Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: High Anxiety and Panic Attacks.

Boo after her Sunday night bath

See the little girl in the foreground of this photograph? Looks like she’s fresh out of her Sunday-night bath with her wet hair, a white cotton towel draped over her tiny shoulders like Superman’s cape. In the background is her older brother, sitting at the kitchen table, and fully engaged in a game of cards with one of his friends. They don’t notice her or that Ma is taking their photograph. Looks like she’s warming herself by the ancient oil heater in the living room at 204. But she is not.

This little girl isn’t cold.

She is in a full-blown panic attack. Racked with anxiety. Tormented by a faceless nameless terrifying Boogeyman that pops up unexpectedly out-of-nowhere. Boo. What’s the “tell” in this photograph? Look closely and you’ll see her hand over her tummy. Look closely and you will see the fear in her dark eyes. Look closely and you will see the clenching of her distraught jaw.

In this photograph I’m nine or ten years old and just beginning a life-long battle with anxiety and panic attacks. My hand is over my tummy because my guts are churning and I feel like throwing up. I’m not cold like the photograph suggests. My teeth aren’t chattering because of the temperature in the room. I don’t shiver because I’ve caught a chill. I shiver and shake uncontrollably because my body, mind and emotions are under assault. And I don’t know why. I don’t understand any of it. I’m constantly overwhelmed with a gnawing feeling of dread, afraid of everything and nothing. My mind is on high alert, relentlessly watching and waiting for “it” to come back. I just want “it” to stop.

Eventually the immediate panic ceases. It always does. But the low-grade anxiety lingers.

It took years to fully understand this. When I was the little girl in this photograph I just suffered through it. Physical exhaustion eventually played a merciful hand. When I was a teenager I wanted to be carefree and happy like everyone else, and I continued to suffer through each attack, praying it would never happen again. Pleading with God to make it stop and asking, “why me?”

I confided in Ma of course. She understood what I was going through because over the years she too had suffered from “bad nerves.” Apparently these were the kind of nerves that required punishing. So Ma did so by dispensing Carter’s Little Liver Pills. They were the cure-all for everything back in the day. Ma found them helpful but they did nothing for me. As I got older, I started hiding the attacks from Ma because it was only making matters worse, for the both of us.

By the time my son was born, and I was in university, I had had enough. I had to figure this out, if not for my sake, then for his.

I became a student of my own physiology. I read and studied everything I could get my hands on about the nervous system, cognitive behavior, anxiety and panic disorders, psychology and spirituality, environmental factors, nutrition and physical fitness. Through this journey, I discovered that it was actually an amalgam of factors that were contributing to these panic attacks and prevailing anxiety. Bit by bit, and slowly over time, I unearthed a host of possible causes and triggers – everything from the very physical nature of the beast to the gut-wrenching emotional fabric of my life story. What I ate and when I ate it, being the daughter of an alcoholic, family shame and feelings of inferiority, extreme shyness, sensitivity and introversion, lack of confidence in social situations, hyper-creativity and an over-active imagination, intelligence and obsession with achievement, the need to be perfect, to be a good girl, to not make waves. I was tailor-made for this disorder.

But I was also tailor-made to overcome it. In addition to all that stuff, I’m also tough as nails, strong-willed, gritty, determined and optimistic. And above all else, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I stopped asking “why me” long ago. Now I ask myself, “why not me?” I’ve looked for the silver lining, the blessing in this experience and found it.

I’ve taken a holistic approach and I do the things I need to do to stay well – emotionally, physically and spiritually – by eating food that fuels my body and spirit, practicing yoga, going for long walks, reading and writing, doing work that has meaning, helping others, and most importantly, spending time with people I love and cherish. If not for panic attacks and anxiety, I doubt that I would experience life to the full depth of emotion and richness that I do today. Silver lining.

