How My Family Survived the Storm of Depression

Sea and beach with sky storm cloud, Over dark tone

Family is such a wondrous thing, isn’t it? We’re so interwoven with blood and memories and stories and even sometimes not with blood but with miracles or the precious gift of the resurrection of family by combining two. Our lives are swimming together in the same pool of life, sometimes in different depths and sections but in the same pool, nonetheless. So when good things happen or hard times hit, like ripples and waves in a pool, all members of the family feel the water changing.

In mine, it was like a big tropical storm hit our pool when depression reached its most severe for me a few months ago. Like such a storm, there were rains that preceded its arrival and indications of the strongest part to come, but everyone felt it differently and some never knew what hit them when the storm came. It left messes in its wake and confusion in the midst. And the clean-up process is still ongoing.

I’m blessed to say that my family has supported me beautifully in this most difficult of difficult times for me and that our community has worked to support them as well. It’s often misunderstood or perhaps even completely missed that the family of someone suffering severe depression deserves attention, too. Here’s how this storm affected my family. Here’s how people have helped. And hopefully, here, in between the lines, you will find help for your family or loved ones if a storm of this kind makes landfall at your family’s pool.

Effects on My Spouse

At the time things became clear that they were dire, my husband was faced with an ever increasing amount of worry and tasks before him. He had to research ways to help me. He had to consider financial costs of the help he wanted to get me. And, he had to consider whether or not I was at risk of taking my own life. He had to check in on me, like a lifeguard, a lot. All of this was on top of working and caring for our 5 children and household when I was unable to do so myself. These are heavy burdens to bare, some of the heaviest. But our community, friends and loved ones stepped in…a group of women that I meet with regularly brought meals to our family for two weeks straight while I was in an all-day outpatient treatment program. Our church family brought us money to help offset the cost of this program. My husband spent extra time with his disciple leader and men he trusts in order to make sure he had a place to share and get support. My mom flew in from Florida and stayed with my husband and our kids while I was in the hospital after I made an attempt to end my life. She hired a cleaning company to come in, she did laundry, she and my niece took turns picking up the kids from school so that my husband could visit me in the hospital and be free of these duties during this heart-wrenchingly difficult time.

In these ways our community lessened the blow to my husband’s whole world and lightened his load. He still had a lot of heavy weight to carry, but he had life preservers to hang on to when the waters got rough. He would also say that his faith was most definitely his life raft in all of this, and that is an unspeakable gift in itself.

Effects on My Children

Children are miraculous and resilient little creatures. Like new swimmers they find that they can do more than they thought they could when the water gets deep. We wouldn’t purposely throw a new swimmer into the deep end, but when they are forced in, most find that they can actually keep themselves afloat. That’s kind of like what happened to my kids, but like a child who doesn’t really want to be in the deep end, they showed their distaste and some even hid it.

My youngest went to be with family a state away for 2 weeks during this time. She is too little to understand what was going on at home and she is used to having mini-vacations with them. They provided her with familiarity, great bundles of love and lots of stability. She was pretty good with this transition but towards the end I am told she asked for mommy quite a bit. Our extended family provided a huge gift to us by loving on her and caring for her during this time.

My 10 year old stayed afloat by expressing irritability, some irrationality and asking lots of questions. Thank goodness his favorite person in the universe was with him (my mom) during the hardest times because she answered his questions, was patient with him and provided great distraction.

The teenagers were different. Most acted like the cool kids going off the high dive. No big deal right? But inside I know they felt unsure and scared. We were able to talk about things more as the storm passed but what they wanted and needed more than anything during the eye of that storm were honest upfront answers and to feel like everything was going to be okay. My husband and our extended family, as well as their peer groups, did this while I was unable to.

All the kids, on some level, internalized their fear and confusion. But with extra attention and TLC, reassurance that everything was going to be okay, as well as the ability to be open about it with others, they have come through the other side of the storm.

