a young girl sitting by a tree

“Hey, what’s up?”

Sometimes, these words can be all I need to hear to make my day. Other times, my heart will start pumping as if something has gone terribly wrong, as if the end of the world is approaching

This is part of my daily battle with anxiety

As someone who’s always struggled with “high-functioning” anxiety, I have learned to cope over time. Taking a second to breathe can sometimes be all I need to get through a tough day. Other times, I need to run away and hide so I don’t have to deal with anything that will make me shake with fear.

Simple tasks like going to a party with my friends can literally drive me into a state of worry that would probably scare most people. I can shake, cry and panic before I leave my house, but as soon as I leave and face the fear of going, I find myself asking why I got into such a state before I left. Sometimes, all I need is a bit of confidence and I can quench my fear, other times I need more support. In ideal situations I don’t panic, but unfortunately this can be far from my reality.

Halloween, funnily enough, is the time of year I feel most comfortable; my mask of being “a normal girl” is finally acceptable to everyone else who is dressing up as something for fun. I often feel like I don’t need a costume as I feel like I’m constantly pretending to be something else, hideing a huge part of who I am. My inner thoughts and my exterior actions often portray two completely different emotional states, a trait that is commonly seen in those who deal with “high-functioning” anxiety.

The strangest thing is, most people don’t know I struggle with this. From the outside, I seem friendly and at times, I can be quite a humorous young woman. I appear organized, I’m always on time and I try to be on top of my workload. I feel I am a person someone one may call a “perfectionist.” I rarely open up and keep my anxiety at bay, but when it pounces, an alter ego, who quite frankly scares me, can appear. Some of my best friends haven’t the slightest notion what I’m going through, I feel my family don’t really understand. “Don’t worry,” they say. “It’ll all be fine.”

“Don’t worry” is, in my opinion, one of the worst phases for someone with anxiety to hear. We don’t worry in a way other people do; it’s not something we’re able to control. If I could change one thing about myself, it would be having the ability to control my mind going off on tangents on the simplest of things.

Is my hair OK? Do I look OK? Oh God, they’re talking about me; no wonder nobody likes me. No wonder everybody leaves me. Oh God, they’re looking at you, definitely talking about you. Your grades aren’t good; why don’t you work harder? Why did I even bother coming today, no one would notice if I didn’t come.

All of these thoughts aren’t baed in truth. They may sound petty or like I’m attention-seeking, but in my case, this is the last thing they are. I just don’t like asking for help. I am not comfortable with the concept of somebody else having to look out for me, but sometimes this is all I need. I am too scared of judgment, too afraid of being left alone, too afraid of losing that support system before I confide in the first place.

In the times when I lose control, it can last months. I could be fine one minute, but end up in tears the next. When I get this low, there is one phrase that can help me get back on my feet.

Three words. Eight letters.

I know what you’re thinking, but I’m not about to go all Chuck Bass on you.

“Are you OK?”

This simple phrase has honestly saved me at times. That feeling that someone is looking out for you can make a day in despair turn into that day of relief you’ve been waiting for. Sometimes all one needs is a prompt to let everything out. Letting someone know how you’re feeling can literally be a life changer. From my own experiences with loved ones and friends, I have learned a lot about my anxiety and as much as I hate talking about it, it really is the best thing you can do. No one will know exactly how you’re feeling unless you open up, even if it seems like the scariest thing you could possibly ever do.

In turn, if you noticed you haven’t heard from a close friend or family member in a while, please check in with them. Asking the simplest things can really allow a person with anxiety (or any mental health battle) to feel like they’re appreciated and cared about. Having support is so important for those with anxiety, the smallest of gestures can really be a game changer, no matter how minuscule it may seem.

To those who struggle, know you’re not alone. You may feel other people may not understand, that it’s not that serious as other conditions, or that no one will notice, that you’re better off keeping everything in. Trust me: I’ve learned the hard way that avoiding your emotions is the easy way out of this one. The sooner you deal with your thoughts and begin to think more rationally, the sooner you will be able to live a somewhat “normal” life. I still get those moments of irrational fear, but after I talk about it, I can control it for the most part. If I need to let it out, I let it out in an appropriate manner. By writing, talking, meditation or therapy, whatever works for you, keep doing it. Beginning this journey, no matter how long it takes, will be the best thing you will ever do. I promise.

