I would love to meet you at some point. This was really fun.

Jancee: Let’s do it. There’s a lot to talk about, isn’t there? Clearly. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Clearly, yes. Scratching the surface. Thanks so much. Buh-bye.

Jancee: Bye.

HOT AND BOTHERED: What No One Tells You about Menopause and How to Feel Like Yourself Again by Jancee Dunn

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