Effects on Friendships

Friends swim in our pool, too, right? Two of my closest friends in particular were dramatically impacted by this storm. They felt lots of fear and even anger. One expressed quite a bit of anger after my overdose, but we talked about it, acknowledged it, and I took ownership of the pain that it caused her.  One made lots of phone calls and felt like she needed to check on me all the time. She really wanted for me to talk about the nitty gritty of things with her and that was a little too hard for me, but those were her needs. We were able to talk about that and then support each other’s needs. Both friends were deeply impacted, no doubt about it. Honest communication with me and with my spouse throughout the storm kept them in the loop and gave them a sense of hope and optimism.

The Rainbow after the Storm Has Passed

Like so many storms, there is beauty in the renewal that comes afterward. Sometimes it takes the clean-up crew a long time to get things back in order, but often there are glimmers of beauty even in the midst or immediately after. For us, there was beauty in the way our community, family and friends surrounded us while our family was trying to stay above water. There was beauty for my family in the reassurance of my presence when I came home from the hospital. And there was so much beauty as I witnessed endless supply of concern, love and patience poured out, on and to me. While many people were sad, scared and hurt, right along with us, there was beauty in the coming together – kind of like a pool party on a perfect summer day but maybe no cocktails or music! And there is definitely beauty in the healing process, for us all.

*This post first appeared on The Home Living Wife as a guest post. I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to have my post featured on this beautiful site full of beautiful things and people. Please visit Kelsey’s blog today! You simple won’t find a more loving and sweet blog host as her.

Please: If you or someone you know is struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out to LIFELINE.

To Be Seen Again

One of the hardest things I have been dealing with these last few months is a sense of not wanting to be seen. I don’t want to be seen by the world, by the people in it, by even friends of mine and sometimes by my own family. It’s as if everyone is going to see all my pain and shame just by looking at me and even worse, they will see how much I’ve failed.

In my mind it’s like nobody has anything better to do than to look at me and judge me. Which we all know is a complete fallacy, a trick of the mind, but a really good trick because it feel so true.

The real truth is that I don’t go out in the world judging people. I’m not sizing anyone up. If I ever do it’s because of some sort of envy or admiration, which can be both good and bad. But in my heart, I don’t want to judge anyone and I believe a lot of people feel the same way. Additionally, most people are really only interested in their own stuff, their own life, their own weight gain or loss, their own hair, their own makeup, their own outfit and just so focused on themselves that they really aren’t looking at me.

On several occasions recently I’ve shared with my husband that I feel unable to do something because I just don’t want to be seen. It’s an undeniable feeling, it’s intrusive, it’s anxiety producing and just plain sad. He tries to understand. He’s good like that. But I don’t think I fully understand it. It’s part of this depression, anxiety, bipolar goop. It’s part of a shame I’ve lived with for too long. It’s actually quite self-centered. I’m truly not the center of the universe, or am I? 😉

I know a large measure of this is due to body image issues as well. Can anyone relate? I’ve gained A LOT of weight over the last year due to poor diet, inactivity due to depression and medications. For all the wrong reasons, when I am overweight I feel under-lovable. The more the weight, the less worth I have. And during this time, I need to feel loved more than ever. It’s as though if I’m not pretty on the outside, then you will know I’m not pretty on the inside, either.

Whether it be society, childhood trauma or self-sabotage, it doesn’t matter the cause because I’m stuck in the feeling of wanting to disappear, regardless. But somehow, deep inside me, I have to find the love. I have to find the love for myself, I have to find my identity in Christ and the courage to bravely face the world despite how much I feel like shrinking back inside myself or under the covers.

So, I’m working on that. I’m facing the world when I have to and sometimes when I don’t. Like when I went to the Go Blog Social conference several weeks ago, or when I went to a bible journaling meet-up this past weekend anticipating a small crowd (turns out there were only two of us there). And when I go to church on Sundays, I’m facing it. And I’m spending time in the Word again. I’m listening to worship music and spending time in devotionals and Bible study. I’m bible journaling. I’m listening to faith based audio books (never have done this before) and surrounding myself with His message. (If you are struggling with feeling beautiful and lovable I highly recommend the “You’re Beautiful” devotional that comes in the “Beautiful” devotional kit by Illustrated Faith. I’m working through this now and it’s touching me right in the most tender places of my heart.)

