Wednesday, 30 July 2014

My third year anniversary

I have spoken extensively about my journey with self harm in previous blog posts and the reasons why I started, (here) and I even made a video about it (here) but the end of July marks a special occasion for me and I believe it's worth a blog post.  

The end of July is my three year anniversary of being self harm free.

When you look back at time, years just seem to fly by and if I think about those three years ignoring the self harm then I can really appreciate that sentiment.  But when I add self harm into the equation I really feel like time has dragged and it seems to be a miracle I've come this far.  What a lot of people who have never experienced mental health issues don't seem to understand is that when you're recovering from something, be it self harm, drugs, alcohol or an eating disorder, every day when you've fought your demons is a victory. Every week that drags past you where you don't fall back into bad habits feels like you've won a war, when really it was only a battle.  The fight continues even when you're out of the worst.

I may be three years down the road of being a reformed self harmer, but that makes the pressure just as hard.  I sometimes get gripped by the fear of relapsing because three years is something to be proud of but I know what I was capable of feeling and doing.  Self harm was a big on and off part of my life for about six years.  It was all consuming.  I've spoken about it before; the confusing mix of teenage years combined with the fact that I did have an amazing support network but I just couldn't deal with my crippling self esteem and own personal issues.  If self harm were easy to talk about then 1 on 12 of us wouldn't be suffering from it.

I am very proud of having come this far and stepping away from something bad that was so all encompassing and consuming.  I went to therapy for it (out of my own free will) and the minute I walked through the door and told my therapist: "I self harm" it felt like the weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  The reason why I stopped hurting myself was actually because of my mum.  I'd been going to therapy for a while but still found myself in a bad place.  She accidentally saw one of my new scars. To this day I have never seen her get that angry.  Her violently emotional reaction broke me and to this day I haven't self harmed.

So three years later, where are we at?

There is no quick fix, it doesn't ever go away.  

A lot of my scars have faded but I know the exact places they used to be.  I'll be sad to see the rest go, it will be as if nothing ever happened.  3 years later and my self harm is a topic we still tip toe around in my family.  My mother never mentions it unless I do and I'm not even sure how much my dad knows.  He saw the therapist bills so he must have known something was going on.  3 years later and I'm still trying to figure out what impact my self harm had on my family.  As with everything related to self harm, it's an incredibly grey area. But I know now that self harm was not only hurting me but it was also hurting my family.  I suffered so my mum suffered.  That breaks my heart that I put her through something like that.

I resorted to self harm because I thought I was to blame for everything, I needed an outlet for something I couldn't put into words.  I hated myself and thought everyone else did too.  I loved having a secret.  Now I just see how toxic all that was.  My therapist pulled me out of of the hole I had dug myself into.  She's now teaching and helping kids in Ethiopia. I've drafted an email to her to say thanks for everything but even those words feel so insignificant because she gently led me in the right direction.  I wouldn't say she saved my life.  I did that.  I got myself on track but she showed me the way.  The email is sat in my drafts and I've cried a lot.  'Thank you' just isn't enough to convey how I feel.

Self harm may seem like an answer but it's just a symptom of bigger issues.  It feels like an outlet at the start but then it becomes everything and before you know it, you don't recognise yourself any more.  I'm living proof that with patience, the right kind of help and a few set backs you can get yourself to the place you want to be.  I got through university, nine months in France, a Masters programme and now I'm in a good job.  Nothing is impossible.  I have actively tried to be, and do better.  I'm by no means a perfect person, or a constantly happy person.  I still have hangups.  I can still get very down and let my self esteem get the better of me.  I think if we ever met in person you may be surprised.  I look like I've got my shit together, but who really does?

Everything in my life has changed for the better since I made the decision to go to therapy and since I decided to start taking care of me.  If you are dealing with self harm I really urge you to take care of yourself.  This is not the place you want to be in, trust me.  The struggle of getting away from harming yourself is hard but once you're free it's the best feeling in the world.  

“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn't worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” - Louise L. Hay.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Things Nina did: Cardiff food festival

The day that my boyfriend and I went to the Cardiff food festival in the bay will now forever be the day that Germany won the World Cup.  I cried.  I'm still not over it.  Anyway, food.  I love Cardiff and I love food so when those two things come together happy days.  My boyfriend and I joined what felt like thousands of people in the sun to get a taste of all things local.

