When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates

Dating with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, can be a minefield to navigate. You need to find someone who will support you in all aspects of life, including your struggles with your mental conditions.

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates - CassandraStout.com

Finding such a person can be daunting. A lot of people who have little experience with mental illnesses tend to think that people with bipolar disorder are “crazy” and out of control. Stigma and awful stereotypes are very real. Some people may bolt as soon as they hear the word “bipolar.”

You have to communicate honestly with your significant other about your disorder, but first you have to disclose to them that you have one. But when do you disclose to your dates that you have more to deal with than a neurotypical person?

Honesty is the Best Policy

You may have a million questions when it come to dating. For example, when do you disclose your illness? Will you be honest on the first date or will you wait until you’ve gotten to know your date before letting them know? If you can’t work and are on disability due to your illness, how do you explain what you do? When do you let your date know if you’re on meds?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Dating looks different for everyone regardless of their mental conditions. When you disclose should always be up to you.

If you are just dating casually, disclosing your mental illness isn’t that important. But if you are looking for a long-term relationship, disclosing that you suffer from mood episodes should be your highest priority.

If you can hide your illness and let your boyfriend or girlfriend know months into a relationship that you’ve been keeping something so big a secret from him or her, then he or she might feel betrayed and break up with you, or worse.

When it comes to dating with an illness that is hard to hide and impacts your life every single day, then honesty is the best policy. Letting your date know on the second or third date, before either of you has invested too much into the relationship, is better than waiting until you’ve moved in together.

Tell your date about your disorder before you make any long-term commitments to that person. Explain what he or she can expect when you suffer a mood episode. Let them know what steps you usually take to manage your disorder, and the treatment team you have in place.

This way, your partner won’t be shocked when your moods and behaviors suddenly shift, and may even be prepared to help you through your mood episode.

Final Thoughts

Explaining your mental illness to your dates before you make a long-term commitment is crucial for your relationship to thrive.

Some people may run for the hills when you disclose your struggles. Let them. They wouldn’t have been capable of supporting you or committing to the whole you anyway. Find someone else who you know will be able to remain strong in the face of your mental illness.

Dating with a mental illness can be difficult. But if you are honest with your date about your mental condition before feelings start to grow, then you avoid the risk of alienating them and suffering from a hard breakup.

I wish you well in your journey.

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates - CassandraStout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Lightbox Edition

How are you? I genuinely want to know. My week has been busy.

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Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Lightbox Edition!

How are you? Have you been getting some sun this week? How’s the weather holding up for you? How’s your mood been this week? What are you struggling with recently? What challenges have you been facing in parenting? Please let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Heatlh Check in: Lightbox Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

My week has been busy.

On Tuesday, I had an appointment with my primary care physician, who ordered blood tests to see if there are physical causes to my depression. I wasn’t fasting (I’d eaten snack at toddler group with my kiddo before the appointment), so I couldn’t take the blood tests until Wednesday, which I did.

On Thursday, I saw my psychiatrist. He boosted my dose of antidepressant (Wellbutrin), prescribed an anti-anxiety med (which starts with a B, but I can’t recall the name), and told me to get a lightbox, as I probably have seasonal affective disorder. He said the lightbox will probably cost $150-500 and may be reimbursed by insurance.

I told my husband about the lightbox, and his immediate response was, “Okay, I’ve ordered one on Amazon. It should be here tomorrow.” He told me that the one I needed (with 10,000 lux, or units of light) was on sale for $30. A second lightbox was on sale for $25, so he bought that one, too. So now I have two, one for my bedroom and one for my desk. I adore my husband.

On Friday, I walked to the store, pushing Toddler in the stroller, to pick up my prescriptions. Apparently the pharmacy only received orders for the antidepressant. I called my psych doc and left a message asking the office to re-fax the prescription order. I always play phone tag with them, which is extremely frustrating.

Taking care of my mental health is so difficult and expensive. There are multiple doctors involved, and our insurance has a high deductible which just reset this January. The antidepressant prescription was $51. So, with the addition of the lightboxes, that’s over $100 spent just this week, not to mention the cost of the doctor’s appointments.

I’ve also eaten out for lunch every day this week. Not because I couldn’t plan ahead and pack sandwiches, but because I’m depressed, and one of the ways I find myself trying to feel better is going to restaurants. It works in the moment, but afterwards I feel buyer’s remorse as each fast food meal is forgettable, unhealthy, and expensive.