I’m doing these things and more (like starting to incorporate healthy eating habits into my life again). I am taking action. And I’m working to really embrace the fact that my worth is not completely tied to my appearance. I am seeking the knowledge that it can be okay for my pain to be visible and it can be okay that I am visible again. Maybe the world wants me in it? Maybe the world will be a slightly better place if I participate in it? Maybe, it will be good to be seen.

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”.png

Feeling Heavy: That Depression Kind

I started this blog with the intention of utilizing it as a therapeutic outlet. Then I got caught up in the idea of getting a lot of followers and visits and views and I forgot to keep doing that, in a way. So today, I’m gonna write about what’s really going on with me in my head, because I need to share it, and it might as well be with you, right?

I can feel this depression thing hanging on or hanging on to me again today. But wait, I told you I had turned a corner previously…I still think I have (I haven’t had a suicidal thought in quite a while it seems), but today, I feel heavy and up and down and irritated and sad and the sad feels big. I woke up feeling positive. I did a little shopping and enjoyed that. I put together a new flower arrangement for our front door and that was fun! But slowly, as the day crept on, the heaviness grew heavier and my ability to cope with the loudness of my home and youngest child (she lives with autism and can be quite loud) lessened more and more.

In order to get through it I isolated. I went to my room and locked myself in, literally, and did some bible journaling. I find this to be a great refuge for my mind and it does my soul good. I liked my finished product even though I am noticing that I am comparing my entries more and more to others recently. (red flag) It really did turn out quite nicely. (How I wish those self-loathing thoughts would seriously and completely disappear forever!) Then I tried to be present with my husband and youngest in our living room, but I felt like I had to tune out…I focused on social media and reading blog posts of others and colored some of a drawing I recently created. I was completely isolated in my mind. I truly just couldn’t cope. I wanted to run away. I wanted to go back into my bedroom and lock the door and never come out.

Something has shifted in me recently. I had experienced a couple weeks of what I now know was hypomania and naturally my doctor adjusted my medications. I want that hypomania back. I want to feel happy or excited or something. I don’t want to feel this heavy heart that’s beating in my chest tonight. I’m scared of these feelings. I don’t want to feel them. I don’t want to go back to that dark place. Please don’t take me back there.

I don't want to go backto thatdark place. (1).png

 

I’m going to try really hard to remember that although this has been happening more frequently lately, it doesn’t mean I’m there, stuck in the darkness. I’m going to remind myself that tomorrow is a new day and help is on the way. This heaviness may lighten up. I’m going to try again. It’s Easter tomorrow and we celebrate the resurrection of our savior, perhaps tomorrow will be a resurrection for me as well.

There, I got it out. That felt good. I’m glad I wrote it down.

Where Did My Voice Go?

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I’ve been pondering the symptoms of depression today. I spent time reading some heart-achingly beautiful posts written by women battling the beast and it reminded me of a simple but huge thing that I lost during the worst of my own recent battle. In fact, I’m still fighting for it, because depression stole my voice and I’m wondering where it went.

When the depression first crept in I could feel my voice quieting. I felt a sort of kind of buzz that made it that much harder for me to hear it. I suppose it was like a heavy white noise. As the disease progressed I felt the trapping of my voice, as if my chest was covered in big heavy chains and I was unable to get enough air to clearly use it. Occasionally, I caught a breath and tried to let someone know that the air was getting thin but my voice did not have the strength to say it loud enough. No one heard me. Was it because I was too quiet or was it because my voice had already slipped away? I’ll never know.

Depression steals so many things from us, but not having a voice leaves you alone inside yourself, a scary place to be during that darkness. Losing your voice leaves you without your lifelines that you may have held on to each and every day to keep you just above water. I lost my voice. I lost my ability to communicate with God, with my husband, with my family and my friends. I lost my ability to feel heard and understood. I lost my voice and it was painful.

I wonder where it went? Was it hiding under the covers somewhere close to me when I slept and lay comatose in my bed? Maybe it was hiding under my pillow, on the cold side. Was my voice lost on that vacation I took with my husband not too long before my symptoms began to worsen? Maybe it had washed out to sea? Perhaps it flew up to catch the falling stars I witnessed while gazing at the moon from that perfect Florida beach. Where was it? Was it trapped in one of those bins we have in storage that contain the photos and memories of our children’s younger days? Perhaps it was when the leaves fell from the trees in the fall, maybe then my voice was blown away with them.