If there is one thing in this world you can be truly selfish about, it’s your mental health. Treat yourself when you need to, go outside and get some fresh air, don’t limit what you can be because your mind is telling you otherwise. That thought in the back of your mind might still be there, but try your best to block them out. I know how hard it is and my words may just seem like another person who doesn’t understand, but changing my thought pattern is one of the biggest accomplishments I have ever achieved. The hardest part is actually taking that leap into the unknown and trusting yourself for the first time. Once you begin, with patience and time it’ll all get easier. Even doing the simplest things like answering your phone to unknown numbers, or just even going for a walk instead of watching another episode on Netflix can make your head settle a little bit. It won’t be easy, but you’ll get there eventually. The process can be difficult, but the outcome is worth the wait.

Be brave kids, the fight won’t go on forever; the sooner you face the battle, the sooner it’ll end. At the end of every dreary storm, there’s a rainbow full of color waiting for you.

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While a certain new gadget or that perfect getaway might come to mind when someone asks, “What do you want for the holidays?” this year, we’re asking a different question for people in our community who deal with anxiety disorders:

“What do you really want for the holidays.”

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “To be able to love myself as much as I love my fiancé. And by love myself, I mean look in the mirror and see me as a person…. in all honesty, I can’t imagine how it would feel, to believe him, when he tells me I’m beautiful.” — Monica J.

2. “A real day of rest. Most people think a day of rest is a day off from work, but with anxiety you don’t get a day off. There is a way to help though. A day of rest is not having to go anywhere, not having to cook, not having to clean and not having to do anything that isn’t restful. I want to curl up in bed with snacks and a book all day with no interruptions, but it never happens. If my friends and family would each spend a few minutes helping to make sure I could do that it would be more priceless than any store bought gift I could receive.” — Erica B.

3. “A great gift for me would be for people to realize how hard it can be for people like us and to not be so judgmental!” — Melvin B.

4. “I want people to stop asking what I’m doing for the holiday season. When you have no friends or family, every day is the same.” — Jen J.

5. “I would love to have a peaceful, calm, stress-free time (and mind), with my husband, without a panic attack, feelings of fear or tears.” — Leigh J.

6. “To enjoy the moment as it is, here and now. The food, smells, sights, friends, family and laughter. For my mind not to lead me astray into my worries and fears and cut me off from memories to be made. I wish to genuinely smile again without the anxiety monster attached to my head feeding off my energy, personality and ability to learn and concentrate.” — Kyle D.

7. “To finally quiet the constant conversations going on internally, so I can enjoy life, not kind of have a good time as I worry about the next thing, what people think, etc. Maybe I’ll be full of energy too, so I can do more than the minimum to get by.” — Lauren G.

8. “Some of my friends have anxiety disorders as well and so I’m making them ‘self-care kits’ that include things like tea, coloring pages, journal, warheads, mellow mix CD, etc. Things that I think can help in moments of crisis. Things that can distract and calm and ground. So I think that kind of stuff is helpful, things that show you care and maybe can help in crisis even if you’re not physically there.” — Olivia I.

9. “Peace. Peace from worry. Peace from having to have everything constantly planned to perfection, therefore under my control. Peace from being terrified of meeting new people. Peace from being afraid to make new friends. Peace from thinking I’m a terrible person. Peace from a mind that never slows down and is always looking for something to stress over. Peace from always, always being afraid.” — Rachael C.

10. “I already got it: an open-ended invitation to visit family during the holidays at any time, whether it’s during a large gathering or just myself and my dad and step-mum. On my terms. So that it’s the healthiest and happiest for me.” — Chriss T.

11. “To be able to embrace my social anxiety/phobia instead of always trying to erase it. It’s a part of who I am, and it has helped me to understand myself and others so much more than I could have ever though. Also, being able to reach out to those and understand where they are coming from and going through.” — Elizabeth G.

12. “To find the inner strength to face the fears instead of running away from them no matter how small or big they seem to others. That way I can learn I am not my anxiety and that I am my own safe person.” — Samantha H.

