It’s just a number!

When the hell did everybody get so old?

Okay, obviously not everybody is old.  But it seems that all my friends are, the people I went to school with, and even most of my peers at work.  And they look old.  The men are either gray haired or bald, bodies have gotten soft and saggy, and there are wrinkles everywhere.  What the hell?

I’m glad I don’t look that old.

Yet, I’ve had so much experience.  I’ve finished school…gotten married… started a successful business… gotten married…had children…changed careers… gotten married…had my mid-life crisis… reached the pinnacle of my career…

Uh, and gotten married.

I should probably mention that there are four divorces in there as well.

The world has completely changed in my lifetime.  The town I grew up in has over 120,000 people in it now; yet when I started school, it had a stoplight.  Yes, one stoplight.  Now there are probably more stoplights in the town then there were people.  There were no microwaves, cable TV or Cell phones.  The news came on twice a day, (Once on the weekends) and only lasted for 30 minutes.  That’s all the news there was to report, unless there was a need for special broadcasts, such as a moon landing or when President Kennedy was killed.

Yes, the assignation of Kennedy.  I remember that.  Damn.

Oh, and at 10:00pm all the television stations (all three of them) signed off the air, and didn’t come back on until 6:00am the next morning.  Do you know where your children are?  (You old fogies will know what I’m talking about…)

You would think I was old as dirt.  Yet, the man I see in the mirror in no way compares to my peers.  Sure, I have some gray hair (Okay, it’s white), but it’s premature and looks more distinguished than old.  If there are wrinkles there, I don’t see them.  And except for the stomach bulging, I’m still in great shape.  And I can explain the stomach!  It’s a medical condition.  Really.

And most importantly, I feel young.

It’s funny, but when my parents were my age, they WERE old.  I don’t think it was the perception of a kid either.  They dressed old.  I was a teenager before I saw my father wear anything other than a white shirt and tie to work.  The current style then was ‘far out’, and his concession was to wear a pastel colored shirt – with a tie of course.  Mom’s attire would be considered fuddy duddy by today’s standards.  The way women my age dress today would be considered scandalous!  And they lived old.  There was no sense of adventure, or anything that could be considered fun (Like zip lining or wind surfing), and never acted silly.  Not like I do anyway.

But today we live our lives like they would have in their 30’s.  I like it.  See? I’m not old.

The night my Dad died, he told me that he still thought and felt like he was 17.  He still had dreams, hopes, and things he wanted to do.  He knew he was dying, but even then couldn’t accept the fact that he was an old man.

Uh oh.   I feel like I’m still 17.  That’s a little scary.

As I was growing up I couldn’t imagine myself as an older man.  When I was in my 20’s, I couldn’t even fathom being 40 years old.  I was going to be in my 40’s before it was the year 2000…and that was mind blowing.   And being over 50 was inconceivable.  Of course, with my illness I never expected to live that long, so there wasn’t much reason to even try to imagine.  I figured I’d be long dead before I hit 40.

And yet, here I am.

I know I’m not done by a long shot, but I have already reached most of the expected milestones.  The only major ones I have left are Grandchildren, retirement and death.  (Not necessarily in that order.  I have daughters, and they have to learn about sex before there can be any grandchildren. And they are in no way old enough to know about that! )  (Forget the fact that my oldest is already married…).  And I have to admit, there are some advantages to being as old as I am.  There’s definitely a wisdom that comes with age.  Things that used to bother the crap out of me just roll off my back.  I’ve learned that things like that really aren’t worth the effort.  I feel very comfortable in my job.  This is a piece of cake compared to what I used to do.  And it’s fun to be able to mock all those 40 year old kids I work with.  They are just so cute thinking they know about life and all!  Let me tell you, back in the day…  Now I have time for me.  If I get a wild hair and decide to take a weekend trip to the shore, I just up and go.  And I even get a senior citizens discount at the hotel!

It’s quite a dichotomy.

My years don’t match my actions.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m silly.  I love to play, and not just old person games like golf or bridge.  I’m more likely to hop on a table (at home of course) and do a little dance for my lady.   Nothing raunchy, just a little fun; I love the way it makes her laugh.  I really enjoy it when she’s on the phone with one of her siblings.  Ain’t I a stinker?   I can dance the more formal dances you would expect from an old person, but you’ll find my happy ass out on the floor shaking and grooving to the latest pop too.  In fact, I think I prefer that kind of dancing.  I’m not one of those little old men poking down the highway either.  Lead, follow or get out of my way! I’m not driving aggressive, but I’m certainly not holding up anyone else.

I guess I’ve done a very poor job of preparing for the next phase though.  I can blame a lot of my lack of a nest egg on all my divorces of course. But if I’m honest with myself, the reality is I really haven’t even tried.  I know, that’s very irresponsible and stupid.  But I’m having so much fun!  I know that one day I’ll be too old to work.  But (assuming my health holds) that won’t be until I’m at least 70 years old.  Me?  70?  I can’t even imagine.  I’ll probably be dead before then anyway.  I’m way too young to worry about that now.  All those old farts I went to school with can sit on the front porch in their rocking chairs and complain about the weather.

I’m going dancing!

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The choices you make

There are so many choices to be made.   From as simple as what’s for lunch to as significant as who am I going to spend the rest of my life with.  Some of these choices are no-brainers.  I want a grilled cheese sandwich.  Done.  Sometimes even those significant choices are easy too.  I’m in love, and they love me.  We’re very happy together, and I can see no reason that it could ever change.  That’s an easy decision, isn’t it?

Or so it seems.

The lady I’m dating is going through a horrific divorce.  The man she has spent the last 30 years with turned out to be a narcissistic asshole.  She left a good job so she could stay at home with their young children.  When she did go back to work, she took two jobs so he could go back to school and learn a new trade; a trade that eventually earned hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.  Everything was going great.  And it was great; until she found out that he had been cheating on her for years and years, with many different women.  And Bam!  Just like that he was gone and living with his latest girlfriend.  And ever since then he has done everything he can think of to screw her out of everything.  After all that time, sacrifice and commitment, he has lied, cheated and stolen so he could get it all and leave her with nothing.  She’s fighting it, but it’s already cost her $15,000 in legal fees, and they’re just getting started.  He’s not helping with the bills at all, and if it weren’t for me feeding her she wouldn’t even have any food.  (No, I don’t buy her groceries… but I have to cook for myself, and there’s no reason I can’t share.) And she’s constantly beating herself up for making such a bad decision to marry him.