We practiced a meditation in the outpatient partial hospitalization program I participated in this past October, it was called “Leaves on a Stream“. The gist of it is: you watch your thoughts float down a stream on leaves, just acknowledging them and allowing them to float by. I don’t think I had any voice left at this point, but if I did… the remaining pieces definitely went down that stream. (Side note: I actually really liked this exercise. If you click the link above you may find it something you would like, too.)

But that stream must lead to some kind of loop because I think some of the pieces and parts of my voice are coming back. I’ve begun to blog and create art and journal. I attend therapy at least once a week, if not more. I have had moments of excitement and joy, no matter how brief, it is a relief to finally have them.

I talked my teenage daughter’s ear off on the ride home from her school today. After I realized I had been talking an awful lot, I halfheartedly apologized. I sort of chuckled and said, “Sorry, I haven’t talked much to anyone today.” And then it struck me suddenly, I hardly talk to anyone at all during the day. Some days I may not talk to a single soul (out loud – actually using my voice) until the kids or my husband arrive at home, whichever happens first. So I realize, I may not be exercising it much.

But I’m exercising it more and I’m fighting for it. Actually, it may be fighting for me. Perhaps that sneaky thing snuck itself back in to my soul and will get louder and stronger as the healing and recovery continues.

But I still wonder, where on earth was it?

 

Guest Post: Grace for Your Constant Struggle

I am honored to share a post with you by a new and dear friend of mine, Liz Lalama. This post spoke right to my heart and I knew that it would to others as well! Liz graciously gave me permission to share it with you here. Enjoy!

It’s a new year, yet I find myself back where I was before. It’s time to turn over a fresh leaf, yet I know that the underside of my leaf is just as brown and rotting as the top. I’m frustrated, as I find myself not quite fully experiencing victory over a depressive episode from this past year.

I’m in a similar place that I was four years ago. Honestly, I find that hard to admit. It was only a few months after writing a blog series on recovery that my depression flared up again. I feel uncomfortable saying that. I’m humbled by that fact that I don’t (and never did) have it all together.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re feeling the same struggles and pressures that you were a few years ago, or that you do every year. Maybe you have that one issue you’re embarrassed to say is still a struggle.

In all the talk of moving on, becoming better people, and making resolutions, it’s hard to face the fact that sometimes we just don’t. The reality is that most of the time New Year’s resolutions don’t succeed. It’s been a week … maybe yours has failed already. But I’m not even talking just about the new year. I’m talking about those deep struggles. The ones that we like to hide under the bed and pretend don’t exist. The ones that come back to haunt us after we thought we had won.

As a teenager growing up in the church, we would often have emotional moments on youth retreats where we would write down a sin, struggle, or addiction that we wanted to give up. We would then take those papers and either throw them in a fire or nail them to a cross to show that God had forgiven these sins and they were gone. It was incredibly meaningful and probably overly emotional. But it was very uplifting … until I became discouraged from writing down the same thing year after year.

It’s been years since I’ve thrown a struggle in the fire, but I find myself dealing with doubts about the fact that my struggles still exist. The truth is they didn’t actually burn in the fire. (I think that’s why they call it a “metaphor”.) But even though I’m no longer a teenager, I still find myself wishing I could throw the same old parts of me into a fire. I wish it was that easy.

Maybe like me, at the end of yet another year you find yourself realizing that if you were totally honest, not much has changed. Sure, maybe you changed your hair or moved or made a big life decision or made healthier choices. But you realize that your deepest, darkest fears are the same. Your body still isn’t as healthy as you’d like. That chronic ailment still exists. Your mental illness is still a daily battle. You still lose your temper. Or conversely you fail to speak up for yourself. You still haven’t reconciled your relationships. Even if you have conquered that addiction, you realize that you still have the potential to go back to it.

What are we to make of that? Am I a failure? Are you a failure? Am we a bad Christians? No. We are human. We are broken. We struggle. And that is exactly what a Christian is.

I’m afraid this isn’t a how-to blog. I don’t claim to have all the answers or even just one. But two things I know: We’re not alone and there is grace.