13. “To be able to stop overthinking everything around me, from school work, to people talking about me when they aren’t. I just want a moment of rest from the wild ride within my head. I want to be able to enjoy the holiday without feeling anxious with everyone around me.” — Samantha M.

14. “Understanding and bravery. I hate when people get mad for not being able to make a decision right away. You know, when someone says, ‘Hey, let’s go there’ and I can’t say ‘Yes!’ I need time. And I need understanding that if I say ‘No’ it’s not because I don’t want to go, because I really do want to.” — Kristina M.

15. “My mom’s compassion and sympathy. I genuinely believe she thinks I’m making this stuff up.” — Kristin D.

16. “I want to live in the present. I want my husband to not feel like I could break down at any moment and feel frustrated with me. I want to stop clenching my jaw. I want to be able to fall asleep in less than two hours and stay asleep.  I want to not feel panic first thing when I wake up.  I want an end to nervous digestive issues.  I want to be able to feel compassion for myself. I want to go a whole day without saying ‘I’m sorry.’ I want normal breathing to be something that comes naturally. I want to stop having fake fights with loved ones in my head.  I want a nice, peaceful Christmas.” — Gillian S.

17. “To feel like someone outside of my family truly cares. My family is wonderful, but I need my friends, too, and it feels like they’ve all given up on me because my anxiety has pushed them away. I want them to care enough to call or text just to ask how I’m doing. I want them to realize that when I don’t respond right away, it’s not because I don’t want to; it’s because I physically can’t at the moment. I want them to be patient and try to understand that I am trying to get better, and need their support.” — Nikki H.

18. “A full night’s sleep. A brain that can calm down, and the ability to sit in silence and not think of everything that needs to be done, that I did wrong yesterday and five years ago, and that is wrong with me.” — Stephanie H.

19. “I would love to be able to go out to Christmas parties without panicking and having to leave within the first 10 minutes. If there are more then five unrecognized faces, I panic. I don’t want to feel my airways close and feel like I’m on the edge of crying for no reason.” — Jessica H.

20. “That look from somebody that shows they understand and I’m not as ‘crazy’ as I feel sometimes. That my fight is going to be worth it in the end.” — Katherine W.

21. “I wish I was freed from the restraints my brain put on me, so I could use some of my talents, live out some of the dreams I hardly dare to think about and never speak of, and move forward in life and be a productive member of society.” – Line P.

22. “To get into grad school for psychology, so I can help others now that I’m finally managing my symptoms well (specifically would appreciate working at a residential OCD facility). Oh, I know… I’d also like to gain back confidence lost.” — Samantha M.

23. “Enough courage (…and money) to take a serious step forward next year and do something I’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t because of anxiety. Top of the list would be travel, or maybe go back to grad school.” — Sarah R.

24. “I would like to be able to give my friends and family presents with out being so anxious that they’ll hate them I just don’t end up buying them — and then feeling just as bad that I didn’t get them anything…” — Gabby E.

25. “Mine would be for anyone who is battling any mental illness to know how loved and special they are to their friends and family. Remember yesterday, live for today, and dream for tomorrow.” –Heather C

26. “Adult coloring books!” — Kylee C.

27. “I want to feel happy. Like really feel it in my bones. I want to be so happy it consumes me and there is no other room for any other emotions.” — Louise W.

28. “Independence. To be able to do everything nice that is is my mind and in my heart, to face life and to achieve goals and to not feel like a failure. — Karina H.

29. “I just want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and see this amazing women my family, boyfriend and friends see, because all I see is someone who is worthless.” — Tammy Z.

30. “Just a hug from someone who really cares. In my case my very understanding wife. She saved my anxious heart and life.” — Uwe H.

31. “To make it through my children’s holiday concert without a panic attack.” — Marybeth B.

32. “I wish this holiday to gain more control over my anxiety. To be able to use my coping skills without too much trouble. Also for friends support and understanding. I also wish this on others who are struggling as well. Happy Holidays.” — Kayla G.

What would you add to the list?