When I was in university, and in one of my deepest darkest periods of anxiety, I read a beautiful little book called Hope and Help for Your Nerves by Australian physician Dr. Claire Weekes. This book quite literally saved my life. I read it and re-read it until it was practically in shreds. It was full of practical intelligent advice and down-to-earth wisdom that I could actually do something with. I learned to desensitize my nervous system, to overcome the bewilderment that accompanies panic attacks, to change my internal conversation in order to stop the fear, and the fear of the fear, and to ultimately call its bluff.

And my biggest take-away, and what became my mantra for many years, even to this day – “shaky jelly legs will still get you there!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Interview with Girl Warrior Jo Dworschak.

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There’s no age limit to being a Girl Warrior. She doesn’t look a particular way. She comes in all ages, sizes, shapes and colors. She’s out there. And inside every girl who enters the world. She’s the face of hope at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.

She is not afraid of her fierce magical powers. It is here that we have come to celebrate. Honor. Appreciate. And applaud.

Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our first Feature Girl Warrior, the extraordinary and inspiring Jo Dworschak. Comedian, broadcaster and writer and best known for her hit game show Story Story Lie and co-hosting of the LGBT show Fruit Salad on Coop Radio.

What makes you a Girl Warrior?

That’s a hard question. I feel like the wins I’ve had came from struggles and they tend to remain a struggle. I guess that’s part of being a warrior? I keep doing it. Even when trying is hard and I really want to just take a nap…well I take a nap but then I wake up and get shit done.

We love Story Story Lie. How did that come about?

I was on a train ride from Brighton to London, actually on the wrong train cause I wanted to get moving and thought it would be an adventure to get on a different train and see what happened. Luckily the train went to London, but the opposite side of London and it was so late at night it took me two hours on buses with drunks to get back to my room. Everything that happened that night was unbelievable. Truth is so much stranger then fiction, that’s how the show came to be. Two true stories and one lie, can you tell them apart? I know who the liar is and I still get confused! Also I wanted a show that gave the audience a voice, made people feel clever for being able to interrogate the performers. I’m so lucky everyone has loved it!

What has been your biggest challenge?

Biggest challenge has been asking. Asking for the venue to host the show. Asking performers to join as contestants. Asking media to cover the show and asking CBC Radio to add the show to its line up (I’m still waiting to hear back). Asking invites the potential to get what I want, but also to not get it. That waiting time is still hard for me. There are times I’m rejected, but people are usually quite nice about it.

What obstacles have you overcome and walls have you broken down?

I’m a single parent. I’m lucky to have a son that is supportive of my dreams. It is hard to leave at night and perform when I can’t bring him with me. Though I realize he’s a teenager now and fine being at home with snacks and WiFi. I’ve suffered for years on and off with clinical depression. Some days getting out of bed, and on a stage, is very hard. Some days I have no clue why I still do it. But finding that story or that joke that connects with the audience, that helps them forget about their own problems or think differently about the problems of others make it worth it.

What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior? 

You’re voice is important! Anyone who tells you that your voice isn’t important, know just how important your voice really is.

What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?

Living a life without failure isn’t a life I’d want to live. We need to ask for what we want. We get a lot of yeses! And often the no’s tend to be for the best.

Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s)?

Frida Khalo, she was a cross-dressing bisexual who overcame a lot of pain and brought beauty into the world when she saw none. Also she had a lot of pets! That’s so cool!

What’s next?

This summer I’m flying my son and I to St. John’s Newfoundland. We are on a tight budget to buy a crappy car and drive back. The goal is to meet as many diverse families as possible and interview them for an audio doc project I’m calling Families Across Canada. We want to find the things we all have in common and the things we can learn from each other. I truly believe sharing each others stories breaks down walls and builds strong bridges.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

On stage, on air and writing! I want to be able to live as a Creative. I would love for Story Story Lie to be bigger! To be traveling with that show and bringing diverse voices to the stage. I’d love to work on CBC Radio! Entertaining the masses and making people laugh. And having a hit show on CBC Radio.