Spending this much on myself makes me weak in the knees. My husband would say that I am worth the cost, and “it’s just money.” Having grown up below the poverty line, I am struggling with prioritizing my own wellbeing.

But I need to, if not for me, then at least for my kids. They deserve a mother who is sound in mind and body. I need to prioritize my own contentment. And stop going out to eat unless it’s a special treat, like our family Sunday brunch.

Wish me luck.

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Appointments Edition

How are you? I genuinely want to know!

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Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Appointments Edition!

How are you? How’s life treating you lately? What have you been up to this week? Have you been maintaining your self-care routine? How are the kids? What parenting challenges have you been dealing with lately? Please let me know; I genuinely want to hear from you!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Appointment Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

My week has been following the theme of the previous couple of weeks: utterly depressing. I just haven’t been myself lately. I’ve been struggling to do housework and the most basic of tasks, like brushing my teeth (ew).

I missed an appointment with my therapist on Monday. I completely forgot about it. Luckily, I was able to reschedule for Wednesday.

My therapist believes my depression may be seasonal. I have been unusually exhausted lately as well, so she asked me if I would a) get a physical and some bloodwork done with my primary care physician, and b) set up an appointment with my psychiatrist.

I have the appointment with the PCP on Tuesday of next week and the psychiatrist on Thursday. I am blessed to have a treatment team, and decent insurance.

On Thursday, I started potty training the toddler. She’s amazing at it. She only had a few accidents on Thursday; on Friday, she had one. I am so proud of her.

Unfortunately, I was so excited to potty train her, and so focused on asking “do you need to go potty?” every fifteen minutes, that I missed my morning meds (Welbutrin and vitamin D) on Thursday. That threw me for a loop for the whole rest of the week.

Wellbutrin shares a caffeine pathway, which means I can’t simply take it in the afternoon, or the medication will keep me awake at night. No sleep means mania for me, usually. I want to avoid that at all costs, as mania is much more destructive than depression in my experience.

On Friday, I did very little, except to fold 5 loads of laundry that had piled up on my bed. I also, to my chagrin, yelled at my son for making his sister scream. There’s something about a high-pitched, extended, hysterical screaming that goes right to my primal brain.

So that’s been my week. A week of big, stressful changes, that I’ve been experiencing through a thick fog of apathy. Hopefully my PCP and psychiatrist figure out what’s wrong and treat me accordingly. Thanks for listening, and wish me luck!

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How Depression Interferes with Getting Things Done (GTD)

How Depression Interferes with Getting Things Done (GTD) - Cassandrastout.com

When you have depression, your natural inclination when faced with a to-do list is to crawl back into bed, right? Trust me, I’ve been there. When I’m depressed, I’d rather stick my hand into a box of tarantulas than load the dishwasher.

It’s rare that you do get the motivation to tackle something on your list. But, when you do, have you noticed that staying focused on that getting that task done is impossible?

Have you tried to complete a task like “pick up the living room,” only to end up staring at the mountain of toys, not knowing what to do next? I’ve been there, too.

Turns out there’s a scientific reason behind the inability to get things done (GTD) with depression. It’s called a “lack of cognitive control,” or, more colloquially, “executive dysfunction.” There’s even a disorder for it: executive dysfunction disorder.

Getting things done, or GTD, is a productivity system developed by David Allen. GTD encourages people to “brain dump” everything in their heads out onto paper, and then file that away into a trusted system. A trusted system involves calendars, your phone, and anywhere you’d like to schedule tasks.

But executive dysfunction interferes with GTD because a brain dump can be overwhelming for people with depression. I’ve written about executive dysfunction and how it relates to bipolar disorder before. But it’s been a while since that post, so I figured a refresher is in order.

What is Executive Function?

Executive function, when things are going well, is the ability to set goals and self-monitor. This means that you can recognize that picking up the living room requires you to pick up one toy at a time, rather than staring down a mountain of them.

Executive function is, in so many words, the ability to break tasks down into compartmentalized parts.

Most of the time, executive function, for people who have learned it (which is a whole ‘nother post), is automatic. But studies have shown the depression (and bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) interferes with executive functioning. Breaking down tasks into parts is extremely difficult when you’re suffering from depression.

Which is why you end up being overwhelmed when looking at that mountain of toys. you literally cannot comprehend the steps it would take to clean the living room.

