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Fearing the Future

“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present.  Unease, tension, anxiety, stress, worry-all forms of fear are caused by too much future and not enough presence.   Guilt resentment, regret, anger, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past and not enough present.”

Eckhart Tolle

I never truly knew how much I would learn from being someone’s parent.   My now, five year old daughter does not realize how much she teaches me.  I always thought that I would be the one teacher in our mother/daughter relationship.  However, I am not sure I have ever had a better teacher than my little girl, Kayci.  She teaches me how to be a kid again and enjoy the simple things in life.  She helps me to see things that I have seen for thirty five years and yet took for granted.  More than anything, she has taught me to live in the moment; something I have struggled with my entire life.  Kayci turned five a few months ago and lives in the present moment for the most part.  I noticed recently that she started talking about the future and the past a lot more frequently than she had in the past.  I do not want her to lose that sense of living in the moment and I want to live in the moment more than I do.  I worry about the future and cry about the past much more than any person should.  Worrying and despair increase my chronic pain and make it more difficult for me to manage it well.

I asked my daughter to help me remember to live in the moment.  We made up a game where if one of us started talking about the next day or the next week we would remind the other person to stop and come back to the present moment.   Kayci who is wise beyond her years said to me: “Mommy, if we talk about tomorrow we will forget today.”  Having someone, even if that someone is only five years of age remind me that I should not think about tomorrow is very helpful in my quest to live in the present moment and work on my never ending game of worrying.  If you have someone you love in your life and you spend a lot of time with (even if they are toddlers) ask them to play this game with you.  It is not only helping me but training my daughter’s brain at an early age to live in the moment; a lesson I wish I had learned as a child.

Living with chronic pain is hard enough then add on anxiety/worrying and you have a whole heap of new problems.  I have chronic pain and anxiety and there are times that I am not sure what is worse.  In all honesty, although I manage pain well chronic pain is the most difficult thing I have ever been faced with.  Anyone who has this invisible illness can attest to how difficult this disease is.  As far as I have come in my journey with chronic pain, I still struggle at times.  At the age of thirty five I struggle with anxiety and worrying about the future a lot.  My life is far from perfect and there are many things I want to change but change takes time.  There are many dreams I want to come to fruition but again those take time.  I try very hard to focus on my biggest blessing and that is clearly my daughter, Kayci.  Although I get frustrated with her at times, like all mothers do, I make sure she knows how loved she is and how special she is to me.  She has become my greater teacher.

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Managing Life’s Stress Along with Chronic Pain

“Just because they say action does not mean you have to do anything.”

Marlon Brando

This picture was taken just last week in the beautiful town of Lake George, NY.  My family and I went on a week long vacation that was so fun, peaceful, and unique it was difficult to drive back to reality this past Sunday.  My little mini me and I shed some tears as we drove away from our log cabin on the lake and onto the New Jersey Turnpike.  Vacations are always amazing but I find myself managing my chronic pain so much better when away from the every day hustle and bustle of real life.  When I pack for vacation, I make sure to include my “chronic pain management kit” which includes: yoga dvd’s, books, healthy food, CD’s for meditation, and my journal.  I am able to follow my routine for managing chronic pain naturally while on vacation and then some.   I am able to find endless, healthy distractions while away with the people I love.  It takes me a few days to adjust to the ‘real world’ once I return from a week away in what I call paradise.   I spend a week forgetting the stresses and issues I have at home and am able to surrender to the here and now for those seven blissful days.  We returned from our trip Sunday afternoon and the excitement of being home helped me forget my longing for that log cabin and pool.  I was busy unpacking, doing laundry, sorting through mail, and cleaning a home that had been alone for a week.  I went to bed tired and not feeling ready to wake up and face Monday in the non-vacation world.