There was a huge variety of food.  From frozen yoghurt (incredible) to elderflower champagne (now chilling in my fridge) to all sorts of different types of cuisine.  We walked around the whole area to get an idea of where we wanted to get food from.  Along the way we picked up some Welsh brownies and I tasted some wine from Cardiff's German twin city - Stuttgart.  No too bad but not as good as wine from W├╝rzburg but I would be biased wouldn't I?  My boyfriend settled for Indian food whilst I decided to step out of my comfort zone and eat seafood.

Now anyone who knows me knows how monumental that decision was.  I hate eating fish and I've only tried scallops once and that was average.  However on this day people were walking around with plates of lobster and it looked and smelt amazing so I thought why not. We queued for ages and once I forked out my £12.50 (which is probably quite cheap really) I got the last lobster of the day.  Smug was an understatement.  Apprehensively we sat down and thankfully they'd sorted out all the claw cracking for me because as a lobster rookie I was not looking forward to that.  My boyfriend wasn't a fan but I actually quite liked it.  The meat was very sweet and because they grilled it and because I drowned it in lemon juice it doesn't taste so much of sea (which I know is the point with seafood but I just can't bare it).  The lemon mayo on the side was a lovely thoughtful addition too.  It's not something I'd eat all the time but it was a decadent little taster that has propped open that seafood door just a tiny bit for me.

It really was another wonderful food affair, it's so great to see the amazing local produce and food that comes out of Wales.  I'm already looking forward to the farmers market in Cardiff Castle in September!

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Saturday, 26 July 2014

Give me one good reason Why I should never make a change

ASOS petite black and white check smock dress
ASOS petite black and white check smock dress
ASOS petite black and white check smock dress
Dress: ASOSBoots: Topshop. Bag: Primark. Necklace: Ever Ours. Sunglasses: Le Specs via Sunglasses Shop*. Lips: NARS Satin Lipstick in Yu. Nails by Rehab Nail Bar

Smock dresses are not flattering and I'm thankful for it.  

In case no one has told you yet (I'm being sarcastic) we're going through a heatwave in the UK.  I'm unsurprisingly struggling with it.  I'm in work most days and trying to find suitable office wear which doesn't turn you into a puddle is hard.  So on the weekends I want to wear clothes that are as comfortable as possible.  Smock dresses are perfect for this especially when they are on sale.  I don't care that this isn't flattering and makes me look bigger than I am, it's perfect for hot days.  I love that it has sleeves because that stops me from catching the sun and going pink.  The dress is also 100% cotton which keeps sweat to a minimum.  You might also think I'm a lunatic for wearing boots but summer sandals are cruel to my feet and shred them.  I'm just holding out for autumn.  Bring on the knitwear.

I'm sorry if you're blinded by my pasty white legs, Welsh Girl Problems is determined to get me into fake tan but I'm apprehensive.  She is the photographer behind these images which I roped her into doing after we had a lovely drawn out visit to Waterloo Tea Gardens which is my new favourite place in Cardiff.  Expect a review soon.

All I've done today is eat, drink coffee and walk around the park and I'm exhausted.  I want to nap.  Summer warmth makes me so unproductive.

ASOS petite black and white check smock dress
ASOS petite black and white check smock dress
ASOS petite black and white check smock dress
ASOS petite black and white check smock dress
ASOS petite black and white check smock dress
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Monday, 21 July 2014

Toxic Relationships

First of all two things to note.  Firstly, I feel that because I am the happiest I have ever been, I can write this and hopefully help someone else.  Secondly, I am not putting my ex on blast, as tempting as that has been in the past.  He made bad decisions but he too is entitled to learn out of them.  This is for all of those people who have let themselves get dragged into something and can't seem to find a way out.

I didn't realise that my last relationship was a toxic relationship until I started dating my current boyfriend.  A toxic relationship to me means that something is draining life and energy out of you. In an emotionally toxic relationship the focus of your attention will be entirely on the other person. You think that if they stopped doing whatever it is that is making the relationship difficult (drinking, lying, cheating or not working etc) then all would be well.  I missed a lot of warning signs very early on and out of the 3 and a half year relationship I was in, 2 of those years were draining.  To the point where my mother was constantly worried about me and even she could feel my strain and tension.  It wasn't very obvious in the beginning but the longer we were dating the more obvious it became.

