Purple Flowers.

It’s been just over a year since I began this blog. The day I actually broke went unmarked in any calendar because I’m not sure exactly what date I would go from. Breaking happened slowly, me fraying at the edges for two years before I tore apart all at once.

And I have gotten so much better. I get up and go to work, assisting other people. I come home and I work quietly, editing for photographers and carefully correcting colours and clearing newborn skin. I take my children to school and their appointments. I lie beside my small children at night and read them bedtime stories. I go with my lover to lunch and he eats the rest of my salad when I can’t finish it. Together we take the children to the beach where my daughter collects and entire basket of shells and we have to convince her to ‘leave some for other people’. I buy myself bedside tables from Ikea and he convinces me to sit on the trolley on the way back to the car and runs with the trolley until I’m breathless with laughter and fear we will crash into a column. I pay bills. I do my hair. I’m blissfully normal.

I sleep.

And this is not something I take for granted anymore. Some nights when I don’t have an early shift I sleep for 9 hours. This time last year 5.5 was normal. This time last year I woke to darkness every day and watched the rising of the sun and tried to breathe and survive. Now days I still sometimes wake before the sun and I watch it rise in my car with a cup of tea in a travel mug as I inch along with the other commuters.

I try to dream.

And my dreams are of fairy lights and lace. My dreams are of plaster dust and lavender. The crown of a newborn head, tiny crescent fingernails. My dreams are of wrinkles and white hairs. I throw the tablecloth of my life out before me and smooth it flat, I am careful to choose what I lay upon it. I watch the wheel of life turn and feel no sadness at it’s passing.

I wake one morning and reach for my camera. My four daughters and I escape the house like puppies set loose and we enter the outside which is different with a camera. Inside the lens everything fits into a box. We find some purple flowers in the grass by the side of a road and we stop to shoot in them. Inside the lens it doesn’t matter that cars are driving past and construction is happening beside us. It doesn’t matter that this spot is actually an overgrowth of weeds. The mosquitos are invisible in the shot. Inside the lens it only matters that there are purple flowers on the ground springing from the grass like hope and that is all I show you. Life is different, so easily distracted by the noise of everything you barely notice the purple flowers. I had driven that road every day but I didn’t see them until I went looking for magic.

That whole year I spent trapped in my own mind, fighting for a way out. Looking for a door.

I was the door.

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Will Stand Up.

About 15 months ago I saw a photo of me that shook me a bit. I’ve been all shapes and sizes but I had never looked at a photo of me and truly hated it. I had looked at photos and thought it was a rotten photo but I had never before looked at a photo of myself and thought, “I look bad.”

It probably isn’t a photo you would expect, in fact I posted it because after years of being a photographer I learnt that no matter how much you hate the way you look, your family does not. They don’t care. They don’t see what you see.

Your partner sees your smile in your eyes.
They remember the time you laughed so hard that for ages after one of you would just have to start giggling and it would set the other off. (Sassafras)
They remember the touch of your fingertips on their skin.
Whispered I love you’s.

Your kids don’t see your imperfections. They remember soothed brows when they were hot with fever.
The time you went out to dinner and wore the red dress that made them think you were the most beautiful woman in the world.
They remember school concerts where you clapped the loudest, bedtime stories and birthday cakes.

No one ever sees what you see. I know that. So as a photographer I posted the picture. But as a woman who is human and flawed and a tiny bit vain – I hated it. I felt ashamed of me. And I stopped taking pictures.

I still photographed my sleeping daughter curled into me like a comma but I cut my face from the frame. I shot the book I was reading, the trees near me, my children, the surf, my partner…but not me. Sometimes parts of me made cameos, my feet in the sand, my hand holding a cup of tea, a shoulder, a wisp of hair. But I avoided the camera as much as I could because it was a mirror I was not ready to look into.

