CFDS Episode 011: How Catherine Decided Not To Die

Picture for episode about deciding not to die with food that helps you focus

How author and artist Catherine Holland made a conscious decision not to die, and food that helps you focus 5 hours later.

At the end of this episode I’ll share with you a magical yet easily available food that helps you focus 5 hours later! But first, let’s get to our story.

Our guest, Catherine Holland

I’ll let Catherine tell you her story, but what I will tell you now is that she’s an author, a breath coach and an artist whose most recent book is called Indestructible Soul: How I decided not to die. She’s got quite a story, and I’m really looking forward to her sharing it with us.

So Catherine, welcome to the Clean Food, Dirty Stories podcast! I’m really excited to have you here today!

Now you’ve got quite a story which I believe starts with something pretty dramatic, right?

I mean, people are going to hear ‘I decided not to die’ and they’re going to think ‘oh my goodness!’ They’re going to want to hear what happened, right?

Catherine:Yes, well what happened is that I learned that it’s a choice.

Me: Wow!

Catherine’s story

Catherine: So this is quite an exciting thing when you’re dealing with the population. People I know, people I don’t know, people in Facebook land and whatever. This idea that it really is a conscious and deliberate choice, and that the part of us that’s doing the choosing is not the human part of us.

So this has all been very practical for me, because of my breathwork. I’ve been practising breathwork for a very long time.

To put it in perspective, I’ve ridden a bicycle all my life, I still ride a bicycle many miles a week. And at some point I decided I wanted to ride a motorbike. My brother rode a motorbike, I used to go on the back.
And I never dared to ask because I suppose in a way because I’m a girl, I knew that my parents or at least my mother wasn’t going to allow it to happen. So I wasn’t going to face the fight. I did ride horses which is just as safe or dangerous as riding motorbikes, but let’s not go there.

It started with a motorcycle (motorbike)

Fast forward quite a long time, I was in a job with a nice team in a print department. I said to them, I fancy learning to ride. And then I saw one for sale in the paper. Unlike a car, and because it was a 125, it was a learner bike and the owner was getting rid of it because they’d passed the test and they wanted a bigger bike. It all made sense, so I bought it.

I rode it up and down the back alley, trying desperately to work out how to use the gears. Riding a motorbike when you’ve never ridden one is quite difficult. I had learned to drive a car so I understood the theory, but when you’re trying to balance this wretched thing that falls over as soon as you stop…It has no reverse gear, so if you get into a pickle you can’t get out again.

The crash…and the decision

I was tootling up and down. It wasn’t very heavy so I could push it to turn it around. I took my CBT and I was out on the road practising and I got struck by a car. A car crushed my leg and within a couple of minutes I’d lost half my blood. I was aware of lying in the road, wanting someone to hold my hand, and I was then aware of travelling towards a tunnel which went up and to the right.

In my head were two questions: Do you want to go back and see your children grow up, or do you want to carry on where there’s no pain? Sorry, they were the other way round – do you want to carry on where there’s no pain, because I could feel the pain once I was hit and it was so big that I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

Me: That’s what I was going to ask you, yeah.

Catherine vs a BMW

Catherine: And so in my mind of course, any person who knows anything about motorbikes and injuries, they worry about breaking their back. But I wasn’t going fast enough to do something like that. The car had accelerated into me. It was a BMW.

An accelerating BMW can go quite fast, so they weigh about a ton and a half. So you know, me against a ton and a half of metal…Anyway I didn’t know where I’d been hit, I didn’t know what was hurting. But I did know when I was being asked the questions that it wasn’t hurting anymore at that point. It was really, really tempting to carry on where there was no pain. Had I had not had children I would have definitely carried on because they were the only thing that brought me back. Nothing else.

Me: How old were you if I may ask?

Catherine: I don’t tell because I don’t give my age. People including me have judgments about age.

Me: How old were your children, then? Because that’s the reason I asked.

Catherine: My children were late teens. So my oldest one was university so she might have been 21. I think the youngest was 15, but I tend not to analyze stuff. Dates I don’t analyze, I don’t have a birthday or a reminder of it, it’s not my style. Apart from people’s birthdays that I do need to remember, I don’t memorize dates. I don’t do anniversaries, especially deaths, it’s not my thing. And besides, that was my own death!

Preparing not to die

So I was dead not for very long. But long enough to have seen and felt what it’s like. And it’s really, really lovely. Really wonderful.

So I’d had some really good experience in my breathwork practice, which I’d been doing for about a dozen years at that point of knowing that subconscious travel is beautiful. And I think that helped me to be prepared and not too shocked by the experience. I think it clearly helped me emotionally, psychologically, but also hugely physically. Obviously my arteries that were damaged must have closed because I didn’t die. Police arrived on the scene fairly quickly, as did an ambulance. They put a tourniquet on my leg, so I don’t know, I might have still been bleeding heavily at that point and that’s why they put it on. That’s what made me think, “I thought they didn’t use tourniquets anymore”. Of course later I thought of course they do! If your life’s at risk, losing a leg is a minor detail!