The person I was with suffered with very low self esteem which resulted in his actions.  I have struggled with self esteem issues for most of my life so in the beginning we seemed to balance each other out.  He was a good boyfriend most of the time.  We had similar tastes in music and he was funny.  But after a while our tastes started to change.  I wasn't into his friends or generally many of the people he hung out or worked with, and he had no bigger career aspirations.  He would talk about getting out of the slump he was in but he wasn't particularly proactive about it.  He also had a lot of female friends whom he was very close to.  Whilst normally this wouldn't have bothered me it eventually became clear that these girls were there to feed his low self esteem and to give him what I apparently wasn't giving him.  Moreover, they were very much his type (alternative, tattoos, piercings) whereas I was a bit of an anomaly in his girl spectrum (no tattoos, no extraordinary piercings and I was growing out of my pop punk music stage).  These girls added to my self esteem issues, I was constantly thinking I was never enough.  I was trying to keep my self harm sheet clean too, in hindsight the emotional pressure I was under was huge.

All of this anxiety was juxtaposed with good times which made it even more confusing to me.  How could I have so much anxiety about someone I cared about? I felt like I had to keep tabs on him constantly, I wanted to know who he was with and what he was doing. My stress levels were even higher when I knew alcohol was involved.  We used to go out together a lot at the beginning of our relationship but those nights would always end in blazing rows instigated by me because only after a few drinks did I feel brave enough to bring up everything I was thinking.  When he was out drinking I was constantly worried who he was with and if any of the girls he spoke to would be there and if something would happen.  It was obviously not healthy.

It wasn't looking good but I still moved in with him.

I think I was afraid of being alone, I settled because for some ludicrous reason I didn't think I deserved better.  I thought that this was as good as it was going to get.  I felt like I was fighting for this guy constantly, although in hindsight he wasn't even that great for me. He was nice, don't get me wrong.  He did make me laugh and treated me well getting me gifts, buying dinner and spending money on me.  This made everything even more confusing when he was being evasive and I would feel bad for being suspicious.  But again with the gift of hindsight I think a lot of these gifts and spent money was to compensate for the guilt he felt whilst he was cheating on me.  I tried to trust him I really did but there were constantly signs I ignored.   Pragmatically I think I had fallen out of love with him for a while but the fear of being alone was all consuming and I latched onto this mess of a relationship like a life ring.

We lived together for three and a half months before the shit hit the fan.  There is no nicer way of saying it. 

I let this exhausting relationship go on for far too long and was too chicken to break up with someone 'without a valid reason'.  In the end I found out he had cheated on me for over six months with supposedly 'only' one girl.  My hand was forced and somewhere out of the depths of the old Nina I pulled out all the strength I had and kicked him out of the flat we had signed for whilst he was still sleeping with the other girl, and I got on with my life.  The people who knew me before and after all this have said that I am a completely different person now.  My mother and I have spoken at length about this and she said he was always holding me back.  I was afraid to take my big and important steps incase it left him behind. Again this is not how good relationships should work.  You either move forward together or you have to go at it alone.  It's better to go at life alone than to let someone slowly erode your confidence and self worth.

My golden rule in life is to always trust your instincts.  I knew probably about 1 year into our relationship that there was something going on between him and one of his female friends.  I let him talk me out of it.  That's what makes me the angriest.  I let him convince me time and time again that I was overreacting, that I was being neurotic suspecting him constantly.  In our last post break up conversation we had he even hinted that my behaviour made him seek out the girl whom he would sleep with for six months.  Because I wasn't giving him what he needed he went and got it from somewhere else.  Now I don't like to throw around words like emotional abuse but that's what it felt like.  He made me feel like I was crazy.  I struggled with self harm for about six years of my life so my mental health hasn't always been the best which made the whole situation even worse. He made me not feel like me.  He  made me feel like there was something wrong with me.  He tried to blame it on me knowing that I was quite fragile at times, but I finally took a stand.  