I do not write this to garner compliments. I didn’t need reassurance of my value. I didn’t feel worthless. I was still a good person, I was still kind, I was still funny (sometimes) and I was still clever. I was good at my job and I was a mother who was doing her very best and every day woke up trying to do better. I was a good person. I did not feel worthless simply because I did not feel attractive. I read articles frequently that advised that we need to love the body we are in and I felt that that was bullshit. Was it not possible that I could NOT love the body I was in and still be okay? Couldn’t I just look at myself with a critical and unbiased eye and find it lacking but still accept that I was a perfectly good person? So what if I was not pretty or beautiful or sexy? I’m still a worthy human being.

Here is what I know. I may never weigh more than I do right now. I find it so difficult to gain weight. My thighs – no matter how skinny – will always have a few rogue dimples of cellulite. My hips will always bear the stretch marks that crawled across them when I was pregnant with my first daughter. My stomach will never be entirely flat, that loose skin grew too many children and stretched like an old hair tie. It’s not coming back. My breasts will probably never fill out more than a B cup again. My hair will always be unruly and when brushed it will always go frizzy. My eyes are going to have smile lines, I can’t help it – I laugh too much.

BUT…this body? It grew children. It fed them. It carried babies that live in my home and ones that live only in my heart. It has kissed and loved and survived. It has hatched chickens and cooked meals and kneaded dough. It has delivered baby animals and picked flowers and planted herbs. It has walked beaches and forests. It has spun yarn and sewn clothes and worked stitches. It’s bled and cried and laughed and healed. It’s pressed the shutter of a camera thousands of times. It’s read and written. It has made magic.

It is not perfect. It is flawed beyond comprehension, really. It’s what I have. It works. Granted, sometimes it works like the vacuum you have held together with duct tape, but it works. Every morning when I stand in front of the mirror and I stare into my own eyes and tell myself, “You can do this. You’ve got this”, it rallies. I push it. I ask more from it than it deserves. And it rallies. It stands up.

I’m ready now. I am ready to look into that mirror and see what stares back at me. I will not look away. Not because I’m expecting beauty. But because I am expecting strength.

It’s time.

“Can stand up, will stand up…every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?” – BTVS “Chosen”.

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Beyond Belief.

An eating disorder stole a lot from me. It didn’t just take fat. I mean, for a long time that was all I could see it taking. And for a long time that didn’t bother me because hadn’t I been trying to lose that weight for awhile? Those extra pesky few kilos?

The first thing I noticed was my hair. But I had extensions in at the time and the bonds held the lost hair in so I didn’t notice until I took them out. I have a photo of the hair that I lost that day and it was terrifying. I literally had a panic attack on the floor of the shower. That was the first outside sign.

My breasts lost their fullness. My hips protruded. I found myself staring at my ribcage below my collarbone because I had never seen it before. I fingered the bones there and wondered at them. The knobs on my spine became prominent and my legs – they held out to the last but yes, eventually they gave themselves over…the gap between my thighs widening.

Next was my skin. All the toxins that were locked in fat cells ran free throughout my body as it survived on itself. I broke out and broke out. And on top of that because the fat in my face was reduced I started to notice fine lines I never had before.

After that was my teeth which meant I knew it was also effecting my bones. I’m scared to get a bone density scan. I’m scared they will tell me it moved beyond what can be fixed. My toddler leant on me and snapped a rib. She wasn’t even being rough, just climbing on to my lap and I heard it snap and my daughter’s friend beside me heard it and stared at me. So I’m scared they will say that the damage to my bones is irreparable.

I lost my mind. Hours of my life spent in crushing anxiety.

It stripped away so much more than fat from me.

But after hours of therapy and hundreds of dollars I am getting better. I’ve put on half of what I need to. I cannot see those ribs below my collarbone anymore, hidden away under a fine cushion of newly laid fat. Slowly I get better, day after day. Clawing my way back. Fine hairs regrow all over my head like Spring returning after winter. I’m amazed at my body and the way it recovers. I’m ashamed by how poorly I treated it. That’s probably my most crushing symptom these days. The guilt of what I did to myself. The other day I went to the dentist for the first check up i had had in two years and confessed to the eating disorder like she was a priest. Then I lay back and let tears leak from my eyes while she completed her exam because I was so guilty over what I had done. So I think that’s part of my next step in recovery. Forgiving myself. Knowing that this was not my fault and I am doing the best I can.

