Mental illness and fear

I have mental illness. I’ve seen doctors; they’ve diagnosed me. I suppose I could go into all the gritty details of my diagnoses, which would make all the armchair psychologists come out of the woodwork to give me advise on how to overcome my mental illness and become a better person. I’m not going to do that.

2016 was a very bad year. I went into it very optimistically, thinking that maybe I could finally line up my ducks and move forward with my life and plans. That didn’t happen. One thing led to another, which led to disappointment following disappointment. I tried writing it all off, but there are some things that can’t be swept under the rug and ignored.

2017 hasn’t turned out so hot for me either, in many ways. There has been a lot of good. I won’t say that everything is bad, because it isn’t. It’s just that the bad outweighs the good, no matter how much of each there is. The bad always weighs more. It bogs one down until the load feels too overburdening to carry. And then I want to lay down and just stop breathing.

It’s been a very long time since I last updated this blog, so I should back up and fill everyone in on what’s going on in my brain. I returned to college after a 23 year absence and started working towards a degree in a field that interests me. It hasn’t been easy for me, because I’m much older than most of my classmates, and it’s a heavily male-dominated field. Every time I would get excited about achieving something, I would get knocked down by friends who mock me and accuse me of bragging. I guess I’m not supposed to be excited at finally being good at something. School has not always been easy for me – not now, and not back in my high school days. When I struggle with something, my brain tells me that I’m not good enough, and that I should just give up. My parents were always good about reinforcing the fact that I was never good enough, and that I’d never be as successful or intelligent as my sister. I don’t recall a single time when either of my parents have ever said they were proud of me, for anything. I’m not praiseworthy. I’m not anything. My brain tells me to give up. It’s not worth fighting for a sliver of recognition about anything. I’m not worth fighting for.

Logically, I know that my mental illness is giving me bad messages. Logically, I know that my thoughts are damaged. Logically, I know that depression lies. Mental illness isn’t logical. Mental illness is pulling my hair out by the roots or digging my nails into my own skin until I bleed, just to feel the pain. Mental illness is downing the last half of my prescription bottle of painkillers, just to see what would happen. Mental illness is jumping off the end of a pier, just to see if I would float. Thankfully (?) so far, mental illness hasn’t won. It probably will, someday.

According to my family, I could permanently cure my major depressive disorder by thinking happy thoughts instead of dwelling on negative ones. According to my family, the medications I take are unnecessary and probably filled with all kinds of things that are bad for me, and may cause cancer. (Then again, I’ve had cancer, so maybe they’re right.) According to my family, if I would just change my diet and exercise more, I wouldn’t feel sad anymore. It would seem that I’m the only person in the entire history of both sides of my family to have ever battled mental illness, so it must be in my head. Well yeah, that’s exactly where my mental illness is… in my head.

That’s the mental illness part (for now), here’s the fear part. I’m scared that I’ll never get better. I’m scared that something will happen that will hit me at just the wrong time, and I’ll actually push myself too far. I’m scared that no one will care. And after that, I’m scared that no one will take care of my cats. Let’s face it, they are the only reason I’m still alive some days. Some days, the pain (both real, physical pain and mental pain) is so bad that I don’t want to be here any longer. Right now, the stabbing headache from my screwed up spine hurts so badly I can barely breathe. I overcame my fear of chiropractors a couple weeks ago, when I met a very kind one through a friend. He’s been trying to help with my headaches because he says the pain I’m experiencing doesn’t match up with what the x-rays tell him. In 7 visits, we’ve gone from “no change at all” to “severely worse pain.” This is not an improvement. I want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head until the world goes away.

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My mind feels like a Cuisinart where somebody just dumped all the thoughts in at once

Specifically, the food processor. I don’t think the coffee maker would come up with quite the same results.

I’ve had a lot of jumbled thoughts lately, combined with crazy dreams, and it’s making me just a bit screwier than I normally am.

The two things that I keep circling back to are absolutely no relationship to each other that I can think of, yet they keep coming back and nagging me to write them out. I’ll start with the nice one.