How to Cope with Executive Dysfunction

The good news is that executive dysfunction can be managed with ideas like these:

  1. Consciously break projects up into steps. I’ve written recently about how to break tasks and projects into steps, so I’ll just summarize here. Next time you’re facing a task, try writing down every step you can think of. Then put them in the order that you need to accomplish. Then tackle the task, one step at a time.
  2. Use time management tools such as colorful calendars and stopwatches. Once you write down the steps of a task, try timing yourself to get each step done. Make a game of it, and you’ll be able to complete the steps more quickly.
  3. Schedule repeating reminders on your computer or phone, using sites like Remember the Milk. Reminders can be extremely helpful. Use a calendar app on your phone to make appointments, and set notifications for thirty minutes ahead (or however long you need to get to the appointment). “Set it and forget it” gets the task out of your head and into a trusted system.
  4. Set goals in advance to coincide with ingrained habits, such as flossing your teeth right after brushing. Setting goals to follow ingrained habits is a great way to build new ones. They’re called “triggers,” and they’re a positive way to  build upon a foundation that you already have. When you do one habit, you immediately follow it with another. If you’re a tea drinker, try taking the trash out every time you boil water, and you’ll never have to remember to take the trash out again.

Final Thoughts

Structure is extremely important for people who suffer from depression. Executive dysfunction is a real problem.

Consciously breaking projects down into steps, using time management tools such as calendars and repeating reminders, and setting goals to coincide with ingrained habits are all ways to improve executive functioning.

You can do this. You can improve your executive functioning.

I wish you well in your journey.

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition

How are you? What have you been struggling with? Let me know!

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Hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition!

How are you? Have you been keeping up with your self-care? How’s parenting going? What have you been struggling with lately? What’s been good in your life? Let me know!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

I’ve just been going through the motions this week. There’s been a serious disconnect between me and everything going on around me.

Except for the basics like pre-scheduled playdates and making dinner, I’ve done literally nothing but sit on the couch and play on my phone, and I’m not even enjoying that. No housework. Not enough engagement with my kids. I’ve had the doldrums lately.

I’ve also engaged in a lot of negative self-talk about my body. I’ve been on my menstrual cycle this week, which didn’t help my mood, and made me feel fat and gross. I’ve put myself down for being about 50 pounds overweight all week, and now I’m putting a stop to that. Negative self-talk has no benefit, and doesn’t help me want to lose weight at all. It just makes me feel bad.

I’ve scheduled an appointment to talk to my therapist on Monday. I called a warmline Friday evening, and the operator I talked to has bipolar disorder, which was very helpful. I could tell she understood bipolar depression, because she’s lived it. I’ll be meeting with my psychiatrist in March, though I might want to call his office and ask for an earlier appointment. We shall see.

So I’m taking steps to address this soul-sucking pit of depression that I’ve found myself in. Please keep me in your prayers.

-Cass

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3 Easy Steps to Declutter Your House with Depression

3 Easy Steps to Declutter with Depression - Cassandrastout.com.

Decluttering the house when you have depression sounds like a nightmare. After all, decluttering is a huge project, isn’t it? Everyone has junk they need to get rid of in their homes, and some people (like me) have entire rooms filled with useless stuff.

And clutter can contribute to feelings of overwhelm and depression. Let me explain. If there’s a toy on the living room floor, every time you pass that toy, your brain makes a split-second decision as to whether to deal with that toy.

If you decide against dealing with that toy, the toy will remain on the floor, and every time you see it, you have to make a decision: pick up the toy and put it somewhere else, or leave it. Every time.

Say there’s 5 toys on the floor. That’s 5 decisions you have to make. You quickly begin to suffer from decision fatigue.

This is why a cluttered room is so overwhelming and difficult to start cleaning, especially when you have depression. You’re looking at the big picture.

What about Decluttering with Depression?

The trick to decluttering with depression is to break the rooms of your house down into compartmentalized parts. For example, if you were decluttering your kitchen, you’d break the room down like so:

  1. Spice cabinet
  2. Coffee bar counter
  3. Dish cabinet
  4. Cups cabinet
  5. Toaster counter

And so on. Rather than thinking you have to declutter the entire kitchen in a day, you can tackle one cabinet at a time. Break every room down into smaller parts, and you can work at your own pace.

If a cabinet is too much for you at once, then break the room down even further, separating out the top and bottom halves of the cabinet, or right and left halves.

3 Easy Steps to Declutter

But don’t think of decluttering as a big picture project, but a series of simple tasks. There are many ways to purge your stuff, but they all boil down to 3 easy steps:

  1. Sort
  2. Keep/Toss
  3. Reflect.

That’s it. Those 3 easy steps will help you declutter your entire house.

