Fear of the Unknown

I am afraid of the future. I’m excited, but at the same time, it absolutely terrifies me. In some ways, that makes it even more exciting though, and I love that recently I have learnt to embrace feeling scared and turn it into a positive. When I am overtired though, it doesn’t make the achey feeling in my stomach any easier to handle, knowing that nerves can be the same as excitement. Especially not when those nerves stem from the thought of another year of teaching being over in less than three weeks, and another exam season beginning. Especially not when the fear is due to moving again in September to a new location, starting a new job, meeting new people, and learning to cope again. Especially not when I am terrified of my family this summer, and if we will remain a family with the tensions caused by my brother in the house.

I don’t know what is happening. I can’t control the future, and there are some situations that I cannot meticulously plan for like I do in every other aspect of my life, and it makes me feel a bit sick. In fact, today, it has been making me feel extremely sick, hot, and queasy, despite supposedly being in a lab where I needed to be focused.

My thoughts are no longer thought’s, they’re simply inexplainable feelings that I cannot give names to. I don’t think about what it is that’s scaring me, I just feel afraid. I can’t control my feelings when I can’t name them or reason for them. I don’t like that very much, either.

To be honest, I’m not really scared of the future – that’s the exciting bit. I’m simply scared of the unknown. That is as far from exciting as you can get. That’s petrifying.

Results

Yet again, that time of year has come around where we sit and wait anxiously for numbers on a piece of paper (or email, as the case is now). Today, at my university at least, was January exam results day.

My January exams were I mess. I was a mess. I didn’t know what happened, but I didn’t feel like I possibly could have worked hard enough, and time and time again I felt like I wanted to give up, and that it didn’t matter any more. Despite that, though, I wasn’t stressed. I didn’t have panic attacks, I slept at night, and I ate good food. It was a surreal experience for me, because that’s just not how I’ve ever taken exams. I’ve just never been chilled out about it. It was bizarre, so bizarre that I am struggling to explain.

My first exam went fantastically. I went into that exam feeling extremely prepared. I was very happy, and I came out feeling confident. That was new, too. No stress, at all.

The second was great, too. Not quite the same confidence, but still good.

The third, I was angry and frustrated about afterwards. I felt medioka before, but I didn’t think I’d have gotten a good grade. I didn’t think it would be good enough for me to stay on my course, anyway.

My last exam was a mess. I struggled to work for it, I struggled to remember the content, the exam was horrific, nobody seemed to have any similar answers, and I guessed 80% of the answers. After that exam, I cried when I got home.

I cried again a few weeks later, on a night out in a toilet with my best friend, drunk. I’d forgotten about that, it was otherwise an amazing but really very hazy evening.

I’ve had the odd thought since then, but I’ve tried to block the thought of exams out of my mind. I really and truly have tried to ignore it, and I’ve done very very well at distracting myself. I knew, especially after that last exam, that results day would ruin me. I would come crashing down, and burn, and all my hard work would be wasted, and I would feel like a failure.

This morning, I had a panic attack. This afternoon, while sat in a room with my two closest course friends, they pressured me to read the email that I had sworn that I would only read on my own.

That first exam, I got 78%. The second, 64%, the third 60%, and most shockingly of all, the fourth I got 49%. I passed them all. I averaged out at a very high 2:1, and I was absolutely over the moon. Of course, everyone wants a first, but when you are convinced you’ve failed and are about to be kicked off your degree (and I have had an extremely realistic mindset recently and know for sure that’s not just general worry and exaggeration), nobody is complaining about a 2:1. I can stay on my course, and go on placement, providing I keep it up this semester. I did really well, I shocked myself, and I was so so very happy.

My dad was perhaps not so enthusiastic. I played it down and laughed it off at the time, but later, when I was at home in the silence of my own room, I cried. I cried not only because he was less enthusiastic about my 2:1, but also because I was so shocked at myself. I did so amazingly better than I expected, and he wasn’t very enthusiastic. I’ve always relied on my parents to be enthusiastic about my grades and education, even when they couldn’t be about my other achievements. Now though, I’m not getting the 100% very best grades. University is a lot harder than A Levels, and my family don’t seem to get that. It’s heartbreaking, because everyone wants those closest to them to be proud of you.

But maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t matter so much. It hasn’t affected me as much as it would in the past. I didn’t worry about texting them, because I think (although I am a little afraid to admit it), I am proud of myself. I am proud of how far I’ve come emotionally with coping with stress, and I am proud that my work has paid off, even though I thought it hadn’t. I’d set realistic goals, and to think you haven’t achieved them is gross, but I did, and I am so very happy with that.

I guess I’m learning, at last, that paper and grades don’t define me as a whole. I want to work harder next semester to get a first. I want even more time working and to do that. But I want to do it for me, not for anyone else. My best friend has spent over five years teaching me to be proud of myself, telling me that she believes in me, and having confidence in me.

Maybe I’m finally learning. Maybe it’s time to take the self-confidence I’ve never had. It’s not easy, and I’m not there yet, but this is a massive step. She’s proud of me, and in terms of emotion and coping, I’m absolutely in shock.

I’ll go to bed tonight feeling a little confused, I will admit. I am upset that I haven’t pleased my parents, but I’m extremely happy with how I’m changing emotionally, and my results on paper. I’m glad I have friends around me to laugh and have lunch with after our results, and I’m glad that my best friend is always here for me. I can’t wait to see her again. Tonight, I really miss her. She’s done a lot more for me than she’s ever going to realise, and I just wish she was here so I could give her a hug, tell her thank you, and have a minor cry so that I can work out what the hell I’m really feeling.

Right now, I’m crying and hurting, but with a smile on my face. I don’t know if this is really me, or if I’m hiding behind a happiness mask. I’ve genuinely no idea, and it’s terrifying but liberating all at the same time. It’s new. I didn’t stress. I got 68%. It’s results day.

I think it’s okay to be a little confused today.

Thankful

On Wednesday I went to a high ropes course. I’m a bit of a strange one. I’m terrified of heights, but I always want to give everything a go. When it was suggested, I said I was afraid so shouldn’t go. ‘We’ll look after you,’ came the response. I could hardly turn down then, could I!?

I did okay though. At least, I did a lot better than I ever remember doing as a kid. I went third, out of five. I stepped onto the first wire tentatively, but no problems. I was distracted on the first bit by shouting ‘This is mildly terrifying!’ and the man misunderstanding my accent and commenting on the fact it was a good job that I wasn’t doing an English degree because ‘madly terrifying’ didn’t make sense. So, that puts me 1/7 of the way there. Second obstacle was a wire to walk along and hanging ropes to grab. That one made my heart lurch, but no problem. 2/7 of the way there. I sat on the weird swing like device and pulled myself along. Okay, it was weird and my upper body strength was only just up to the job, but I did it! By this point, this first person had finished the course and was shouting encouraging words at me. I commented that it felt like life coaching. I laughed. 25 meters off the floor and I actually laughed. Convincing myself that the next obstacle wasn’t much different from the first, I made it to the furthest corner from the start point. That’s when things started to go downhill. I stood for an undefined period of time at the wobbliest corner, staring at the rope loops and the hanging wooden logs, only large enough for one foot. I told that girl who was shouting encouragement at me that I hated her. She was the one who had persuaded me to do this. It took a while, but once I started, I asked about the bridge that I could see in the distance, walked slowly across and hugged the next pole like my life depended on it. Suddenly, I was 5/7 of the way there. The next obstacle is a bit tricky to explain without rambling on for hours, but after being convinced that I could hug the poles all I wanted and they were pretty sturdy (and they didn’t lie, they were sturdy!) I made it across, took one last leap, and reached the final post! I was so close! I was still telling the girl, we’ll call her Y, that I hated her. The last obstacle was always going to be a problem. It was just a beam, all I had to hold was my own rope, and I had to get myself across. That took a lot of coaxing. I was definitely definitely scared, and whilst I’d been making a conscious effort to control a panic attack since the weird rope loopy thing, I was now REALLY making an effort. Eventually, I went. My stupidly large feet didn’t betray me, I didn’t trip (as I do probably 15 times a day on flat ground!) and I was back! Yeyyyy! Although she’d been taking it all the way around, Y did just have to clarify that I didn’t hate her. Of course not! She gave me a hug, and for a second, I got that sense of security that I love about a hug. Boom, relaxed.

