Cailin is a powerful force for love. Her story of self-discovery, breaking open, and fearless authenticity inspires me every day, and I hope that it inspires you, too. Today's everyday goddess shares a story that deals with careers that don't serve us, embracing our sexuality, finding our place in the world, and making a difference by spreading love a little at a time. Thank you, Cailin, for sharing your story and helping us all be a little more authentic.
Tell us who you are.
I’m a yogi and a writer. I’m not sure what else to say.
What is your “story”? What led you to become the person you are today?
My story feels long and complicated but also uninteresting and unimportant, so it feels incredible and surreal to be chosen for this and to be in the company of such amazing women. I could write a novel but I’m not sure anyone would want to read it. My story is maybe not that uncommon but it’s mine and I’m starting to own it.
This past year has felt like about five but it’s not that so much has happened, it’s that so much was NOT happening before. I was on autopilot and living in my head for so many years that when I started really living my life - living in the moment, being present, choosing happiness - time seemed to stretch out indefinitely.
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life and because of that have harbored a lot of shame and a lot of guilt. Last year I finally started confronting that and saying no and fighting back. I spent the first thirty-five years of my life thinking there was something wrong with me because I didn’t fit in – I’m super sensitive and incredibly affected by the moods and emotions and presence of everyone around me. That scared me for a long time. And getting told I wasn’t feeling what I was most definitely was feeling led to an incredible amount of self-doubt. I stopped trusting myself and if I didn’t trust myself how in the world would I be able to trust anyone else? And why was I surprised I didn’t? What is inexplicably tied to this is my sexuality. I’m bisexual and I’ve known it probably my whole life – at least since I was 10 or 11 – but I didn’t understand it. Growing up in the eighties, there weren’t many gay women in the media, let alone bisexuals. I didn’t see myself in the handful of gay women I knew. I didn’t know where I fit. I couldn’t deny my attraction to girls but I also knew I was attracted to boys too. And that was what was “normal”, that was acceptable, that would allow me to live the life I was “supposed” to live. So I ignored my feelings for girls – which then led to a lot of years without any close friends because I was pretty terrified of anyone thinking I liked them like that. The really sad thing is most of the time I wasn’t attracted to the girls I was friends with/wanted to be friends with, I was just afraid they would think I was. And then I didn’t have any boyfriends either because why would they like me when I didn’t know what/who I wanted? I don’t like being indecisive but I also don’t like making decisions (I’m a Libra, what can I say?) and this felt like a huge thing I couldn’t figure out or make a decision on. What if I chose wrong? What if I changed my mind? There was never any decision to be made, of course. This is as integral and as unchangeable as my height and the color of my eyes. It can be covered up. It can be kept secret. But why, when the only person I’m hurting by keeping it secret is me?
When I finally got up the courage to start telling people this – in writing, always in writing – I was shocked by the amount of unwavering support I received. By the way sharing my deepest shame and hurts and regrets led to deeper, more honest relationships.
When I first heard my teacher say “fine” is code for “fucked-up, insecure, and neurotic” I was a little taken aback because “fine” had been my stock answer for years when anyone asked me how I was, and it used to drive my parents crazy. But of course I was fucked-up, insecure and neurotic. I was so so so uncomfortable in my own skin. I spent so long trying to figure out who I was instead of just being me. I felt so completely broken, so flawed, such an outsider, and I put everyone else into these categories – good or bad, perfect or flawed, in or out, when of course none of it is that black and white. When I finally admitted I was just a flawed human being like everyone else I finally started to grow. Flawed is beautiful, flawed is interesting, flawed is a hell of a lot more fun.
I’m not sure I realized until recently that tied up in all that depression and anxiety was a lack of self-love and a lack of self-compassion. I never thought anyone was interested in being my friend or in dating me and if they were, oh, boy, something must be really wrong with them; I better stay away. I spent most of my life in pain and hiding. I don’t think anyone would have described me as happy – I got told to smile a LOT (which only pissed me off more) – but I don’t think anyone saw it as problem either because for the most part, I wasn’t a problem. I may have had temper tantrums way past an acceptable age at home, but I was a good student, I was a good big sister, I was a good helper. I was GOOD. The reason why high function depression is so scary is because of how hidden it is. I got straight A’s. I did well on my SATs. I got into decent colleges and could have gotten into even better ones if I had actually studied. If I had applied myself. If I hadn’t taken my friends Cs in Advanced English as reason not to sign up or my reluctance to share myself let me hold me back in my writing. I was on this path of good girl, do what you’re supposed to, don’t make any waves. I was smart and I was praised for my smartness and I didn’t know who I was or where I fit without it. I didn’t have an identity without it. Smartness equaled success for me and success equaled a lot of money, so I choose the major that promised money and stability, got bored out of my fucking mind, and lost basically a decade of my life to a job I hated. A job that made me sick – mentally, physically, in my soul. I had a nervous breakdown and I’m actually grateful for it because without it I probably would have just kept going the way I was going until I died. Unfulfilled and depressed and anxious and full of longing.
I quit my big, well-paying corporate job without a plan nearly two years ago. When I told my family, they asked if I could just cut down to part time for a while. When my boss took me out to coffee to discuss it, he tried to talk me out of it. Told me he could get me interviews in a handful of start-ups he had relationships with. That what I should do was do that for a few years and then cash out and use the proceeds to fund whatever project it was that I wanted. I considered it, I really did, but a voice in the back of my head kept whispering I wouldn’t make it that long. I didn’t feel suicidal exactly; things felt scary and dark and pressing in on me but there was still a light at the end of the tunnel. That light was getting dimmer though and I knew if I didn’t make a change then, if I didn’t leave right then, I might never be able to.
