Alumna Dana Goldstein writes memoir on the joys of menopause
Author and J-School alumna Dana Goldstein has written a memoir detailing what to expect if you are a person who will go, is going, or has gone, through menopause. It is an in-depth look at how one's body changes through the process, and Goldstein is not afraid to share the nitty-gritty details. To learn more about her writing process and her reasoning behind the book, the School of Journalism spoke to Goldstein.
What is your newest book about?
My newest book is Murder on my Mind, and it's a memoir about my experience through perimenopause to the end of menopause, which is post-menopause. The book is extremely candid about my experience, unlike the books currently out there that give you all the medical information and go deep into treatments and physiology. My book doesn't do any of that. My book is specifically about what I experienced, from brain fog to mood swings to wanting to stab my husband in the eyes with pencils just because he was breathing next to me. I talk a lot about that, right down to periods and facial hair and all the other not-so-nice things that women don't talk about when we hit the perimenopausal years.
What was the main reason you wanted to write this book?
I'm a memoirist. This is my second memoir. My first memoir was all about food and family, so this was a natural progression for me when I was considering what my next project was going to be. And it was 100 per cent my intention to write a memoir about my experience with menopause and what I went through at the time, once I was on the other side of all the chaos and suffering and changes in brain chemistry that comes with that part of life. As a memoirist, I feel it's my duty to share all the ugly bits about life, body, and mental health. I don't sugarcoat anything.
Did you start thinking about writing this memoir during menopause, or was it only afterwards?
My menopausal journey started when I was 41 and ended when I was 48, so I was there for seven years. And not once during those seven years did I consider writing a memoir about menopause. I published my first memoir in 2018 called The Girl in the Gold Bikini, and then for the next year, I was riding that wave and doing events and being the keynote speaker and selling the book and hustling on that. So I probably didn't sit down to write Murder on my Mind—the idea didn't even enter my brain until 2019 when I was winding down all the promo for my first memoir and thinking, "Well, what's my next project going to be?"
How did you organize time in your day to write this memoir?
I have a ritual. I'm up at 5 a.m. every morning, and that's my writing time, from five till seven or eight. Some days, it can be even longer, depending on what I have going on that day. But I'm an early bird, and I need that quiet time before the chaos of the business day starts to build. I don't write on weekends. I feel like I know a lot of writers whosay you have to write every single day, but that's just not who I am. So, five days a week. If I went on vacation, I would take my laptop with me because there's nothing worse than being inspired by something and not having the means to get it down. I would also use time away as a family. My family, my husband and my two sons, are skiers. So we would go out to the mountains, they would go skiing, I would go writing. But predominantly, the book was written in two to three-hour spurts five days a week.
Your book is sectioned off by symptoms of menopause instead of a timeline of your experience. Why did you choose to lay it out in this manner?
So timeline is irrelevant for women in menopause. My experience was seven years, and I know women in year 13 and still going through symptoms. There's no chronology that makes sense because some women never get a hot flash. So I can't say that six months into your perimenopause, that's when you can expect to have hot flashes or night sweats. There's no chronology that's universal to a woman's experience through menopause. However, the symptoms that we suffer are universal. While not every woman will get every symptom, most women will have most symptoms.
How was this writing process different from The Girl in the Gold Bikini, external link?
In the Girl in the Gold Bikini, external link, I had to dig really deep into my past and childhood, whereas Murder on my Mind is contemporary. So it's now 10 years past the point when I started my perimenopause, and it's more recent, and also, I still experience some of those symptoms. So it was easier for me to write. I didn't have to dig deep for details and memories because it was all very current for me, and things are still happening. So the project evolved from the first draft to the final draft as all writing projects do, but I would find that something happened in my life that would trigger "Oh, yeah that's menopause-related, I need to add a whole chapter or a section to a chapter." It was very different from writing the Girl in the Gold Bikini, which was all looking back. It was all hindsight. Whereas Murder on my Mind was split between past experience with menopause and what I was currently experiencing.
Do you have a favourite part of the book?