Somehow, they psyched me up to go again. This time, Y said that she’d follow me. After all, you can have two to a platform, and she said she’d be able to help me. Okay, no problem, I can do this, I’ve done it before. Next thing you know I was clipped in and standing once more on a precarious looking wire. Zip, zip, zip, I made it past the swing. I held onto the pole super tight while Y decided she was going to push off the pole before me to make her swing ride easier. Of course, that made the whole course shake. I climbed along the next wire, and suddenly, full of adrenaline, and laughing, I found myself back at that far corner pole with the weird rope loops and logs. Once again, I froze. Y decided to do the obstacle I just had done on one foot. That of course meant her jumping around on the rope, and really really REALLY making the pole wobble. By the time she reached me, I was full on panic attack, 25 meters in the air and no way back, with someone that whilst I know is a lovely person, I haven’t really known her very long at all, and I definitely never intended for her to see me like that. I was holding that corner so tight that I couldn’t let go, no matter how hard I tried. She was absolutely amazing. I’m sure it comes from being a cub leader. Or maybe that’s just why she is a cub leader. Somehow, she made me change my mind. I took the first step, my heart lurched, and slowly but surely, I made it across. The next bit was easy, the one where I could hug the poles!

And finally, I was back at that last platform, and the last corner. I was back at the bar with nothing to hold but my own rope. By the time X reached me, I was in tears. I wasn’t sure why. A mixture of fear, adrenaline, and disappointment, I guess. And a realisation that student scouts and guides is where I fit in. I feel safe, I feel like I can be me, and it’s beautiful. I’ve finally found my home at university, but I didn’t realise until I was up on that high ropes course with them, completely terrified with no way out. Even so, I didn’t want her to see me cry. I thought if I could stare hard enough into the distance and look deep enough into the mountains I could stop it from happening, or that somehow she wouldn’t notice. Of course, I was wrong. Again, she knew within seconds and climbed around the platform to face me. I turned the other way. ‘It’s okay, I don’t mind. You can’t hide from me anyway, the platform is tiny and there’s two of us on it! I really don’t mind, it’s okay. I know it’s hard if you’re afraid of heights, but I’m proud of you for giving it a go.’ I’m not sure if that made me feel better or cry more. Pride. You may know by now that pride is a tricky subject. It’s tricky for me to be proud of myself and it’s tricky for me to accept that others are proud of me. It makes my heart swell. It made me cry more. I don’t even feel like my parents have ever been proud of me.

She stayed there with me (admittedly, what choice did she have, but we can at least hope it was through caring!). Somehow, she made me laugh again (definitely she made me laugh an awful lot, I seriously don’t know how she managed it and I’m not sure if anyone else I know could have done!) and soon, with gentle coaxing, she helped me turn away from the pole. She held my harness tight, she reached for my hand and promised that she wouldn’t let me fall. Of course I know that if I slipped she wouldn’t be what would stop me from falling, but it made me feel safe. It still took a while but soon I was stood at the edge once more. I put the first foot on the beam, let go of her hand in favour of my rope, she told me that it was just baby steps (again, resisting tears here – that’s something my best friend says to me on my hardest days, and I miss that girl so much!), I shut my eyes and started walking. She didn’t let go until I was so far away that she had no choice.

I’d made it to the end. I was relived. I wasn’t sure why it was so much worse the second time, perhaps the adrenaline had worn off. I sat, away from the instructors and pulled my knees to my chest. Seconds later she sat beside me, checked that I was okay, told me once more that she was proud of me, and within minutes, had me laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe. She said later that as long as I was laughing at least 51% of the time (which I sure as hell was!) then she had achieved what she was aiming for.

We did Jacobs ladder that afternoon. Me, her and another girl went up. Three rungs from the top I wanted to go back down. ‘Just one more?’ Suddenly, we were at the top. I’ve done high ropes and Jacobs ladder before, but I’ve never ever made it to the top of the ladder. Until this week.

She was lovely, all afternoon. Sadly my panic means that I can’t remember everything that she said and did or the timings, but I remember the important bits – the bits that made my heart flip. Sadly, I never got a chance to say a proper thank you. Of course I said it as I got out of her car, but somehow it didn’t quite feel right. But I am thankful. And I’ll always be thankful, to everyone out there who cares and loves, because they’re the most beautiful people in the world.