How could she be so stupid?

But that’s not really fair to herself.  When they met he was a perfect Gentleman.  He was kind attentive, and considerate.  She hadn’t been treated that way in a long time, and it felt really good.  She had a daughter from a previous marriage, and he accepted her as his own, providing her with a much needed father figure.  She was struggling to make ends meet; he was financially secure.  He may have even loved her then.  She certainly loved him.

And yet, it turned out so horribly.

But was it a bad decision?  I don’t think so.  It just seemed so real then.  And it probably was real.  So why should she blame herself for making that decision?  She shouldn’t.  It was a good decision at the time, the circumstances just changed in ways she couldn’t have known.

And that’s the way it goes sometimes.  Choices are made for the best of reasons that turn out to be bad ones.  Sometimes even bad decisions end up having good results.  But there are times when decisions are made in spite of knowing that it’s wrong.  We’ve all done that, and odds are we’ll all do it again sometime.  Eating onions doesn’t really agree with me, yet sometimes I just have to have them on my hamburger.  They just taste so good!  And boy do I pay for it later, just like I know I would.  You really want to buy that new car even though there’s nothing wrong with the one you have, and the payments are going to put a real strain on your finances.  And you drive the new car home.  It may seem inconceivable, but some people even get married knowing it’s a really bad choice.

I did that with Wife # 3.   Damn.

And sometimes you don’t have a choice.  Decisions are made for you.  People lose jobs that way, get dumped by someone they really cared for, even have children they had no say in the choice. But you have to deal with the resulting circumstances still happen even if there was no participation in the decision.

Just like being Bipolar.

When I’m in the middle of a manic episode, my choices are completely out of my hands.  The illness completely takes over, and even the craziest things make perfect sense.  You buy that Rolex watch without any regard to how it’s going to be paid for.  Or maybe you just take it.  Sex with a stranger?  Why yes, thank you!  There are no worries, even if it’s a different stranger every night.  And the guy you beat up because he was looking at you funny deserved it.  There was nothing bad about that decision.  Sooner or later though it’s time to pay the piper and clean up the messes.   It’s ultimately your responsibility even if you had no control of the choice.   Depression can make decisions for you without any help.  You stop bathing, you shun those who care for you, you quit your job…

You decide you can’t live anymore.

These are not rational decisions, yet the outcome can be final.

Theodore Roosevelt was credited with saying “You do the best you can with what you have”.   I rather think that ‘You do the best you can with what you have at the time”.   Times can change, and what works today may not even be feasible in a few years.  Relationships and the people in them mature, and are guaranteed to change.  You grow old.  Nothing remains the same.  So how can you blame yourself for making choices and decisions based on the information available?  Do the analysis, go through the due diligence, follow your gut and take ownership of the results; good or bad.  And don’t beat yourself up if it turns out different than you expected.

You did the best you could with what you had at the time.

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Don’t I wish!

OMG… It’s only Tuesday!  Through both November and December I only worked two full weeks in any given week.  Between holidays and using up the last of my vacation, I was able to work four or less days just about every week.  But the holidays are over.  I don’t have enough vacation to take a day every week.  So it’s back to the five day a week grind, week after week.  And it’s just Tuesday.

Oh, how I wish it were Friday!

It’s not that I don’t love my job. Okay, I don’t love my job.  But I do love having one, especially with such a great company with awesome benefits.  Believe me, I am not complaining.  I really am thankful.  I’m thankful that I had the opportunity, and that I had the skill and motivation to get and keep steady employment.  It’s a blessing; really.

It’s just that there’s no excitement to this job.  I don’t even any mental challenges.  Not only have I been doing this for decades, but I’ve managed groups who did what I’m now doing.  Actually, I’ve managed the people who managed the managers who managed the people doing what I’m doing.  (Was that clear?)  There’s quite a challenge when you are responsible for the results and wellbeing of scores of others.  If I messed up, it wasn’t my job, it was potentially the success of the entire company.  And my failure could affect all those I was responsible for.  That will keep you engaged.

But that’s not what I’m doing anymore.  I’m thankful; yes.  And I’m bored.

So in many ways I’m just living for the weekend.  That’s the time I do the things I want to do.  That’s my time to have fun.  I’ve never been one to ‘sleep in’.  I get up about the same time every day, even on days I’m not working.  Weekends however I have my nap time.  Or I guess I should say I have my naps time.  I may get out of bed at 5:00am, but by 10:00am I’m on the couch having my first nap.  It’s not for me however.  My cat loves lying with me and she doesn’t get enough time for that during the week.  Yep.  That’s my reasoning.  I may do a little reading, have lunch, and by 1:00pm it’s time for my next nap (And kitty time!).  Late afternoon I might pick up a little, or in the Summertime I’ll mow the lawn, and before you know it, its dinner time.  I’m off to my girlfriend’s house, and hang out there until the band starts at whatever venue we are going to and we head out to dance.  I do so love to dance.  Sunday’s aren’t any different, except that Sunday is Laundry day.

Yep.  I’m just living for that good ‘ol weekend.

I do wish I could travel like I used to.  I’ve been lucky that I’ve had jobs that have taken me some incredible places.  I’ve been to 37 different states in the US, UK, Ireland, Scotland, and Europe.  I was on business and by myself for the most part, sure.  But I’ve been there, and seen some wonderful things and met some fantastic people.  I’ve always wished I could go back to all those places as a real tourist.

Then there’s my retirement.  I’m not getting any younger, and it’s always been my goal to be able to stop working in my early 60’s.  Actually, for a long time the hope was mid 50’s, but it’s a little late for that.  But multiple marriages, bad planning and just plain failure to act have left me completely unprepared to stop working; ever.  The only hope I have is that our Social Security benefit doesn’t run out of money before I can start to draw back some of mine.

