5 Things I Wish My Employers Knew About Anxiety

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I have been wanting to write this for a while — for three months, in fact. The thing is, however, that between my anxiety and my first foray into the workplace, I haven’t been all that together lately. Coming into the world of work (as they keep telling me it’s called) carrying my anxiety with me has been like carrying a giant orangutan on my back. (For a very funny real example watch this great advert by a staple in South African culture here.)

Having a mental illness in the workplace is still more hushed than most spaces I’ve encountered. I’ve seen it unspoken in school, broached in University, and now it’s back to unspoken. Having a mental illness in the workplace is vastly prolific, yet still not as addressed as issues like chronic illness and lifestyle diseases (which are very worthy of being addressed, of course). A study in South Africa, where I live, found that almost a quarter of the workforce were diagnosed with depression.

So while I’m carrying my monkey on my back, I suspect so are a large portion of my co-workers. But so far, no one has addressed this. Here is what I wish my employers knew, so I could be supported instead of feeling like hiding.

1. Anxiety doesn’t make me less productive.

Just because I have a mental illness (multiple in fact) does not make me or any other person less employable. In fact, those with mental illnesses often have very hard-won coping mechanisms that enable us to deal with daily life effectively. These coping mechanisms have helped me in my own life — things like recognizing and practicing self-care, learning to prioritize stresses and let go of ones if I can, and taking time out to regroup. I can function both because of and despite my anxiety.

2. My mental illness needs to be acknowledged.

My mental illness may affect my daily life and make certain tasks more difficult. Certain periods are much harder when I’m having a bad cycle, and having the support and understanding of my co-workers would mean the world to me to banish the nagging negative self-talk that often accompanies a bad phase. Acknowledging my mental illness could help me realize I have nothing to be ashamed of, a thought that often strikes when I’m in the middle of something — like a panic attack in the bathroom, which happens all too often. I might need the understanding to have my own way of working, whether it’s rejecting the very popular open-plan workspaces, or needing personal meetings to maintain direction.

3. I am not about to fall apart.

I may have my fragile moments, but I am not fragile. I have come this far and I intend to keep pursuing my goals, with my anxiety along for the ride. But…

4. I might feel like I’m about to fall apart.

Just because I have survived thus far doesn’t always mean I remember that or feel like it will always be true. An encouraging word here and there helps to remind me I am successful, despite what I may be thinking.

5. I might miss work, but it’s not because I’m lazy.

Sometimes I may need a day to sleep, rest, catch up on self-care and generally recharge to be able to function at work. Not allowing me the time to have a day off without needing a doctor’s note may make me push through when my reserves are already at 1 percent.

6. I might need some help adjusting.

These five steps could help validate, support and encourage me at work. In essence what someone needs from an employer is understanding and the space to come forward with personal battles without being belittled, unheard or disregarded. In this way, the workplace can become less about the unseen monkeys being carried, and more about the joint efforts going into work with them. In fact, if I could talk about my monkey, maybe my employer could reveal theirs. In this way, work becomes less about hierarchies and unseen despair traps, and more about shared experiences and the ability to work together, instead of work apart.

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Thinkstock photo via demaerre.

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How I Explain What's Going on With My Anxiety

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Baking and cake decorating calm me. I don’t know why. I didn’t do it prior to my “implosion” last year, yet it is without a doubt my calming technique.

Sadly I know there have been comments by people questioning how I can do all my baking and set up BuBakes when I am “sick,” and to those people, I can only say that they perhaps don’t understand the kind of “sick” I am. That’s absolutely fine — I didn’t understand it before, and I still can’t fully get to grips with it now.

That’s exactly why I want to try to articulate some of what I experience. This is not an attempt to preach, to educate or to self-promote. It is simply a step for me as I aim to do my bit to reduce the stigma around mental health.

I will try to keep it succinct, relevant and clear. I just hope this gives an insight into the ways my anxiety has affected me over the past 12 months.