Part of a parent’s job is to screw up their kid(s). It’s usually not intentional, but it happens. There are so many things I wish my parents had discussed with me or taught me when I was a kid, because I had to figure them out on my own, and sometimes those lessons are devastatingly difficult. Following is a list of things I wish teenage me had been told (and a few things that I’d like to think that my teenage son is learning, that didn’t really apply all those years ago for me.)

  • Learn how to create a budget and stick to it. Save up for big purchases and learn how to cut out all the extra bullshit you don’t need so that you have some savings to fall back on when things turn to shit (and they always do at some point). Financing is okay on big purchases like a house or a car, but credit cards shouldn’t be used for everyday purchases unless you’re paying off your balance every month. Don’t spend money you don’t have in hand.
  • Figure out what you want to be when you grow up, and develop a plan to achieve it. It’s okay if your plans change down the road, as long as you keep following the plans to get there. You don’t want to wake up at 40 and realize that your life is half over and you haven’t accomplished anything and you don’t know where to start.
  • Don’t be afraid to be different. Different is good. If everyone liked the same thing, the world would be a very boring place. Flaunt the things that make you special, even if no one else gets it. The caveat to that is: don’t disparage or denigrate things that are different that you don’t like. I see this a lot in the car world. Some people like stanced cars, others like brodozers. Some people get giddy over bone-stock 40-year-old pickup trucks, others prefer brightly coloured supercars. They’re all great. They may not be your style, but someone put a lot of time, love, and money into a car they love, and that should be appreciated, even if it’s not to your taste.
  • Pay attention to the people you see on a daily basis, and learn their names if you’re going to interact with them regularly. I’ve worked at customer service and retail for nearly 25 years, and it’s still kind of shocking to me how invisible I am. They’re people too. Sometimes they have stuff going on in their lives that you don’t know about, that may be affecting their behaviour. Give them the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming they’re being assholes. Unless they’re like that on a regular basis, in which case they may legitimately be assholes.
  • Make sure you have at least one friend (or preferably two or three) who are actual friends, who would do anything for you. Quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to friends. I see people on Facebook with 600+ friends and I wonder how many of those “friends” are people they even know. A good friend is someone who can pick up on the fact that you’re having a bad day without you having to say a single word, and who shows up at your door at 10pm bearing Ben & Jerry’s (or marshmallows). Treasure those people, because they’re the ones who will still be by your side when everything turns to shit.
  • When you’re on a date, leave the mobile phone in your pocket or purse. Same goes for gatherings with good friends. Unless you are an on-call doctor or other bigwig who needs to be reached 24/7 for a life or death matter, ignore your phone. This has always been one of my biggest pet peeves on dates. If he’s more interested in whatever’s on that screen than me, then obviously I’m not important enough, and I’m moving on. Technology is wonderful, and helps us in so many ways, but it’s also disconnecting us from the real world.
  • What goes on the internet, stays on the internet. Yes, you can pull down that embarrassing photo, but someone may have caught a screenshot, and from there, it’s out of your control as to where it may end up. Do you really want that photo of you doing a kegstand coming across the desk of your potential new boss? Probably not. Are you really fed up with your job and want to spew a hate-filled angry message about how horrible your coworkers and boss are? Chances are good – even with tightened security – that it can still be outed publicly and then you’re not only out of a job, but you’re going to have a hard time replacing it again.
  • You only get one first, so make sure it’s special. Whether it’s a first date, a first kiss, a first new car. You don’t get a do-over on firsts, so make sure it means something.
  • Don’t play games with people’s emotions. You may think something is funny, but it may devastate someone else. Try to always be kind if given the choice.
  • When it comes to dating, look at how he or she treats his or her parents and the waitstaff. Disrespect to either means that the disrespect will probably be turned towards you someday, too. Knowing their views on treating animals is pretty telling also. Anyone who kicks a dog will have no problem punching a person later. (Ask me how I know)
  • Always ask for help when you need it. Everyone needs help at some point in their life, whether it’s tutoring in algebra or learning how to change a tire. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’re strong enough to know your limitations.
  • Cut the toxic people out of your life. You know who they are? The ones who always cut you down or undermine any plans you have. They serve no purpose, except to try to destroy you. Don’t let them. You only get one shot at life; try to make it a good one.
  • Know that sometimes life is just plain going to suck, but crying helps. So do marshmallows. When things go wrong, try to fix things up as best you can, and then start over the next day and try again. Keep doing this until things get better. There’s a cliché that says “Everything is better in the end. If it’s not better, it’s not the end.” It’s kind of true. Keep trying anyway.