The other day on Facebook I said that I have a bangle with “She believed she could so she did” on it. But that a more accurate one for me was, “She wasn’t quite sure if she could but she gave it a crack and got half done so good for her.” And I think there is bravery in that too. Because I DON’T always believe I can. But I ALWAYS try. I don’t always win. But I always show up. And that is worth something too.

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Soul List.

When the school holidays were on I began my Ten Things lists to help me ‘show up to life’. To begin with they were working so well. Great, actually. And they were fun and sometimes contained little things like “collect three shells’. Now, that looks simple. But I was tricking myself because I knew that to collect those shells I would have to leave the house and that was part of the way I exploit myself to get me to do things I would otherwise not do.

The problem became, by week three my list was starting to look a lot like chores. Because…well, basically they were chores. There is literally nothing inspiring or exciting about writing “take kid to dentist” on your Ten Things list. It’s an errand. The idea behind Ten Things was that it would make me find beauty in little tasks. It would make me go, “Hey, this life thing? Not so bad.” Seeing your kid have a cavity filled is not life fulfilling. It sucks.

The issue was that I got caught up in being ‘productive’ when what I started this list for was to try to make my heart sing. Errands we are going to run anyway. By all means put them in a daily planner or diary so you remember them, but they have no place on a ‘soul list’. That list should contain things like, pick a wildflower, handwrite a letter to someone you love, dance along to your favourite song, swim in the ocean, have a cup of tea with a friend. The Soul List is about choosing 10 things each week that is going to create a memory. Soul List keeps you alive. It reminds you there is more to life then dentist appointments, grocery bills and laundry.

Little things. Tiny. Delightful.

(And I just remembered that I pressed a flower on my first week which now feels like a small gift to myself.)

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So this week I was careful to write 10 “Soul List” things. I wrote a separate list for errands and chores but I made sure that everything on the “Soul List” was something I enjoyed or enjoyed once so that meant I probably would find some kind of satisfaction in it again. It’s the only way I can think to make it so I don’t feel like I’m just logging time here but actually living. It’s harder than I thought it would be but I guess no one ever promised it would be easy.

Stubborn.

My therapist set me too much homework.

Apparently I have progressed to the next step of wellness which includes ‘doing stuff’. I’m not adverse to ‘doing stuff’, I like it. But I like it in small doses, carefully portioned to maintain the delicate equilibrium between forced interaction and introvert recovery where I have to ‘come down’ from the extra stimulation I’ve received by leaving the house. My therapist does not seem to share these thoughts and so, in what I can only imagine was either wild optimism or blind ignorance, she carefully penned into my ‘timetable’ for this week an outing to a cafe EVERY SINGLE DAY. Even as she was talking about it and I was nodding along I knew this was not happening. I barely have enough hours in the day to do half of what is on my to-do list let alone factoring in a random cup of tea every day. As such I’m two days out from my appointment and have done this task exactly zero times. Once a week may have been a more realistic goal, annoying yet achievable.

Other things on my homework list were writing three times a week (I’ve got that under control), spinning daily because I made the mistake of mentioning that I spin fibre sometimes, and two social outings. I wanted one but she pushed for two. I’ve tried really hard to spin daily, even though I’m out of practise and my yarn is less uniform than desirable and also spindle spinning requires more arm/wrist strength and dexterity than you think. I tend to give up after fifteen minutes with sore wrists, bored out of my brain because being forced to spin feels like work and hobbies shouldn’t feel like work.

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I think perhaps being set homework goals goes against my natural state which is that the moment I am told to do something I immediately want to disagree. It’s an awful trait that I’ve passed on to my eldest daughter who had incredible talent for ballet from 3 years old but dropped out of ballet every time she tried lessons because she ‘didn’t like being told what to do’. To this day even when I can see she is doing something that is an outrageously bad idea of apocalyptic proportions I have to be careful about how I speak to her about it because she immediately goes on the defensive and gets upset and it goes nowhere. I’ve basically just accepted after 18 years she is going to do whatever she likes. Sometimes (rarely) she will come to me afterwards and say, “That was a terrible idea”, and I will absolutely gloat and rub it in that I was right because I’m a terrible mother like that. But I do it in a sympathetic way because she is so much like me and I understand outrageously bad ideas of apocalyptic proportions.