Sort

The first step in decluttering with depression is to sort your stuff.

Take a picture of the space you plan to declutter. This is important for the third step.

Pull everything out of the space. Spread the junk out on a table or bed so that everything is visible.

Next, sort the stuff into piles by category, asking yourself two questions, which you’ll answer honestly:

  1. Have I used this in the past 6 months?
  2. Does it fit my life today?

Then, sort the stuff into yes piles, where you answered yes to both of those questions, or no piles, where you answered no to both of those questions. The maybe pile is for 1 yes, and 1 no.

If you’re on the fence about sorting things into piles, or you think you’re keeping too much, simply ask yourself: Would I take this with me if I had to move today? That question cuts to the heart of the matter.

Once you have all the items sorted into one of three piles, you’re ready for step two.

Keep/Toss

Are you ready for step two? Take a hard look at your piles:

  1. Yes piles: Keep the items gladly, and find places for them in your home.
  2. No piles: Toss or donate the stuff!
  3. Maybe piles: Place these items into a box. Write the date on the box, and set the box aside in your garage or closet. If you haven’t touched the items in the box in 3-6 months, toss the entire box. If you find yourself pulling stuff out, then keep those items and find homes for them.

Reflect

Take another picture, and bask in the glow of a freshly-decluttered space. You did it! Congratulations!

Now think on how you can keep the space clear. Will you adopt a 1-item-in, 1-item-out policy? Don’t let anything into your life that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

Final Thoughts

Decluttering with depression isn’t as difficult as you might think. Break rooms down into smaller parts. Sort your items into yes, no, and maybe piles. Make decisions to keep or toss or set aside the stuff. And take before and after pictures for posterity.

Good luck!

How do you declutter your house? Let me know in the comments!

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Ice Edition

I cover my week being cooped up in the house, and ask you about yours!

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Hello, hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Ice Edition!

How are you? Is it snowing where you are? Have you been stuck in the house? How cold is the weather? What about your self-care routine–have you been sticking to it? Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Check in: Ice Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

My week has been utterly depressing.

I am used to a certain routine of preschool on Mondays and Wednesdays (where I meet with a friend from my writing group to write and clean the house, respectively), and toddler group on Tuesdays, which I attend with my kiddo as a co-op preschool.

Then the snowpocalypse hit. There’s still ice on the roads in our neighborhood. As I’m a anxious driver who has crashed in icy conditions before, I am very reluctant to drive.

School has been canceled for both my kids pretty much all week and we’ve been cooped up in the house. We all are suffering from cabin fever.

We normally go to a park or an indoor playground every day, even after toddler group on Tuesdays. I am ill-tempered due to nature’s inconsideration of my need for routine. My toddler has watched all sorts of random Netflix shows this week.

But it’s not all bad; we could be dealing with a power outage, like we did last year.

Luckily we live within walking distance of a grocery store, so my husband has been hoofing it there to pick up milk and bread. I am thankful that he was able to work from home.

So that’s been my week. How’s yours been? Have you, too, been cooped up in the house? Let me know in the comments!

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Exhaustion Edition

How was your week? I genuinely want to know!

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Hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday morning mental health check in.

How has your week been? Have you been spending time on your self-care or has that fallen by the wayside? How have you been sleeping? Hopefully well! Have you been able to adjust back to your daily routines from the holidays, or has that just been a mess? Let me know in the comments!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Exhaustion Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

I’ve been facing some depression and exhaustion this week.

I missed my meds on Tuesday morning, which is my Wellbutrin, an antidepressant. I took half a dose in the afternoon, but because it shares a pathway in my brain with caffeine, it kept me awake at night. Unable to sleep on Tuesday, I took a sleep aid, which left me groggy and tired all day Wednesday, even after a nap when my toddler was at preschool.

But mostly, I’ve been having a hard time adjusting from Phoenix’s sun to Washington’s overcast skies, cold weather, and 100% humidity.

I just haven’t been able to get myself going this week. We arrived home last Saturday and I didn’t unpack until Friday night. My multivitamin, vitamin D, and iron supplements that I normally take every day were stuck in my suitcase for a week, which I’m sure has been affecting my mood.

All of this has left me worn out and down this week. I’m hoping next week will be better. I’ve unpacked, so that’s a start. But here’s hoping that I’ll adjust to my daily routines again–and soon.