Monday turned out to be a day from hell.  It started out just like any ordinary Monday: I exercised, got my daughter ready for the day, and left the house for errands and work.  I do not need to go into detail of what exactly transpired this past Monday but I now see how things really do happen all at once.   While I was at work,  I was anxiously waiting for a phone call that would either give me great news or not so great news.  I received the phone call around noon and it was not so great news. I was sad and shed a couple tears and got back to focusing on what I needed to be doing at that moment.  Five minutes later my phone rang again and it was a call from a close family member with really bad news that affects the people I love the most.  A couple hours later my phone rang one more time for even more difficult news.  I felt like I had to do something to fix the problems that I was faced with immediately.  Instead I called my dad and told him everything that had just happened and he shared the above quote with me: “Just because they say action does not mean you have to do anything.”  I realized that if I went into fight or flight mode than nothing good was going to happen and I was not only going to get myself into a huge mess, my little girl was going to be very upset and confused.

Logically I know that everything always works out but I struggle in the moments of bad news or life stressors.  I have two modes: catastrophic mode or fix the problem immediately at whatever cost mode.   Neither mode is constructive and both modes are very detrimental to my pain levels.  I forget how much stress/anxiety affects my chronic pain.  It does not matter how well I follow my routine for managing chronic pain when I am a crying, anxious mess.  I end up paying for my negative emotions physically once late afternoon/nighttime hits.  I exhaust myself to the point of extreme physical pain that I am no longer worrying about anything because I am only focused on pain.

People in my life forget that I have chronic pain which is not their fault.  I have had this invisible illness for twenty years.  Most of the people in my current life were not a part of my life when I was drowning in my fight against chronic pain.  They did not see the twenty one year old Jessica who spent her days in doctors offices and her nights drinking with her friends to the point of crying alone wishing she could either kill herself or chronic pain.  People in my life now see a person who states she has chronic pain but manages it naturally and has a good handle on her invisible illness.  I rarely if ever talk about pain as this is a very important tool for me in my management of chronic pain.  The more I talk about pain the more I think about pain.  The more I think about pain, the worse pain becomes.  A life with chronic pain can be very difficult even for myself at times.  I have come to a great point in my journey with pain but life stressors impact my pain levels more than I would like.

A lot of you are drowning in pain right now and feel that your pain will be forever and have no idea how you are going to make it through today much less the rest of your life.  You want to fix the pain right now, numb the pain right now, and you are either in catastrophic mode or need to fix this immediately mode.  My dad has always given me very sound, zen advice.  I urge you all to think about the quote that helped me these past few days: “Just because they say action does not mean you have to do anything.”

 

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Worrying about Worrying

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

Mark Twain

Most people with chronic pain also have anxiety and/or depression.  Some do not know which came first the anxiety or the pain: you know the whole chicken and egg theory that is way overused!  I know what came first for me: anxiety.  I have had anxiety since I was my daughter’s age and she just turned five.  I had many reasons to be worried at a young age and sadly they followed me into my teens and adulthood.  My bike accident and subsequent chronic pain did not help my anxiety at all.  Doubly whammy!  Anxiety and chronic pain are a vicious cycle that one has to find an end to.  Increased anxiety leads to increased pain and increased pain leads to increased anxiety.  The fear of pain and anxiety is often times worse than the pain or anxiety itself.  People who do not have chronic pain notice physical affects of worrying and stress.  People complain of headaches when extra stressed, stomach aches when anxious events occur in their lives, and a multitude of other ailments (all acute.)  The body and mind are so connected we forget the affect worry has on our chronic pain.

Yes, I have come to an amazing point in my journey with chronic pain and have been m managing it naturally for years.  However, I still have a lot of problems with anxiety and spend more time worrying about things than anyone should.  I have noticed lately that I find myself focusing more on my pain as I have begun to worry more about things.  I have not conquered chronic pain and do not plan on conquering my habit of worrying but I am going to do something about it.  My daughter and I were in Barnes and Noble this past weekend and a book randomly jumped out at me: “The End of Worry” by Will Van Der Hart and Rod Waller.  I have been finding time to read each chapter carefully and with an open mind each day.  I read it slowly with my trusty highlighter and do the exercises it asks of me at the end of each chapter.  I am thirty five years old.  I allowed chronic pain to steal ten years of my life and I am damned it I am going to allow my unhealthy habit of worrying steal more of my time than it already has.  I am tired of complaining about my anxieties and I want to feel in control of my own happiness.  I believe that anxiety is not only stealing my joy and peace of mind but keeping me from fulfilling the dreams I am determined to make come true.