I’d built up these walls so high around me and so thick, no one was getting in. Until someone did. And now I have the best tribe of the most amazing friends who are my teachers and teachers who are my friends and it just keeps getting bigger. There is the one who got me hooked on yoga, the one who led by example and showed me what an open heart and a willingness to be vulnerable can do, the ones who let me in and fucking normalized the things I had kept hidden for so long, the one who is my mirror, the one who is my confidant, the one who makes me laugh and gives me a giant bear hug every time I see her, the one who was brave enough to go after what she wanted and create this space that we all love so much.
I say I love you now to more people on a regular basis than I ever thought I’d even know. I have a job I like with people I feel closer to and feel know me more after just five months than the people I worked with for seven years. I hug the fucking crap out of my friends all the damn time. I assist a weekly yoga class and spend 75 minutes stepping on people’s mats and touching their sweaty bodies when three years ago I pretty much carried a bottle of Purell with me everywhere I went. I teach kids yoga when the thought of standing up in front of a room and saying anything a mere year ago threw me into a panic.
I’ve still got a voice in the back of my head that shows up every few weeks and tells me I’m not doing enough. That I’m not making enough money. That I am not enough period. That I should just suck it up and be an adult and go back to finance at least part-time because I would make so much more money. But money would be the ONLY reason. I’d be comfortable financially but so totally uncomfortable. Can I go back to a job I hate for the comfort of money? No. I don’t want to. I’m actually happy now. Why would I trade that? All I want, all I’ve ever wanted, is to write. But I have no idea how to make a career out of it and I know people who want it more and who are better writers than I am and who are have failed to turn their passion into a career and I don’t want to fail.
There’s a line in a poem by the great Mary Oliver that reads, “I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” The things, the places, the people I felt so sure would break me, that I felt were, in fact, breaking me, managed only to break me open. And for that I am grateful. Grateful for every misstep and every mistake, every secret, every job, every person who led me here. Because here is pretty great. I’m better for the darkness. My friend Kara says, “as dark as you can go is as light as you can go,” and that gives me a lot of hope. There are a lot of people who helped me through the darkness, my doctors and my therapists and my family and my friends but it was yoga that saved me.
How has yoga factored into your current lifestyle and sense of self?
Yoga is everything. In terms of living a fearlessly authentic lifestyle, self-care, self-knowledge, compassion, truth, yoga really is the key. I’m a better version of myself when I’m practicing regularly. And I’m much happier.
Yoga was offered as a substitute for PE when I was in high school and so I took it for a semester sophomore year. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t think I was any good at it and I didn’t feel like I belonged in a “real” yoga class. There were fits and starts over the next decade and a half but nothing stuck. A few years ago, I was incredibly stressed out at my job and decided I needed yoga and went and took a class at my local studio and then another and then a handful more and then work got busy and I didn’t go back for six months. And then Kelli Barnett walked into my class as an unexpected sub and completely changed my practice, made me want to practice; she saw something in me that I didn’t see yet in myself and for that I will be forever grateful because I’m not sure I would be where I am today without her. I still remember my initial reaction when she said her name, “Kelli? Wait, what? Doesn’t she teach those heated power flow classes (that I am NEVER EVER going to go to)? This is gonna suck.” A few months later ALL I was taking was heated power flow. Nearly four years and hundreds of classes later I still never know what I’m going to get when I walk into her class, but I know I’m going to like it. All of my teachers have given me something different, and all have subtly changed me, allowed parts of myself I’d kept hidden so long to come to the surface, but without Kelli I’m not sure I’d have been ready for any of the others.
How do you view strength? How do you view strength in relation to womanhood?
It’s funny you ask this because I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately, actually. I have so many strong women in my life and though their physical strength is impressive, it’s the mental and emotional strength that I find inspiring. Strength is softness. It is vulnerability. It is a willingness to recognize the darkness; to say, “hello there, I see you, and I respect you but I’m not going to wallow,” to stay long enough to work through it instead of running away, but not to build a house and hunker down into it. The strongest women I know are the ones who have dealt with the most adversity and let it grow them instead of crumble them.
I’ve never considered myself feminine but it’s society’s definition of what is feminine that I don’t feel like applies. I’m very much a girl but I don’t consider myself “girly.” I don’t wear makeup. I prefer my hair long but only so I can keep it in a messy bun on the top of my head. I don’t wear skirts or high heels or pink. But who decided that was the definition of femininity? If you consider strength a masculine trait then I would say softness is the feminine counterpart. The yin to the yang. Both are necessary. And it is the dichotomy of the two that I find beautiful in people. That I’ve started to view as beautiful in myself.
How would you describe the fearlessly authentic you?
The fearlessly authentic me is still a work in progress. I’m still trying to figure her out. I’d like to think that someday I will be courageous enough to be 100% me 100% of the time but for now I think it’s about 80/80. But at Just Be? 100% me, 95% of the time. The minute I walk into the space, I feel like I’m home. I have made so many deep, lasting relationships inside those four walls. I have learned so much about myself. I’m still working on opening up. I’m still working on the attitude of “if they don’t like the authentic me, then they are not my people,” but at Just Be, the authentic me is all you get. I will occasionally say something startlingly honest to someone I barely know and think “did I really just say that to her?” but it’s never hurtful or hateful or mean. It’s just that I spent so long trying to cover up who I actually am that it is taking my brain a while to catch up.