Learning to Breathe

This story was written by Corinne Birchard. Thank you for sharing your heart with us!


This was supposed to be the year of everything. Senior year of college. I was so excited to start this year as I had big goals and aspirations for the up-coming cross country season. I dedicated my summer solely to training;  I discussed with my mom the idea of not getting a summer job to maximum my time for getting in my hour long endurance runs, my lifting session, my shakeout second run of the day, and my routine of “little things” to promote recovery, including sleep. My parents not only understood that, but encouraged me to hold off on getting a summer job so I could focus my energies on training. So that was my summer.

I was so excited to go back to school and compete in my class cross country season as a Division I runner. And to learn and complete my degree in biology, of course, but I invested so much time in running during my time off from school that I couldn’t wait to taste the delicious fruits of my labor.

Turns out they weren’t so delicious.

While I was focusing my energies on training, I kept putting off the dreading feeling of leaving the home I love so much. This year was different from other years. The early years of college, I would be so excited to go back to school and reconnect with my roommates and teammates, train hard and study hard. Of course, I would miss my family and friends and boyfriend back home, but the college atmosphere was different, almost refreshing. New.

Now, things are different. With one year left of college, I had my future career to look at, deciding where to get my masters of education, spending time with my parents that I enjoy so much, and planning a future with my then-boyfriend, now fiancé. And, life happened back up at school. I grew apart from people whom I was close with at the beginning. That happens, that’s okay. I went through mindset changes that maybe didn’t exactly line up with the mindset of others on my team (some may say I take my sport too seriously, but I’ve always been a serious person. That’s how I perform my best.)

I wish I realized this earlier, but underneath the focus of putting forth my best effort in training, I was masking the dread of going back to an environment in which I knew would be different.

But when I realized it, it hit me like a ton of bricks straight to the chest. I felt like I was suffocating.

The year I was expecting to be the best year ever wasn’t turning out that way. Training was going okay, but I didn’t feel comfortable with where I was at. Between the different training philosophies, eating lifestyles, practice conflicts, and levels of interest in competing and training, I felt like I was isolated and had no one to connect to. I thought that it would pass, maybe it was just everyone was adjusting to being back at school again.

But weeks went on and I never felt more alone surrounded by people. I dreaded going to practice. I ran with others, but being with people felt like I was suffocating. I would break off and run by myself, and that was equally as suffocating. I couldn’t escape it. The pressure would follow me back to my apartment and I felt uncomfortable in what was supposed to be the comfort of my own space. It felt like living in a compacted bubble that was ever pressing down on my chest.

The worst was when that pressure, the suffocating, came crashing down in my first race of the season. I went in with a happy heart and a happy head (I thought) and was looking forward to seeing how I would perform. Mid-way through the 6K race, the pressure came back and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

Not exactly the way I wanted my first race as a senior to go. It was embarrassing. My parents drove for eight hours to come watch me run and spend the day with me. I felt like I let them down, and cried in the shower as they waited in my living room to go out to dinner. They had no idea.

In a place in which I was surrounded by positive energy, I encountered negative energy at an unrelenting rate. The pressure, the suffocation would squeeze tears from my eyes on my way to class, or practice, or on my way home. But I couldn’t tell anyone there; I was colloquially known in the athletic department and on my team as the girl who was always smiling, always happy, such a great big smile on my face.

Yes, I’m smiling, but on the inside, I’m crying. I began counting down the days to graduation, not because it would a joyous occasion, but because that meant I could leave this place for good.

I decided to take a weekend away. I needed a change of scenery, a change of people, a change of everything. I couldn’t wait to leave.

And thank God I did. I left my computer at my apartment and my phone’s touch screen wasn’t working too well, so I only used it to get in contact with people on an urgent basis (like, where was my ride from the airport, and yes, I landed safely, because just to type those five or six words took a solid ten minutes. I couldn’t be bothered with that the entire weekend).

With the first breath of fresh air I took in when the flight landed, I felt all the negativity leave my body. I was able to breathe again.

Over the course of that weekend, I got the best sleep I’ve been able to get since I went back to school. I really, truly, genuinely laughed so hard in the pee-your-pants-but-you-don’t-care type of way. I genuinely smiled so much (a real, tooth-grinning smile) that my jaw cramped up.

And, I felt independent. With the suffocation gone, I felt like I could actually do things I wanted to do, instead of veg on the couch post-run thinking of all the things I could be doing but instead wasting my day away. Slowly but surely I felt strength come back to my body in the form of the warm light ability to freely breathe.