Anyway, I’m mostly sitting here and writing this because I’m avoiding the tasks I have staring at me on that list like an accusation. I want to eke this post out for hours, hundreds of words just so I can avoid the ‘leaving the house’ tasks. But I won’t. Because another of my qualities is stubbornness. And that I have in spades.

Grateful.

He’s so patient with me. I feel guilty because I can only imagine it’s like buying a car you think is solid and then it turns out to have problems you can’t fix. So every time I can’t do something and he says it’s okay, smooths my hair, kisses my forehead, I feel like…”I’m sorry I did this to you.”

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In some ways that was why I needed to plan a weekend away, although it was midweek. Because I thought, if I’m close to the ocean I can retreat if I need to but it still looks like I’m getting out, doing things. Because it’s been a really really long year. And I did it, you know? We walked along the beach and I built a sand turtle and a sand flower and he made a sand heart until the tide came in and tried to soak us both. And we went to lunch and we went to dinner, even though at dinner the only table was near the door and in the middle of the room so I had to keep reminding myself that people weren’t looking at me and no one cared. “It’s like the gym,” I said to myself, “Everyone worries people are watching them but no one is because they’re all just there to work out.” So I made MYSELF look at other diners so I could see they were too busy with their company and their food and no one cared about the small woman by the door.

Such tiny steps that I don’t even feel like I’m moving until I look back and think, “You’re miles away from where you were months ago when you couldn’t make it to the kitchen. You have come so far.”

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I think I just keep waiting for it to be easy. But I think maybe…maybe it will never be easy. Maybe I will always have to pay a price to leave the house. Maybe everyone does. Because one thing I have learnt in the last six months is we are all a little damaged. Most weeks someone writes me to say, “I feel that. What you wrote? I feel that too.” And I never would have known. Sometimes it feels like everyone has it together and you’re the only one losing your shit. So maybe we all have something we just struggle with and push through. People are such amazing creatures. We can be so nasty and so cruel and then sometimes…divinity. Bravery. Compassion. Fierceness.

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One day when I am better I am going to write letters to everyone who helped me. And he will get the first one. And I will send them out, written in my own hand, thank you, thank you, thank you. For your patience, for your support, for your empathy. Thank you. I am grateful for you.

Showing Up.

Turns out learning to live is a lot like physical therapy after a body trauma. At first it’s really hard and – to be completely honest – not exactly fun. Then you get a bit stronger and a bit more use to stuff and now I’m in this odd place where I think, “What is this feeling?” And I realise I’m LOOKING FORWARD to something. I can’t recall the last time I looked forward to something.

It’s a two steps forward, one step back dance for a long time. Really, in the beginning I was just logging time on this planet. There didn’t seem much point to anything. In the beginning the only thing I enjoyed was work. Nice little parcelled out editing jobs because it was something I could achieve. I could look back at the end of the day and think – I did 600 photos today. I could scroll through them and feel like I changed something in the world. Small, insignificant, but something. Work, in the beginning, saved me. On days I worked my mood chart was better. It gave me a sense of purpose. Still, every time a job rolls in I think, “I love this.”

Then it was tiny outings. Maybe I made it into the shops to buy milk. Maybe I managed to walk into the school to grab the kids instead of waiting in the car.

I drove 400ks round trip.

I had tea with a friend.

To begin with those things I MADE myself do. This person is expecting you. So I took my sense of duty and I exploited it.

One time last year? I decided to live because my friend asked me to model for her. Literally decided I didn’t want to let my friend down so I had better live. I exploited the shit out of myself to make myself turn up to life.

It is awkward for me to talk about that. About feeling so bad that I weighed up the pros and cons of being alive. But I try to be honest here. I try to come to you with my vulnerability because I know too well that we hide the ugly parts of ourselves. Every time I bare my skin to you and show you my scars I’m being brave – because it’s easier to hide. I know…. Oh, I know….

But THIS week.