No one is in charge of your happiness, health, or peace but you.  No one is going to save you.  Life is not a fairy tale or one of the sappy movies that I am in love with.  With that said we all need a support system and to be around people who can understand what we are going through.  We all need love and support.  However, it is up to you and me to take charge of our lives.  You deserve to feel empowered and filled with peace and joy.  Those of us with chronic pain have a lot of crap on our plate and I have found a way to live a happy life despite pain but I am exhausted from living with this anxiety.  I am tired of worrying about worrying and now it is time I do something about it.

 

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Forced to Grow Up too Fast due to Chronic Pain

“Girls my age are all: I wish I was skinnier, I wish I was tan, I wish my hair was longer, I hate my teeth, I want a newer car.”  And I am over here like I wish I could walk down these stairs without wanting to scream!”

Recently a young reader reached out to me who is suffering from chronic pain.  When I began writing four years ago about my journey with this invisible illness I believed my target audience would be mothers with chronic pain and I would be receiving emails from women who are trying to balance a life with chronic pain while taking care of their children.  I am a mother with chronic pain managing it well and am able to help those out there who cannot seem to get a grasp on this indescribable, invisible pain.  However, over the years I have received more emails and been contacted by older teenagers and young adults more than anyone else.  I was thinking about this last night and realized my target audience are those young adults who in the wraths of pain.  This made perfect sense to me and I had an Oprah AHA moment.  The worst years of my life were during the ages of eighteen to twenty two.  I was at my breaking point with chronic pain and life in general.  I can still remember, all too well how much my invisible disease had destroyed every aspect and facet of the person I was prior to chronic pain taking over my life.  During my young twenties I reached my rock bottom and it was at this time that I was literally drowning in pain and honestly wishing I was no longer alive.  I was not living any kind of life and to say I was surviving is even a stretch.  Therefore it does make sense why I have helped or guided those who are at that young age because I understand their pain better than I understand the pain of anyone else.  The people like who I am writing this post for do not realize that their words help me in ways I never thought possible.  It astounds me how strong this person is and how he is in such a better place than I was at his young age of twenty.

He brought up a very important topic that I believe will capture the eyes and minds of many young people who are drowning in their own pain.  When I was around the age of twenty I hated everyone and everything in the world.  Worst of all, I hated myself.  I isolated myself from all my peers because no one understood what I was going through and I could not bear to hear their problems because although I looked okay on the outside, I was near death on the inside.  Hearing my friends talk about cramps or a recent breakup from a two week relationship made me angry.  Hearing the problems of my friends made me want to scream: “YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LUCKY YOU ARE!  I WISH I HAD PROBLEMS THAT ARE SO EASILY FIXED.  I MAY DIE BECASUE OF THE CONSTANT DAMN PAIN I AM IN EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY. I WISH FOR ONE DAY YOU COULD WALK IN MY SHOES AND YOU WOULD NEVER COMPLAIN OF SUCH FRUITLESS MATTERS AGAIN. AND MAYBE YOU WOULD UNDERSTAND ME BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE DOES!”  However, I never said these words to anyone.  I either retreated to my bed to cry or asked my friends to have drinks with me.  I knew alcohol would numb my physical pain and I could then bear to hear about their problems.

I am thirty five now and I feel younger than I did when I was twenty.  I never found a cure to my chronic pain but I did find a way through the pain.   I still have chronic pain but it does not consume my life as it once did.  I can now listen to my friends problems without resentment or anger.  No one understands a pain or a struggle unless that person has endured that certain pain or struggle.  Anger and resentment towards anyone or anything only intensifies our own struggles and our own pain.  We are only hurting ourselves.  However, I want to remind anyone who is reading this who knows a friend or loved one with chronic pain that your loved one is suffering.  He or she is not selfish and wishes more than anything that they could listen to your problems and be there for you.  However, they cannot do that.  If you know someone who is truly suffering from an invisible illness understand that although he or she looks okay on the outside, that person is literally fighting for their life and doing the best he or she can.