Failure

I’m a failure. I’ve always been a failure. I’ve never been, and I never will be good enough. Even after writing this post the first time, it failed to upload and I lost it all. I’m going to try and write it again, but it’ll never be the same the second time around. It’ll never tell the same story, and now that I’ve taken time to think about it, I probably wont tell the whole truth this time. I guess that it’s another story to add to the archives for a ‘3am, curled up in the duvet, teary eyed in the pitch black darkness’ night. The irony of a post entitled failure failing to upload is huge. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing it at all.

As a kid, I always came last in sports day. I dropped out of dance and horse riding classes, and I was behind my peers in my flute lessons. I couldn’t see the normal line guides when doing neat work in class due to my horrendous eye sight and very high prescription glasses, and so I had to have special extra bold ones made so that I could write in straight lines and see them through the plain paper. I wasn’t perfect. I didn’t do everything that I was asked to do first time. I was weaker than my little brother and lost in fights. I didn’t change things that I could have changed, or stop events happening that I could have stopped. I couldn’t just fix things straight away, and I couldn’t improve the situations and things that happened around me. I was always ‘it’ in tig because I couldn’t run fast enough. I didn’t move up classes in swimming at the end of every single term, I couldn’t spell to save my life, and I used to have extra spelling classes. The only thing that I was ever really good at was academics: reading, writing, and numeracy. Despite my spelling issues, I got the highest grades you could possibly get at primary school, and an award for outstanding achievement when I left. A similar theme resonated through middle school. I’d set an expectation for my parents that I would academically always be the best.

This was an expectation that I found I couldn’t live up to. As I got older, things got harder, and people got more clever. Moving to upper school meant the start of my GCSE’s and a whole host of new, and much more talented people. Although I made it through those exams with a set of A’s and A*’s, passing the boundaries of my parents expectation, things began to change when I got to A Level.

I realised that I’d gotten to a point where unless it was academic, my parents didn’t care, and they weren’t proud of me. I got a B in one of my subjects at the end of AS, and my parents then began to take even less interest in my extra curricular activities. I began to achieve things outside of academia. Some of those I didn’t and still don’t think much of because my parents didn’t either, even though people around me commented on how good they were. But as with everything, there were some that I was proud of, and it destroyed me a little when my parents weren’t proud with me. The thing that has always stood out the most to me was my grade seven flute exam. I’ve always struggled with my flute, and been entered for exams with a previous teacher too early, with little practice and guidance. I feared them. I feared them because I always failed or nearly failed, and my parents knew that. I don’t think they ever understood why I used to still take them. That’s easy, and I know the answer to that one, but they never asked. In the early days, I was afraid of my teacher and did exactly as she said. When I got my new (and may I add, amazing) teacher, things changed. This time, when it came to my grade seven, I wanted to prove a point. She’d built my confidence block by block, and while the thought of failure still ruled me, I didn’t want to scrape through, a few marks above the pass boundary, I wanted a merit. For any decent musician, a merit isn’t much to be honest. If anything, they’ve probably grown to expect it. For me, getting that merit was absolutely everything, and I worked and I worked and I worked. I’m sure that my best friend can still remember my reaction the day that my flute teacher rang with my result, for she was sat opposite me in the corner of a little coffee shop in our home town. I was speechless, but when the information sunk in, and I got my merit, I danced and I jumped around, and nobody could stop me. I was beyond happy, and I was extremely proud of myself. I did it. I’d achieved what had seemed impossible to me. My hard work had paid off, and as soon as I got home, I ran through the door and screamed about my achievement. Neither of my parents even said well done.

I cried in my next flute lesson as I told my teacher that story. I was heartbroken. They both knew how much that exam had meant to me, yet they showed not even the tiniest bit of happiness or joy for me. It didn’t make them happy that I was happy, and that hurt. It tore a little part of me away that I know I’ll never get back, regardless of how much I try.