32 Gifts People With Anxiety Really Want for the Holidays

One of the struggles many people face is having and living with anxiety. Anxiety can be debilitating, to say the least. It can fill your days and nights with paranoia and obsessions over things you may or may not have said or done that day, restrain you from doing things that the average Joe would typically do with no hesitation and destroy your mental daily schedule you made with nothing but good intentions. It incapacitates you to the point where you miss out on social events with your friends and instead, you lie in bed wondering why the heck you can’t just be normal and go out like anyone else would. Can we not feel like this for just one day?

Something that seems to be taboo among the mommy community is feeling like you aren’t cut out for motherhood or “complaining” — for lack of a better word — about how motherhood is just too hard. If you are a young mother with anxiety and try to explain why your kids were just too much for you to handle today, you might as well have walked the plank as you spoke the words. Go ahead and hand out the pitchforks that will pointed and jabbed at you for admitting that today was a struggle to complete.

These days being happy and collected is “in.” It’s not “cool” to be depressed or troubled, so no one wants to hear about it. God forbid anyone admit their kids weren’t exactly filled with rainbows and glitter today. What a terrible, shameful mother you are.

The reality is anxiety makes motherhood a million times harder than it needs to be. When you’re already sleep deprived and lacking the amount of caffeine needed to even have the energy to match your clothes, anxiety is the beast that awakens before you to remind you that today is going to be hell because you can’t handle all the chattering of tiny voices constantly needing something from you, or the ruckus “Hot Wheels” toys make as they fly off your coffee table and the sounds of blocks tumbling all the way down the stairs.

Anxiety is the ghost that haunts every action you attempt to make as it is in your ear whispering, reminding you that you have too much on your plate and need to give up now. Anxiety is the rope tightening around your neck when you’re already in a hurry and can’t catch your breath long enough to remember everything it was you had to do, so you obsess over the things you can’t recall in the first place. Anxiety is the massive elephant in the room blocking your view from reality when you’re trying to maintain your composure as your children are frantically trying to tell you who hit whom, how it all started and what’s wrong with them now. Anxiety is the reason why you scream in order to stop hearing so many thoughts at once and your kids don’t understand what they said to make you so frustrated.

It’s not something easy to talk about with anyone because you love your children more than anything else is this world but sometimes one more word, one more cry, one more spilled glass of juice is enough to set your entire world ablaze.

You are a constant ticking bomb that need not be tampered with but no one on the outside can see it. They never know what they’re dealing with until you’ve had enough and spontaneously combust. It’s no one’s fault but everyone’s fault all at the same time, and you long to find someone or something to blame for how you unreasonably reacted to someone just trying to be there for you. Someone was just trying to love you when you decided their presence was too much for you and you pushed them further away than last time. One day they’re going to decide not to come back and you obsess over that happening, too. Everything is a regret; everything is an obsession; everything is one thing too much.

Anxiety makes your life a lonely place. It creates your own little world inside the world we already live in, where all the things you are most afraid arrive to remind you they’re still watching you. You know the faces of your loved ones are there but you can’t look them in the eyes. You know people are wanting to reach out to you but when they do, you feel the grip of a thousand hands around your neck. Most importantly, you know a few of those hands belong to your children and they’re dying to have their mommy back.

As mothers, we all sometimes feel like we’re screwing up this thing called “life” for our children. Whether you have anxiety or not, you always question whether or not you’re making the right decisions and handling every situation the way you should. With anxiety, however, those questions never end and are on repeat inside your head on top of everything else you feel you must over-analyze — because if you don’t worry about this, then who will? We need to remember to take a step back when we’re getting to the point of becoming overwhelmed. Excuse yourself from the room and count to 10 or 100 or 10,000. Most importantly, apologize to your children when you have a freak out and make sure they are aware they are not why you’re overwhelmed. Let them know it’s hard for Mommy to handle things sometimes and no matter how frustrated she becomes, it will never affect her love for them.

It’s OK to admit you were wrong. It’s OK to admit you didn’t handle things the way you should have. It’s OK to say, “I didn’t get it right today.” What is not OK to say is, “I give up.” Hang in there because you love them. Hang in there because they are your world. Hang in there because they are the only ones that unconditionally love you, even when you can’t love yourself. Hang in there because we all make mistakes.