I didn’t know how much I needed to get away, but I’m glad I did. I learned so much about myself that weekend. Like I truly enjoy math and maybe I should have majored in math instead, or that I am actually able to strike up a conversation with a person I just met, instead of waiting for her to dictate the conversation.

The best part was that the happiness I felt in the core of my body didn’t leave me when I stepped on the flight back to school. Instead, I think it grew and made me more confident. I reached out to a friend and teammate who I haven’t really spoken to since the beginning of the year due to scheduling conflicts and I told her how I was feeling. It felt so good to actually tell someone, instead of letting the feeling suffocate me. I became more comfortable reaching out for help from different resources, like my coach, my sports psychologist, my journal, and you, who is reading this story. The more I shared how I felt, the more comfortable I felt, because I wasn’t alone.

The more I talked, the more I realized that there were changes I could make myself to help me truly enjoy my last year at school. I happily decided to switch my degree from a BS in biological sciences to a BA, and resign a class I really wasn’t enjoying or benefiting from. I explored places and initiated activities with my friends, either going out on adventures in town or finding a new place to study.

And, most importantly, I felt like I was able to breathe. I was able to breathe without restriction.

What I learned from this experience that it is so important to do what makes you happy. Don’t worry about obtaining perfection. Don’t worry about obtaining the ideal “senior season” because there will be someone that is out of your control that may change that vision in an instant. Instead, be malleable. Be open. Be present. Be you, do what makes you happy in that moment, and breathe freely.

The List

Living ‘List-free’, as told by Liberty Bain!


While away on a girl’s trip a few weeks ago, my phone broke. After the shock of the shattering subsided, I accepted no access to my online world, and experienced one of the best weekends of my life.  On the drive home my sister and two sIL’s commented on how different I’d been during our stay.  As we talked we realized not having my phone played a huge part in being totally free to experience whatever the weekend brought.

And it held a ton of goodies waiting to say yes to:

Reading and sun? check.
Plenty of time to float in restorative salty water? yes.
No time limits, have to’s or should’s? yep.
Oyster shooters? I’ll take another.
Then I got home and encountered my nemesis: The List.  The List decrees what’s important and what needs to be accomplished in a day.  And after being at the beach for several days Everything Item on The List Demanded my Full attention.  There’s only one problem with my to-do list: it doesn’t make me happy or help me stay present at all.  It keeps me active and spinning, co-dependent and Super Busy, but not happy or free.   And I noticed it all because of the broken phone.  Because of all the space created by not having a phone I actually felt how bad and rigid having a list makes me feel.  When I remain tied to that to-do monster and stuck in accomplishing  and performing mode, I stay disconnected from myself, from others and from God.
Having the very recent data about how much I thrived without the tether of my phone, I chose to take it one step further and break my to-do list.  The seed began as a suggestion from my therapist and is blossoming into a a whole new awakened way of life.  No more check lists, grocery lists, any kind of list.
My desire’s to be connected to my own heart throughout the day, and what the day has for me is much more at the surface now.  When I have a thought like “today would be a great day to go pick pears and make a pie…” I don’t immediately try hard to fit it in somewhere on next week’s to-do list.  I just pull over and pick.
Not having a list is also making me way more human.  No more super-woman I can do/remember/be everything. I actually told one of my children, “I really don’t know if I’ll be able to pick up the bread, because my list broke.  But I will try.”  Doesn’t that sound healthy and human?!?! Also – it’s surrender.  If it’s important it will happen, and if not, then it will come around again. Or not.  What is ‘it’anyway? Without a list, I feel like I have more choices and choices equal possibility and possibility equals expansion for life to be something I cannot anticipate, control or explain!
Here’s how it played out in real life on Wednesday night:
I had picked the pears and I was enjoying peeling them, sampling them and singing!  I noticed how juicy each pear was from all the rain we’ve had this year, when I heard my 10 year old calling me from outside.  His voice was distressed as he pointed to the field where we keep the chicken pens.  “Mom, Look! all the chickens are out!!” As I squinted into the almost-setting sun, I saw countless white and brown birds pecking their way through the field. Un-contained chickens are not my specialty, so I called my super farmer brother, Justin.  He said he’d be over in 10 minutes so I whisked thru my pie making, sliding it into the oven just as he fishtailed into the driveway.
I walked quickly out to the field and noticed that he’d thought to bring a helper too: his 2 1/2 year old son, Henry. We figured out that herding the chickens into the lanes created by the line of pens made catching the birds pretty easy.  I love birds in general,  but am a bit squeamish about touching live chickens, so it was a stretch for me.  At first I was just a herder, getting them into position for West and Justin to catch.  But towards the end I got much better at grabbing those quick creatures.  We caught  1 bird, then 2, then 5, 10 (there were well over 200 to catch and re-contain)  as we worked, Henry began calling out from his place in the field.
“Look, Dad! Look, Aunt Liberty! Look, West! The Sun! It’s going away!  No I mean it really look!! Look! Look, Dad! it’s going down! Look! Look! Aunt Liberty!” Every few minutes another reminder to check out the flaming orange, purple and fuscia sky.  Every few minutes calling out his heart’s desire for us to join him in enjoying the beauty we were standing knee deep in.
After we got done with the catching and before we had all the tools to repair the pens, I took a break, sat down and just listened.  I heard West and Henry wrestling in the deep grass. I heard the soft cheeping of all those birds we’d just caught. I heard the symphony of crickets and cicadas and I marveled the last sprays of a stunning sunset. I felt myself really alive and connected to this valuable moment.
Being dialed into my heart, I recognized that without a list I was savoring the entire experience. I was truly present.  Not busy spinning and wondering how I would get everything else done, in fact I wasn’t thinking of ‘everything else’ at all.
The interruption, the great chicken escape had turned out to be an evening I couldn’t quite explain.  The evening ended up full of connection to myself, to West, justin and Henry and the One who created all the beauty around me.  It ended up being more positive data on living without a List, without all the (supposed!) have to’s and should’s.  So many goodies to say yes to!!
West and I walked home at dusk thru tall grass and the oven timer was going off – the pear pie was ready.  And one of my best friends was standing in my kitchen waiting to know where I’d been.  After I explained the chicken adventure, she asked if we could take a walk together. I felt so happy to be free enough to accept her invitation.
Liberty

