Woman smiling in front of camera in closeup

On the Monday this picture was taken, I received several compliments at work. When I uploaded this photo as my new profile picture on Facebook the next evening, more than a hundred people liked it, many leaving comments about how beautiful I looked. Yet, I felt like the picture was a façade and a fraud, something I uploaded to show all my “friends” I was happy and pretty, even though I felt like neither.

What no one knows about this picture is I was struggling with my borderline personality disorder (BPD). It was running on full speed. I wanted to self-harm just 15 minutes before because of the number I saw on the scale. Clothes were scattered all over my room because nothing fit or covered up everything I wanted it to hide. I had just taken an extra anxiety pill and was even considering taking a shot of vodka to get me out the door and to work. My head was full. It was loud and inundated with negative internal dialogue. I screamed at myself to stop, said a prayer and quickly walked out the door.

That morning I wanted proof I was a messed up “crazy” person. So I snapped a picture in the hallway of my apartment building. At first, all I saw was the extra weight on my face and my acne-scarred skin and wrinkles. However, I didn’t hate it and decided not to immediately press delete.

Throughout the Monday and Tuesday before I posted the picture of the “happy, pretty me,” I thought a great deal about why I felt that picture was a fake, what I knew no one could tell about my BPD in it and what even I couldn’t see at first glance. I carefully examined the photo and saw what I had missed, the slight sadness in my eyes. Then, it started making sense.

That picture was real and was exactly who I am. I saw I was every bit that sad and happy girl in the picture. I realized those wrinkles and scars are not ugly. They are simply a part of my story. And the extra weight? Well, that was too, because I had gained it during months on a steroid that kept me alive after a severe asthma attack left me with a partially collapsed lung and a 10-day hospital stay.

Everything “wrong” with the picture proved I was alive for a purpose and on an incredible journey. The realness of that picture portrayed me exactly how I was at that moment, a girl battling a severe mental illness. Although the intense emotions that accompany BPD may have been tamed in that picture to everyone else, they were most definitely there in the details.

It reminded me of one of the most truthful quotes I have ever read from “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” It says, “So, this is my life, and I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” And I am perfectly OK with that, whether you can or can’t tell in that picture.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.


“I’m too sad to walk. Just give me a few… hours.” — Sadness from “Inside Out”

Sadness is a complex, compassionate, and pragmatic character from the
movie “Inside Out” who is constantly over thinking situations. She is a realist, and she understands that sadness is a crucial emotion — a powerful and influential emotion. I relate to her as a person with BPD (borderline personality disorder) because she is real life, blunt, and unfiltered.

Sadness is black and white. Her reality is different many times from the other emotions in the movie. When I’m having a “BPD Moment,” as I’ve come to call them, I believe everyone is out to get me. It feels like no one understands me — just like Sadness felt many times throughout the movie. Sometimes, when her life becomes overwhelming, she lies down and cries on the floor. Oh, I can’t tell you how many times I have shut down and cried or slept for hours because of my own overpowering emotions.

Although her sadness is engulfing, Sadness accepts her limitations — she doesn’t feel guilty. When you have BPD, learning to live with your limitations and not holding yourself to unreasonable expectations is a necessary strategy to function well in life.

Sadness is also patient with herself, and she isn’t interested in changing for anyone else. I believe sadness has the most common sense of any emotion.

People who live with BPD realize they must also take their extreme emotions — both good and bad—and make friends with them. Borderline brings not only intense sadness, but also euphoric happiness. All of us with BPD must continually practice strategies to help us successfully ride the roller coaster of emotions we experience on a “normal” day to find the delicate balance between sadness and joy. Although borderline personality disorder makes finding emotional stability tremendously difficult, I will not give up. I refuse to shun any of my emotions or try to keep them buried inside because they make others feel uncomfortable. Through years of therapy, I now know I am allowed, even encouraged, to embrace all my feelings including sadness.

Because Sadness grasps what the other emotions cannot — that without her, there would be no joy; and that joy through sadness is truly beautiful.

woman sitting on a dock by the water

Editor’s note: The following is based on an individual’s experience, and doesn’t necessarily reflect every person with borderline personality disorder.