That ran a little longer than I expected, and I’m sure I have more things I’d like to add to my list, but those will have to wait, along with the other random thought running rampant in my head, which is a rant on political correctness. I’ll try to get to that one later this week, if I don’t get too insanely busy. I’d be interested to hear what others would advise their younger selves if given the chance.

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Photographs and Memories

I was conversing with a good friend earlier tonight, and we got on to the subject of photographing events or milestones in our lives. I commented that one of the things I truly feel sorry about for our children is that with the ease of digital photography, they’re no longer really living life so much as they are on the quest to make sure evidence is captured on film. “Pics or it didn’t happen” is a refrain heard all too often. What happened to actually experiencing things and enjoying them; building the memories in our heads?

As a child of the 80s (born in ’75) I had a nifty little 35mm camera to take pictures with. Film was treasured because it was expensive to begin with, you were limited to 24 or 36 shots, and then you had to pay to have them developed afterwards. I always tried to make sure that every single frame counted, and there was that wonderful element of surprise getting to see the photos you took days, weeks, months, sometimes even years prior once the roll was finally developed. It was like an extra Christmas or birthday present. Admittedly, a lot of the photos didn’t turn out great because I was a kid and hadn’t developed the skill yet to master a perfectly composed shot, but even those oddly formatted, sometimes blurry photos could always resurrect the moment in time when they were taken.

Photography today is easy. That’s not to say that professional photography is easy – it definitely isn’t – but amateur photography is completely mind numbing now. You’re dressing up and going out with friends? Take at least a dozen shots of you and your friends (from at least as many mobile phone cameras as there are friends) and then winnow them down later. Perhaps jump on Instagram and add a filter and crop it in a specific way to make it look artsy. Boom! Instant memories! But are they really?

We shouldn’t be recording every moment of every day to store in some digital archive to likely be ignored for the rest of our lives. We should be focusing on the moments as we’re going through them, and the memories will stay in our minds. I’d say 90% of the photos I see online are perfectly posed, and I’m guessing that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of “failed” photos before the “perfect” photo gets posted. We’re not perfect people. At least, I’m not. I recently looked back through the wedding pictures of my friends Ashley and JV from December 30, 2012 and out of all the photographs from that night, the ones that make me smile the most and bring back the happiest memories are the goofy, unplanned shots where we’re having fun instead of trying to look wonderful. Most of the time, I wasn’t even aware that there was a camera on me while I was basking in the happiness of two incredible people celebrating their love for one another. (And for the record, Ashley couldn’t look bad in a photo if she tried)

When I was younger and actually went to live concerts, I was there to listen to and support the musicians that were playing, whether it was a huge stadium concert or a jam session in a dive bar. If you go on YouTube, there are thousands of videos of people attending concerts with their mobiles held high in the air, recording the event for posterity. I can’t say that I’ve ever taken a single photograph at a concert, but I can remember every detail of every single concert I went to, because I was immersed in the moment.

The “must record everything” mindset crosses over to the most basic experiences during a day. If a sudden fight breaks out, or someone falls and hurts themselves, the new reaction is to whip out the mobile and get a recording to upload, hoping that you’ve just caught the next viral video. I won’t say all, but many people would rather film a crime or impending disaster rather than stepping up to try to assist or avert.

Sorry, this is kind of turning into a rant about photography, and that’s not what I was really meaning to do. I want my son to have happy memories with me, because I don’t get to see him nearly enough. Yes, I could splurge and buy him whatever the newest trendy whatever out there, but that’s just a thing, and he’s going to lose interest in it and it will eventually get sold, or lost, or hidden away in a corner someplace where it won’t be thought of again. Instead of buying my son things this past Christmas, I took him places, and maybe taught him a few things. I got him up close and personal with a Ferrari 458 Especial, and then went into great detail with him about what makes it so especial. I took him up to the hills near Los Angeles and we went whipping crazily through some fantastic windy roads at roller coaster speeds while I explained controlling the car using minimal pedal work and a lot of gear shifting. I took him to the Hotel del Coronado and explained the history of it and why it’s important to recognize good architecture. I like to think that those memories will stay with him much more vividly than something I could have purchased from a store.

