Tag Archives: Travel

Friday the 13th: Nightmare on Dry Creek

Friday, January 13, 2017, was a very stressful day for me. That morning, I had a dermatology appointment. The doctor was performing a mole check before I embarked on my solo trip. I’ve had suspicious moles removed before and we thought it would be a good idea to do a final check before spending three weeks in the Galapagos. There was a mole on my thigh that had suddenly appeared and had been changing rapidly. The doctor decided to remove it and performed a biopsy. Awaiting the results is always a nerve-racking ordeal but she said I would have an answer the following week.

After the procedure, I went home to pack as I had planned to move my belongings out of my apartment and into storage at my mother’s house. Moving is always a stressful situation. Moving your things into to storage because you are leaving your life behind to go off on your first solo trip that would last for several months is even more daunting. A million things were going through my mind that day. All of my doubts and fears had finally surfaced as the reality of what I was doing started to hit me. I had a reservation to pickup a U-Haul truck on Dry Creek Drive and my friend was leaving work early to take me to pick it up. I called to confirm the reservation and let them know I would be running a bit late to pick up the truck. No one answered and my call was not returned. I called the corporate office number to confirm that the truck would be ready when I got there and to ensure that the late pick up would not be an issue. They explained that the location where the truck was waiting was new and they too were having issues getting ahold of the employees. However, they assured me that the truck was there and the later pick up would not be an issue.

After a few hours of packing, my friend came to pick me up. We pulled up to the address and it was a gas station with a few U-Haul trucks sitting in the parking lot. I went inside and told the clerk that I was there to pick up my U-Haul. There were two employees working that day. Neither seemed to know that I had a reservation. Now, I have rented several U-Hauls in the past and the pick up process has always taken about five minutes. You show them your online reservation, they pull up your reservation, they go with you to inspect the truck, and they give you your receipt and send you on your way. This was not at all my experience at Dry Creek!

Apparently, I was the first U-Haul renter from this location. I asked if they had received the voicemail I had left several hours before. They had not. I asked if they had spoken to the corporate office. They had not. They didn’t know how to work their computer system. They kept asking me for the same information over and over again. And I don’t just mean three or four times. I mean at least ten to fifteen times. I watched in disbelief as they kept starting over because they continued to get the same error message. I tried so hard to keep my composure but the rage was welled up inside me. They kept telling me, “it’s ok” and other condescending remarks, which just further infuriated me because no, it most certainly was not ok.

At one point they asked to see my credit card and I refused. I had entered my payment information when I made the reservation online and they didn’t need it to pull up the reservation. They called their boss and he tried to walk them through the system to no avail. I was beyond angry now. I had already been there for over thirty minutes. My friend was sitting in her car in the parking lot laughing because she said she could tell I was making a scene by the looks on the faces of the shoppers leaving the store. I called the corporate office again and explained the situation. They apologized and said they would find me another truck at a different location but it would take some time. I told them I had already been there for almost an hour. I wanted them to sort out the paperwork now so I could get the truck and leave. The corporate office said there was nothing they could do on their end unless I wanted to cancel my reservation and make a new one for a different location. I was livid. Finally, the morons got something to print out.

One of the employees went with me to inspect the truck. Once again he told me, “it’s ok, it’s not a big deal,” and I fucking lost it. I went off on him, telling him that this should have been a quick process and instead, due to their incompetence, I had wasted an hour of a busy stressful moving day waiting for them to get their shit together. He replied that it was my fault for being two hours late to pick up the U-Haul. I could have stabbed that stupid fuck to death right then and there. I told him that I wasn’t late because I called to tell them what time I would be arriving and it’s their fault for not answering their phones, for not checking their messages and not knowing how to run their business. They gave me what looked like a receipt and I stormed out. I got in the U-Haul and it hardly had any gas which was just ridiculous considering it had been parked about two yards from a gas pump. I told my friend I would get gas somewhere else because I would be damned if I was going to give these idiots any more business.