This week I showed the fuck up. This week I wrote myself a list of 10 things and decided I was going to be alive. If my brain could teach me how to hide then surely I could rewire it to be happy. To be present. And now I sit here thinking, what is this feeling? And I realise it’s looking forward to things. And that is being alive.

I’m alive.

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Running for your life.

This week I made myself a list of days I need to do things and what time and stuff I need to remember because while I’m slowly step by agonising step crawling my way back to me, I still have a shocking memory and kept forgetting dates and times.

At the beginning of the week I was sure I was going to rock this, maybe it would be hard but I would definitely complete it and at the end of the week I would look back at my long list of accomplishments and fantastic mum-moments and feel like I actually did something apart from survive. I thought to myself (okay, I mostly lectured AT myself because I’m one of my biggest cheerleaders and also a giant nag) ‘listen, this is like a muscle, you have to WORK at getting stuff done in the beginning and then before you know it, it won’t be so hard anymore’. Kind of like how last week I began weight bearing exercises to rebuild muscles and the next day my thighs hurt like an absolute bitch and then the day after, even though I KEPT doing the exercises, it didn’t hurt so much and now it doesn’t hurt at all even though I’m doing more than I was when I started.

And I think I might be on the right track with that line of thinking, but shit, it’s really hard. Basically every morning my anxiety tells me to go back to bed and make excuses for why I can’t do whatever I had on that day and stubborn me has to dig her heels in and push on through. I hope this time next year I will look back and just be like, “Oh, man, you were so sick then but look how far you’ve come.” But it’s really hard to feel like a warrior when you just keep having your ass kicked by life. And I kind of feel a little resentment that I even have to be a warrior anyway because I don’t feel it is in my nature. I’m the person that would be first to die in a horror movie because I’d run for a bit and then think, “Nah, fuck it. Let’s do this.” And turn around face them knowing I’m probably toast. And sometimes I think I like that part of me more than I would if I was the running and screaming type. The part of me that is just ready to give it up. Not give up life but give up running. The part that turns and stares and just says, “Whatever. Let’s see what happens next.”

I kind of did that in the beginning when I first sort of broke down (I never know what to call what happened, ‘nervous breakdown?’ ‘anxiety attack that lasted for weeks?’) when I would lay outside and just be buffeted by waves of crushing anxiety and nausea from the anxiety. People think anxiety is just worry.

Wait. Let me rephrase that.

People who have never HAD anxiety think that it’s just worry. If you have ever suffered you understand likening anxiety to worry is kind of like telling someone whose leg has been crushed under a bus and the bus is on fire and also it’s on the bottom of the ocean and your drowning that you understand because you once stubbed your toe.

“Just don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, thank you. I’m cured.”

Friends, 95% of the time – I don’t even KNOW WHAT I am anxious ABOUT. It’s not that I’m worrying about my power bill or what to wear to a cocktail party. It’s that I can’t get out of my bed to put water in a frigging vase for the flowers my partner bought me to coax me out of the very bed I can’t get out of AND I DON’T KNOW WHY. I just know if I stand up I will either pass out or throw up or cry.

And so during that time I did kind of just turn and face the attacker and be like, “Whatever. Just stab me then.” And it did. But instead of dying I just lay there bleeding until I realised it would keep stabbing and I would keep not dying until I got up and shuffled away. So I do. I move. I run. I walk. Fuck, some days? I just crawl. But I keep moving. And I’m resentful that I am forced to be this warrior when I’m really more of a lazy, accept-my-fate kind of gal.

So this week I have moved. I have put on foot in front of the other and hated the fact it’s so damn hard the whole time. But I did it. This week the attacker didn’t catch me.

See you Monday, bitch.

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Go East.

There are days when I do nothing.

Literally nothing.

I sit outside under piles of quilts and listen to the never ceasing traffic along the roads nearby. I browse the Internet. I drink tea. I wonder what I’m doing with my life and why I’m not doing it right now and I feel guilty and yet, I still sit there doing nothing.

