Philly! Love Philly. If you ever come through LA, pop in for a swim!
The coaches that worked with you will teach you as they were taught swimming which is really almost polar opposite of TI approach. I'm sure you discovered this with Gerry's podcast too. So if you try to head down both paths - you will be stumped from opposing views. Pick one path and stick with it, dedicate yourself to that process whichever path you choose for at least six months.
Re: If you're swimming easier with fins and/or pull buoy then it's all back to the original responses - you must learn positions that make you balanced (from the middle/core) and movements that *maintain* balance with each stroke. When you are out of balance, hips drop, shoulders/neck/chest tighten, triggers the "survival strokes". No matter how good of a breather and in good shape you are out of the water - you will always be out of breath in the water.
So pick a path, stick with it and see how it goes
Good luck and enjoy the journey!