The long awaited A2 results day didn’t go much better, either. After months and months of expectations, pressure, stress, tears and genuine heart wrenching fear, I rang my dad to tell him that I’d gotten into university the second that I found out. I was extremely excited and couldn’t wait to tell him the good news. His response was ‘what grades did you get?’ When I replied that I didn’t know just yet, but I knew I was in to my first choice, he told me to hurry up and go and found out. My uni course needed me to get grades AAB. As it happens, I got A*AA. Of course, I was interested to see what results I’d gotten, but most of the excitement came from knowing that I’d made it to university. That’s the big hurdle of A Levels, isn’t it? They get you through to the next stage of your education, and then nobody ever really looks at them again. I cried with happiness when I opened this envelope. One, I was a little shocked that I’d managed to do so well, and I’d never have predicted such amazing results in my wildest dreams. Second though, I knew that those grades meant that not only had I achieved my dream of going to university, I’d satisfied my parents, too. There were no B grades, and so they had no reason to be disappointed in me. I knew that I’d get smiles when I got home, and that meant that I could at least pretend that they were happy about the university bit, too.

Of course, I probably shouldn’t care what my parents think, but I do. After all, they raised me. They taught me values and morals, and led me through the early stages of my life. I do care what they think, because they’re my parents. They’re important and they mean a lot to me, and as their child, I want to make them happy. I don’t want them to worry about me. I want them to be proud of me. I want to show them that their parenting has paid off, and that I’m the child that every parent wants.

Now though, failure and expectations rule my life, and I often feel like I define myself by letters on bits of paper. Teachers have always questioned why I put pressure on myself, but what they fail to understand is that actually, I don’t. It’s not a choice. Nobody in their right mind would choose to make themselves ill through stress in the way that I do. I just have expectations to live up to. There’s still a little child inside me that wants to please and make everyone around me happy, no matter how hard that is. One day though, I want to get past this. I won’t be able to do it on my own, and it’s going to take a very very long time. I know that I’ll have to change my thought process, my outlook, and both my physical and mental habits and behaviours. But I have to, because I don’t want to be ruled by a need to please, and a need to academically achieve. I don’t want to have to put heath-deteriorating pressure on myself to do well, in order to live up to the expectations that others set for me. I want to set my own expectations, and want other people to be proud of me for being who I am and doing what I do, not because of what’s written on a piece of paper. I feel like nobody is ever proud of the real me. Nobody appreciates my efforts, they just rely on the end result. Mostly though, I’d like to be proud of myself, and I’d like to be able to feel happy and proud without feeling guilty.

It’s going to take a long time to change the thoughts that I have with regards to failure, because they’re so engrained into me. It’s something that I fear, but it’s also something that I don’t like to admit that I fear. The fear of failing controls nearly every aspect of my life, from how well I do in my exams, to forming friendships, to being confident, spending too much money, getting ill and sick, not sleeping enough, not working enough, things not being organised and lined up at perfect angles to one another. I won’t stop working 12 hour days, because I will always over work, that’s just me. Just because I want to rid myself of this fear, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to achieve my absolute best at all times. What I’d like to be able to do is stop thinking ‘I’m a failure’ and instead think, ‘I didn’t get it quite right this time, but I tried my very hardest, and that’s all I can do.’

I won’t change who I am, because I’ll always be me. What I want to try and do, however, is change my attitude to success and failure. I’d like to not feel guilty about taking time out from my studies, and permanently have images swirling around my head, and a little argument in my brain about the fact that I’m not working enough. I don’t want to be so exhausted by the pressure that my life consist of only 12 hours of work, and 12 hours sleep, with nothing to break it up. It’s going to take a long time to change. I won’t be able to do it on my own. There’s so many things related to failure which I have to combat, and I can’t do it without someone to believe in me. Nobody has ever believed in me before, and nobody has ever been proud of me. I don’t care about that. Okay, that’s a lie. I do care. At least, I care right now, but I want to get to a point where I don’t. I can’t do this on my own though, because I’m afraid to fail at combating failure. I’m afraid to write myself goals, and to start working on this, because it could all go heads up. On my own, I’m not strong enough to make things better. Please help me?

Coping with the Unknown

I’ve just had another blood test. I was told that in my first, my white blood cell count was abnormal. They’re testing for anaemia, but my haemoglobin was normal. It’s probably not anaemia, in that case.

The nurse could obviously see me becoming worked up by this news, as she spent the rest of the appointment desperately trying to convince me that if I just ate red meat it would all be okay, and that it was ‘probably nothing at all to worry about’. That’s her job though, and the sound of surprise in her voice when I told her why they were testing me and she saw my initial results was still ringing in my head.