I really wish I weren’t bipolar.  That’s a no brainer, isn’t it?  Who in their right mind would want to live this kind of life?  I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid!  To say depressions can be bad is like saying there’s a little water in the ocean.  It can be an absolute horror beyond imagination.  Mania can actually be a blast.  Yeah, a blast like a stick of dynamite.  It might be fun while it’s happening, but it creates great damage and can hurt a lot of people.  Dynamite can be like that too.  I’ve lost so many things in the last 50 years as a result of this illness.  I’ve hurt so, so many people.

That’s the worst of all.

Thinking through this though, do I really wish all of that?  It may be only Tuesday, but it’s another day of opportunity to learn something new, do something good and help someone out.  There is so much to be appreciated in every single moment.  I am glad I have a job.  I have dependable transportation to get back and forth to work.  My house is very comfortable and I love living there.  My girlfriend is absolutely awesome.

My family is even more than awesome.

Busy is as busy does, right?  Or something to that effect.  Maybe my job duties may not be challenging, but there are other ways to keep engaged and find new goals.  There are ways to push my mind and find new activities that hold my interests.  Maybe I can’t afford to go to all those exotic destinations I want to see, but there are plenty of things to see and do within a short drive from where I live.  Even if it’s somewhere I’ve been before, my girlfriend has done very little exploring and I have had a great time introducing her to new places and experiences.  Workdays, weekends or Holidays; they are all just days.  What makes them good or bad ones is how they are used.  Challenges come from within, not from any environment.

I don’t even know that I’d say I wish I wasn’t bipolar.  It’s more of regret that I’ve hurt so many people as a result.  I do wish that hadn’t happened.  Actually, I hate that has happened.  That’s been the most horrible part of this disease.  And that’s been my biggest failure of responsibility.

So Do I wish it were Friday?  Or wish I were traveling, or had a better job, or able to retire?  I think the wish should be to be happy where I am when I am there.  No, even that isn’t a wish.  It’s a goal.

Now I’d better get to work.  I think I can improve my results if I write a new report that helps identify problem areas.  And that might take a while.  It’s not easy to figure out.  And I have another weekend trip to plan.  I should really find a place to take dance lesson too.  So much to do, so little time.  Fortunately there’s still four days left in this week to get things done.

I’m glad it’s only Tuesday.

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Consciously Unconscious

Yep; Life is good.

Now that I’m appropriately doped up and have all the neurons and synapses working and firing the way they’re supposed to, and all those important brain chemicals delicately balanced, things are just humming right along.  It’s really nice to go through the day without the major crisis or go through the extreme changes that I have lived with up until now.  I’ve finally reached ‘normal’.

How about that?

How about that indeed?  If life is so peachy, then why do I have the ‘un-normal’ thoughts and temptations?  I’m not acting out on anything; these urges are not out of control.  But they are there, and find ways to work into the part of my brain where I am aware, and have to make decisions.  Even though I’m successfully being treated, I still have to choose to do the right things.

It’s not all about being bipolar.  Everybody has the subconscious working and sending thoughts, ideas and even emotions into their awareness.  And there’s not a good or bad either.  Sometimes when I’m working on a problem or trying to figure something out, the answers just pop into my head, often at the oddest times, day or night.  Years ago when I was doing accounting I would keep a pad and pencil beside my bed, because it was a regular occurrence to wake up in the middle of the night with a realization where a discrepancy was that I had spent the day searching for.

That’s where dreams come from.

Just like the solutions to problems, often dreams are telling clues to events or emotions of waking life.  A friend of mine going through a divorce told me a dream that included (among other things) her riding in a car driven by her husband, with his girlfriend in the front seat beside him.  They stopped, put her out on the side of the road, and drove off together.  But as they went through the next intersection, a semi truck ran the red light and obliterated the car.  Well Duh.  That’s pretty obvious I would say…   Then there are the totally random and strange visions that can happen during the night.  Dreams that make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Those can happen during when awake too.  I was having a conversation last night about…well…nothing.  Just a simple “how was your day’ and ‘what do you want to do this weekend’, when out of nowhere I get this vivid image of a house in the neighborhood my kids sold Girl Scout cookies almost 20 years ago.   There was nothing significant about that house at all, and I maybe saw it a total of three times.  But there was something about it that got filed away in the back reaches of my mind that squirted into my consciousness.

Memories can be distorted or even suppressed by that unconscious area, totally changing our perception and awareness of things experienced before.  High School years can be recalled as the ‘glory days’, but the part that includes the awkwardness, lack of confidence and fear of not being accepted somehow don’t fit into that memory.  Relationships that were truly stormy and unhealthy are missed horribly after they end.  The negatives are forgotten, and only the goodness remains.  I’ve heard that pleasurable sensations can be completely recalled, sometimes with just a smell or taste.  But the feeling of pain is more of an abstract.  It’s all a way that the cognizant thoughts are protected by that subliminal function hidden away.  Or at least the feeling of protection; maybe remembering the bad with the good could prevent repetitive bad choices.

That might explain my four ex wives.

I understand that it’s been determined that we only use about 10% of our brains capabilities.  That’s a pretty fantastic thought.  Imagine what we could accomplish if the other 90% could be tapped.  People who have had strokes or suffered traumatic brain injuries have learned how to recover functions such as speech or walking even though the part of the brain controlling that were completely destroyed.  Somewhere in that available 90%  the brain was able to adapt and pick up that job.

It’s all very amazing, really.

But I am Bipolar, and that adds a whole other level of complexity.  All the medications, therapies, techniques and skills I use to control this illness seem to live in that conscious part of my brain.  But the illness cannot be cured.  No matter how successful the treatment it never really goes away.  And that’s where the problem lies.  My mood may be as calm and cool as ice over a fast moving river.  But underneath that cold layer the dark waters rage on.  And it’s obvious to me that the normalcy I now enjoy is just a thin layer covering the craziness.  It’s never really gone, it’s just controlled.  And just like the dreams and random thoughts we all have, that deep part of my brain slips the badness and aberrations that are a part of my illness into the forefront.  Nonsensical emotions and inappropriate reactions just happen.  Bad ideas; l mean really bad ideas I have seem logical.  Dangerous urges threaten to become compulsions, tempting me into areas that I absolutely do not want to go.  And there’s the sadness that creeps in without any cause or reason.  Sadness that if left unchecked would drag me back into that dark world of depression I never want to see again.