Follow Jo on Twitter and Instagram @storystorylie. If you’re in the Victoria area on April 1, be sure to catch Story Story Lie at The Mint Victoria and see if you can spot the liar!

Get tickets to the show here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/story-story-lie-victoria-edition-tickets-31672884450

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Life Flashes.

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Legend has it that when you die your life flashes before you. That may be true but since no one has ever lived to tell the tale, we’ll never really know for sure, will we?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Little thoughts have been coming to me when I’m meditating or out walking or when I’m in the shower. What I’ve been seeing in these moments of reflection is my life unreeling like a backwards upside-down inside-out movie. Not chronologically but episodically and completely random. Like watching Season 3 Episode 10 of something on Netflix one night and then jumping arbitrarily to Season 1 Episode 4 the next and then watching the finale of Season 6 right afterwards.

I’ll be sitting in my meditation chair all quiet and holy-like trying to remain focused on my mantra when my little mind starts to wander. And then before long the movie sequence of some snippet of my life starts to play. Like last week’s episode about the Toronto days at 402 Northcliffe Blvd. No big deal. Just a sweet little slice of domesticity unfolded that involved kids and bus rides to Yorkdale Mall that made me sad and left my heart pining. For what, I’m not even sure. Maybe I need a new pair of shoes and a good visit with my kids.

This movie re-wind thing can happen anywhere. During one of my morning walks with Coco a few weeks ago, a pair of Canada geese flew overhead. There is just something mournful about their honking call that makes my throat squeeze. Instantly I’m back in Northwestern Ontario. It’s autumn and the leaves are starting to turn. The air is growing crisp with winter on its edges. The large blue skies are dazzling as they start to shift into the next phase, a new season. The sunlight is moody and casts uneven shadows on the earth below, and it has lost its heat. I’m ten years old and I’m on my way to Algonquin Avenue Public School when overhead I hear them calling. Good-bye for now, see you in the spring. I look up. Wave discreetly. This movie fragment makes me weep. I cry for the entire walk. I’m grateful it’s early morning and there’s no one around to see or hear. Coco is deaf.

Tears come easily these days too. Everything is touching my heart. Not piercing. Just a gentle prod of confirmation that I’m still present. Still alive and feeling. Awake to the passage of time and the fleeting transitory evanescence of this thing called life. Here today, and tomorrow’s movie.

I wonder if this is how it actually goes. We wend our way backwards then forwards, and back again. Episode by random episode, season by scattered season until it all makes sense, tells the full story. The things we live and the things we remember, real-time and reel-time.

We press play and pause, rewind and replay. Nothing flashes.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Ode to the Single Mom.

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Oh sweet single mom

At the end of the day

When you flop exhausted

And road weary

Into your bed

The pillow beside you

Empty

Whether by choice

Or by chance

Intended or unforeseen

It matters not

You keep your reasons

Close to your heart

Along with all

The other artifacts

That brought you to this place.

The darkness settles in

And the mind races

Relentlessly

Out of control

It babbles and rebukes

Bluffs and bitches

These noisy

Disrespectful

Unkind thoughts

That drip

Persistently

Into the wells

Of tired

Spent eyes

Sockets full.

Your body aches

And cries out

For comfort

Relief

Reassurance

A gentle caress

Tenderness

Human contact

Anything will do

At times like this

When you are

Depleted

Drained

Consumed

By the demands

The needs of others

Your children

Always come first

That’s the deal.

These cherished offspring

The loves of your life

Their birth

The ultimate creative act

Nothing compares

And you know it

You became a Goddess

In the moment

Of their conception

And they are yours

Eternally.

They are the source

Of your greatest pride

Deepest devotion

Unwavering adoration

Biggest fears

Grandest hopes

They inspire you

To soar with the angels

They provoke you

To grovel in the mud

With the devil himself

They have the capacity

To bring out the divine

Reveal the retched

Make you feel

Larger than life

Insignificant as a mite

They give you

Super powers

When you feel helpless.