There are nine criteria to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder — and I want to explain them as someone who has experienced them in an “internal” sense. A lot of these do not apply to me anymore due to my hard work with recovery, but I sometimes struggle with a couple of them.

1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

Sometimes I would have frantic thoughts about how I’m going to handle, manipulate and control certain situations that have not happened yet. During an episode, I can get myself worked up with facts and detailed research about situations that have not happened, making myself extremely upset.

2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

The love-hate relationships, oh yes! I can feel the intensity inside me just thinking about it; feeling so loved, extremely happy and cared about to suddenly feeling forgotten, neglected, or disappointed. I’m feeling that way right now and I’m not even in a relationship. This can happen for me with coworkers or friends, even family members. Usually I don’t say anything because I’m aware it’s not necessarily something that others are doing, it’s just how I’m feeling or it’s just a part of the disorder. In my past relationships before I was diagnosed, the intensity was bad. They were breakdowns over nothing, really. That happened far more than I care to admit.

3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

I was always chameleon like. I adapted and identified myself with whoever I was around or associating with. I never had a personality or a sense of who Kayla was. If someone asked me what I liked, I’d say something I thought that person liked. If I liked what my friends liked, then I wouldn’t feel alone or different and we would all get along better. I was easily convinced others’ ideas and thoughts were always right and I was always wrong. The idea of thinking for myself or working on my own personality was terrifying. I was a follower, I needed decisions and ideas and thoughts to be made up for me. I was scared of being me, scared of being different. I had no sense of self, or what I liked. Now, I can’t tell you how much I love being different. At 27 years old, I finally came into my own. I finally figuring out what I like and don’t like. I discovered a huge sense of self and it is the most liberating feeling. Be you!

4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving).

“Promiscuous sex, alcohol and spending money. If I didn’t feel loved by someone, I was seeking a lot of attention from men just to feel something, anything. There wasn’t even any real connection with the person, I just wanted to feel desired during times I was feeling so empty and alone. At that time, I truly thought my worth was defined by someone loving or not loving me. I would drink often, almost every night. I would spend money I didn’t have, put myself in extreme amount of debt just because shopping was, I thought, therapeutic. Now, I will never put myself in these situations again. Maybe it’s maturity or recovery, but I’ve lost interest in informal sex or drinking heavily. I have gained a major sense of self-respect through this journey. If I feel empty or alone, I embrace it and sleep it off or I will surround myself with positive friends. If I’m dealing with an issue or problem in life, I will face it head on rather than coping in a negative or unhealthy way.

5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.

I have never self-harmed or attempted suicide. I’ve had thoughts of not wanting to live anymore because life became too painful. Yes, I’ve thought about ways I could end my life, but never attempted them. If I didn’t have my two beautiful children, things probably would have been different. They are my life and I can’t and won’t walk away from them. They are the reason I get out of bed every day.

6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).

I’m not sure if people can accurately see how intense my mood is and how quickly it changes. Some say they can, but often times I try to keep it to myself unless I see it affecting somebody else. I get irritable and depressed a lot. I used to have intense anger, but I’ve come a long way with it. My mood swings or episodes can last from a couple hours to a couple days depending on the trigger. Self-awareness is most important because once I realize I’m having an episode, it’s so much easier for me to control my actions. Sometimes it takes a stupid reaction to something to realize I’m not doing OK, but luckily with a lot of work I can catch it before I react. In part due to medication and better understanding of the illness, my episodes happened more often a couple years ago than they do now. If I miss one day of my meds, I will be in a dark place within 24 hours and it’s tough to get out of because I blame myself for causing it, albeit unintentionally.

7. Chronic feelings of emptiness.

Yup! Sometimes I feel so empty I can’t feel emotions. I can’t cry, I can’t feel anger or sadness, I can’t feel sympathetic towards others. I’m not happy or unhappy, I just simply don’t feel a damn thing. I walk around like a robot. This one rarely ever happens for me but when it does, it can be bad. I have nothing inside me to give or care. I have no filter or motivation to care about anyone including myself. I feel useless and helpless. Empty.

8. Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).

Oh boy. I can’t explain how many things I’ve thrown and broken because my anger was so out of control. I had and sometimes still do have a short fuse. I grew up watching it and living with it so I became it. I didn’t know how to control it or work on it. Now with therapy, I can’t remember the last time I reacted on anger, maybe three years ago? I still get angry, that’s an emotion we can get rid of, but I can control it much better than ever before.

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid idealization, delusions or severe dissociation symptoms.

I dissociate in my nightmares at night over traumatic experiences in my childhood, but nothing severe or in the middle of the day. I’ve never been paranoid or had delusions.

Two years into my recovery, I was/am considered in recovery. Today, I don’t meet the number of criteria in the DSM for borderline personality disorder. I do, however, still struggle with my emotions. I will always be an emotionally sensitive person but with my DBT therapy, skills and high emotional intelligence — I’m capable of handling my emotions in a healthy and positive way. Recovery has led me to new clarity and a deep appreciation for life. I hope you can take something from my personal experience with borderline personality disorder.

WATCH BELOW: Hidden Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder

A lot of moments in life can be defining, even if they seem small. My first one was when my beautiful, wonderful dog (who was just a puppy at the time) took her first steps into my home. It was her unconditional love throughout the majority of my life that birthed my love for animals. I have always wanted to be a veterinary surgeon. Fast forward 17 years and I’m not only a vet student, but I’m studying at Cambridge. My dream truly is set to be a reality.

Yet, I found myself sitting through another defining moment in a small room in A+E (the U.K.’s Accident & Emergency mental health crisis services). This was not my first trip, but it was the first time I sat in the hospital in my hometown. It was midnight. My parents had dragged me there at their wit’s end with worry. They had no idea what to do with a son who was blind to everything but the desire to take his own life.

Mental health teams in Cambridge had discharged and dismissed me up to this point with comments such as, “I think you are actually in control of your emotions.” It is for this reason I had lost faith and, running out of options, I had come back home with my parents.

In this hospital, it was different. The lady opposite me listened for four solid hours. She wrote notes on everything: being picked on in school for my weight and sexuality, disordered eating, turbulent and dysfunctional relationships (which other mental health professionals, in their own ignorant discrimination, have called “typical of a gay man my age”), bouts of psychosis and paranoia, self-harm and emotional instability. This instability fluctuated from suicidal depression to extreme elation, anxiety or anger in a matter of hours. The persistent suicidal ideation is why I sat before her.

The situation I had come in for and the information I had given were exactly the same as that I gave other mental health teams. The response was profoundly different. To me and my parents, she gave me her measured response, “Let me be clear: You are not in control of your emotions. You are very ill. I think you need to take sick leave from university.” These words cut through me, but she offered hope.

At the time, it was assumed I could have bipolar disorder, but nothing was certain. With this in mind, she reassured me even doctors lived with mental illness and it would not be an obstacle. All I needed was time away to recover, a dream halted, not ruined.

I had an appointment with a psychiatrist back in Cambridge that had been arranged last time I visited A+E there. The mental health worker said she would send her four-hour assessment to the team there. They would assess me with all the necessary information.

So, a few days later, I was in Cambridge again at my appointment. The doctor sat down and told me he had no notes on me, apart from some very scant words from a visit to hospital the year before. He had none of the notes from the nurses’ hours of work in the past month in either Cambridge or in my hometown. I, of course, asked him to retrieve them, to which he refused. I told him my plans for treatment back home, and he angrily retorted he could do very little for me, except give me a diagnosis. He dismissed any ideas I had about the possibility of bipolar disorder and told me I had borderline personality disorder (BPD). He offered no explanation as to what this was. Stressed from the situation, my nose started bleeding. He continued to tell me there was no drug treatment.

I ended the appointment abruptly, very uncomfortable. As I left, he said the words that will remain with me the rest of my life, “I think you should give up Cambridge. Not for one year, completely. You clearly can’t handle the pressure.”