It’s too easy to think that everyone else it all together and we are the only ones who so often end up dealing with the same struggles we dealt with years ago. But if our fellow Christians were honest, we would soon find out that they struggle just the same. And through everyone’s struggle, there is grace every day and every year. There is grace every time I realize I’m still throwing that same struggle into the same fire.

Even the apostle Paul had his constant struggle. He refers to it as a thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12). We don’t know what his struggle was, although scholars have made a few guesses. I think the fact that we aren’t told makes his thorn in the flesh more relatable. It doesn’t allow us to specify what is ok for Christians to constantly battle and what is not. By leaving the idea of the thorn vague, we are able to understand that Paul’s struggle is everyone’s struggle. I know very clearly what my thorn in the flesh is, and I’m guessing you know yours too. We might pretend otherwise, but truthfully we know the darkness of our own hearts.

Vicious thorns on bush. Sharp and threatening thorns on a plant in black and white

I do not struggle in the same ways as the apostle Paul, but like him I have cried out to God to take it away. Sometimes He has said yes, and sometimes He has said no. But I still have the questions. Why am I left with depression? Why do I deal with this illness that will likely go in and out of remission for the rest of my life? I have been left wondering if God hears my cry … if He even exists.

I often feel broken because I do not handle my thorn in the flesh as well as other people. But I don’t think it was easy for Paul either. He said, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” Three times he pleaded. He pleaded with God, over and over again. We easily skip over this verse and miss the pain Paul was in, the discouragement he felt in his struggle, just as we do. Even Jesus was so stressed in Gethsemane that he sweated blood as he pleaded with God to take the cross away from him. It wasn’t easy for him either. The pain and discouragement felt when we plead and yet hear “No” is not a lack of faith, it’s part of the human experience.

Paul then goes on, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I can hear some of you that are feeling very discouraged saying, “Yeah, yeah. Paul’s thorn in the flesh. His grace is sufficient. I’ve heard that.” I said that too. Sometimes I still do. But I failed to really understand the significance of God’s grace being sufficient.

God is not saying, “My grace is enough for you so just deal with this issue.” He is not saying, “My grace negates the need for doctors and seeking support and change.” It’s a gentle phrase, not a harsh one. It’s said in love, and is a reminder that we don’t have to be perfect.

God’s grace is sufficient for who I am. Jesus’ grace says, “It’s ok that you’ve failed. It’s ok that you find yourself in the same place you were before.” This world is broken.  We are broken. Yet we are God’s children and we are loved unconditionally, regardless of how often a thorn in the flesh haunts us. Even if I deal with the same struggle for the rest of my life and only see small and intermittent victory, Christ’s grace is still sufficient. I am still beloved. And so are you.

When we are weak, He is strong. When we fail, His grace is sufficient … unendingly and continuously. Not just once, not even again and again, but constantly, in every breath we breathe and in every second of our broken lives. There is grace.

 

This post originally appeared on Salad At Midnight 

Liz LalamLiz Lalamaa is a blogger and freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She has a vision for fostering community and always loves a good chat at the coffee shop, on a walk, or at the playground. She writes honestly about life, mental health, faith, and society at her blog saladatmidnight.com. Find her on facebook.com/saladatmidnight or on twitter, @lizlalama.

 

Trouble in Paradise: Vacationing with Depression and Anxiety 

 

 FYI, I’m in Florida visiting my parents along with one of my children at the time of writing this post.

 Apparently I brought some friends with me on this vacation of mine. We’ll call these friends depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. PTSD is always with me too, I guess, but it likes to lurk or hang far back so I don’t know it’s there until the most unlikely of moments and you know, all of these guys can be pretty sneaky.
I don’t expect to see them when I’m traveling or even during preparation for a trip, but they decided to show up, darn it. I’ve actually been experiencing a little bit of a vacation from these friends, so I thought. (We all have friends from whom we need a vacation, right?). They started to make themselves known the day I left for my trip. I think they were actually hiding behind the curtains the day before. Either way, it turns out they never really left.