They bring meaning

To your life

They bring purpose

To your days.

You are unfailingly present

To make their daily life

Extraordinary

The task is both

Daunting and endless

You are there

In the trenches

The bleachers

And hard benches

On the sidelines

Leading the charge

And the loudest cheer.

You are the one there

For homework

For practice

For sports events

For dance lessons

For music recitals

For teacher night

For beach days

For dog walks

For stray cats

For bike rides

For Sunday dinner

For Monday mornings.

You take temperatures

And wipe runny noses

You dry tears

And supply tickles

You’re a chauffeur

And a chef

Entertainer

And educator

You are the

Tooth Fairy

The Easter Bunny

And Santa Claus

Your arms are always

Ready for a hug

Your lips prepared

To smile

Your voice trained

To sing

Your heart eager

To laugh

Your hand fixed

To hold

Your storytelling skills

Are epic

And your goodnight kisses

Are unforgettable.

You are a single mom

But you are not alone

Know that

You are loved

And cherished

Admired

Needed

Respected.

You may not hear it

When your head rests

So heavy on your

Singular pillow

But the applause is loud

The honor immense

And the gratitude mighty.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Stay in Your Own Lane.

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Girl Warrior. Stay in your own lane. Focus on the task at hand. Concentrate fully on what you want to achieve and accomplish right here and now. Make this your priority. Pay attention. Be alert. Remain vigilant.

Don’t be sidetracked or derailed by the people, places or things that have nothing to do with this particular project or undertaking. This won’t be easy in a world of non-stop distraction. But you’re up for the challenge and you don’t need easy when you’ve got drive and determination in your hip pocket.

There will always be someone cutting into your lane, requesting a piece of you. But if you want to fulfill your dreams and reach your goals then you’ll need to push aside the extraneous noise, enticing diversions, idle amusements, and yes, even all those guilty pleasures. At least for the time being. Or for however long it takes to arrive at your destination.

Girl Warrior, don’t worry about what’s going in someone else’s lane either. That’s none of your business. Quit peeking. Craning your neck. Taking a gander. Glancing over your shoulder. Or worse yet, surreptitiously spying on the performance, power or presentation of others. And most importantly, stop comparing. That’s a fool’s game. So shut that shit down immediately.

Instead, remind yourself of just how incomparable you are Girl Warrior. And keep your eyes on the road ahead, as you cruise down the highway of infinite possibilities.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: We Marched.

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Girl Warrior. Sometimes a Girl Warrior’s gotta do what a Girl Warrior’s gotta do. Here’s my story.

On January 21, I did something I’ve never done before. Something so deeply marrow wrenching and profound that I believe it has changed me. Irrevocably.

I marched.

Shockingly it took decades for this to happen. If ever there had been a quintessential time, surely it was during my budding feminist years in university. But no, I did not march. Not even then. Truth is, I don’t even recall there being any marches in our neck of the woods. But then again, we were pretty backwoods. The university’s claim to fame at that time was their male-oriented Forestry Program. Says it all.

My feminism came in the form of a monthly subscription to Ms. Magazine and a huge secret girl-crush on Gloria Steinem. I read it in my room and kept my thoughts to myself. Thoughts like, I don’t want my mother’s life; I want to get the hell out of this town; I want to go to Paris; I want a career; I want to write; I want to make a difference and be a part of changing things for the better, especially for women. But I also had thoughts like, I want to fall in love; I want a family; I want a nice home with two cats in the yard; I want to be part of a community; I want to teach and have a positive empowering impact on the hearts and minds of youth, especially girls.

Most of that happened. Not all at once and not nearly as quickly as I thought it would. It’s taken a lifetime to unfold and there have been many twists and turns, surprises and derailments along the road. I still haven’t been to Paris and I’m okay with that.