This post is dedicated to Ethan: Thank you for your questions and please know that you are (like all of you) so much stronger than you believe.

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A Letter to Caregivers to those with Chronic Pain

“I am a strong person but every now and then I also need someone to take my hand and say everything will be alright…”

Unknown

I was recently asked by the very informative site http://www.themighty.com to write an article on what I would tell my parents what I feel they did right when I was suffering from chronic pain and also what I feel they did wrong.   I am going to go back in time and write a letter to my dad, who was my closest support system during all the years I was suffering from chronic pain.

Dear Dad,

I know it must be really difficult to see your only child going through such hell because of physical pain no doctor can fix.  I feel guilty all the time because I know I am not the daughter I once was and I miss me as much as you must miss me.  I know I can be really hard to deal with and you are usually really patient with me.  I am angry, depressed, anxious, scared, and feel worthless.  I do not even want to get out of bed anymore and the only reason I do is for class or a doctor’s appointment.  You are spending so much money on all these procedures, doctors, medications, and everything else we are trying in order to rid my body  of this horrific pain no one can see.  Some days I want to just die and then I think of what that would do to you and I cannot imagine hurting you more than I probably already have.  I hate myself dad.  I want to tell you how I keep going and the main reason I am able to keep going is because of you and how supportive you are during this awful time for me.  I know no one can no longer see my scars or physical pain and many people think I am making this pain up.  You never doubt me.  You always believe me and never once have questioned whether or not I am in actual pain despite not being able to see my pain.  I never have to prove anything to you.  You believe me and I have never doubted your belief.  When I feel as if I am going crazy, I remember that the person I love more than anything has never once doubted an illness he is unable to see.

You take me to all my doctor’s appointments and I am no fun to be around right now.  I look at you and all the effort you put into helping me find a cure and I know that I cannot give up.  You must really love me to take so much of your time to sit in waiting rooms with me half of both our weeks!  I always feel so guilty when a new medication does not work.  I always feel guilty when I have another procedure or surgery that the doctor promises me will work and it fails.  I do not even feel like the medication or the surgery failed, I feel as if I failed.  However, you never look at me like a failure.  You never get down and out or seem consumed with worry as I do.  You probably hide it very well because you care so much for me.  You truly believe something will eventually work and how can I give up if you are so adamant that we will not stop until something works for my invisible illness?  You keep me going.

I continuously feel as if I am letting you down and yet when I look into your eyes I do not see a dad who is upset with me.  Only once can I remember you getting really frustrated with me because I did not believe a certain therapist/holistic healer could help me.  You drove me into the city of Philadelphia and sat in the waiting room as I reluctantly and unwillingly went into the therapists office who specialized in invisible illnesses.  I knew she could not help me and did not have an open mind and left her office crying endless tears.  You got very upset with me on the drive home because I refused to ever go back to that office.   You were not happy with my negative attitude and you yelled at me in frustration that crying would not help anything.  I am sure you were not really mad at me but the invisible illness.  It has to be frustrating for you to keep trying everything in your power to help me and my pain and yet nothing helps.  You are human after all.  I know deep down I am not letting you down but sometimes I forget when you get frustrated with me.

The two most important things you did for me during my darkest hours of chronic pain were believing in me and my invisible illness and never giving up on me.  What more could anyone ask for?  All I really needed was to be believed, validated, and supported.  I truly cannot think of anything  you could have done differently. In many ways you saved my life.  Even now at the age of thirty five you are the one person who knows the ins and out of my journey with chronic pain.  Sometimes I think you forget I still have chronic pain because I never talk about it and manage it so well and I just want you to remember that it is still there and there are times when I am extra quiet or cranky because of my invisible illness. Even at the age of thirty five, a mother myself I need someone to hold my hand say everything will be alright.

Love,

Your daughter Jessica

This post is dedicated to my hero also known as my dad.

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You are NOT Your Pain

“Just a reminder in case your mind is playing tricks on you today: YOU matter.  You’re important.  You’re loved.  And your presence on this earth makes a difference whether you see it or not.”