Fortunately there is still the active thought that can make decisions in spite of the influence of what is lurking below.   Thank God that there are medications that help keep the conscious brain healthy enough to keep the illness in check.  I have a therapist who has come to understand me and can provide exactly the support and insight to arm me in my fight.  The beast cannot be killed, but it can be caged.  But unless a miracle happens that a cure is found, the best I can hope for is containment.   And hopefully, I’ve finally found the way to keep the beast locked safely away.  I have learned to live with being Bipolar.  But I have also come to know:

I’ll never live without it.

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Nothing Compares to this.

Bipolar Personality Disorder is a physical disease, much like Diabetes or Epilepsy.

Boy has that generated a lot of comments.  Actually, that has pissed a lot of people off.

That statement has been made frequently in my posts and continues to generate some of the most comments and replies.  The general theme is that the other illnesses I’ve compared it too don’t cause the suffering, financial loss, and abuse that Bipolar Disorder does.

And, that is absolutely correct.

But at the same time, what I am saying is true as well.

Every disease is different.  The effects of Epilepsy are completely different from Multiple Sclerosis.  And the symptoms of Diabetes are not comparable at all to those of Heart Disease.  But there is a commonality to them all.  Even intermittent issues such as migraine headaches have one characteristic in common with the rest.

They are physical in origin.

Not all mental illnesses are like that.  I don’t have statistics or numbers, but based on what I can find I’d say that the majority of mental illnesses are psychological in nature, and not a bodily affliction.  Many of these conditions are developed over time from things like unhealthy environments and significant life events.  One of my ex wives was involved in a horrific automobile accident when she was a teenager, and her face was scarred from injuries she sustained.  The scars were actually just in her hairline and not obvious at all; but the trauma of the accident left emotional scars as well, and the physical ones were a constant reminder for her.  As she aged, she developed clinical diagnoses of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  She became absolutely obsessed with her looks and saw herself as horribly disfigured.   There is no telling how much money was spent in her effort to hide what she saw.  Now, I am not minimizing what she went through at all.  What she experienced and the disorder that developed was very real for her.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go through something like that, and am not judging her in any way. It was horrible for her.  The point is, there are mental illnesses that are clearly not physical in nature.

And then there are those that may start out circumstantial, and then develop into something more clinical.  Depression can be a good example of this.  While not an absolute by any means, there are depressions that begin as circumstantial.  There are countless events and conditions that could trigger a depression.  Over time, an extended episode can cause the body chemistry to change and become the contributing factor.  My opinion is, that is the reason why some medications stop being effective or a different medication can work when it didn’t before.

Bipolar Personality Disorder is definitely all the things that have been said about it.  It can be the cause of financial problems; even total disaster.  The depression episodes can completely destroy everyday life not, making it impossible to function at all.  And the manic episodes can be totally devastating.  There can be out of control behavior; totally inappropriate anger; even outright abuse.  In many ways the nature of the illness affects not only the person with the illness, but everyone else in their life.  Other illnesses can certainly impact others, but Bipolar can be directed specifically at others.

I am in no way, nor have I ever equated the symptoms, and the behaviors of Bipolar Personality Disorder to any other illness.

What I have said is, they all start from a physical condition.

Okay, a lot has been said over what I think is a very simple concept.  There seems to a common perception that people with Bipolar Personality Disorder are just crazy.  I get a feeling of blame for having this illness, and from other comments and replies I’ve gotten I’m not alone with that feeling.  As I’ve said before; I am and we all are 100% responsible for the results of our behaviors.  While it’s not always possible to be aware of the condition, there is an underlying obligation to seek out and follow treatment.  (That one is a little bit gray… one of the features of the illness is denial and a tendency to discontinue treatment when the symptoms diminish.  But the responsibility is still there.)  But just like all the other diseases I’ve referenced in the past, there is no blame for having the illness.  Nobody chooses to be sick, including those who are Bipolar.  But that is the extent of my comparison.  You can’t correlate all the different diseases.  There is no question that Bipolar Personality Disorder is manifested emotionally.  The damage that can be done can absolutely be intentional.  The effects of the illness can have a huge impact on others in ways that are not like any other.  But I still say that Bipolar Personality Disorder is a physical disease, much like Diabetes or Epilepsy.  The commonality is in a basic, physical origin, and only that.  But in regards to the symptoms and effects of this disease?

There is no comparison.

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If you want my advice…..

“Making good decisions comes from experience.  And experience comes from bad decisions”.

No, that’s not an original saying.  It is a valid one though I think.  Nobody is born having all the knowledge and insight to be able to go through life without making mistakes and poor choices.  Sure, there’s research and seeking the advice of people who have knowledge to help in deciding what needs to be done.  But where did this research come from?  Conclusions are drawn from studying others and the results of their choices.  Being able to advise and recommend comes from some kind of experiences, and not all of them could be good ones.

And boy, do I have experience.

I’ve never been shy in offering opinions or giving guidance to others.  I’m a quick study, and even at an early age felt like I had knowledge that would be valuable to share.  There have been opportunities for growth that I’ve always jumped on; and have learned much from every opportunity.  A lot of those opportunities I have created for myself; overreaching my abilities and taking on things that I have never done and have no qualifications for.  Throughout my career I’ve been able to go from the very bottom entry level to top executive positions.  I have been flat broke, and I have owned vacation homes and driven luxury automobiles.  Little redneck bars and country club memberships are no stranger to me.  I’ve been there.

My experience with relationships is ridiculous.  Not only have I been married four times, there have been countless other involvements.  Weddings? I’ve had everything from a justice of the peace to massive wedding parties and 100’s off guests to destination weddings in exotic places.  My spouses and I have suffered through extremely difficult times and ridden the very top of life.  Even the ends of relationships have been different every time.  I’ve walked away with no more feelings than a bad date, and I’ve been emotionally destroyed.  And of course I’ve destroyed others in the process.

And then there’s my illness.

Actually, a great deal of the circumstances that enabled changes and exposed me to so many different things were really a result of being bipolar.  No, I’m not blaming anything on that.  What I am saying is, as a result of my illness I’ve been put into situations that kind of forced me into positions where I had to adapt.  And then there are the direct effects that have occurred because of being sick.  Very few people have been hospitalized in mental institutions as many times as I have.  I’ve been in therapy for over 30 years through more therapists than I can remember.  I’ve been exposed to all kinds of methodologies and techniques to try to manage my symptoms.  And I think I’ve been on pretty much every psychiatric medication available um until the most recent ones.  Through it all I’ve studied and researched and worked as hard as I could to gain insight and understanding into the whys and how’s of not only bipolar disorder, but as many mental illnesses as I could.