We started driving back towards my apartment. My friend was ahead of me in the left turn lane. The light was red. I was trying to calm down when I felt a bump from the rear driver’s side of the truck. I looked out to see that some stupid bitch had tried to cut through traffic and clipped the bumper of the U-Haul. Once again, rage. I got out and told her to hurry up and give me her insurance information because I didn’t have the time or the patience for this shit. She said, “I don’t know why you’re so upset. It didn’t do anything to either of the vehicles”. Had her stupid ass gotten out of her truck to see the gaping hole she made she wouldn’t have thought that but the U-Haul was fine so I said ok and let her drive off. I got back in the U-Haul and went home. When we got there, my friend asked me what happened because she had looked back in her rear view mirror to see my little legs jump down out of the U-Haul and run around the back of the truck. I told her what happened and we laughed about the surprise that girl was going to get when she realized the damage she did to her own truck.

I was exhausted and frustrated but it was time to load up the U-Haul. A couple of friends from my hometown were going to drive the U-Haul for me and I was going to follow in my own car to bring us home. After getting everything loaded up they said they would drive it and I could go in the morning since I obviously needed to get some rest. So, they set off on the four-hour drive to Abilene in the U-Haul truck. The next morning I woke up to hear a voicemail the manager had left around midnight demanding I call him and give him my credit card information or he was going to charge me more. Uh, no! I called my mom to tell her there had been issues with renting the U-Haul and to wait to return it so I could be there to talk to the staff at the Abilene location. She didn’t listen of course. So while I’m driving, she called to tell me that the Abilene staff said that the U-Haul rental hadn’t been processed correctly and that my friends had technically been driving a “stolen” U-Haul truck during the night.

When I got there, the Abilene staff was amazing and said that after such an ordeal, I shouldn’t be charged for the rental. Unfortunately, that was not up to them and the Austin manager disagreed. He said he would only refund 15% of my fee and then when the refund was processed, it was only a 10% refund. I wasn’t surprised; incompetence seems to be the norm in that branch, why would I think they could do basic math. I called the corporate office and complained. Once again they told me there was nothing they could do except to ask the Austin manager to issue the full 15% refund. The remaining 5% was refunded and I tried to forget about the whole ordeal. A few days later, my dermatologist called to tell me that the results of the biopsy were worrisome and she wanted me to come back in to have a more aggressive removal. So, on my birthday, I had the fun experience of another biopsy and several stitches. Friday the 13th will always be an ominous day for me and if you are ever in need of a U-Haul rental in Austin, Texas…beware of Dry Creek Drive! Haha

Note: Based on a quick Google search, it seems this U-Haul dealer is no longer in business. Good riddance!

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Post Trip Blues

2017 has come to an end. It was an amazing year for me. A year of full of big changes in my life. It will probably be the most transitional period I’ll ever experience. I quit a job I loathed. I packed up my apartment and put all of my belongings in storage at my mom’s house. I said goodbye to my friends and family and embarked on a three-month solo trip that somehow turned into an eight-month trip. I tried things I thought I would never try. I did things I thought I would never have the balls to do. As scary as some of it was, I loved every second of it! Sure, there were experiences that were not ideal and times that I wasn’t happy but that’s life. Sometimes you have to experience the bad to really appreciate the things that are truly amazing.

Before I left for my trip, I thought that I would write weekly blog posts about the things that I was doing and seeing but for some reason, I didn’t want to do that. I’m still struggling to do that. I journaled a lot but didn’t feel like I wanted to share my experiences with the world. I haven’t even talked about many of my experiences with those closest to me. Maybe it was all so personal for me that I want to keep much of it for myself. They were my experiences, mine and mine alone. I feel almost protective of them. It was a sacred time for me. Maybe I’m still processing how many of those experiences made me feel. How they changed me deep down. How they are still changing me today.

Now that I’m back in Texas, I’m struggling to find balance in my life. I feel almost lost in a place that is very familiar. I feel like I have reverted back to many of the tendencies I thought I had rid myself of while taking this journey. Maybe those tendencies were always there and it was just harder to recognize because I was often very far out of my comfort zone and exposed to different ways of life. Maybe I’ll never really be rid of them and the only thing that changes are my circumstances.

I feel more confused now than I ever have before. Many people who have traveled for long periods of time told me that it would be difficult once I came back. That I would struggle to adjust back to a “normal” life. Well, the struggle is real and far worse than I anticipated.