That sentence still stings now. I sat in the car with my dad, sobbing, on the phone to the mental health team back in my hometown. They arranged an appointment with another psychiatrist and confirmed I would be able to access services there on sick leave. The same week, I packed up my room and left. I remember driving away, thinking about the doctor, and saying to my dad, “It feels like all my dreams are dying.”

I am infinitely lucky. I was and still am incredibly grateful to have had access to services that, no matter what my opinion, saved my life on numerous occasions. They were focused on making me healthy again. I have friends and family who go above and beyond to support me, understand me and love me (and I hope I can return the same sentiments). While I have worked hard, I have a lot of privilege that has allowed me to get a good education and follow my dream of becoming a vet. I know a lot of people do not and will never get this amount of opportunity.

My mental health was at rockbottom regardless of that. Mental health issues are indiscriminate and attack people in all walks of life, trying to get in the way of whatever personal progress people want to make. Thus, I did not let this doctor’s (probably well-meaning) words define me or shape my future. My diagnosis surprised me, but reading more into it, I realized my symptoms fit. I knew, like bipolar or depression that I had been misdiagnosed with previously, it was treatable.

With this in mind, what followed was long and hard on me, my family and my friends. I spent every day of the two weeks surrounding Christmas as an outpatient at my local acute, mental health hospital in intensive therapy. There, clinical psychologists explained the ins and outs of my illness. Crucially, they recognized academic pressure was not the underlying cause and I could return to study veterinary medicine when I recovered. A new doctor changed and increased my drug treatment. These appointments, though only small things, bolstered my confidence. I would get better.

I was referred onto therapy specific for BPD, which taught emotional regulation, interpersonal skills and distress tolerance. These eliminated old coping mechanisms like disordered eating, alcohol dependency, self-harm and suicidal ideation and replaced them with more healthy ones. They filled the empty hopelessness and the uncertainty of where my life was going. They taught me to create long-term goals. One goal was to use my time off university to take an exam in flute performance, a hobby in disuse due to the stresses of my illness. I learned how to change my own perceptions of abandonment and criticism, my emotional reactions and to incorporate a sense of rationality through mindfulness. I met a group of fantastic, brilliant people to learn from and share experiences with.

I took the flute exam. It’s very likely I didn’t pass, but it was good to show myself I could put my mind to something again. I completed and continue to use the psychological and drug therapy. All the symptoms of my BPD became manageable. I took time out to recover. It took diligent work. The support of my therapy group, my family and friends were instrumental in recovering. I owe so much to all of them.

A few weeks ago my doctor signed off a letter approving my return to university in October. Through the many hard years and the terrible experiences I had, I was blessed to end up having a positive outcome and good treatment. I know this is a story so many people in a similar situation have not been entitled to.

Mental health services in the U.K. are in disarray, underfunded and too inconsistent in different areas. Something must be done to change this crisis. If you are living with BPD or live with any other mental illness, then you should know you are not alone. There is hope, and the fight, even for the little things (like getting out of bed in the morning), is worth it. I spent years thinking recovery was impossible or a dream. Now I’m here, admittedly still with my bad days, but looking forward to the future.

So, the only thing I want to say to that doctor is: thank you. You are a good doctor. Our short meeting and my interpretation of events were not representative of that. For this, I’m sorry. However, you should know your throw-away comment inspired and still does inspire me to get better, to love my life, to keep going and, most importantly, to prove you wrong.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

This is my story of what some of my nights are like with borderline personality disorder (BPD). I wanted to write this to show the number of thoughts that go through my head because of my condition. I wanted to show their randomness, speed and how difficult they are to control. Secondly, I wanted to write about my amazing partner, who has given me unconditional love, kindness and patience and who always wakes up with a smile, even at 1:56 a.m.

11:23 p.m.– I, sleepily, wake up on the couch.

11:24 p.m.– I am wide awake and can’t go back to sleep. Why can’t I ever just sleep? Just one night. Remember the relaxation techniques. Quickly, go to bed. No light. No phones. That’s what it says to do. Why is it like this? He really needs to get this snoring sorted out. Ten deep breathes. That will help. 1, 2… it’s not working. Get up quickly, before it starts.