It is important to remember anxiety is not one-size-fits-all; people have different triggers, ways of coping and struggles. These do not always make sense, and they cannot necessarily be pinpointed. I still can’t speak to someone I know on the phone without it becoming a real ordeal, yet I can go to a foreign country and speak to a sales assistant there. Go figure. The following is all purely my experience, and while there are similarities between people I would never profess to be speaking on behalf of all those who experience anxiety.

Here goes, some things that are going on in there…

1. It’s exhausting just “being.”

My mind is concocting 100 possible scenarios for every passing moment and they all seem to need processing. It’s like cramming for an exam and trying to work through textbooks full of information all the time. Not just for a few hours — we are talking about every waking moment. No matter what.

2. When told not to worry about something, that isn’t actually an option.

Logically I may know it’s not worth worrying about, but that doesn’t change my feelings. Embellishing on this point — there is no logic. This is torture for someone who likes things to be black and white. Until now I have rarely dealt with gray, let alone a whole spectrum ranging from charcoal to silver, or mercury to light black.

An example of this irrational worrying was when I was sitting in a Starbucks recently. I knew, when I chose to leave, it was highly unlikely I would slip over, trip over a bag, fall through the door and get outside to find someone waiting for me with a gun — all as a pigeon shat on me. However, even though I knew this, I did not feel this. The fear I had was gripping, as though it were a guaranteed series of events. Knowing and feeling are not connected for me at the moment. Frustratingly, this means I know they aren’t connected, but I can’t do anything with this knowledge to regulate my feelings.

3. While I am great at playing devil’s advocate, please don’t assume I’m negative.

Yes, I may not be able to stop myself seeing many negative outcomes, but that doesn’t mean I am a pessimist. In fact, I always try to be optimistic and strive to help my friends see and achieve the positive, and I am incredibly grateful for everything I have.

4. “Friendship” is so much more than a word.

I am floored by how amazing some people in my life are. I know they don’t all fully “get” what is going on with me, yet they love the “me” behind all this confusion.

Recently in Vegas, I had a “bad day”. Even looking at our room door left me shaking and in tears. I was pretty freaked out myself, so I can only imagine how my friend felt. Not only was she faced with a crying incomprehensible wreck, but also she was on holiday and this inexplicable situation was stopping the two of us going out. This friend did the best thing possible — she just sat and held me, then she tucked me up and ventured downstairs to the shop to buy us snacks. What she may never understand is the real comfort was that I knew she didn’t expect or need an explanation. She just let me be.

The knowledge there are people like her in my life is the single greatest comfort I have. This also brings trust to a new level with them, meaning when they say it will be OK I am able to blindly believe it. I may be able to argue against them with examples and facts to the contrary of what they say (devil’s advocate striking again!) but with this select few, I am able to accept they must be right.

5. Sometimes I am still a badass!

I’ve always been of the “grow up and get over it” mindset, which I have discovered doesn’t mesh well with anxiety. It’s simply not possible. Really. It’s not. I tried – and I used to be so good at it! That said, I do occasionally have moments when “Grrr Liz” strikes.

On Monday I went to a networking meeting for the first time. I. Was. Terrified.

Rather than try and put up a front, I tackled the meeting as myself — I opened up about my anxiety at the same time as introducing my business, and I found people accepting both of me and what I was doing. I couldn’t have asked for a better or nicer group of people. The support and inspiration I found was above anything I could have expected; I have received more messages of support and encouragement since the meeting, and I am delighted I went.

When I left I was shaking, and I know, when I go to the next meeting, I’ll be dreading it. This is because my anxiety will heighten. Bigger than this knowledge is the fact I also know that while I may always struggle in social situations, it doesn’t mean I have to avoid them forever.

Accepting who I am and what my boundaries are is something I have struggled with before, and the fact I am learning to do so now is badass enough in itself.

6. I have had to accept there is no shelf life to my situation.

There are good days and bad days. Heck, there are good hours and bad hours. Sadly I can go for a lovely meal with Mr. BuBakes, have a wonderful evening with him, and then go to bed and lay awake for hours wondering if it was all a smoke screen for the fact he actually hates who I am.