But I haven’t been drinking, Officer…

So the policemen asked me questions. I didn’t have any other injuries, just the bit where the car had driven into my leg which I didn’t realize at the time that the injury was, even. I remember the policemen asking me how much I’d had to drink and that sort of thing!

But before that and before they arrived, when I was hit, my eyes closed at that point. They didn’t really open again for about 5 days because I didn’t have the energy. I was aware of this female voice saying to me, “Oh, you’re OK!” as I lay in the road. I opened my eyes and I saw this bleached blond woman looking at me. She was clearly drunk, she got back in the car. Her husband didn’t get out of the car, he was driving. They were about to drive away and the passersby didn’t let them go. So in her mind I was all right and they were going to get back in their car and drive away!

Me: What happened to them?

And for the driver…

Catherine: They were arrested, well he certainly was. He was charged within 5 days because he’d pleaded guilty but I didn’t find this out for 6 months. He pleaded guilty, he had a ban for 6 months which was the time it took me to be, well I still had a fixator screwed in my leg. It took me two years to recover.

I’m still left with an ankle that doesn’t bend properly which I have to keep working on. It’s been a big effect on my life, but that man, it’s a really funny thing. I didn’t have the energy to be angry with him.

My kids were furious, they wanted to go around and knock on his door. And that’s OK, I brought them up to be non-violent people.

People used to say to me, “What do you wish had happened to him?” And my answer is, still is, that he wouldn’t be allowed to drink alcohol again. Because I think that’s a really fair thing for somebody who’s caused that type of injury by drinking and driving, because when they went to the pub they must have known they were going to go home. And it was only half past ten at night, it wasn’t particularly late. Clearly they’d intended to drive to the pub and back again. And they weren’t just a bit drunk, they were very drunk.

The scariest moment in the hospital

Me: And when you were in hospital, you mentioned that for you, you really needed to have a lot of focus and perseverance. Can you say something about that? Like how does that come into it? Was that to do rehabilitation? Cause you said you almost lost your leg, so…

Catherine: So I was taken by bumpy ambulance to hospital, to a very rich hospital thank goodness, and I was put into a bed by the nurses’ station and sort of patched up at that point.

The orthopaedic surgeon said “Right, you’re going to be going to the operating theater, I’ll save your leg if I can.” And I said “You have to! You’ve got to! I’m a climber and a dancer and a cyclist!” And then I burst into tears.

Me: That must have been so scary!

Catherine: Indeed it was, I do remember it.

Putting things back together again

Catherine: Two days after that I had another operation for skin and muscle grafting where another surgeon, soft tissue surgeon Mr Sohardi, stitched back the tendons which had been pulled away. Almost every tendon in my lower leg had been broken. So he did the jigsaw puzzle of putting them all back together.

But he also did something which, well it might have been Mr Gotswani, I think. It was to take part of my calf muscle and strap it over the gap. There was a gap in the bone about the length of my forefinger. The bone had been so smashed to smithereens, there was a gap in my shinbone.

They laid the muscle across there so that the bone would have blood supply because they believed that if it didn’t, the bone would die. And then I’d have a different problem because I’d have dead tissue from the inside and then I’d still have to have an amputation.

So it made my leg look very strange but I had all these skin grafts taken from the other leg and put onto that leg. After the first operation I had bandages from the top of my thigh right down to my big toe. Which surprised me a bit. And then I had this huge steel handle sticking out which was screwed into my leg. It was screwed in below my knee and just above my ankle. The screws below my knee were horizontal because the bone is wider there.

Steel inside and out

And yeah so I had this steel thing in my leg which was very weird indeed. You could actually pick my leg up with it, which was very odd. But the idea was to hold the bone steady so that when it started to mend itself, it would be the right length.

The bone had been so smashed up. When I had a look on the x-ray, what Mr Gotswani had done was to spend 6 hours to painstakingly take each piece of bone with tweezers out of the wound and putting it in between the gap.

I later understood because I later did training in injury treatment that the little cells in your body that notice when there’s damage, they pick up and break down all of the broken bits of bone and rebuild them into the form that they should be.

He was giving them the best chance because there was such a big gap. He wanted to make sure that there would be suitable material available for my body to pick up and to mend, which it did beautifully!

Because the next x-ray I saw two weeks later showed it to be one bone again. And all the bits that had been put in there were like flowers, like a bunch of flowers all sticking out at funny angles. They were gradually being reabsorbed by my body in correct formations.

Mental focus

Me: So then where did your mental focus come in?