I want many conflicting things. I miss having my own place. A place that is only mine where I’m surrounded by the material things I love. A place that is my personal sanctuary. But I also want to live out of a backpack with only the necessities and sleep in a different place each night. I want stability and routine but I also want a life where every day is different and unpredictable. I want a companion but also don’t want to be tied down to one person. I want responsibilities but I also want absolute freedom. I guess the bottom-line is that I have no idea what I really want.

The one thing I know for certain is that I miss traveling. I miss waking up in the morning and just wandering around some unknown place. Not having any idea what I will see, who I will meet and what I will do. Most days, I would just walk for miles and miles and it brought me a sense of peace. Calm tranquility. I keep telling myself that I can have the same experience here, at home in Austin but it just doesn’t feel the same.

So, I’m sitting here at the library, looking out the window, wondering what will come next. I thought this trip would help me decide what I wanted in life and who I really wanted to be. Or maybe it has and I’m just too much in my head to realize it. For now, each day will continue to present the same question. Now what?

I would love to hear from my fellow wanderers out there. How do you deal with these conflicting feelings? How did you decide if the nomadic lifestyle was for you? Please comment below!

 

 

 

 

Year In Review – 2016

The last several years of my life have not been particularly happy ones. I was unhappy in my job and my personal relationship. I vowed that I would change that. I ended the relationship and eventually gave myself a deadline to change my situation. In early February 2016, I went into a sensory deprivation tank with thoughts of a solo vacation to escape the job I hated, at least for a little while. When I left there, I had already decided to quit that job and travel alone for an extended period of time. Over the next several weeks, I researched and ultimately decided on three months in Ecuador. I would spend this time detoxing from an office environment that felt toxic and focusing on improving myself and ubelongthe lives of those around me. I found a beautiful yoga ashram outside of Quito where I will live for a month and get my teaching certification. During my time at Casa Kiliku, I will also eat an organic vegetarian diet (which will be an enormous challenge for a veggie hater like me), practice daily meditation and get back into things that once brought me joy like reading, writing and photography. Then I found a great volunteer organization called Ubelong. Through them, I will spend three weeks getting back to my science roots while volunteering in the Galapagos. Having the opportunity to participate in conservation efforts in such an incredible place is a dream come true for me! The rest of my time in Ecuador will be spent exploring the amazingly diverse country.

I was in the early planning stages when I met a man. He seemed to be the man of my dreams. Everything I had ever wanted in a partner. He was tall and handsome. He was loving and attentive. He was a science minded archaeologist, my very own Indiana Jones. He was perfect. I told him on our first date that I was planning this three month trip. He was very supportive. Giving me advice and telling stories from his own archaeological exploits in South America. He even gave me some gear that he thought I would need. Everything was perfect…too perfect. The little voice in the back of my mind kept telling me to brace myself. It was all too right. Something had to be wrong. After about five me-jon-cavernsmonths of blissful happiness, reality set in. He was not perfect, because nothing and no one ever is. He was not the man of my dreams. He was a liar. To what extent, I’ll never know but I do know I could never trust someone who lies about insignificant things. It is only a precursor for the bigger lies to come. There were many red flags. I overlooked them of course, as we all do when things seem to be going great. In retrospect, the warning signs were everywhere but I turned my blinders on for a while. In the end, he showed his true cowardly spinelessness and I couldn’t be blind to it. I have no respect for fake people. People who feel the need to put on airs because they know deep down they aren’t good enough.

The ending of that relationship was devastating but luckily, I had not altered any of my plans. I still had the adventure of a lifetime to look forward to. I continued to plan and book accommodations, trying to pay down as much as possible while I was still employed. During this time, the Presidential election was looming over our heads. How had our country come to this? The con man and the most despised women in the West. Beloved celebrities began to die off left and right. It was also as if they sensed the end of creative freedom on the horizon and couldn’t bear to see it. Then it happened. It actually happened. The thing we all thought would never really happen. It’s hard to see the silver lining in situations like this. You can only hope that this is rock bottom and the only place to go from here is up. 2016 has been a tumultuous year, not just for me personally but for the entire world. This year has been one of huge transitions with far reaching consequences that we can’t possibly understand.