Unknown

Recently someone I look up to and deeply respect asked me a question that truly made me think about myself and my self-love.  She asked me why I thought it was so difficult to love myself the way I love my daughter, my family, and the people I write for who are suffering from chronic pain.  I instill selflove into my daughter daily and try hard to teach her the value she has and the importance she makes to those around her.  I want her to love herself as much as I love her so that she will always feel that she is enough despite the challenges life will throw at her during her time here on Earth.   I consistently write about self love and see the value in each person who writes me for help or support during the darkest hours of their life.  I know their pain and how severe it is because my life revolved around chronic pain for more than a third of my life.   The number one reason a person with chronic pain dies is by suicide.  I understand that, I had many thoughts of ending my own life fifteen years ago due to this insidious, invisible, horrific disease that I have been lucky enough to come to peace with.  I believe self love and self worth to be more important for a person than any other attribute or value a person has.  I don’t believe one can be happy without self love and a sense of being enough.  I do love myself and I am very proud of how far I have come in my journey with chronic pain.  However, I do not always feel enough.  There are times when I doubt my self love and I am my biggest critic.  My thoughts are too often negative and my mind plays more tricks on me than I care to share.

I truly thought about why I found it hard to love myself as I love and care for others and many reasons came to mind: difficult childhood, horrible boyfriends in my past, losing friends, etc.  However, the number one reason hit me this morning as I was exercising and listening to a Ted Talks video.  There may be many reasons for my difficulty with self love but I believe chronic pain is truly what stole my sense of self love and value twenty years ago and I am still suffering the side affects of that loss despite how well I manage pain now.  I spent so much of my life in physical and emotional pain that it changed me.  I believed for fifteen years I had no value to anyone and that I was just a burden to those around me because of chronic pain.  I lived in guilt, shame, and self-hatred.  The hatred I had for chronic pain began to become a hatred towards my own body, mind, and spirit.  I lost myself to pain.  I am only thirty-five years old so to spend that amount of time feeling like I would have been better off dead than to be alive with unrelenting pain would definitely have deep rooted affects that I am now carrying with me.  I do not hate myself anymore and I am very happy to be alive.  I am also very proud of myself and at times find it hard to believe I made it this far in my journey with chronic pain.  My invisible illness does come out at times but I am able to look at it and smile and focus on what is important to me.  Yes, I have difficult days that pain does impact to a  point but overall pain does not define me as a person.  Although, I am managing chronic pain well and have been for years I still suffer from the emotional side affects of this illness.

I still find myself comparing my life to others.  I still focus on the future too much instead of enjoying what I have right now at this present time.  I still allow my mind to have too many negative feelings about myself.  I made it through chronic pain and have a life I never dreamed of despite my invisible illness.  However, chronic pain is like an Earthquake: the grounds eventually settle, houses are eventually re-built, and societies are slowly brought back together.  However, it takes many, many years for both the Earth and the people who reside on this ground to recover and find their bearings again.

You are not your chronic pain.  I do not want anyone to feel as I did during the most tumultuous times in my journey with chronic pain.  I did not think I was important.  I did not think I mattered to anyone in the world and I believed the world would be better off without me. I believed my presence on earth made a difference but a negative difference.  I was unable to see or hear other stories where people made it through their journey with chronic pain as I did.  You are still a valuable, loving, important person.  Chronic pain may rob you of many things right now but chronic pain does not define the true essence of who you are.  You are not your pain.  One day, you will make it through this journey and come to a peaceful place.  I need you all to believe that you are more than an illness. You are a strong, important person and the world NEEDS you.

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Healing Through Time

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“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes?  But when you look back everything is different?”

C.S. Lewis

The best day of my life was the day I brought this angel into our world:  February 2nd, 2012.  I am sure so many parents feel that way about the days they brought their children into this world however I never thought I would be able to physically or mentally be able to be a mother because of chronic pain.  For years I lived in constant fear that my invisible illness had stolen all of my dreams and desires.  I battled my chronic pain demons to the point of self destruction.  During my darkest hours of pain I dropped out of college and gave up on any life I had hope for.  I began to mourn the loss of the Jessica I believed was gone.  I mourned all the losses I thought had been ripped out of my heart without any reason except incurable, non stop, excruciating physical pain.  Yes, I had dreams to do well in college and become a teacher or a counselor.  I had dreams of becoming a writer and sharing my stories.  However, my biggest dream in the world was to be a mother.  The thought that chronic pain had stolen any chance of my biggest dream coming true was too much to bear and I did hit my rock bottom in my relentless battle with chronic pain.