I got home, and my best friend rang. By this point, I’d dissolved into a teary and hyperventilating mess. The doctor told me when I went for my first appointment that an abnormal white blood cell count was something to worry about.

She’s so sweet, my best friend, and she’s so caring. Sick herself, she woke up from her long sleep, dosed up on very strong painkillers, just to comfort me. I needed it. Whispered words were exchanged, I told her the story, and my tears got worse. From miles and miles away she successfully got me breathing again, and talking about having a hug with a teddy (sadly, I don’t have one with me).

I’m now curled up in my bed, my tears have stained my pillow but practicing my deep breathing has slowly ensured that they have subsided. I have a lecture now, and really, I must go instead of sitting and dwelling. I’ve got lots to do today.

I’ll get the results on Friday, and I’ll see the doctor next week. She’s told me that I must call as soon as I hear anything on Friday. Until then, I’ll try to concentrate on my work. It may have ruined a few hours of my life, but I must do everything in my power to ensure that the unknown doesn’t ruin me altogether.

I’m afraid, more afraid than I’ve been in a long time, but it’ll be okay, as long as the people who care are here for me.

Finding My Voice

As a child I was always very quiet and shy. I didn’t talk to strangers, and I wouldn’t answer questions in class. I didn’t have many friends because I simply didn’t have the communication skills to make them. I was quiet, kept my head down, and I loved school.

I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown up, I’ve got friends to support me, and I’ve been leading Rainbows, Guides, and a Primary Science Club for four years. My confidence has shot like a rocket. I answer questions in class, I’m more confident in asking for help with work, I take Rainbow promise ceremonies, and I am a maths mentor for a girl who is two years younger than me. This year, my flute teacher even managed to get me to introduce my solo in the flute concert, and get to the end without shaking too much. I’ve given numerous presentations about my Guiding adventure to Denmark, and in a few weeks, I’ll be giving one to the Rotary about my leadership roles. I seriously am a changed person, and I’m so proud of that.

There are however a few situations that still make me panic. I’ve always struggled to cope with the pressure of a one to one situation. I didn’t speak to my new flute teacher for the first year, and it’s only in the past eight months or so that I’ve been confident talking to my best friend about problems and advice in person. Even now, there is the odd time in my flute lesson that I will know the answer, but I just can’t move my mouth to form the words to say it. It’s not something that I choose. I simply freeze, and it doesn’t matter how hard I try, the words just won’t come out. Starting my leadership qualification with Rainbows has been mildly terrifying. Sitting down with an adult and discussing my opinion just isn’t something that I cope very well with. I can feel the pressure mounting and building, it all sits on my shoulders, and sometimes it physically hurts. I worry about silly things – anything that could mean failure or making a fool of myself in front of people that I’m not close to, and the panic begins to wrap around me and it can’t be controlled.

I have theories on why I get such bad ‘stage fright’. I think it probably goes back to being a kid. I had a few embarrassing stage related incidents, but more importantly, I hate being wrong. I’ve always been a perfectionist, with high standards. My parents put exceptional amounts of pressure on me, and all I want to do is ensure that I don’t let anyone down. Being one to one means that I have no choice but to give my opinion or ideas, and although it never really occurred to me, perhaps I have a fear of being wrong. I sure as hell had a fear of failure. My parents were always proud of me when I achieved something, but because my brother was always a bit of a pain, I never felt that I got the attention otherwise.

So when the idea was suggested to me of talking to a teacher about my worries to do with my best friend, I thought they were insane. Just thinking about it makes me flush. My breathing rate increases, and I feel the onset of panic. At the same time that I know talking to someone would do wonders for me, it’s a horrifying idea. Sharing my concerns would allow me to relieve some tension, to let go. I don’t even have to say her name. But I’m afraid. And since I met my best friend, I’ve never had to cope with my fears alone. This time however, I do, and I’m not entirely convinced how I should handle that.

I might cry. I’m going to appear weak and helpless, and look completely stupid in front of my favourite teacher. To admit that you can’t cope is a terrifying idea, and when it’s because you’re worried about someone else, it’s even worse. I know that I need to have that conversation, but I don’t think that I’m going to be able to find the courage to do it. I’m not strong enough.

Here’s to hoping that deep inside me they’ll be a little spark that lets me find my voice.

Living. Laughing. Loving.

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