I’m also hoping that I taught him that photographs last forever. Especially now in the digital age. Once a photograph is posted online, it can never really disappear again. Someone could grab a screenshot of that embarrassing photo and it can come back to haunt you later in life. Do you really want a future boss seeing that photo of you dancing in your underwear on a pool table while completely hammered? That might be a memory you’d rather forget, but once it’s out there, it can come back to bite you on your mostly naked butt.

There are few things sadder to me than going on a date or meeting up with friends and everyone is immersed in their own little world on their mobiles. Mobiles have their place in society, and social media can be a good thing when used for the right purpose: staying in touch with loved ones. The problem is that we’re losing touch with the loved ones who are right here with us. Next time you meet a friend for coffee or a drink, put the mobile away and actually interact with that someone you’re with instead of taking a picture of your drink and posting it online. Six months later, if you were to look at that lovely picture of a latte with a heart drawn in the foam on top, are you going to remember what you talked about? Probably not (unless your memory is quite a bit better than mine, which is entirely possible).

The world is a beautiful and amazing place, and yes, there are times when you see something so breathtaking that you want to capture that memory in a photograph. Just don’t forget to remember where you were, who you were with, and why that something was so spectacular. Enjoy each of the moments for what they are, while you’re going through them. Live your life instead of just collecting photos of it. You don’t get a do-over. Keep the bad pictures along with the good, because they can be great to cheer you up later when things aren’t going so great. Would that first kiss be better or worse if you were trying to make sure you had the perfect camera angle to capture the shot? I’m glad there were no cameras around when I had my first kiss, but I can still recall the night perfectly.

Alzheimer’s runs in my family, so I may lose my memories some day, if I live that long. That’s okay though. Chances are, I wouldn’t remember from looking at photos anyway. Until then, I’ll continue spending time doing things with or without other people, focusing on the important things, not just the composition of the shot.

It’s 3:30 am on a Thursday morning and I can’t sleep

So, the next best thing I can do is try to clear out my head by compiling lists of things I need to get done in order to figure out what I’m doing with my life. One thing I’m doing this year – for sure – is participating in Nanowrimo, the annual “write a novel in 30 days” challenge that begins November 1 and runs through the end of the month. I have no idea what my novel will be about, but maybe it will help me get my butt in gear and actually accomplish something productive for the first time in what seems like forever.

I’ve had a bad week so far. So many things have gone wrong in so many ways, I can’t even begin to explain why it’s bad, but I’m sure part of it is the impending arrival of November and December. Those are always really bad months for me, emotionally. October usually isn’t great either, but I can usually muddle through it with only occasional spells of depression. This year seems to be worse in terms of my mental health, and I don’t see that improving much over the next few months. I’m just desperately hanging on until things get better. I hope they get better.

Every day, my desire to get out of San Diego grows stronger and I feel the melancholy ache of knowing that I don’t belong here. This is not my home. (Most of) the people here are not my people. I need to be back in the place where I was happy. I’m trying to figure out all my loose ends so that I can wrap them up, so when that magical day comes when I am finally released from worker’s comp hell, I can load up and head east. The longer I stay here, the more I realize that it’s slowly killing my spirit.

The depression is really strong right now, and I think it’s going to get much worse before I can drag myself out again. Lots of Xanax and chocolate, hugs from my cat, and occasional messages from friends are all that are keeping me going right now. I’m lost. I’m alone. I want to go home again. Is it too much to ask the universe to just kick a favour my way just once?

Cars, music, and broken abandoned things

I was in a discussion recently with a great friend (whom I’ve yet to meet in person) who lives in Detroit. She’s an amazing artist and photographer, and through her, I’ve come to appreciate the forgotten city. When people think of Detroit, it’s often in relation to the breakdown of the automotive industry and the horrible recession/depression that destroyed so many livelihoods so quickly. I jokingly commented that I relate to Detroit, because the three things the city is known best for is cars, music, and broken abandoned things. I have a deep and abiding love of cars, music runs through my soul, and anyone who has read any of my past posts knows that I am a broken abandoned thing.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote “The world breaks everyone, and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places.” I’ve not had the easiest life, but I know others who have had it much worse than me. I grew up with the knowledge that I would only ever be second best, behind my sister. It didn’t matter how well I did, how smart I was, how much I tried. I would never be the golden child. That was the first crack. I started dating and discovered that I am drawn to abusive men, either physically or mentally. More cracks. I’ve never been good enough, and because of this, I get cast to the wayside. I am a broken abandoned thing. I’m still waiting to find out if I’m stronger at the broken parts.