If that doesn’t give me the right to give advice, what does?

I’m in a position at the moment where I have the chance to help someone through a particularly nasty divorce.  And there’s no question that I’ve been through that before, and more than once.  And from what I’ve seen, she’s in a great position to come out of the divorce with no financial worries the rest of her life.  Her ex has done just about everything possible to make himself look like a total jerk, and provided her the opportunity to justify taking just about everything.  So as she’s progressed through the process, I’ve been able to provide insight into what to expect and when to expect it.  There are certain things that have to happen, and they need to be in a certain order.  And I can give her a lot of insight into what her ex is thinking and how to anticipate what he’s going to do.  After all, I’ve been in his shoes before myself.  Most of all, I’ve been able to offer encouragement and allay her fears.

And I’ve been wrong a lot more than I’ve been right.

In fact, just because I’ve had all this experience, how’s it really turned out for me?  Yes, I have a ton of experience in marriage, but never succeeded in one.  I have enjoyed great success in my career regardless of industry or position.  And I’ve lost it all.   In fact, now I’m fortunate to have a job at all.  I’ve gone from a BMW convertible to a 15 year old car that is worth less than one month’s living expenses.   There’s no longer the home in that exclusive neighborhood with a vacation home at the shore.  My house is rented, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford it if the landlord wasn’t a friend who gave me a great rate.  I’m in my 50’s, and I don’t have a pot to piss in.

Yep.  That’s the kind of person I’d go to help me make decisions.

I don’t believe that my experiences and insights are completely worthless.  I have had successes and the failures have been affected by my bipolar actions and the paths I’ve taken to succeed haven’t always been wrong.  I have developed many strong opinions and feel that they are logical and valid.  I have had a great many different experiences and hopefully have learned much from each of them.  My travels have exposed me to many different environments and lifestyles.  There’s no question I understand what it’s like to be bipolar.  But I think I need to be a lot more circumspect in the advice I offer.  I’ve always tried to avoid telling people what they should do, but I have implied that what I did in a similar situation has been the right thing.  “Based on my experience, I have done X.”  Maybe it’s not spoken, but it is definitely an implication that anything different would be wrong.  But based on my track record having done X  hasn’t worked out very well in the end. I can and should help people the best I can.  But I think that the way to really help people is to learn how to be a better listener.  I do have a lot of experience, and experience can provide empathy and understanding.  But as far as giving advice?  I think that I need to quit trying to give any.  Don’t imply that I have the answers, and certainly don’t try to tell anyone that I think they are making bad choices.  Be as supportive and comforting as I can without judgment or direction.

That could be the best advice I’ve ever given.

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Will it still smell sweet?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet Act II Scene II, written by William Shakespeare.    Or Sir Francis Bacon depending on which theory you subscribe to.  In the play the point is made that it doesn’t matter what he is called, or which house he is from, Romeo is a man, and a man that Juliet loves.

So what’s in a name?

I’ve had a lot of thoughts lately concerning my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.  There’s no question that I’ve had a lifetime of mental issues.  A person isn’t hospitalized as many times as I have been unless there is some kind of problem.  Many people have dealt with depression at some time or another, but it’s something I’ve struggled with at least 50% of my life.  In a way, there are two states; Depressed, or not depressed.  That’s not normal.  That’s definitely a mental illness.  But Bipolar?

I have to wonder.

Struggling with mental issues is one thing, being Bipolar is something else completely.  In general terms there is a sympathy for people who are depressed.  Those directly involved might be frustrated, feel helpless or just fed up, but by and large someone with depression is looked on as sad.  But someone who is Bipolar?  They are just crazy, and scare the hell out of people.  The media is always reporting on some shooting spree or hostage situation attributed to a Bipolar person.  I’m no threat to random victims.  I’m not going to just ‘lose it’ someday and start shooting.  There’s no question that I’m not like everybody else.

But I’m not crazy.  Not like that.

Has what has been called mania really that far over the top?  I get excited about things.  Taking on a new job brings interesting challenges and opportunities.  Who wouldn’t get excited about that?  Sure, I have times of fury and rage.  Call that anger management issues.  I’ll accept the fact that I have obsessive / compulsive tendencies.  But that isn’t Bipolar; none of it is.

Failed relationships? Sure I’ve had a few.  Okay, maybe more than a few, but do those justify my diagnoses?  I make poor choices, but I can explain each one.  I was too young, I’m a rescuer, I’ve earned a trophy wife and I believed in something that wasn’t real.  There are reasons behind each failure; why does that have to be blamed on a catastrophic illness?

I think therapy has made a huge difference in how I’m feeling.  I’ve worked through a lot of issues and identified some root causes to explain my feelings and behaviors.  I’ll freely admit that I’ve got personality traits and learned behaviors that are harmful.  And with the help of my therapist I have learned to cope and changed behaviors.

I’ve taken all kinds of psychiatric medications over the last 40 years or so.  And sometimes I would get better, and sometimes I would give up on them and try something else.  How about this?  Whatever I was being treated for just resolved itself over time and had nothing to do with any medication?  I went 10 years without being on anything, felt fine, didn’t need therapy and certainly wasn’t hospitalized.  I can’t attribute that to medications.  And even when I am on medications, are they being helpful or just chemicals I’m taking?  If you take 1,000 mg of Vitamin C every day, and your body doesn’t need that much, it just passes it right through and excretes it.  You might be taking the Vitamin, but that doesn’t mean it’s changing anything.  Maybe the medications I’m taking don’t have anything to do with my improvements.  Just because I take medications indicated for the treatment of Bipolar Disorder doesn’t mean I really need them.