I really like the story about Sephora. Going in just to find some kind of foundation, it was so much fun for me to write that particular part of the chapter because it was so descriptive. And it was so experiential. It really allowed me to bring the reader into the store with me, as opposed to just sort of relay what was happening in my brain. I felt that that really allowed me to stretch as a writer to bring somebody into the story. They're walking with me. So I really like that one.
Your writing style is very honest. Why do you think it's so important to be honest about things like perimenopause?
Because somebody has to be the first and somebody has to be the voice. I don't intentionally write that way like, "Oh, I'm gonna be the first ever, I'm the one who's gonna make the difference." But I feel that if nobody is willing to candidly and openly share an experience, then you can't serve others, or help others, or guide them.
One of my favourite quotes is, "Don't be the searchlight, be the lighthouse." And I feel like I sometimes want to be the lighthouse because I am a memoirist, and I am willing to share the really disgusting parts of life sometimes. Somebody asked me once, like, "How can you write these things? Aren't you embarrassed?" But it never occurs to me that I'm writing specific details about my vaginal discharge or the hair growing out of my ears. It doesn't occur to me to be embarrassed because I feel like I'm writing to serve a purpose. And the feedback that I get from anonymous readers tells me that that's the right thing to do because they have eye-opening experiences.
I hear this a lot: "You made me realize that I wasn't the only one." I put the pieces together for some women who had no idea. They knew something wasn't right; they didn't know what they were going through. So that was the main reason I write so honestly because I want readers to connect with my experience and make them feel better about their own.
Did this memoir help you with an acceptance of your own body?
I already had acceptance. That's why I was ready to write it. I already felt that acceptance. I already acknowledge the changes. I'm not comfortable with the changes, but I've learned to recognize that, okay, things are much different. When I was 30, I could hit the gym every day, and within four weeks, I'd be cut, I'd have lost weight, I'd be feeling great. And now, at 51, If I exercise every day, regardless of how I'm feeling, my risk of injury is greater than my risk of reward. And that's hard for me to accept, of all the things that's the hardest for me to accept. Once you're postmenopausal, and this is a physiological result of going through this change of life, is that yes, our bodies become more brittle. Even if up here in your brain, you think I can totally do this. Your body is failing you, even though your mind is sharp as anything. So that's the worst part for me, is that I can't go hardcore sometimes how I want to, and I have to be super careful.
What has been the overall general response to this memoir?
It's been amazing. As I said, women have sent me emails saying, "Thank you for telling this story. I don't feel like I'm the only one." Or you know, "I knew something wasn't right. But I couldn't put my finger on it. And I couldn't put it into words. And you've done that for me." Some women who are well past menopause have read it and are super grateful that somebody has shared the experience for the next generation. So for their daughters. I've had men say they are super grateful because now they understand why their spouses have gone crazy. So yeah, the response has been overwhelming, sometimes, but gratifying at the same time.
What do you hope people will get out of this memoir?
I hope that anybody who reads this book will walk away with a better understanding of what this stage of life is like for women. It's a huge part of our life. It will carry us to the end of our days. While we may not be fully symptomatic, we will experience a lot of these symptoms right up until the end of our days. And I want people to walk away after reading this book, understanding just how menopause can wreak havoc on your body, to be able to identify it when it's happening, and not be afraid to find solutions that work for them to get through it. I also want people to know that there is an end in sight. It does get better. You won't be suffering like this forever. That's why I asked some of the women in my community to share their experiences because I know menopause. While there are so many similarities, some truly unique things happen to every woman. I did not know that you could have a murderous bloodbath kind of period. I never experienced that. I didn't know anyone who experienced that directly.
But most importantly, until I asked and until people knew I was writing this book, nobody would have mentioned that. As a side note, I think it was brave of the women I quoted to agree to be quoted and share their experiences with me. Some were funny, and some were very frightening. So I really just want women to know that these are some of the things that can happen, and I want people to start talking about it. We need to talk about it. As I said in the book, we talk about pregnancy or labour and delivery openly and completely free, and we share that experience. But something happens when we hit menopause, we stop talking about it. And I want people to have these conversations with their friends and family. And let's start talking about menopause like we talk about pushing out babies.