The only way I can think to explain this is to compare it to the morning after a heavy night. Imagine the following…

It’s 11.30 a.m. and you think you have gotten away with not feeling after-effects. You’ve gone into town for a walk and a cuppa, and just as you get to your table with your coffee a wave of nausea sweeps over you. You have no choice but to concentrate solely on not being sick, and you can feel yourself starting to sweat. You know you are nodding blankly at the person talking to you, and all you can think is whether you can make it home or not — and how to excuse yourself.

That feeling of “how on Earth did I think I had gotten away with it” is similar to my thinking “how did I think I was going to have a good day that would last”. Although you know you will be OK again eventually, you can’t feel in any part of your body or soul that the hangover will ever end.

It must be a frustrating thing for those around me, and every part of me thinks that they must be bored of me and my bad days by now. It makes it very scary to tell someone if it is a “bad day”, just in case that might become the last straw for him or her.

7. I don’t believe people with anxiety deserve some sort of pat on the back for having “it.”

It is not heroic to have a condition; what is important is to do what people do all over the world in so many different situations, and make the absolute best of what you have.

Acknowledge limitations, but don’t allow an illness to limit your potential. Adjust your focus to accept factors in your life and then keep going.

8. If someone with anxiety asks you for help then that’s a huge compliment.

In my case, not only am I ridiculously proud, stubborn and afraid of failure, but also I fear that — if I were to ask someone for help — they would feel obliged to help me or listen to me. They may be bored and wishing I’d shut up … you can see my train of thought gathering momentum here. If someone has reached out to you then be proud – you really are trusted.

9. I have felt anxious before; that is not the same as having this anxiety.

It’s natural to feel anxious about something bad that could happen, but it is not the same when you are anxious about multiple unlikely events at once, and remember this is the case all the time.

I liken this to a moment you almost have a car bump/step into a road when you shouldn’t. You gasp and it’s like you actually feel your heart jump. That “jumping” feeling doesn’t go away for me, I am constantly in that moment of “gasp.”

10. This is not a choice, an easy way out, laziness or a way to get attention.

It saddens and pains me to have to even point this out.

There are so many other things I could say — I do worry I am boring you all though. I guess I would just say that, if you know someone who is struggling with anxiety, this is not a be-all and end-all guide. Just know the fact you may not be able to fully understand their situation doesn’t mean you can’t help them deal with it. Perhaps seeing if any of these points ring true could be a way to open communication with them.

If you life with anxiety and you have any ways in which it affects you that you think others should be aware of, then do please share them if you feel happy to do so. My interest in the condition reaches far beyond my situation, and I would be honored if you would give me an insight into your battles.

Thanks for reading, and take care everyone.

Bu xx

Follow this journey on bubakes.co.uk.

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Unsplash photo via Cassidy Kelley

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The Reality of the Anxiety I Could No Longer Hide

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I have anxiety and experience panic attacks, but that’s perfectly OK. This is a part of my life at the moment, I cannot change that this has happened to me, but I can change how this affects me. I have to be strong to fight this mental illness. I am not my illness.

My anxiety consists of:

Trying to breathe but feeling suffocated from forgetting to breathe.

Losing feeling so my whole body goes numb, and I need to move, but I cant move.

Feeling too little, yet feeling too much.

Encompassed by pain, tears, worry, desperately trying to fight it.

Drowning in tormenting thoughts.

Attacks coming slowly, then all… at… once.

Each attack varying – different, unpredictable, impulsive – punishing in its own individual cruel-binding way.

Crying instinctively, due to feelings of a lack of safety, security and comfort.

Having everything I want and need, yet struggling despite this.

Attacks corrupting me when I’m at my happiest and at my lowest.

Not knowing a trigger.

I am yet to know what’s caused my anxiety. That doesn’t mean I can’t fight this.