I think that doctors are too quick to throw out a diagnosis.  Conditions and illnesses become almost a fad.  How many kids are said to have ADHD these days?  Why has there been such a proliferation in the last 10 years or so?  Back in my day there might have been one or two kids in the entire school who were being treated for Hyperactivity (which is what we called it).  And there weren’t a bunch of kids who were easily distracted to the point of being disruptive, so I don’t believe that there were just a lot of misdiagnosis.  No, I just think that it’s hip to have ADHD and a good excuse for both the kids and their parents to explain a lack of discipline.  Now, I am NOT suggesting that ADHD isn’t real, or that there aren’t legitimate treatments that are needed.  It’s real.  Bipolar Disorder seems to fall into the same popular category.  I think that Doctors are diagnosing and treating this illness more and more.  I’ve met people over the years in hospitals and support groups who have that diagnosis, and it appears that their issues are minor compared to mine.  And if I’m not Bipolar, how could they be?  The general public has latched on to the bandwagon too.  Any eccentric behavior has now become an illness.  Certain personality disorders such as Narcissism are dumped into the Bipolar bucket.  Somebody is acting out of the ordinary?  They are Bipolar.

What about the pharmaceutical industry?  Could it be that they are encouraging doctors into making this diagnosis so they can sell more drugs?  There are nationally distributed advertisements for Bipolar medications now!  When did it become such a large problem that it has to be marketed to the masses?  It’s a new market to sell to, and it creates reasons for Doctors to get in on the money.

But honestly; does it really matter?

Bipolar is a label, just like any other mental illness.  There are reasons, good and bad, for using those labels, but if the treatment is successful why does it matter what you call it?  Call me Bipolar.  Or call me Disthymic, OCD or Anxiety disorder.  Whatever the name my behavior has been abnormal; painful, miserable, hurtful of myself and others, and downright dangerous.  Call it what you will, but having a different diagnosis would not have prevented me from being hospitalized.  In fact, until about three years ago I was hospitalized…frequently… without being diagnosed as Bipolar.  And face it; I’m feeling much better now, and whether or not the medications have anything to do with it, there’s no reason to stop.  So why take the chance?

I think that it’s normal for someone who is Bipolar to question the need for treatment while they are feeling good.  There are a lot of reasons why this could be so.  I miss the highs that go along with Mania.  I’m not nearly as creative or productive when my mood is level.  It’s easy to forget just how bad depression feels.  But ultimately, I think it’s the subconscious trying to restore the natural condition.  The Brain is Bipolar, and it’s abnormal when it’s chemically changed.  A person with curly hair might be able to straighten it with a flat iron, but the hair is still curly.  And when it’s ‘untreated’, it goes back to the original state.  As long as there’s the effort to produce a desired look the hair can be made straight.  But as soon as you stop, it’s curly again.

And so it is with the Bipolar Brain.

Okay, I’ll admit.  I go through the exercise periodically of trying to convince myself that I don’t have a mental illness.  I want to find a reason to quit spending so much money on prescriptions and having to keep up with taking then and keeping them refilled.  I think I came to terms with the ‘stigma’ a while ago, but I just want to be normal.  So, I ignore the obvious and tell myself it was all a mistake.  But let’s be real.  I’m not really fooling myself or anyone else.  I’m Bipolar, and always will be, treated or not.

No matter what you call it.

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Being content being content.

I’m finding it very difficult to write these days.  It’s not that I have run out of things to say…far from it.  The problem has been finding the right words and having the motivation to work through it.  At the same time however, life has settled down into a very comfortable routine.  I’ve become very content with my life.

Bored, but content.

It has been really nice to not be caught up in some kind of crisis or wrapped up in drama.  I haven’t had that opportunity much at all throughout my life and if feels really healthy.  I can’t say I miss the pain either.  Duh… Being miserable is…well… miserable.  And depression can be deadly.  There are a lot of things about the highs that I’m happy to do without as well.  My mania’s can come with an anger (okay, call it rage) which certainly isn’t a good or happy place to be.  Missing the excitement?  Sure there is some of that.  Even that however can have an uncomfortable feature.  Having boundless energy is like a pot about to boil over.  The excitement is almost painful to contain.  No, I do not want to go back into the cycles that have shaped my world for the last 50 years.

I would like to have a little more to spice things up.

So of course the thoughts are coming back that maybe I’m not really bipolar after all.  There are issues of course, and no question that I’m mentally ill.  But maybe it has been personality traits and unresolved conflicts that have caused so many of my troubles.  They can all be explained by that after all.  Perhaps if I change some of the focus of my therapy I can deal with that without the medications.

Yeah, right.

Even if I’m not dealing with a Bipolar illness, the medications aren’t hurting anything.  I should ask my therapist about that.  She always says that side effects come from taking a medicine that isn’t effective for you.  I wonder if the same is true if you take a medication you don’t really need at all.   That’s just a curiosity though.  I’m not about to change anything.  There’s too much at risk.

So instead of writing about this crisis or another, working through a depression or dealing with failed relationships, there’s only the mundane and normal life to think about.  There’s no need to go through the process if it doesn’t really change from one day to the next.  It’s like a Dilbert cartoon where he started keeping a journal.

Monday; wrote in my journal
Tuesday:  See Monday
Wednesday: See Tuesday…..

You get the idea.

That’s what it’s come down to.  I go to work, spend a little quality time with my cat when I get off, then go to my Girlfriend’s house to hang out and relate each of our days to each other.  Sometimes I spend the night and sometimes I go home.  Weekends are predictable too.  I’m almost always at her house Friday and Saturday nights.  We wake up early and sit in bed having coffee for an hour or so.  A quick breakfast is cooked and I head back to my place to take care of my chores and give her time to take care of hers.  And of course taking naps; I always get in my weekend naps

And Monday it starts all over again.

We do have our fun times of course.  Weekends are when we go out.  Usually there’s somewhere with live music we can dance to, which we both love.  The sex is frequent and awesome every time.  There are plenty of laughs, good conversation and lots of snuggles.  And so it goes week after week after week.  Variations are few and even then are predictable.

*Sigh*

So here I go complaining about what I’ve fought for so hard and long.  I wanted normal, and I’ve found it.  And in its own way, it’s driving me crazy!

It hasn’t been that long when things were a lot different.  Of course any new relationship has its own excitement, and the one I’m in is no exception.  Relationships are also to be expected to go through stages, and contentment is one of them.  Before I got involved though, there were a lot of new relationships. And they were very brief relationships.  Somehow the people I went out with were a lot more adventurous too; especially in the bedroom.  Nothing over the top, but definitely more open minded.  Oh the stories I could tell if decorum and discretion didn’t prevent.  But there was a reason that none of them ever worked out until the relationship I now have.