2016 will forever be remembered as the year the world changed, probably not for the better. I fear that future generations will look back and view this time much like we look back on the rise of Nazi Germany, and wonder how the world allowed such atrocities to occur right before our eyes. Today, we are actors in the same tragedy. To be better as a species, we have to be better individually. We have to stand up and demand better treatment while also taking responsibility for our own lives and happiness. That is what 2016 has really been about for me. I decided that I could not blame my unhappiness on things that I had the power to change. I am in charge of my own happiness and I will do the things that make me happy. As I prepare to embark on my journey, I wonder what kind of home I’ll return to. I’m anxious to see what 2017 has in store but I’m also hopeful that the goodness in people will overcome the fear and insecurities of others. So, let’s celebrate the end of 2016, it could not come soon enough! Here’s to a 2017 filled with happiness, love and adventures!

A Day in Croatia

During a trip to Italy, I had the opportunity to spend a day in beautiful Croatia. My friends and I were staying with a lovely family in Muggia, Italy. After a night of laughs, delicious homemade cuisine and the strongest mojitos I have ever had, I woke up hung over and exhausted. I didn’t feel great. I struggled to get up and get dressed. The Italians laughed at me for being a lightweight. They all drank way more than I did and were totally fine, while I looked like death. Eventually we loaded up into two cars. I rode with the Italian couple we were staying with and their daughter and my two friends rode with the sister of our host and her boyfriend. Slovenia is just a stone’s throw away from Muggia. We stopped in Slovenia to get gas and I bought a large bottle of water that I promptly chugged. I felt a lot better immediately. I thought I was just dehydrated and that the worst was behind me. We got back into our cars and got back on the road.

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The couple I was riding with consisted of an Italian woman and a Slovenian man. He was driving, I was sitting in the passenger seat and she was sitting in the back with their young daughter. Despite the language barriers, we were having a fun lively conversation when all of a sudden, I felt the urge to throw up. We were coming up to the border checkpoint in Dragonja when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to keep it together. I didn’t know how to say that I was going to throw up in Italian so instead I told them in Spanish and hoped they understood. “Necesitio vomitar!” She yelled something to him in what I assumed was Slovene and he quickly cut across two lanes! I thought we were going to hit the car next to us. It was terrifying! If I hadn’t already needed to throw up, I would have needed to after that.

We screeched to a halt next to a grassy partition and I flung the door open. I hardly had the time to lean out when cold water came gushing out. “Oh, is only water,” she laughed from the backseat. They seemed to think it was hilarious and not a big deal but I was so embarrassed. We went through the checkpoint and I received another stamp on my me-croatia-signpassport. I was starting to feel better. We met up with the other car near a welcome to Croatia sign. When we parked and got out, they were all discussing the fact that I had just thrown up. The couple in the other car had our lunch with them and they gave me some bread and told me, “Mangiare!” I ate some bread and the feeling of nausea was slowly subsiding. We took turns taking pictures in front of the Croatia sign and then got back in the cars to find the beach.

We ended up in Umag. The Croatian beach was unlike any other beach I have ever visited. The first thing that struck me as odd was that there wasn’t much sand. There were some sandy patches but most of the area was concrete, all the way to the water. People were laying directly on the concrete. Children were running around and playing on the concrete. Then I started to notice the Speedos. So many Speedos! Unfortunately, the men wearing the Speedos were generally very overweight and unattractive. Over the course of my two week trip to Europe, I saw just how comfortable Europeans are with their bodies. They aren’t bashful at all. For the most part, I’m happy with my body but I will probably never know the confidence that European women, and men, have.

We claimed our space on the concrete and set up our stuff. We swam in the Adriatic Sea but the water was way too cold for me so I spent the majority of the time getting baked on the concrete. The sun was brutal. Even with sunscreen, I felt my skin cooking as soon as I sat down. We spend several hours there and throughout that time, I kept reapplying sunscreen but I still got burnt! The Italians brought an impressive spread for lunch. I have never eaten so much at the beach before. There was even pasta!

After we had had enough of the beach, we walked around the town a little bit. We stopped at a place called Spritz Bar where I ordered some kind of coconut drink. It was interesting. Not my favorite but it was nice and cold. We had a great day in Croatia but when it was time to head back to Italy, I couldn’t wait to get showered and into bed! I hope to go back to Croatia one day and really explore!

spritz-bar-croatia

Pompeii, Italy

A few years ago, I took a trip to Italy with two friends. While planning, I had only one request. I didn’t care what else we did or where else we went, the one place in Italy I wanted to see most was Pompeii. We planned for a day at the end of our trip and I couldn’t wait!!