Up until my mother died sixteen years ago, for the most part, I was still that young girl in her room reading Ms. Magazine and keeping her thoughts to herself. But after she died, things started to change. At first it was a slow steady percolation, a burning and churning inside my head, heart and gut. Then five years ago, I unleashed my Girl Warrior spirit and spoke. And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Girl Warrior blog posts, Girl Warrior books and now a Girl Warrior production company and website.

With two strong ferocious daughters, a granddaughter and a daughter-in-law I learned close-up and intimately what courage looks like. Inspired by them, I was compelled to speak up and use my words to help bring about change, at least in my own small way. Now I focus all of my attention on the last two thoughts at the end of both lists that I created all those years ago.

Take all of that in for a moment. Then think about the horrifying spectacle of the current American political scene with the rise to power of the unqualified and unfit DJT & Friends. What you get is the perfect storm for this Girl Warrior. And the biggest reason in her entire life to march, shoulder to shoulder, and in support of her American sisters, and all women across the world.

The Women’s March was magnificent in its purpose, resolve and scope.

There we stood in the crowded overflowing square, side-by-side, one-voice-in-many, wholly united and carrying signs with messages like Nasty Women Unite, The Future is Female, Ally to All Slave to None Let’s Unite, Trump Violence Against Women, A Woman’s Place is in the Revolution, We Will Not be Silent, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, and I’m With Her. There we stood and joined forces with other women, children and men – all ages, all different stages of life, and diverse backgrounds and beliefs. There we stood fighting for a cause that touched all of us, affected all of us and was far, far, far bigger and more important than we imagined. And we knew it. We felt it on every level, and with every fiber of our collective souls. Now was the time.

And now is the time Girl Warrior to fight for all human rights, to respect our natural and fragile habitat, to remember our prevailing humanity, to restore our faith in each other and our shared decency, kindness and goodness, to extend compassion and grace at every turn, and most importantly, to grow our capacity to always love divinely in the face of ugly hatred.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Piss or Get Off the Pot.

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Girl Warrior. Make this the year you piss or get off the pot. This is your great big powerful year where you kick all the excuses, delaying tactics, postponing, stalling and deferring to last year’s dragging-your-feet curb. No more of that. It’s done.

The clock is ticking and the truth is there is no more time to waste. Time waits for no man. Or Girl Warrior. So get on with it.

This is the perfect time to pull all your dreams, plans, schemes, resolutions and to-do lists out of the vault and unleash them. This is the perfect time to show the world just exactly what it is you can do. This is the perfect time to rally your troops and all your resources and get some shit done. This is the perfect time for action not reaction. This is the perfect time to become a force to be reckoned with. This is the perfect time to light that fire in your belly. This is the perfect time to take your life to the next level and beyond. This is the perfect time to have the best year of your magnificent life.

What’s stopping you Girl Warrior?

Take a moment to think about what exactly it is that’s holding you back, keeping you from doing all the things you want to do and accomplish. There’s probably a lot of negative self-talk and emotional baggage fogging up your beautiful brain and clogging your thinking. It’s creative constipation caused by the likes of fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, fear of making waves, fear of losing friends or family, fear of being considered a bad girl, fear of being abandoned and left alone, fear of being thought of as crazy. So what.

Say so what to all of those fears. Odds are, none it’s going to happen anyway. And if it does, you’ll deal with it. Head-on and brave-on like you always do. Don’t be afraid to be a little bit crazy either. It’s the juicy sweet stuff of imagination and innovation. Harness it and make it work on your behalf. Make it crazy vision. Crazy inspiration. Crazy motivation. Crazy inventiveness. Crazy originality. Crazy artistry. Crazy genius. Crazy love.

So Girl Warrior, go completely crazy this year doing all the mind-blowing extraordinary awesome things you’ve been putting off. Make this the best year of your life.

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