It’s kind of a problem when you’re a grown up traveling with your ten year-old child and it takes all of your fortitude to hide the tears you want to shed because suddenly you’re gripped with fear, sadness and intense anxiety about leaving your husband and home. I mean, you don’t want to freak your kids out about flying or traveling in general, so you suck it up as long as you are able. Plus, I really don’t think my child, who has some anxiety of his own, would have benefited from that whole “mommy can’t adult today” business in this instance.

The tears fell for me after I spoke to my husband once we arrived safely in Florida, but I had to wipe those away quickly again because I didn’t want to cause my mom to feel bad. And then I thought “This is not the way you’re supposed to feel when you embark on a new adventure, especially one in Florida!”

That’s the thing about these kind of friends…they really like to ruin everything. Last night at dinner my mom told we we were going to go have dinner the next night with some friends of hers and family of ours that also live here. Instantly my eyes shot her a look of complete surprise and my heart sank. It was as if all the darkness I had been fighting fell upon me again. That fast. I was terrified and all I could think was “Please don’t make me do this!” Honestly I was a little annoyed with my mom…doesn’t she know me at all? But…it’s a lot to expect someone to understand social anxiety when they don’t have it. It’s also a lot to expect her to know the intensity with which I’m having to deal with it right now.

I spoke up. I probably could of done a better job of communicating my needs but she heard me and ended up canceling the plans. I’m relieved. I’m grateful that my mom tried to understand as best as she could. But it’s also sad that participating in normal and small gatherings is too much for me at this time.

I can feel depression lurking in the small sadness that is constant. I can feel it in my body and I feel it as a weight in my eyes, as weird as that may sound. I feel depression in a lack of enthusiasm. I don’t feel excitement. I feel kind of numb. And I know what I normally feel like when I go on vacation…it certainly isn’t numbness. This, dear ones, is not feeling like paradise, even though there are signs all around that say it is. My parents even have a mural painted on one of their walls (a big one) with beautiful images of palm trees and the declaration that it is indeed another day in paradise!

I’m trying really hard to not let these pesky “friends of mine” take the fun out of everything while I’m here. My mom and I were able to do our Bible study together last night and that was pretty cool. We also had some art time and she showed me how to do zentangle. These kinds of activities really bring a sense of peace to my soul. I’m surrounded by so much beauty and opportunities for fun. I’m doing my best to take in the little things and focus on God’s creations….from a flower, to a palm tree, to the love of my parents.

I’m determined, these guys aren’t going to ruin my vacation, but it may just not feel like paradise this time. And, I guess that is okay. It’s just the way it is right now.

I Felt Joy

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The other day something strange happened. It almost alarmed me.

I was in the car with my two youngest children. I had just picked up my son from school. Many days he is grumpy and tired after school. He tends to be a bit moody. But this day, he was in a quite pleasant mood and I was grateful. As we began to make our way home I noticed some things that I had not seen in what felt like an eternity.

There were blooms on trees. They were pink and white and a deep rose color and on some they were just beginning to burst out. There were trees in full bloom that I had not noticed the day before. It was a stark contrast to see these beauties next to the many trees without leaves that line our streets right now. The colors were beautiful and almost glowing. I pointed out the first one I saw to my son. I said, “Look! A tree is blooming. Spring is really coming!” And he smiled.

I never thought that Spring would come. I got lost this past winter, lost in clinical depression. I was lost in a big dark deep cavernous hole. The hole got so deep that absolutely no light shined through. All I could see was darkness and all I could wish for was escape. It became so dark that I thought there was no escaping and that things like flowers, trees and plants would never come to life again. The darkness took over me and I tried to end my life.

But somehow, I’m here. I made it to now. And somehow I am seeing light again. And somehow, the trees are blooming. Miraculously, a gift from God, I saw these trees, really saw them, and I felt joy.

I felt a joy that lasted more than a moment or a flash. I felt joy at the prospect that spring was actually really coming! With that joy came hope. Hope for the spring and renewal of my spirit. And with that hope came faith, faith that God was at work all this time and pulling for me, holding on to me despite my mind’s tricks and and travels into the darkness.

Joy is lasting, joy is pure. Joy is something that fills your heart and soul and gives you peace. Joy is a gift. Joy is seeing things with clear vision again. I’m just so very grateful that I felt joy.

 

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

 

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