Catherine: So my mental focus became completely absorbed by this extraordinary process that was happening. I can only liken it to a feeling you get when you’re in the bottom of a ship. If you’ve ever been in a big ship, even on a ferry, a big one. Where they have an engine room that’s enormous. And the whole place is pounding and shaking, with the energy. The pumping of the energy. That’s what my body felt like. The whole thing is focused on this energy.

I’d lost about half my body weight, my skin and my face was the color of my pillowslip which as my daughter pointed out was white. What else happened? My leg was about half an inch from top to bottom, a couple of centimeters. The thickness of my leg was reduced to a couple of centimeters. And my legs are quite strong, I’m a cyclist. So my leg was sort of spread out like a big sheet of liver. Very strange.

So yeah, this pounding feeling was the total focus of my body was mending.

Me: Oh I see, yeah.

Laying on of hands

Catherine: And my body was really helped by somebody laying their hands on the bandages. It gave me a feeling of transferred energy. It was very, very helpful.

Me: So did you ask people to do that?

Catherine: Yes, if they asked me what they could do, I’d tell them.

And my daughter taught my dad to do it. He doubted very much that he would know what to do and that it would be helpful, but of course my kids just said “This is what you do, Granddad. This is what you do”.

And my son brought his friend in, so yeah there were these two 15-year-olds who turned up and that was really lovely. So yeah, my son showed his friend what to do. He said “Richard, this is what you do”. So everyone just took turns laying their hands on the bandages.

It was very strange because I had 6 tubes going in and out of my body. I had blood at the beginning, I had morphine, I had an oxygen mask and all sorts of stuff. But of course what the staff didn’t realize was that I’d already made the decision to live. I was parked opposite the nurses’ station thinking they needed to keep their eye on me in case I was going to die.

Because in the time, I don’t know, I think it’s the following 24 hours that’s the pivotal time, but for me I knew I was gonna live. I’d made the decision, it was upwards from where I was. Even though from the outside I was pretty comatose.

Smearing (not painting!)

Me: But now you cycle and everything, right?

Catherine: Yeah, I can do everything now. I can’t climb very well now because to smear you need to be able to bend your feet up.

Me: Smear? What’s…

Catherine: Smearing is when you’re climbing a rock that has very high friction like millstone grit. It doesn’t have many gaps to put your feet in. So you put your feet on it and with your rubber climbing shoes you stick to it because it’s like sandpaper.

I can only put the tip of my toe on because I can’t bend my ankle which means I can’t put my foot flat on it. Which is annoying, but anyway. I can climb. I climb better on stuff that’s got good holds, but I do so much climbing now for other reasons anyway so that’s OK.

The best thing was I had no doubt at all I would take my bike test. I’d been riding for 3 weeks, I’d taken my CBT, I’d a test booked for some months later because I’d been having lessons. Obviously I had to cancel that test!

Total focus on healing

But my mind was really only focused on getting well. Fortunately because my children had been brought up by me, they were incredibly capable. The older one had just finished her university degree. She came and sat with me every day and brought me food. She also made me a nightdress because I didn’t possess one!

And if there was anything going on that I needed my attention drawn to… for example when they put an x-ray up in the lightbox. She would say “Mum you’re going to want to see this. I’ll tell you when to open your eyes”. Because she was completely aware that I could only open them for half a second.

You know about computers and RAM? Well I was seriously lacking in RAM because everything was focused on the processing of my leg.

Me: Of healing, of course.

To eat or not to eat

Catherine: I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write. That went on for weeks, it was quite interesting. And I didn’t eat. I didn’t eat for three days.

Me: Oh, but speaking of food, sorry, I know that you wanted me to ask you about the food. You were craving a food, I think? I have no idea what that could be.

Catherine: Well at that point I just ate a few, I think it was three grapes and a segment of satsuma. The nursing staff were worrying about me not eating, saying “We’re going to have to drip feed you if you don’t start eating soon”. I said “I have eaten! I’ve had three grapes and a segment of satsuma!”

I really felt I was making progress because I could feel my body coming back to life. And because I’m a real big eater and I’m very keen on my food, it kicked in really, really hard. So yeah, I started eating big time.

Interesting food cravings

And my daughter knew that the sort of food that was available wasn’t going to be my preferred option for getting well. So the two things I craved most, because she brought me a salad every day that she made herself. I was craving broccoli and a particular type of smoked tofu that has sesame seeds and almonds in it. And doing my homework later I realized of course that those are powerful healing foods.

Unfermented soya isn’t so good for humans. I did eat a lot of it at that time but I hadn’t done my homework then. But I was really aware of how important raw food was. I’d actually been raw for a number of years since reading Leslie Kenton’s book Raw Energy. That was interesting.

There was actually one meal on the menu that I was OK to eat which was…I don’t know what the religion was, but there was some traditional group that was common in that particular hospital that had a sort of beans and rice type meal. There were two varieties. You could only have an option of two, so every other day I had the same dinner. But I was pleased that it was something that I actually considered food because the other options I didn’t consider nourishing at all.