Guts, guts, and more guts

Let’s talk about guts.

As in our real life intestines, that thing we call our intuition or ‘gut instinct’, and having the ‘guts’ to do something.

Let’s start with the middle one first.

I don’t know about you, but my gut instinct is the hardest part of me to connect with. Sometimes I feel like my whole life’s quest is to hear, and listen to, my intuition. It’s the epitome of my ‘true you’, and it’s the first to go when I get off path.

What usually happens is something like this:

I’ll be washing the dishes, folding clothes, or doing some other mundane task like peeing or showering, and I’ll have a brilliant idea, or a feeling about someone or some situation that I just know is the secret sauce. It feels like a massive ‘Aha!’ moment and I’m filled with hope, anticipation, dare I say excitement.

And THEN….

My brain comes up with a million different reasons as to why that idea is stupid, why I am way off about that person or situation, and how basically I am just bat shit crazy.

My M.O. has been to listen to the brain. That highly esteemed and well oiled machine that has nailed the logic and reason exams.

But let’s face it. Our guts know better.

When I look back at decisions I’ve made because of a gut instinct, including moving to the UK, kissing my now-husband for the first time, listing my services on BEAT’s Helpfinder, contacting Urban Zen Yoga Cafe to host workshops in their space, and countless other moments… they’ve all opened up doors and opportunities that I (ie my brain) never would have dreamed of.

In each case I had list of reasons why NOT to make that move. But my gut, my intuition, my spirit, knew better.

My point?

Listen to your gut.

Easier said than done because it takes guts to listen. It takes courage to make a decision that is not backed up by a list of pros and cons that heavily weigh on the pro side.

It takes courage to lean into uncertainty, move into a space where all the answers aren’t figured out yet.

Guts. (And balls.)

But trust me, once you practice listening, even if you have to work up the courage over days or weeks or months, you will see how wise your gut really is. And next time, it will be easier to listen. It will still take courage, but it will be easier. Promise.

The point here?

You need guts to listen to your gut.

And lastly, it helps to take care of your gut. The real one that you can touch.

I am learning this the hard way. After years of messing with it… feeding it and then ‘Oops, nope, sorry, you can’t digest that because it’s time for it to come back up‘, and then turning a blind eye to the idea that perhaps my physical self might need healing as much as my emotional and spiritual self does… I am finally making strides in mending it.

And while I most definitely do not have this down pat yet, I will say this: Caring for your emotional self is easier when your physical self is also cared for.

When you are doing any kind of emotional or spiritual healing, you usually end up facing some pretty dark places that can wreak havoc on your physical gut, or anywhere else in your body. And when your body is under stress, it’s harder to take intuitive action.

Don’t discount that it’s all connected folks.

Lesson here?

When your real gut is happy, it is easier to find the guts to listen to your gut.