Fast forward a couple years to when I first heard the words: chronic pain and acceptance and I was taught how to manage my invisible illness naturally and my dreams slowly began to come to fruition.  Despite chronic pain I graduated college and received my degree in social work.  I spent many amazing, unforgettable years practicing social work in the medical field.  I was healthy.  Chronic pain was no longer controlling my life and I was finally in charge.  I was no longer battling my invisible illness or allowing the illness to take away my dreams.  My biggest dream came true when this little girl entered my life and I became my favorite word in the world: mother.

I keep a one liner journal that I have shared with my readers at times and will continue to do so when special days arise.  Each day I write one to three lines of what stood out most for me that specific day whether the day was difficult or amazing I write it down.  I never thought that taking a few minutes a day to write down three sentences would alter my view on my life to the point it has.  For ten years chronic pain controlled every moment of every day of my life and honestly came close to taking my life.  I lived in catastrophic mode realizing like in the movie: “Groundhogs Day” I would wake up every day and be in a state of pain with no relief and no cure.  Despite having control over my invisible illness I still have difficult moments and at times a whole day with pain and have a difficult time distracting myself from my physical struggle.  I am also human and chronic pain is not the only difficult thing that has happened in my life and I will continue to face the challenges life brings us all.  I am able to look back on my one liner journal every day and see just how much can change in a day…a week…a year.  This journal reminds me that no matter what, I can never give up and that all my hopes and dreams will come true no matter what my current situation or current mood is.  I want to share with you my journal one-liner entries are for February 2nd.

February 2nd

2011: I had a D & C/miscarriage.  We lost the baby boy that was inside of me.  I cannot get off the couch and just don’t want to be alive.  I have worked so hard to get to where I am and had my dream inside me and the doctor ripped it out of me.  I’ll never be the same.

2012:  Our daughter, Kayci was born!   I am a MOMMY!  Kayci was born at 7:41pm.  The same doctor that did my D &C last year delivered my daughter!  Six pushes!  I have never been so happy.  This was the greatest moment of my life.

2013: Kayci turns one!  Birthday party of the century!  My mom was amazing and got a pony to come to our house 🙂 She did so much to help celebrate my angel’s first year and sadly missed the party because she was in the hospital.

2014: Kayci turns two!!! Had an amazing birthday with our family and loved ones.  I had two glasses of wine and was literally hungover from just that.  What happened to me?  When chronic pain was terrible two glasses of wine would have been like juice!  I am such a different person!  Exercised and did yoga nidra to feel healthy again!

2015: Although it has been a difficult few months I refused to allow my recent struggle to ruin Kayci’s third birthday!  Decorated house to surprise her and spent quality time with my now three year old.

2016:  Kayci awoke at 4:45 am because she was so excited to turn four!  She loved finding the small gifts hid around our home.  I took her to Build a Bear to start a birthday tradition.  I was in tears of happiness watching her joy as she built her own bear.  She is the best kid ever!

2017: I cannot believe Kayci is five!  It is bittersweet for me, where is the time going?  Decorated house and exercised with my now five year old.  I took Kayci to Build a Bear to keep the tradition going.  She did not remember last year so it was all new to her again.  I had tears of happiness again.  We had pizza and cake at home and she was so happy she refused to go to sleep.

I share this with you because everything does change and although you may feel hopeless with your personal invisible illness or crisis at the moment you must remember that everything does get better with time.  I have things in my life that I wish were happening now and I have multiple struggles in my life that I wish were better this second.  However, I know all my dreams and desires will come true especially when I see days like the one above.  I cannot lose faith or hope and neither can any of you. You may feel sad, hopeless and defeated today but you truly do not know what is in store with you and this time next year everything may be totally different.  I will not give up hope and neither should any of you!

 

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