Me: But it is good that you managed to recover so well.

Catherine: I had to have lots of conversations with lots of different people about lots of different things that went on there.

Me: I’ll bet, yeah.

Welcome to Trauma?

Catherine: Something quite funny was that once I did open my eyes and came to, I opened my eyes and opposite my bed on the wall it said “Welcome to Trauma”.

Me: Oh, that’s not very good!

Catherine: If I’d been in my right mind, I would have laughed. But I wasn’t. There was a part of my mind that knew that one day I’d find that funny. So I was sort of aware.

And then I realized that for the staff there, it wasn’t a joke. The unit is actually called the Trauma Unit and they shorten it to Trauma, as in “Are you going to Trauma?” So they put “Welcome to Trauma!” For a long time I was going to call the book that, but some people said they wouldn’t read it if it said that. It took me ages to think about what to call it.

What Catherine feels gave her the choice to live or die

Me: We have to wrap this up for today, but I really appreciate you sharing your story. And I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who may or may not know that in some situations like yours, dying can be a choice. Right?

Catherine: Indeed. And I do believe that if you look after your health and your diet really well, that’s when you have the choice. I did the homework afterwards and I realized why I’d had the choice. And it wasn’t chance. It was hard graft on my part and dedication to it, to a really super lifestyle.

Me: I did want to ask you about your book because you’ve written in more detail about your recovery and everything. For people who do want to know more about you, where can they find you? And your book? And your art?

Where to find out more about Catherine

Catherine: Yes, well I have my own website and I also have quite a big Amazon presence, Kindle presence. My own website is and you can find the information about my book on there. But because I wish to sell on Kindle, I don’t so much have the availability on my website, but it’s also a print book. It’s an actual printed, hard copy book which you can’t see, but… It’s a really nice little book, people love it, it’s got a picture of me on one of my bikes that I got after I passed the test.

And then on Amazon I have about 15 titles so 4 of those are real paper books. The rest of them are Kindle guides.

Me: So people can look there and see what you have, super! Well thank you so much! Which brings us to our food tip for today!

A food that helps you focus, 5 hours later

So, I mentioned at the beginning of this episode that I’d share with you a food that helps you focus 5 hours after you eat it. And that food is… blueberries!

Benefits of blueberries

You’ve probably heard already that blueberries are a great brain food, but do you know why? It’s because they help boost the flow of blood as well as oxygen to the brain, plus they have a load of antioxidants which are believed to help protect against cancer, heart disease and dementia.

I’ll link to an article in the show notes where you can read more about the actual study. What I will say is that if you pop some blueberries in your mouth, eat them and then are expecting an immediate ‘brain rush’, you’ll probably be disappointed. It doesn’t work like that.

Researchers found that the blueberries didn’t make a difference an hour later. Not even two hours later. The big difference – and we’re talking 15-20% of increased focus and performance – came 5 hours later. They measured this and you can check it out in the notes if you want to.

How you eat blueberries

Now how do you eat blueberries? Well, that’s obvious, you grab a handful, right? Or you pop some in a smoothie. But did you know that your blueberries don’t have to be fresh to deliver maximum benefits? Frozen fruit and vegetables don’t lose that much nutrient content if they’re frozen soon after they’re picked, which is often the case. So keep a bag of frozen blueberries in your freezer, and the next time you feel like a smoothie, toss a handful in your blender along with a banana and some preferably plant-based milk. It’s deliciously purple, and kids love it too.

And if you’d like more recipes to tempt you to use even more blueberries for even more focus, I’ll link in the shownotes to some of my 5-minute recipe ebooks to inspire you.

Have YOU got a story to share?

If you’ve got a true story to share, and you’d like to know what food could have saved the day in your situation), I’d love to hear from you!

Got a question, or a comment?

Got a question, or a comment? Pop a note below in the comments, that would be awesome. You can also subscribe to the podcast to listen ‘on the go’ in iTunes.

I hope you have an amazing day. Thank you so much for being here with me to share in my Clean Food, Dirty Stories. Bye for now!


Catherine’s website:

Catherine’s books: On Amazon and Kindle

Link to scientific study on blueberries and their effects on cognitive function:

Article that mentions the above study (in less ‘science-y’ language):

My 5-minute recipe ebooks:

Picture of Catherine Holland in food that helps you focus episode

Catherine Holland is an inspiring author, breath coach and artist practising rebirthing breathwork for 27 years. She has three children. When she was learning to ride a motorbike her leg was crushed by a car and she died for a short while, long enough to witness the experience and to know that we do not disappear when we die. She writes about this in her most recent book, Indestructible Soul: How I decided not to die, which can be found with her other titles, on Amazon.

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