A bad day is…

continuous panic attacks,

uncontrollable upset,

concaving chest pain,

struggling to breathe,

saying I am OK when I am not,

feeling like I lack control of my mind and body,

feeling trapped, like there’s a lock on my health, and each day it gets tighter or looser,

feeling like a burden when I’m not,

being scared to ask for help when I need it the most,

getting frustrated with myself: Why am I not I better yet? Why am I like this? When will this cycle of internal agony be over?

having attacks:

when I wake up,

when I go to sleep,

in school,

not in school,

when I’m surrounded by people,

when I’m alone,

being in a constant state of nervousness and anxiety,

stressing over irrelevant things,

always thinking the worst,

losing sleep because my mind is too busy,

missing school,

missing social situations,

missing out on my teenage life,

just constantly worrying.

A good day is…

when I feel good about myself,

when I feel in control,

feeling safe and secure,

accepting change,

remaining calm when things go wrong,

getting to school,

spending time with those I love,

being in social situations,

eating well,

sleeping well,

being alone and being OK,

being with people and being OK,

not letting negative thoughts suffocate me,

knowing I am loved, wanted, needed and appreciated,

knowing I am not an inconvenience,

when people don’t mind helping me,

when people ask me if I am OK,

when I can feel happy,

when I can feel normal,

when I can feel OK.

I know what I want and need, and it is important for me to drop any negative parts of my life that cause me worry.

I can always help myself; I still need support. I need comfort from others, just like everyone else does. It is important for them to understand that my anxiety is not a personal attack on them.

Communication is the biggest help; distance is the worst.

No one should have to fight this alone. Anxiety can isolate you, making you feel like you are in a cage and everyone else is looking in… watching you slowly deteriorate, as your thoughts corrupt you. Holding onto the positivity in your life can bring so much happiness, while erasing the negativity can bring you a certifying closure. You may not always have answers, and that’s OK.

There were days I was too scared to ask for help, as I chose to believe other people have enough going on without me “burdening” them with my issues. So I disguised my pain. How would my friends understand that I lie awake at night terrified of them seeing me in a state of weakness? I couldn’t bear the thought of the emotional scars I’d enveloped myself with being disclosed. It took time, but I eventually realized everyone deserves to get the help they need. I am not my illness.

I bore my wounds. I got the truth.

By changing the “i” in “illness” to a “we” in “wellness,” I felt security from those who loved me. I was assured I was making them proud. The weight of my illness no longer fell on just my shoulders. I didn’t need to run away and hide, fighting my attacks by myself because someone was always there. I was picked up, supported, and brought on a journey — a journey of health, happiness and comfort – that I never got from being alone.

Positivity, patience and praises became the instruments to my recovery.

Inevitably, I still have days where I am tainted by my anxiety. But there are days I exceed any expectations I have of myself. Certainly, the good days surpass the bad days.

I accepted my mental illness I could no longer hide, and I became strong.

“Onwards and upwards,” a teacher encouraged me with today.

Onwards and upwards.

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To the Friend I Fear Is Tired of Giving Me Reassurance

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Dear friend who might be sick of me asking if you still like me as a person,

I want you to know, for every time you have to answer the same question that grates on your nerves, there were probably 10 other times when I wanted to ask it, but I didn’t. Maybe this time I asked because I couldn’t handle the pain and anxiety that made me want to leave this world behind, just so I don’t have to deal with this self-hating neurosis anymore.

It literally controls everything I do. It’s why I don’t sing out loud or dance in public, instead only in my house when the drapes are pulled together and the blinds rolled down. It’s why I’m afraid to say “hi” to people, because what if they don’t say hi back? Or tell somebody I like their shoes, because what if they ignore me? Or tell a mom, “Hey, your kid’s cute,” because what if she thinks I’m a pedophile? And knowing how ridiculous it is all seems doesn’t reduce the pain in my chest, the obsessive thoughts or the simmering panic attacks, and as much as I want to cry, I can’t.