No matter what society says, you are a fantastic mother because you are resilient. You are strong. You are fierce. You are going to wake up and tackle this day because you know if you come with less than your “A” game, you’ll never get anywhere. Just because some days are harder for you doesn’t mean you aren’t trying your best. It means you put forth more effort to make your days better. You, my friend, are a superhero.

This story originally appeared on Thought Catalog. You can follow this Kelli’s journey here.

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“But you look fine.”

It’s the response I hear every time I tell someone about my battle with anxiety. They always say I look fine, and I probably do. I’ve had lots of practice making sure my outside appearance doesn’t reflect the turmoil going on inside, making sure I appear as put together as I can.

I’ve gotten really good at faking a smile and feigning interest in what people are saying when all I want is quiet. I am a master at pulling myself out of bed when it seems pointless and at making myself eat and sleep so my body is in better shape than my mind. I do it all because I want to make it look like I am in control.

So, yes, I look fine, but only because I am trying to. I’m such a perfectionist I can’t let anyone see me crack. I can’t let anyone see I actually have flaws. I look fine because not looking fine would bring on the onslaught of pity, judgment and questions I just can’t deal with.

I look fine because I want to.

Yet, I’m not. I am not fine. Inside, I am begging my brain to just slow down, forcing myself to not cry, to stay strong and to keep it together. Inside, I am doubting everything I say, questioning everyone who speaks to me and quivering under the weight of everyone’s expectations. I am crumbling on the inside.

If I let the world see the way I felt every day, then no one would know what to do with me. If all of a sudden the perky, smiling, straight-A student was replaced by the crying, fractured person I feel like on the inside, then no one would understand. They would try to fix me, and I don’t want that. I don’t need fixing, not really.

So I make sure I look that way to everybody else. On the inside, my chest is aching, and my mind is spinning as I struggle to keep hold of my own mind. Yet, on the outside, I look fine.

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I’d had panic attacks before, but not like this.

Around January 2014, panic attacks started waking me up on a daily basis. My heart would race, thoughts would flood by mind, and I would feel completely out of control of my body.

So, like any person with control issues, I white-knuckled my way through it.

I felt more and more “off” as the days went on. It was common I would wake up with one of my arms numb from losing circulation. I became more anxious and went to the worse-case scenario, or what my wife and I call, “the WCS.” I was convinced I had a clogged artery or something. I was going to die.

This did not help.

Finally, my wife asked, “Why don’t you go see a doctor?”

Why? Because I can control this! I can “beat this!” Seeing a doctor seemed like giving up. Today, I’m grateful I can laugh at my state of denial. What control?

Growing tired of these constant feelings of pins and needles, I soon found out that to “beat this” involved relinquishing control. If, as for me, your anxiety arises when you feel the need to control your seemingly out-of-control surroundings, the paradox to trust is this: To gain control of your anxiety, you must give up control of it. This relinquishing of control is not at all a sign a weakness. No, it is wise to trust this paradox of our anxiety.

So, I did: I went to a doctor.

There, and the subsequent weeks that followed, I learned four key lessons that began to redeem this anxious period of my life:

1. Medication that used to work can stop working. One thing you must know about me is I inherited high blood-pressure from my grandfather. Into my senior year of college, I started taking daily medication to help gain control of it (which has its own story of relinquishing control). What I found out when I went to this doctor is that some medication stops working. This doctor also has high blood-pressure and said my medication is from the ’70s. This new one will help in my symptoms. He explained some medication just stops working. It just does.

2. Additional medication is not a sign of weakness but helpful in finding your “new normal.” The panic attacks didn’t stop. I saw my family physician and he said the earlier medication was better at curbing anxiety than this new medication. He prescribed me a low anxiety medication that helps me relax before bed. He said, “We’re just finding your new normal.”

3. Sometimes it’s more than just the medication. Another thing my family physician mentioned was that personal issues also play into anxiety. I let him know I had started going to professional counseling just three months prior. It isn’t too surprising now to look back and see all the reasons why my panic attacks started. I was addressing my mental health in ways I had never done before. It was scary and anxiety-inducing. Of course: counseling is a form of giving up control to gain control. I hadn’t gained it yet. I felt out-of-control.