Thanks for listening!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Exhaustion Edition - CassandraStout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Home Edition

Hello!

How are you? How was your New Year’s eve? Did you go to a party? Stay at home? Did fireworks keep you up? Let me know in the comments, or email me! I promise to reply.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Home Edition - Cassandrastout.com

My Week

My week was lovely. My immediate family (husband and two great kids) just arrived home from a two-week trip to Arizona, where my mother-in-law lives. I adore her, so the trip was a great one.

We also spent time with my husband’s father and his wife, and my husband’s brothers. A great deal of my side of the family live in Arizona as well, so my husband and kids were able to visit them also.

But it’s good to be home. I missed my bed. I mentioned previously that I was having trouble sleeping without a sleep aid. I am pleased to announce that I successfully slept each night of the two-week trip without taking anything except my usual Risperidone. That was surprisingly difficult to do!

If you’re on meds, have they helped you? Thanks for listening!

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How to Apply for Disability Benefits for Mental Disorders

Sometimes people just need a little help. If you can prove that you have a disability that prevents you from working, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Social Security Income (SSI).

Types of Benefits

SSDI is a benefit which offers monthly payments that requires you to have had a steady work history over the past decade. You must have a disability and submit an application to the Social Security Administration (SSA). You must also currently be able to earn no more than $1,170 per month, and your condition must prevent you from working for a year–either the past year, or the foreseeable future. SSDI needs you to have earned 40 “work credits,” where you earn and pay taxes on a minimum of $1,260 per month. You can gather up to four work credits per year. Twenty of them must be earned in the decade before the disability was diagnosed. Younger claimants may qualify based on their parents’ work history.

SSI, on the other hand, is a needs-based program. To qualify, you may not own more than $2,000 in assets excluding your home and one vehicle worth $4,500 or less. If you’re married, you may own up to $3,000 in assets. Your income must be below a certain threshold depending on where you live.

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Credit to flickr.com user Jason Truscott. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Which Disabilities Are Accepted

The SSA publishes a “Blue Book” which describes the criteria required for disabilities to be accepted for benefits. Bipolar disorder and other mood disorders are part of this Blue Book, as well as schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and intellectual disabilities, like autism. Unfortunately, illnesses like bipolar disorder or depression need a great deal of evidence to demonstrate that your condition impairs your ability to work, even after treatment.

Application Process

The process to apply for these benefits for a mental disorder is not that much different from applying for a physical disability. Your best bet in submitting an application is to visit your local SSA office. There, you can talk to a representative who will help you fill out the forms. If you’re not comfortable with talking to the representatives in person, you can call them. They will fill out the forms for you and send a medical release form for you to sign, along with a postage-paid envelope. They will also let you know what documents you need to send them in order to prove your disability, like medical records from up to a year before your disability diagnosis.

Medical Records

The SSA is obligated to help you find and submit all of your medical records, though if you submit them yourself, your case will be delayed less. List all of your treatment team and where they work on your application form, from counselors to psychiatrists. The SSA will have you sign an Authorization to Disclose Information (SSA-827) to obtain the required records from your providers. Your medical records should contain the results of any tests–like IQ tests in the case of intellectual disabilities–as well as treatment notes. Your doctor can also fill out an optional mental residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment form, which is the best thing you can do for your case, as it demonstrates your doctor’s opinion on whether or not you can function.

It is very important to provide evidence towards your disability, like diagnoses, treatment plans, prognoses, every medication tried, and how you responded to medication. In the best case scenario, your treatment notes will include details on how your disability impedes your ability to work.

ADLs

The representative will also have you fill out a survey about your “activities of daily living,” or ADL. The Function Report form (SSA-3373) makes you describe how your disorder impairs your daily life, including during social engagements, housework, shopping, transportation, and how you spend money. If you have trouble working with coworkers or following instructions, then you need to talk about that in your ADL.

Managing Expectations

Try not to get your hopes up that your initial claim will be approved. Over 60% of claims are denied at first, and over 80% of appeals are denied. That’s not to say you shouldn’t appeal! You definitely should. You may consider hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer to help you fill out your forms and represent you in your hearing with an Administrative Law Judge.

You can be disqualified from receiving benefits by not following your doctor’s treatment plan. It’s very important to take your medication and attend your talk therapy appointments during your application process.

Applying for disability benefits can be a daunting procedure, but it can be done. It takes effort and patience and communication with your treatment team. Make sure that you jump in feet first.

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