Most forms of emotional release such as exercise, singing and dancing are too anxiety-inducing to do, because what I’m doing it “wrong?” Do I look silly, fat, ugly? “I bet my glasses make me look dumb.” It runs through my head every single day, and I hate it, and its pure-black hatred, not your mere possible annoyance of texting me, “No, I still care about you. I love you.” And it’s those words which bring me enough joy to fight the pure-black hate for at least that moment of free-falling panic.

Please keep typing those words.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via KristinaJovanovic

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22 Things That Don't Always 'Fix' Anxiety, Even Though You Mean Well

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When a person we care about comes to us with a problem, naturally, we want to fix it. But not every problem can be solved by a simple suggestion, and not everyone who wants support is seeking unsolicited advice. This is especially true when someone opens up about struggling with anxiety — and is a key difference between showing someone support and belittling their disorder with a suggestion or a “quick fix.”

Because more than advice, people with anxiety need understanding. To learn what people with anxiety don’t need to hear, we asked people in our mental health community to share one piece of unhelpful advice they’ve gotten for managing anxiety, from people who meant well but don’t get it.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1.Yeah, I’ve been stressed out too. Just remember there are others who have it worse than you. Be happy for what you have.” — Adriana R.

2. “Pretty much any advice that starts with, ‘You just need to…’ is going to skyrocket my anxiety. It’s like telling a downing person, “you just need to stop drowning.” — Carolyn A.

3. “‘You are giving too much power to that anxiety. You have a choice, so choose to not be anxious’ …Ugh. That came from someone who has never experienced anxiety themselves!” — Kristina C.

4.‘Pray about it.’ Although I’m Christian and love my God, people don’t seem to realize it’s a real thing. I need medicine to keep my head from spinning.” — Skylar L.

5. “[It’s unhelpful] being told to think of the positive and be thankful for everything I have. Most of the time that only makes me feel more guilty for feeling this way because I do have a lot of wonderful things in my life.” — Ashley S.

6. “The whole grounding yourself thing. Personally it just doesn’t work that way… So when I try something, don’t get pissy because it worked for someone else but I ‘didn’t try hard enough.'” — Kayla A.

7. “‘Just use your logic. What you’re feeling is ridiculous, you should know that. If you tell yourself that, the anxiety will go away.’ As if I don’t already understand that what I’m feeling is illogical, it doesn’t stop me from from feeling anxious, it just makes me feel worse about myself and my situation. — Liss W.

8. “‘…Oh, everyone gets nervous though so just don’t worry,’ after I’d just opened up to someone about my mental illness to be brave and have them understand a little more about me. It didn’t help, it shut me down and downplayed what I go through (and what others go through). It’s not just nerves.” —  Cathy R.

9. “Anyone that uses the word ‘just’ before providing ‘tips’ needs to consider the thought that if it was ‘just’ that easy then we could ‘just’ ‘get over it.’ I’ve been told life isn’t that bad, read the Bible, remember how wonderful your life is, I’ve had something similar, ‘just’ breathe and meditate and pray. If you’re anything like me, you’ve read books and articles on how to get a hold of it and you’ve tried meditation and yoga and exercise. The brain has its own mind when neurotransmitters are stuck in a loop.” — Mike P.

10. “My biggest pet peeve is when I’m feeling anxious about something or everything and someone tells me to relax. If I could relax, I wouldn’t be anxious. That makes me feel worse about my anxiety because I can’t just turn it off.” — Robin D.

11.‘Just go jogging.’ Every time I saw my psychiatrist, this was all she would suggest. I get this can help for some people, but when you are borderline agoraphobic, it was not the best.” — Karen M.

12. “‘Just get over it.’ This came from my high school teacher who said my anxiety was made up. Yeah, because I wanted to be miserable and afraid of so much for years.” — Audrey Y.

13. “One bit of advice I get given is ‘you need to stop worrying.‘ That really is not a helpful piece of advice to give someone who worries all of the time. If I was able to stop I would. That is the advice that gets me more frustrated because then I think people don’t understand what it’s like to be in my situation.” — Robyn B.