Every city we visited over our two weeks in Italy was amazing! The people were the most welcoming and hospitable people I have ever met. The food and wine were, of course, the most incredible food and wine I have ever tasted. We were having a great trip and I knew that Pompeii was going to be the perfect ending to our tour of Italy. The morning of, we got into our rental car and headed out of Rome to Naples where we stopped to have lunch. The pizza was delicious! Just as it had been in every pizzeria we tried on our trip. When we were full, we got back in the car and pressed on. By this time, I was antsy with excitement! We were so close!!

Finally, we see the sign stating Città Di Pompei! Here’s a fun fact! While researching, I discovered that Pompei with a single ‘i’ is the spelling for the modern city while the spelling for the ancient city is with two, Pompeii. We made our way to the entrance of the ancient city and walked down the long walkway that leads inside.

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The vastness of the ruins was startling. It was astonishing to see that not only had the people of ancient Pompeii achieved incredible architectural feats, but also that these structures have endured all this time. We wandered for a long while, taking in as much of the richness around us as we could. Every corner we turned held something amazing. The amphitheater that still stands today, the artwork that has survived the elements and the artifacts that still litter the ground.

pompeii-arenapompeii-wall-art-warriorspompeii-artifacts-buried-in-the-ground

Everything was breathtaking, but after a few hours of walking, we still had not seen any of the bodies that seemed so prolific on my Google searches of Pompeii. By this time we were thirsty and began searching for the concession area. The June heat got to me and I couldn’t take it any more. I needed water. Eventually, we stumbled across a waterspout attached to a carved stone. The carving was a bit ominous. I hoped that the face was that of a sweet wild-haired man and not one of a horned demon waiting to curse me with Montezuma’s Revenge. As I put my lips to the water, I kept thinking to myself, “Please don’t get dysentery, please don’t get dysentery.” I expected the water to be hot and nasty tasting but instead it was cool and refreshing. It tasted very clean, if that’s a thing. I felt reenergized and impressed with myself for making such a risky move. Five minutes later, we found the concession area that I no longer needed!

pompeii-water-spout

Then we started to see people crowding into a doorway. We walked over to see what they were looking at. It was a body encased in glass. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It gave me chills. I could see the skull of the man in the case. He looked like he was writhing in agony. We moved on. There were more cases. More bodies. Some cases just had bones scattered around.

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Eventually we made our way into an open area with several barred rooms containing more bodies and artifacts. A tour group was slowly walking ahead of us. They stopped in front of a room with the body of a man crouching down with his hands clamped to his face. A woman in the group exclaimed proudly, “He was praying to Jesus with his last breath!” The tour guide kindly replied, “Actually, he was probably covering his airways to reduce the amount of fumes and ash he inhaled.” The woman clearly didn’t like that, which I found amusing. She gave him an angry glare as my friend shot a picture of me, smirking next to the crouching man.

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We posed for our final pictures with Mount Vesuvius and the wreckage it caused as storm clouds loomed overhead. Mount Vesuvius is still an active volcano. It last erupted in 1944. Luckily, the damage was minimal and the casualties were few. But one has to wonder, when it erupts again, will modern day residents have enough warning to evacuate or will future generations look upon those ruins and see the same devastation we see from the AD 79 eruption? If you ever have the opportunity to visit Pompeii, take it! Pompeii is truly a marvel of the ancient world, an awe-inspiring sight to behold.

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Why I Decided To Quit My Job To Travel

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Bamboo Walkway – Maui

Since I was a little girl, I loved learning about science and animals. You could even say I was a bit of a fanatic. When friends would come to my house to play, I would make them give presentations about animals based on the information found in my beloved Animal Fact and File Cards. I would tell my family that when I died, I wanted my body to be left in the African savanna so the lions could eat me; something my mom still teases me about from time to time. Even as a small child, I knew science would be my life.