Here’s the irony: broken abandoned things can be beautiful. Looking at photographs of abandoned factories in Detroit, I see all the years of history and feel the pulsating energy that once filled those buildings. I don’t see rubble, I see memories. I try to look objectively at my life and see the beauty, and that’s a lot harder. Some breaks can’t be fixed. How do you get over hearing “you’re worthless” and “you’ll never be good enough” continuously without it slowly eating away at your soul?

My answer is a little 10 pound charcoal tabby and white cat affectionately known as Tiggy. He’s also a broken and abandoned thing. He was handed to me through a car window, and the woman (girl, really) who handed him to me promptly drove off, leaving a very scared cat in my arms. I took him home because I was still devastated by the loss of my previous cat Moo. Three days after bringing him home, he started peeing outside the litter box. That’s a common sign of a urinary tract infection, so I rushed him to the vet and it was confirmed. She also told me that during her scans, she discovered that he had a history of untreated urinary tract infections and that his bladder, kidneys, and urethra were terribly scarred and that he would be an expensive cat to keep because of these medical problems. She also told me that he had fractured ribs (and I recently discovered that he also had broken vertebrae in his back which have since fused and cause him to hunch over when he sits). At that point, he was literally a broken and abandoned thing.

I had a gaping wound in my heart from the loss of my Moo, so I told the vet that he was my cat, he needs me, and I would do whatever it takes to make things right for him. Thankfully, a proper diet has solved his UTI problems, his ribs healed on their own, and he loves me unconditionally. He’s no longer broken, and he’s definitely not abandoned, but that’s because the universe set out to put him in my path at the time I needed him most, and he needed me most.

I don’t think I’ll ever get past the feeling of being broken and abandoned. Too many harsh words, too many physical wounds, too many people walking out on me when I needed them most. Until then, I listen to a playlist of musicians who make me happy and I seek out cars that lift my soul. I try to remember that breaks can be repaired, but those repairs will always be imperfect. I try to accept that I am me, and to shut out those people who don’t like me or want to change me.

I look forward to finding happiness again someday. Lately, that’s been difficult. I disappeared from writing for a long while because my life had become so painful that metaphorically slashing my wrists to let the poison run out was too much to bear. The past month has been a roller coaster of emotions. The ascent so high I felt like I was flying, only to be followed by the let down that reminded me that I am a broken and abandoned thing who doesn’t deserve happiness. My depression is lying to me again. I do deserve happiness, I just need to remember that it comes from myself, not from anyone else. I’m sorting through a lot of emotions and dilemmas right now, and flowing words are how I function best. There will probably be many posts over the coming days, weeks, months, even possibly years. Many of those posts will conflict with each other as I argue with myself, and many will probably be repetitive. I apologize in advance if you’ve gotten this far.

Thing(s) that I am grateful for today: Driving around in a light drizzle with the top down and Matt Nathanson blasting on the radio. The soft, extra fluffy white belly that my cat loves to have rubbed. Dark chocolate M&Ms.

What we want, what we get

That’s a favourite song of mine, by Dave Barnes. It’s an oddity to me because it’s a breakup song, but the lyrics call to me in a way that not many songs do. (I highly recommend searching out the song and listening to it sometime) The gist of it is that what we want is not always what we get – in case you didn’t figure that out by the song title. I think we all have those things that we want, that we know we’ll never have, but which doesn’t stop us from wanting them regardless. Sometimes even selfishly.