I know, I know; there are ways to spice things up and keep a relationship new.  And it’s not like I’m not happy, because I am.  The challenge here is to make that contentment comfortable.  I asked for it and I got it.  And I’m better off because of it.  But if it’s so much better, why doesn’t it feel better?

Oh yeah.  It’s because my entire life I’ve been used to that wild, over the top lifestyle. A lifestyle that is unhealthy and dangerous.  I’m damned lucky to have made it this far and had the opportunity to get things in order.  I’m lucky, and have worked my ass off.  So I’m determined to be as happy as I ought to be.

Whether I like it or not.

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Chickens and eggs

I had a terrible childhood.  I felt like I was always alone; no friends, ignored by family, and always left by myself.  I wore my house key on a chain around my neck so I could let myself into the house after walking home alone from school.  From about the 2nd grade through high school I was bullied and constantly picked on.  I was short and skinny; my nickname was ‘shrimp’.  And I hated it.  School was a constant struggle and my grades sucked.  It seems like I have no memories at all of every really being happy.

Could it have really been that bad?

My brother was significantly older than I am, and had joined the Navy while I was still a toddler, and I have no idea what it was like for him growing up.  Throughout his life though I never really saw him happy either; always in trouble, losing job after job, even spending some time in prison.    Surely he experienced a lot of the same as I did, otherwise how did he end up with such a miserable adulthood?

And then there’s my sister.

She had some problems, sure.  But my view of her was that she was the typical kid.  She is very pretty, and there were always a group of boys hanging out at the house around her.  By the time she was old enough to date she always had a boyfriend.  She had some very tight friendships that continue to this day.  She wasn’t a complete social butterfly, but she definitely belonged to an ‘in’ group.

My parents were very odd and different from other families.  Their entire social life was a game of bridge once a month with the couple that lived across the street.  There were never any parties or close friends that they spent any time with.  My mother went to work just before I started school, which was unheard of back in that time.  I guess you could say we did some things as a family, but again not like I saw other families.   My next door neighbors took a trip driving cross country together.  They went to Disneyland.  They had a sail boat that they would take out on weekends.  The Dad was involved with his kids, building soapbox cars and teaching them how to work on cars.  That to me was normal.  The family outings we had were camping trips to the beach, which we did do quite often.  But our beach trips involved my Dad swimming in the ocean while my Mom sat on the shore.  Back at the camp they would sit around, my father reading or just sitting while Mom cooked and tidied up.  My sister was surrounded by boys and always seemed to meet other girls that she would hang out together with.  And I sat alone on the stairs leading down to the beach, staring out at the ocean and jealously watching the other kids have fun.

Or so it seemed.

When my Dad passed away, my sister didn’t come to see him on the last night, even though we all knew it was coming and I called her to tell her that he was about to die.  It pissed me off for a long time.  Family isn’t supposed to act that way.

Then I had an epiphany.

There is no way I could possibly understand the relationship between my Sister and my Father.  They had their own dynamics.  I couldn’t know what she was feeling.  I have no idea of what she was going through.  She had visited him in the hospital the day before, and what they said to each other is between them.

Who am I to judge?  I was wrong.

I think it’s all about perception.  Did I have such a miserable time growing up because of the way my parents were?  Were there just a bunch of mean kids in our town who picked on the smaller and weaker ones?  Did my brother have it as bad as it seemed?  And was my Sister’s life a normal and happy as it appeared to me?

Only they know.

It’s quite possible that my brother had the normal childhood.  As an adult he obviously had a mental illness.  He was kicked out of the Navy and released from active duty ‘for the good of the service’.  Yet he qualified for Veterans Benefits.  It seems to me that if you are deemed unfit for service that you would forfeit the benefits of being in the military.  But being released because of a diagnosed mental illness could be a reason for it.  I never heard of anything official, but in my opinion he was a sick man.  I never saw any sign of a conscience. He lived in his own reality, and it was a very strange reality indeed.  He always had to be the boss, and couldn’t seem to understand that he had to earn it.  It was just expected that he should be the one in charge.   There’s no telling how many jobs he lost because he fought with the boss.  I don’t think he was ornery, I think his mind was ill.  It’s difficult to explain the behavior I saw, but I believe that he could have been schizophrenic.  Or at least Schizoaffective.   I don’t believe he was bipolar, but there was absolutely something wrong with him.

And what about my sister?  I have no idea what she experienced or how she perceived it.  Maybe it just seemed to me that her childhood was normal.  Her feelings are known only to her.  I’m sure that there were things that happened that I just wasn’t aware of.  And how she reacted to things is based on her own personality.  It’s totally unfair for me to assume what her life was like.  And she could have been more affected by our home life than it appeared.

If my brother was still alive I would owe him an apology.  And I owe my sister one as well.

Maybe I was so unhappy growing up because of my own personality.  School was difficult because I never applied myself or had the self discipline to study.  I never felt comfortable around anyone, and mostly kept to myself.  I was different, and being different separates you.  Perhaps the bullying was because I was antagonistic.  Or maybe it was just because I was over sensitive.  Was I really bullied, or was it just the way I reacted.  Did my parents really neglect me?  Or were my needs so strong that they just couldn’t fulfill them.

So what is it?  Is it nature, or nurture?

We all have a unique perception of life.  Two people standing side by side can witness an event, yet come away with a completely different view of what happened.  Kids can be raised in exactly the same environment, yet each one has their own viewpoint of what that environment was.  First of all, it’s wrong for me to judge anybody else for what they believe or how they act.  I can’t know what all has gone into shaping their opinions or how they became the person they are.  We are who we are for a reason.  And that reason is going to be unique.  Secondly, it’s just as wrong to blame anyone for being like I am.  My illness is physical; I have it because of how my brain works, not because of what was (or was not) done to me.  Then again, maybe how I was raised exacerbated the tendencies and contributed to the degree of severity.  If I had been treated differently, or gotten help at an earlier age, perhaps my life wouldn’t have been so screwed up.

It sounds like I’m waffling.