I like to imagine me gathering energy, because sometimes on those days where I do nothing I feel like there is something ‘off’ inside me and I wait for it to feel ‘right’ again. I can’t even put into words exactly what that feeling is, it’s like a piece of tin roof flapping in the wind. Inside the house everything seems normal but you know from the sound that something isn’t nailed down properly where you can’t see. I gather energy and I wait. Sometimes I write but when the roofing is flapping everything comes out strange and disjointed and I might start a half a dozen different pieces and discard them all.

Those were the times when I use to shoot that I would go outside and centre myself by looking through the lens. Those are the times when I use to spin that I would get lost in the drafting and twist of the fibre as it left my hands, in the click of the wheel. But I don’t do those things anymore. Now I gather energy and I wait.

I don’t know what I am waiting for. I know I’m waiting for something because it’s the same feeling you have when you’ve gotten ready to go out too early and you’re sitting in your living room with your handbag by your side and your shoes on just waiting for the time you can leave the house. It’s the same feeling when you’re in the doctor’s surgery trying not to breathe in everyone’s germs while you wait for your name to be called.

And I’ve been waiting for a long time.

Years now.

And sometimes I’m not sure if I am supposed to keep waiting. If the ‘thing’ I’m waiting on just needs a little longer. I’m not sure if I am supposed to be getting up and finding my own way but I don’t know yet what direction I’m suppose to take so I’m paralysed without an address. Like someone handed me a slip of paper that just says, “You should go now.” And I’m like, “Yes, but where? Can you give me some more information? Even just ‘go East’. I’ll leave right now if you can just wave your hand in the general direction and we can get to the the specifics later.” But no one answers me. Just that same slip of paper.

So I wait.

And I gather energy in case it’s a long walk.

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Transition.

This last week I was at my therapists and I hadn’t seen her in a fortnight because I had to cancel last week with the flu. She asked how I had been. And I was like, “Well the first week was good. I went to lunch to my partner and we went out to dinner. But then I backslid badly last week and didn’t cope so well. I barely slept on the weekend and it was hard to eat.”

We start the EMDR therapy and when we do that she asks me to think about that morning where I couldn’t sleep. And then she brings me out and asks what comes up before starting the machine again. We do that again and again until I sort of break through to the root of the issue and that day I just BREAK DOWN. I’m a crying mess and I’m telling her I’m just sick of my BRAIN and I don’t know what to do about this because am I supposed to keep trying to be well? Am I suppose to just accept this is ALWAYS going to be hard? Like, what the fuck, even?

I cry until I’m calm and the room is quiet with nothing but the low hum of the paddles vibrating in my hands and after awhile she says softly, “And what comes up now?” And I take a deep breath and say, “Well. I suppose I just have to get better. There is no way through it but through it.”

It’s kind of like, when you are in labour to begin with it doesn’t feel so bad. You breathe through the contractions and sometimes you can muster a little smile for whomever is supporting you through it. You walk around. You take a shower. I’ve been in labour and resetting a Tamagotchi for my three year old at 8cms dilated.

Then something changes.

The contractions pick you up and wring you out. You finish one and barely have time to recover before the next one is descending. You tire. There are no more smiles. It’s hard work. At that point I sent my three year old and six year old to their room with a movie so I could focus on the business of birthing. Even then though you still remember why you are here. Good grief, but this is hard work but I’m having a baby and this will end.

And then.

Transition.

Transition is when women give up. It’s when you feel like you cannot possibly go on. There is sometimes a lull in contractions at this point but you are still rocking from what has been and cannot imagine you can survive their return. For me they space right out. But the intensity of them when I am so exhausted just leaves me in despair. This is the point when I look into my midwife’s eyes and confess I don’t think I’m strong enough. That it has never hurt this badly. That I will surely not survive this. I look to her for help. I want her to take over and take this from me because I don’t believe in myself anymore.

I can’t do this.

You can.

I can’t.

You can. You are. You must.

There is no way through it but through it.

At some point in the next few minutes I will rally. At some point I will grit my teeth and realise that *I* am the ONLY one in the room with the power here. That it is only ME. In the space of seconds I will turn from despair and towards the goal and think, “Then let us do this.” And then I push.

Transition.

Transition hurts. The shadow of lost hope washes over you. But there is no way through it but through it.

Then let us do this.

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