There are some warning signs you really need to watch out for if any of this is sounding familiar.  It's worth re-evaulating your relationship if:
  • Your self worth has taken a dive.
  • Your partner makes you more miserable than happy.
  • You can't trust your them.
  • You're constantly worried about who your partner is with.
  • You want to check up on all their movements on their social media.
  • If they have had a lot of relationship drama in the past that keeps getting brought up.
  • They are constantly on the phone and being evasive about who they are talking to.
  • You feel like you’re not allowed to grow and change.
  • You start to feel yourself compromise on what your gut is telling you
  • They belittle you and try to brush off your concerns.
  • Your partner calls you names.

The key to staying out of toxic relationships is to know yourself and your patterns. Sometimes I find myself falling into old ways, overthinking and panicking.  But then I take a deep breath in, check myself and remind myself that this relationship is different and I am different now.  Stronger.  According to Debora Schwartz "relationships will only work when you make a decision from a position of strength and not from a position of desperation."  A partner is not going to save you, you have to find your inner strength and if that means cutting a toxic person out of your life so be it.  It's worked wonders for me.

I'm not playing the blame game.  I'm not blaming my ex, I'm not even blaming the girl he slept with.  I just want to make sure you know what the warning signs are so you can get yourself out of a negative situation.  You don't want to waste your precious time on something that is negative or counterproductive.  Don't be afraid to break up with someone who isn't good for you.  Don't be afraid to be the person who refuses to settle for a compromise because before you know it you're with someone who isn't that great and two years have flown past and you've been miserable.

Like I said, I didn't know I was in a toxic relationship until I started dating my another guy, we're sadly no longer together but I learnt so much from that relationship.  Everything in that relationship was the complete opposite.  I've found someone who I trusted 100% and there was no tension or anxiety in me when we weren't together.  I had never been that happy with someone and sometimes that took my breath away.  For one second I would panic about giving my trust to someone again, but we have to grow and learn to give our hearts to the right person.  Once you break away from that toxic cycle you never want to go back to it.

Remember that every relationship is a lesson, even the toxic ones.  Learn your patterns, learn to love and respect yourself and most importantly: don't settle for someone out of fear of being alone.  You deserve better and you will find someone who is perfect for you.

This chapter in my life is now done.  It's been exhausting thinking about it but I am ready to put the lid on this box and be done with it.  There are new adventures waiting.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Nina Eats - The Potted Pig

Having survived my first week at my grown up job and not having seen my Welsh sister from another mister for quite a while it seemed like we should celebrate with some shopping in town and most importantly: good food.  Our restaurant of choice was The Potted Pig.  The Potted Pig is perfectly located in an old bank vault making it cool and a perfect hideout from the hustle and bustle that is Cardiff on a Saturday afternoon.  

We struck gold with the two course for £12.  WGP got the starter and I got the dessert so technically managed to get three courses.  WGP introduced me to the world of truffled Welsh Rarebit. Absolutely delicious. I can't believe I've lived in Wales this long and never tried it before! For those of you unaware of Welsh Rarebit it's fancy cheese on toast grilled to perfection.  The Potted Pig's version had a hint of luxe with truffle oil.  Pretty much perfect.  We also double chipped it I'm not ashamed to say.  Their chunky fries are the best (they were much better than the slightly anaemic ones that came with my BLT).

For mains I went with a delicious BLT which was so so good but I couldn't even finish it after having over indulged in the starter.  BLT is the ultimate sandwich to me and I'll always end up choosing it.  The bacon was perfectly cooked and it came with a load of crispy salad and fresh tomatoes for that extra crunch.  WGP went for pearl barley risotto with summer vegetables and that too was delicious and creamy. We wrapped it up with a gorgeous slice of lemon tart which had almonds and lemon zest in it.  There was nothing left on the plate.  We also treated ourselves to some cocktails The Potted Pig are famed for the well stock bar, specifically gin so naturally we chose gin based ones.  I had a strawberry fizz (Tanqueray, strawberries and prosecco), WGP went for a Welsh Garden (Tanqueray, elderflower, apple juice and orange bitters).

We left feeling on just the right side of full, we snuck in some more shopping and I had the perfect post lunch nap after.  I really cannot recommend The Potted Pig enough.  Our whole meal only came to £42 altogether and that was including cocktails.  The portions are generous and the food is just so damn tasty.  They change their menus up pretty regularly so it's always worth checking it out.  We got lucky getting a table at very short notice but if you want to eat here in the evenings especially on weekends you MUST book.