(Go on, read it again 🙂 )

Saying all of that, I want to share a quick story of a woman who has embraced all three.

Meet Shann Jones, who stumbled upon a way to heal your gut after having the guts to listen to her gut. When her husband and son were ill with a variety of things and the doctors were coming up dry, she listened to that voice that said, ‘you can find natural health solutions from the goats on your farm’. She had the courage to listen and try it, and lo and behold, years later you have Chuckling Goat. www.chucklinggoat.co.uk. And then when the powers that be were asking her to stop talking about the miracles that kefir can do for gut health (And not because it doesn’t work. It does work, I’ve tried it.), she again found the guts to get her message out there anyway. Read her full story at www.thefarmerswife.wales.

I love stories like this. They inspire me to keep listening. Keep moving. Keep ‘gutting away’.

In the wise words of Chumbawamba: ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.’

Take care of your gut. Listen to your gut. Find the guts to do both. You will end up exactly where you need to be.

Meet Rachel: A fiery adventuress

Rachel is my spunky red-head friend who coyly christened Shame as Mr Dick. Rachel has more wisdom buried inside her than you and me put together, except that when I first met her, she didn’t know it.

When I met Rachel 6 months ago, she was caught up in that binge/purge cycle that stops you from realizing your self-worth. She was beating herself up for her every move. For doing the job she loved, for living in a part of the country she loved, for moving back home, for being a mess, for trying to clean up the mess but not doing a good enough job.

Yesterday, Rachel sent me an email that rocked my world. She was answering the question, ‘What’s been your favourite adventure in life so far?’

Her answer: Finding love for herself through her bulimia journey.

Say what?

6 months ago Rachel was despising her bulimia journey. Rejecting it as we usually do, like a tumour attached to us that we can’t wait to cut off.

Except, as she found out, the only way to get rid of this tumour is to melt it away with an adventure of finding true love.

And, as she learned, you have to look no further than the tip of your nose.

Rachel never ceases to amaze me. Like the time she walked into our session carrying a book of poems she had recently written.

She was a poet and she didn’t even know it.

As Rachel has gone on her True You adventure, I have seen her creative expression blossom. This girl’s got talent.

Watch out world. The show’s about to start.


‘A Hidden Treasure’ – by Rachel Grayson

 

In the dusty planes of the African Savannah,

Lived Boris the bison and a hyena called Hannah.

Now Boris the bison was a musical fellow-

He could sing and break dance, and even play cello

 

Hyena Hannah always had to convey

to Boris how wonderfully he played

and as he grew cocky she started to ponder,

“What am I good at?” she couldn’t help wonder.

 

But one boiling summer the sun was so hot

the Savannah animals nearly lost the plot!

They’d ran out of sun cream and the lake nearly dried,

“What are we going to do, we’ll die!”

 

Boris, too thirsty to break dance or sing,

Sat in a dusty heap wondering

why Hannah Hyena was sniffing and straining,

why digging a big hole was so entertaining.

 

As she dug and dug at the dusty ground,

nobody bothered to check what she’d found.

But one scorching day she came bounding to take

them to see what she’d found- “CRIKEY, A LAKE!”

 

You see Hannah hyena dug such a deep hole

that water had filled it from down below.

The animals drank, and cheered “To Hannah!

Thank you for saving us from the Savannah!”

 

Now Boris could sing and dance again,

he realised he’d not been a very good friend.

He’d underestimated her and made her feel small.

“I’m so sorry my dear, and thanks for our pool.”

 

So they swam and played and surfed and floated

and the modest hyena not once gloated.

She’d saved her friends, she’d helped them through it

and they loved her, unconditionally, she knew it.

The Misfit Marketing Strumpet

“Learning to eat for nourishment and pleasure, instead of swallowing fear, has been the biggest challenge of my life.”

Amen sister.

Great read, and checkout her blog for more ED stories. You’ll see you’re not alone.

Fucking Awesome Bulimics I Know

I have known this girl all my life. She was not the kind to get all screwed up, with anything. She was so good at high school: studious, diligent, polite to everyone, and great at math. She continued on to be a successful grown up working in schwanky advertising agencies, strutting around in high boots, with plenty of friends and never seemingly lacking in love. That’s how it looked on the outside. On the inside she carried a secret fear — that underneath it all lay an unlovable fat girl who could bust out at any time. She did everything to squash that fat girl down.

That girl is me, Angela Barnett. Writer. Mother. Body Image Advocate. Kiwi. Founder of this place.

As a Gemini I found the process of interviewing myself very satisfying… especially as I put on a blonde wig to ask the questions.

Do you like your…

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