11:25 p.m.– I drink a glass of water. I walk around the house, pee and get back to bed.

11:26 p.m.Please sleep. Please sleep. Please sleep.

1:52 a.m.– I am wide awake, again. I look at the time. Three more hours and I can get up without it being weird. Tomorrow will be different. It has to be different. If I do all the right things, then I will sleep. Tomorrow is a new day. If I start exercising tomorrow, then I can be skinny by summer.

It’s hot in here. Is the heater off? Don’t eat tomorrow and exercise. There’s nothing to do tomorrow. Tomorrow I am by myself all day. Why don’t I have any friends? Why doesn’t anyone want to help me? After everything I have done for people, and now I am the one who has to feel like this and live like this?

What is the point of even living? I have no purpose on this earth. How many pills are in the kitchen? Not enough. I just need help. Why won’t someone help me?

I need to pay childcare and internet bills. I have no money. I need to go back to work. I’m too sick to go back to work. I’m too “crazy” to work, too tired to work, but I need money. I have no time to get better. There’s never any time to get better.

I just want this to stop. Why can’t it just stop? Just for one second, ever. What kind of a life is this when your worst enemy is your mind? I hate this so much. Just go to sleep. Just go to sleep. It’s not working. It never works. Someone help me. Make this stop. I just want to be happy. Why am I being punished like this? What did I do?

1:53 a.m.– It’s getting bad. Between the thoughts blaring at me, my mind is frantically grasping at the techniques I have learned to stop this from getting worse. Ten deep breathes. Mindfulness. DBT. F*ck. I am done. I can’t do this all the time. I can’t even just think. I have to stop this.

1:54 a.m.– Can I wake him up? He has work today. Try and calm down. Just get up again. I just did that. I am so tired, all the time. What is the point of this? I can’t do this forever.

I need help. Maybe I should go back to the hospital? I don’t want to go back to the hospital. I can’t go back to the hospital. They will take my kids away. I need to calm down. No one can take my kids away. I am a good mum. I am a good mum. No, I’m not. My kids are better off without me. I miss them. I want them here. I just want a normal life. I just want my kids.

This is too hard. No one should have to live like this. This is an awful illness. No one should have to do this. How are people living like this? It will never stop. I’m scared. I need help. This isn’t stopping.

1:56 a.m.– “Babe? Baby, please wake up. I’m not good.”

1:57 a.m.– A hug. A smile. He is perfect. I am the luckiest person in the universe.

1:58 a.m. – He would be better off without me. How does he even live like this? He can’t even sleep without me annoying him. One day he will see this is a big mistake and leave. I have to be OK if he does. So if he ever wants to go, he can. I don’t want him to stay because I am like this. Why would anyone want to be with me? My own family don’t want to be around me, why would he?

1:59 a.m.– He takes me back to the couch. We are talking. A hug. A kiss. My mind calms.

2:15 a.m.– I’m falling asleep. I need to get back to bed.

4:59 a.m.– I’m awake. It’s morning. It’s another day. I’m scared. Please, be a good day.

5:00 a.m.– I’m startled by a loud snore next to me. Looking over, I know even if it’s a bad day, I’ll still be OK.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

A Night With Borderline Personality Disorder

It’s summer again! Sun, sea, cheery children and happy families all over Facebook and everywhere you look. It is also a time when my borderline personality disorder (BPD) rages and rants like a snubbed toddler. It is when the full extent of my “damage” shows itself in glorious technicolor, to anyone who happens to be looking.

I’ve spent the majority of my 43 years watching others on the beach, in the street, on the news and now, in this digital age, on the internet. Sunblushed children, “yummy mummys,” giggly “date nights,” gangs of extended family and friends in tow. It all looks so right. It looks so normal, so great. Yet, it is all utterly foreign to me.