My truth is, it’s both.  Every day is the culmination of every event that has happened up to that point.   How anything affects you is based purely on your perception.  And your perception is a result of how you are.  How a disease develops is impacted by how everything comes together.  I was born with a mental illness.  Was my life so difficult because of my illness, or was my illness worse because of the life I had?  For me, the answer is both.

And ultimately, it’s just because I’m me.

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So, it’s like this….

I am Bipolar.

By illness is unique to me, just like every other person who is afflicted with this disease.  But there are features and characteristics that are shared that cross the uniqueness.  That’s why there can be a DMS and clinically accepted diagnostic criteria.  The way I experience living life being Bipolar is only understood by me, but in their own way others experience the same thing.

So what is that like?

Bipolar by definition means mood swings from one extreme to the other; behaviors that are polar opposites. It doesn’t mean that it’s a constant change one way to another though. In fact, most of the people I know spend much more time depressed than manic. The documentation also supports this as well. According to the DSM criteria you only have to have one identifiable manic episode to be diagnosed. So even being labeled as bipolar doesn’t mean there is this ongoing back and forth of moods. That’s not always the case, but it does seem to be the standard.

Ah, depression; what a wonderful place to be. If I had to choose one mood over another, you can bet it wouldn’t be depression. There are really no words that adequately describe the utter misery, loneliness and complete lack of hope. It’s beyond definition. Even after repetitive episodes where you know you can recover, in the midst of it all you just can’t believe that it will ever end.   I am so lonely and isolated when I’m depressed, but at the same time I just want to be left alone. Friends, family, even professionals who are trying to help are shut out. At the worst of it, I become almost catatonic. There is no energy at all. It becomes impossible to get anything done, even to the extent of cleaning up after myself or even bathing. I sit in the dark, motionless, staring out into space. If I somehow make it to therapy, words are unheard. You will get better, blah, blah, blah. Even if hospitalized, you are there alone. The thing about my depressions though is that I am aware that I’m going through an episode. I know I’m depressed, I just feel like this time, it’s not going to change. My world has shrunk into a very small, dark place where there is no escape. It’s just horribly, hopelessly miserable.

Mania however is completely different.   I usually have no idea that my behavior is out of the ordinary. I just feel good. I have tremendous energy, bursting with ideas, wonderful creativity and unbounded optimism. I sometimes have the unbridled anger to the point of rage. Emotional outbursts occur for no reason. My actions become very aggressive and even dangerous. There is no sense of consequence either. Whether ecstatic or angry there is no thought of what could happen, or what will be needed to recover from the excess. Then one day you crash and there are thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars to be paid back. You can find yourself in jail, or at least faced with some legal problem to be dealt with. It may be just a part of the illness, but I think that part of the reason depression so often follows a manic episode is realizing the cost of what has been done.

I can tell you what being bipolar isn’t too. We are not some crazy, wild eyed ‘maniacs’ who are screaming one minute, and crying hysterically the next. We are not manic all the time always acting crazy and outrageous. Frankly, it’s impossible for the body to function at such a high level indefinitely. It would be like driving a car at 150 miles an hour non-stop; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Parts will wear out, things will break. I had an episode a few years ago that I was hospitalized for a completely physical, life threatening condition. My heart rate was below 30 beats per minute; respirations were at 10 breaths a minute; kidney’s has completely shut down. The doctors were baffled. I had been in an environment conducive to heat stroke, so they put it down to that, even though the normal indicators such as low potassium levels weren’t present. It wasn’t until much later that the doctors figured out that I was reacting to an adrenaline overdose. I had been at a frantic manic pace for a long time, and was producing excessive amounts of it to enable my body to keep up. But the body is smart, and will adjust to keep from causing long term damage to itself. The adrenaline production stops, and the body shuts itself down to force it to rest. So to think that being bipolar means acting crazy all the time is just not true. Even if there are moments of that excited ‘craziness’, it’s offset by the down mood, and even long periods of no effect at all. The general categorization of bipolar is very disturbing to me. So often when there is a violent tragedy such as attacks on coworkers or homicidal rages, the media immediately labels the responsible person as bipolar. Being bipolar isn’t being homicidal. A person who is bipolar may commit these kinds of acts, but I believe there are other factors that are really the root cause. This kind of stereotyping though gives the general impression that bipolar people are insane and should be feared.

Well, we aren’t.

The people I know who have this illness are generally intelligent, sensitive and very thoughtful people when not having an acute attack. It’s well documented that the average IQ of one who is bipolar is above average. Look at how many celebrities are suffering from the disease. There’s strong evidence that many of the world’s leaders in politics, business, medicine, etc. are in fact bipolar. Some of the most celebrated artists who have contributed some of the greatest creative items have been diagnosed with it. Not all of course, not even close to a majority. But enough to show that just because you’re bipolar doesn’t mean that you are a crazy threat to society.

Our behaviors can be horrible sometimes. The rejection given to people who are only trying to help can be painful and frustrating to them. Financial and legal consequences can and often do fall on loved ones and partners. Often, abusive and angry attacks are made on the ones who are the closest. I know you can’t generalize too much, but as that happens it’s really not the person who is causing such catastrophe and pain; it’s the illness. Other disorders and conditions that can be a part of the overall problem of course, and can cause intentional and deliberate and highly personal attacks. But just being bipolar? With only a few exceptions I believe that the havoc we wreak really isn’t what we want to do. It happens when we lose control. That does not change the responsibility, the consequences, or the damage caused. That is just as real whether it’s done on purpose or not. And I’m not making excuses. Regardless of the root cause, the effects are the same. But I know that once I realize what I’ve done I’m appalled at my behavior.

I really didn’t mean it. And I’m sorry.

I don’t expect anyone who isn’t bipolar to understand. About the most I hope for is acceptance and tolerance. Even if life becomes too unbearable having someone (me) in their lives I can at least try to understand. What I want though is not to be labeled as insane. I don’t want to be thought of as vindictive or cruel.

Just like everyone else, I just want to live a happy, productive life. .I have made a lot of progress achieving this with hard work and dedication, but I can’t undo what has been done. I certainly don’t want to lose control of my illness; it’s horrible at either extreme. And I really don’t want to cause any more pain or troubles. There’s always the risk, maybe even the probability that I will, in spite of my best intentions.

I am bipolar.

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