Then I got sick. It began as a constant painful upset stomach. I was feeling tired all the time. Then the bleeding started. I was terrified, exhausted and ashamed. I didn’t understand what was happening to me but I knew I wasn’t myself anymore. I kept it to myself. I would sit around wondering what I had done to bring this on myself. It was over a year of having symptoms before I finally told my mom. When I was about eight years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s has been an incredibly destructive force in my life. It, and the chronic anxiety it brings, has controlled my life for as long as I can remember. It’s always there, influencing every decision I make. Dictating what I can and can’t do, where I can and can’t go, what I can and can’t eat or drink. Crohn’s made getting though school, and life, very difficult. I couldn’t focus anymore. I felt angry, sad and isolated all the time. Some days I didn’t have the strength to pull myself out of bed. When I did actually make it to school, I would often have to spend the majority of the day sick in the bathroom. My childhood memories are mostly of doctor visits, hospital stays, the horrible side effects from the medications prescribed and the loneliness Crohn’s has caused me.

Despite all of this, I knew what I wanted and nothing was going to stop me, not even my own failing body. I worked hard and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology with a minor in Spanish and a Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Management. I went on to take a job with an environmental agency. I hoped it would be fulfilling and make me feel like everything I had struggled through had been worth it. I realized immediately that it would not be the job I was hoping for. The work was basically data entry for people with science degrees. Constant issues with management left much of the staff feeling unappreciated and disengaged. The turnover rate was shockingly high because many felt as though management saw them as completely disposable. It was a very depressing place to spend 40 hours of your life every week for years. I feel that place caused me to lose my passion and drive for life.

During this time, I felt stuck in a relationship with someone I had nothing in common with. From the beginning I wanted things to change but any time I expressed even the slightest negative feeling towards our situation, he would freak out and guilt me into tolerating it. Everyday was the same dissatisfied boredom and I was incredibly unhappy. I decided that I needed a break from the monotony and wanted to take a group vacation to Costa Rica for my 30th birthday. I talked about it for weeks and began planning. Several friends had already committed to the trip when he had one of his meltdowns. He made me feel so guilty and selfish for wanting to take this trip that I cancelled it. Then, a couple of months before my birthday, I couldn’t take it anymore. After two years, I finally ended the relationship. I hated myself for letting someone else influence my life choices so much and for so long. I vowed that I would never forgo my own happiness to appease someone else ever again.

I began focusing on bettering myself. Going to yoga more often. Trying to meditate, which is a huge challenge for someone with a mind that does nothing but bounce from one insane worry to the next obsessively. I tried to think about positive things. The idea of a taking a solo vacation kept coming into my mind. When my birthday came, my friends threw me a great surprise party. I felt loved and thankful to have so many amazing people in my life.

A week or so later, I had my first sensory deprivation experience. It was exciting and calming while also being somewhat unsettling. Something happened in there. I’m not sure what. On the drive home, I realized I had decided that I was not just going to take a solo vacation. I had made the decision to quit the job I loathed and go spend several months in South America. I eventually chose beautiful Ecuador as my destination country. The Galápagos Islands have always fascinated me and I felt it would be the perfect place to reignite my passion for science and living life. I will be living on San Cristóbal Island for three weeks while I do volunteer conservation work with the Ubelong organization. I will also spend a month living in a yoga ashram. During this time I will focus on meditation and mindfulness while I obtain my yoga teacher certification at Durga’s Tiger School – Casa Kiliku outside of Quito. Yoga and meditation have become great tools for easing my Crohn’s symptoms and calming my mind. I hope that by taking my practice deeper, I will find a place where Crohn’s and anxiety are no longer an issue.

As excited as I am, I’m also terrified. I have no idea what will happen over there. Maybe everything will be wonderful and it will be the best decision I have ever made. Maybe I will be sick and alone the whole time and it will be awful. Regardless of what happens, I will be satisfied knowing that it was a decision I made for myself, in spite of the fear. Crohn’s disease has been the biggest obstacle in my life, but it will be an obstacle I continue to overcome everyday. Now is my time. No more 40-hour weeks in windowless cubicles doing soul sucking passionless work. No more dealing with people who hold me back from what I want. And especially no more going through life letting fear dictate my level of happiness. Fear took my childhood and a significant portion of my adulthood away from me but now I decide what I’ll do, where I’ll go and what I’ll eat and drink. There is no point in limiting myself anymore. It will be with me no matter what and I refuse to let it keep me from the things I want any longer.