4. Listen to your body: it acts on a subconscious level in accordance with your mind. As I continued down this course of adjusting medication, addressing deep-seated issues through counseling, and inviting safe people into my life to join me in my journey, I started to regain some manageability. The biggest thing is that I have to be honest about my anxiety. Numbing out to my anxiety is to avoid reality. I don’t know how panic attacks work for others because mine are the only ones I can truly draw on from personal experience. For me, panic attacks are warning signs that I’m not completely in-tune to my anxiety and something is not being honestly addressed (a feeling, fear, addiction, etc.). My body and mind want to be in balance, and panic attacks are warning signs that something is out of whack and not being addressed. I need to be on a constant mission of mindfulness and self-discovery.

The blessings of any hard season in your life come from the lessons learned and assign meaning by allowing that season to answer two questions: “Why?” and “Now what?”

For me, Why? Those are outlined above: I had to learn those four lessons. I couldn’t have learned them without giving up control.

So… now what? Counseling and other self-discoveries have pushed me to mine several gold nuggets of wisdom I can’t keep to myself. My “Now what?” took the tangible form of a podcast called, “Your Motivational High 5,” with the tagline: “5-Minute Motivation for Self-Examination.“ At the point of this article, it has been live for 10 months with 150,000 downloads. I’m so grateful the things I am learning are resonating so meaningfully with others all around the world. Maybe the biggest lesson I’m learning is a lesson from my listeners and one I will forever be learning over and over again.

I am not alone.

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Thinkstock photo by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

Recently I graduated high school, which was a huge achievement for me. After being bullied throughout primary school and into the first few years of high school for issues such as my sensitivity, weight, and extreme shyness (which I later learned was tied to my anxiety), finishing high school was a huge goal of mine, one I successfully completed.

I learned of my anxiety during the summer holidays between year 10 and year 11, and everything finally made sense, the missing puzzle piece. I told my closest friends, my best friend of 13 years and my close school group. I also told my parents. I kept it hidden from everyone else. It felt like a secret. I felt ashamed. I thought my anxiety made me weak when in fact it made me strong. It felt like a weight on my shoulders always dragging me down.

Halfway through year 12 I realized my mistake: I had let anxiety, my deepest darkest secret of the time, consume me. So I spoke up. I told more people. I applied for special provisions for the Higher School Certificate (Australian end-of-school exam exams which determine whether or not we get into university), as exam conditions make me extremely anxious. At first I was rejected because none of my teachers knew of my condition; my mistake was made more evident. Eventually I was accepted after speaking to each of my teachers and explaining my situation. I drafted a post which I intended to post on my Facebook account for all my peers to see. I never did post it because I was too scared. It went like this:

Anxiety (noun): a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

I have something I have been wanting to share with you all for a very long while… I have anxiety, and just like my hair, my nose, and my eyes are all part of who I am, my anxiety is part of me too, but it’s also important to realize that I am not my anxiety!

Some may think this is a post to draw attention to myself when in fact it is not. I would much rather not talk about this… but the stigma surrounding mental illness needs to change! I am not my condition! My anxiety does not define me! Yes, sometimes it controls me, but it does not define me!

I just want people to know that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of! Yes, mental illnesses are ugly. Yes, mental illnesses have a detrimental effect on the lives of individuals, but in no way, shape, or form should one be ashamed by this or judged by this!

We need to speak up! We need to help each other!

Be patient with those who have anxiety (and other mental illnesses). It’s hard to talk about and explain to someone else whats going on in your head when even you yourself don’t know.

I wish I had posted this before I finished high school. No more hiding. No more running from myself. I’ve learned to accept the anxiety and I wish I knew it was possible to do so when I was first diagnosed.

Anxiety does not make you weak. It makes you stronger.

Anxiety has made me who I am. It has shaped me.

Anxiety is not something to be ashamed of.

I am now moving on with the next phase of my life. I do not wish to announce to the world that I have anxiety, but I will not hide it. It will not become a secret that I bury deep within myself only to manifest over time.

I read this quote when I was little: “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.” Don’t let your insecurity regarding anxiety (or any other mental illness for that matter) stop you because it is a part of you and you should not be ashamed of it. This is what I wish I had told my high school self.

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Image by Antonio Guillem

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