My brain illness sets me apart and colors me in grey. With a concerted, exhaustive effort I can just about act like I fit in, for maybe half a day. I can wear the right cosmetics (but never the bikini) and “blend” in with a group of friendly strangers who don’t notice or mind me photobombing their lives for an hour or two. Truthfully, life doesn’t work that way for me, and I can’t see how it ever could.

I can’t go to the beach with my kids. Well, not without wearing jeans, trainers and a button up coat. I can’t bear the physical exposure, the perceived judgments. I give myself so many limitations. I feel so inadequate amongst those “other mothers.” Where they seem so warm, open and filled, I judge myself to be cold, distant, frightened and empty. They are at ease enough to “have a drink,” to lower their inhibitions and necklines with admirable abandon. They are au naturel, with no desire to make up their faces when the bright and friendly sun is happy to bring out their natural glow. They are comfortable with their imperfect bodies, letting go of constraints so effortlessly or so it seems.

How increasingly envious I feel seeing this through the safe and anonymous eyes of Facebook, all my deepest horrors rise to the surface. My misconceptions, which are common amongst people with BPD, mean I assume everyone else is happy. I catastrophize everything, waiting for the walls to come crashing in, as surely they must. (A tsunami in Cornwall? Rare, but still!)

I feel ruined. Worst of all, my children miss out. They can’t have those fun-filled, carefree beach days, not with me. My social reasoning is so impaired. I dissociate further and the instability of my self-image leads me down into the darkness of self-loathing (with a hefty double side order of guilt.)

I am capable of losing myself on the internet in a positive way sometimes, mainly during the other three “safer” seasons. I like looking for support groups. I have a thirst for information, a need to find answers and a quest to locate “fun.” I look at beautiful, dark architecture, multi-colored clowns and elderly rescued Labradors, and I like it. Yet, as the weather gets warmer and the good and the sane jet away to further shores, documenting it all gleefully on Facebook, my paranoia starts to kick back in. I have the suspicion that all my (so-called) FB friends are doing it just to spite me. Irrational, right? Well that’s the name of the game.

My symptoms start to rumble and flicker, then spring to life in all their jangled toxicity. They hadn’t gone. They were just in hibernation. I can’t afford to take my children away, even if I could stand to. My marriage has failed. I’m trapped. The kids must hate me. I’m confused, sad and lonely and on and on and on.

Watching these seemingly easy family holidays transpiring via sparkling satellite racks me with regret about every element of my life. It is hard to live with. My kids never see me barefaced or barefooted. My self-doubt and prickling anxiety forbids it. This leads to anger, anger at myself, at those healthy, wonderful “other mothers,” and at God himself for having cursed me with this illness.

The impotence of this self-hate becomes too much. All too often, walls get secretly punched. The sudden and immediate pain extinguishes my overstimulated senses, but only for a while. Then, the tears arrive. Tears of grief at the notion of a better life denied to me by genes, early experiences and rotten luck. I grieve the life we could have had if this illness not had been written through my core, like the words through a stick of seaside rock.

So this year, as the planes fill up with trios, quartets, droves of fun seekers, eager to dance their easy dances on beaches, in restaurants and in theme parks everywhere, I will find a way to ride my own wave. This year, I have a better reason than ever to try harder. My kids are growing up. They are more aware and more observant. Hiding my pain behind this mask of normalcy won’t fool them for much longer.

So off the laptop will go, as well as the internet and TV. Instead of yearning for a slice of someone else’s easiness,  I will work with what I have, and I do have quite a lot, an inquiring mind, a tenacity born of desperation, a much loved big brother and four fabulous children.

Tomorrow, I will be with my (no longer so little) babies, hearing and seeing them, not just nodding and smiling at them through the smeared and confusing partition of guilt that has traditionally obscured our view of each other. They can visit the beach with their father, then they come home to me. I will hear their tales of adventures with my own two ears, consciously unfiltered by the old, ruinous feelings of uselessness.

Because I’m not (totally) useless. I may not (yet) have found a way to wear a pretty, yellow maxi dress and frolic with abandon on the sand. Yet, I refuse to waste another summer yearning for another life, a life that may just remain but is too far out of reach.

Image via Thinkstock.

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