When I moved back to San Diego in July 2008, I told myself that it was a temporary thing while I sorted out several life altering things that had turned my world upside down. My goal was always to get back to the place I loved. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is back in South Carolina. Well, here I am 7 years later, and I still haven’t made it back “home.” I’ve gotten to the point mentally where I question myself as to whether I love South Carolina because that is where I truly was at my happiest (barring a couple really bad months) or if I’m fondly remembering a place that my mind has altered to seem better than it really is, simply because I despise San Diego so much. And I do despise San Diego that much. The only things I love about this place are a few people who have made my life richer by being here.

Everything happens for a reason, and right now, I’m extremely torn. It looks like I will be given the opportunity to relocate back to my beloved Carolinas as soon as my knee is completely healed, and that is screwing me up mentally. I loved the Carolinas very deeply. Maybe because it was my first taste of true independence. I basically threw a dart at a map and ended up there by chance when I had the opportunity to escape San Diego back in 2004. I drove for three days with a two year old and two crying cats, arriving in the middle of a hurricane. Ivan, if you care. From the very first day, I was in love. I’d never seen a place so lush and green, with water everywhere and gorgeous old buildings.

The longer I stayed, the more I loved it. I met some incredible people and found my way to a job that I actually really enjoyed, and at the end of the day, I could dip my feet into a lake or stream and mentally escape. It wasn’t all wine and roses though. Towards the end, some things happened that caused me to move back to San Diego. I started regretting that decision almost as soon as I started driving west, and by the time I reached the California border, I had to pull over because I was crying so hard that I couldn’t see. I hated myself for moving back and swore that as soon as I could afford to, I’d head east again.

Then, the doubts crept in. Do I love the Carolinas or do I just despise San Diego and anywhere else would be better? I flew back to Charlotte for my birthday the following February, and said that the only gift I wanted was to see snow. It almost never snows in the Piedmont, so I knew it was a long shot, but minutes after I collected my rental car and started driving to my friend’s house where I would be staying, the flurries started. It felt like the Carolinas were welcoming me back with open arms and begging me to return. Getting on the plane to return to California hurt even worse than driving away. I told myself then that I couldn’t return unless I was returning for good. It was like running into an old love from whom you parted amicably. Best not to spend too much time or mental energy chasing down all the what ifs. And there are a lot of what ifs.

So, what’s next for me? If everything falls into place, do I return to my true love knowing that time changes things and that the enchantment may no longer be there? Heraclitus once said “You cannot step twice into the same river” and that is true. By your second step, both you and the river have changed. I just don’t know how the changes I’ve undergone over the past seven years will affect my love of a place that once filled me with happiness. Perhaps I should consider a new place to call home, so I’d be out of my hated San Diego, and can keep my fond memories of the Carolinas as fond memories. Maybe I should stay in San Diego and remember that the people I love here outweigh the hatred I have for the city. I’m lost. I’m confused. I’m even a little bit scared. This is something I’ve wanted so badly for so long that I no longer know if I actually want it or if the wanting of it is just a mental twist. Sometimes, having mental illness really sucks. I can’t trust my brain to tell me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A niggling thought in the back of my mind is yelling to GO FOR IT! Even if it’s no longer the perfect oasis that I remember, I still have a support system there, and it would be better than living somewhere I hate.

I am covered in moss – not literally

If a rolling stone gathers no moss, I am covered in moss. I’ve spent the last 15 months doing a whole lotta nothing, and it sucks. My knee is worse now than it was when I originally hurt it in September 2012 and I don’t see any sign of it being repaired any time soon. Every day I faithfully check the mailbox to see if I’ve received a determination from the state, and every day the mailbox mocks me with its emptiness.

So, time to do something different. Waiting impatiently isn’t helping me at all, so I need to find some sort of action. I crochet a lot, and post items for sale on my etsy page, but I’m certainly never going to make a living at it. I can’t do any type of meaningful work because I’m on disability, so I can’t earn any income or they’ll look at it as worker’s comp fraud. That assumes I would even be able to do a real job, considering that I need to keep my knee iced and elevated at almost all times or it locks up and gets very painful.

I’ve frequently been told I’m a good writer. People have said that they enjoy my writing style and like reading my posts and short stories, so I’m going to attempt a book. The only thing that’s been stopping me is the starting. I have nothing else going on in my life, so why not spend those useless hours pouring forth my soul in word form and see what happens. Even if I never get published, at least I can say I wrote a book once. Who knows, maybe it will even be good?

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