14. “Back when I was undiagnosed and my social anxiety was much worse, I was working with my first job and a co-worker pulled me aside to say, ‘I used to be shy like you, but I eventually got over it! You just need to get out of your shell and stop being so quiet all the time.’” — Skyler S.

15. “‘You’ve just got to stop thinking about [whatever they believe is causing the anxiety].’ I understand their reasoning, but it’s not that easy to switch off and sometimes I don’t even know what triggered my anxiety.” — Georgie R.

16. “Try taking [name your preferred herb/Rx/food/beverage/etc.].” While the attempt to help is kind, please just assume I’ve read 92,832 articles that each told me various ‘things’ I can take to help reduce anxiety, and none of them actually work.” — Jessi W.

17.‘Everyone gets anxious, it’s normal.’” Yeah, tell that to my panic attacks and inability to get a job.” — Rae H.

18.‘You need a hobby,‘ is one I’ve had that is pretty ridiculous. I don’t ever choose to be in bed all day instead of out doing other things. I have hobbies; I play video games, guitar, draw, write, bake, lots of different things, but if I’m not doing these it’s not by choice. And to suggest that I ‘join a club or go to a class’ sounds like the most terrifying thing for a person with bad anxiety. Then to add, ‘Maybe you would actually make some friends.’ Yeah, thanks, mate…” — Rosie F.

19. “Lots of advice relating to diet. Go paleo, go vegan, yada yada. Yeah, I’m genetically predisposed to anxiety and depression and an abuse survivor. Never mind that I eat unprocessed foods anyway. But I’m sure giving up rice or chicken will ‘fix’ me.” — Krystal N.

20. “Things like, ‘Just relax,’ ‘It’s all in your head, everything is fine,’ and, ‘You should try ____.’ are really unhelpful. I’m obviously trying to calm down, I know it’s in my head, don’t tell me things I already know, and if what you’re suggesting I try was something that helps, then I would be doing it already.” — Matt A.

21.‘That’s OK. Lots of people get nervous about _____.’ Also, when people talk about real everyday fears and call them anxieties. For example, someone said everyone feels anxious. Some people are anxious about making rent. Yes, it is a very difficult situation if you lose your job and you may get evicted, but that is very logical. It is different than when I just can’t make myself do something in a room full of friends and family and have no idea why it even stresses me.” — Lauren S.

22. “What they hear themselves say: ‘Try not to focus on the anxiety, distract yourself.’ What I hear them say: ‘Try not to focus on the fact that you feel as though you’re choking on air and will die at any given second because that’s what your brain has talked yourself into, just distract yourself from it.’ It’s hard when people haven’t experienced it themselves, and I believe people’s advice always comes from a good place, but when you’re in that situation and you feel as though you have lost control, it can be hard to listen to. I found that it was only when I was out the other end that I realized the people around me only had good intentions and wanted to help.” — Morgan P.

Most likely, the person talking to you about their anxiety doesn’t need advice — they need understanding. 

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When Anxiety Makes Your Life a Blur

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Anxiety. On the outside, it appears I have my shit together. It seems that by putting on makeup, doing my hair, showering, getting out of bed (which some days feels impossible), I have my life together.

Inside my heart is pounding. My mind is racing. My legs are trying to keep up with the speed of my thoughts. I feel tired. I’m always feeling as if I am no good and I don’t deserve to be breathing. My life feels as if it is slowly flying by.

My mind is a blur, but no one knows. No one can tell I am fucking terrified of my own thoughts. I go to bed with these horrible thoughts, just to do the same thing tomorrow.

I have struggled with anxiety for a long time. The best way to describe it is a blur. The days are long but they go by so fast. I am constantly worrying about the unknown, tearing myself apart, thinking “what if?” What if I were skinnier? What if I were prettier? What if I wasn’t sick? What if mental illness didn’t exist? What if I lose the ones I love most? Constantly thinking about everything that can go wrong in my life, I never focus on what’s going right.

Constantly thinking about everything that can go wrong in my life, I never focus on what’s going right.

What’s going right in your life? There has to be something. Our hearts are beating and I’m sure at least one soul loves you in this world.

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