Price: ££½
27 High Street (underneath Zizzi), Cardiff, CF10 1PU
Telephone: 02920 224 817

Opening Hours: 
Tuesday to Thursday: 12pm-2pm 7pm-9pm 
Friday: 12pm-2pm 6:30pm-9:30pm 
Saturday: 12pm-2pm 6:30pm-9:30pm 
Sunday: 12pm-2pm

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

One year on

July 17th 2013.  My graduation.  I achieved what I wasn't even sure I could achieve. 

When you're in school you know exactly what you're going to do.  Year 9 is followed by Year 10 and before you know it you're 17 and expected to know what you want to commit at least 3 years of your life to. I went to a very good school where not going to university wasn't really an option.  90% of my year ended up going and I'm pretty sure most of us went to our first choice university.  In the end I spent four years studying French and English Literature in Cardiff.  I enjoyed it at first.  Going to university after boarding school is very liberating and I wasn't much of a rule breaker in school so being of legal drinking age and being an 'adult' really meant that I could do what I wanted.  I really began to grow and become my own person at my pace, doing things I wanted, or not.

Then for my third year I went to France on my year abroad.  Whilst in hindsight my blog paints a great picture of what I did it wasn't an amazing experience for me.  Oh the deceiving internet.  My year abroad just wasn't for me, it didn't have the life altering effect that I was waiting for.  I came back to Cardiff to start my fourth and final year and I really lost any motivation, interest and passion in either of the subjects.  I didn't put much effort in.  I wasn't even sure I was going to get the degree results that I needed to even pass my entire degree.  Again with hindsight and I can see that I had a lot going on in my personal life that was draining me and putting a lot of mental strain on me.  

So one year and one BA later, what are we looking at?

Everything has changed.  Absolutely everything.

I got onto a tough postgraduate course at Cardiff Business School despite my poor degree result.  I severed old ties with emotional baggage and a whole new life started for me.  It's been a crazy year.  I threw myself into my business course which was so far removed from my humanities background and I'm so glad I did because amazing opportunities have arisen out of this.  Not only have I learnt a lot but I've gotten a job out of it too.  It's been the best year ever.

Everyone always says that your early twenties and undergraduate years are the best. But being honest, my undergraduate wasn't the best time of my life in hindsight, this year has been.  Your early twenties are messy and chaotic.  You make mistakes, sometimes big ones, you attach yourself to people who you shouldn't and you stick by them for too long.  I know I'm only 23 so I probably still count as early twenties but ever since I started this new chapter of my life I feel like I have become a whole better person.  I'm not the person I want to be yet but seriously, who ever is?

What I'm trying to say is that it's okay if you aren't enjoying your undergraduate or if your life hasn't turned out as expected or planned.  As 17 year olds it seems insane to make these big life changing decisions.  I can only implore you to try and stick it out.  Good things can arise out of difficult situations and it's worth it.  Life is not clear and simple, it's going to take a lot of effort.  I've thrown everything I have at this year, I have gone through bereavement, found new friends and an amazing new person to care about.

I'm so excited to graduate next July, this one will be a big and well deserved party after all my efforts this year.

"Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end."

Sunday, 13 July 2014

An eurer Seite | At your side

I've mentioned it before that I used to be heavily at odds with my nationality for most of my youth.  This September marks my 10 year anniversary of living in the UK and when I arrived here at 14 I was very anti-German.  My family is 100% German, there is no going about it because trust me I've tried.  Growing up being German wasn't positive for me in the slightest. There's really no point rehashing why I started hating being German because that's like getting blood out of a stone. The cause doesn't matter, what matters is how I felt for about 10 years of my life.

Being German is incredibly difficult.  Whilst most people are open minded and realise there's more to Germany than a horrible time in history, sadly ignorant and rude people seem to be the ones who shout the loudest.  This is true for everything in life so that's probably the best lesson you can take away from this.  Most people who I have met have never had a problem with me being German but sadly the negative encounters stick in my mind the most.  So much in fact that it really broke my self esteem and confidence.  I think for people from different countries it's hard to understand. I'm not even sure if I'm explaining myself properly.  Not being able to be proud of where you are from is incredibly damaging.  I used to see pictures of British people celebrating and waving the Union Jack and be incredibly jealous of this overwhelming sense of patriotism and pride.

Patriotism is something we're slowly learning in Germany.  Waving flags and sporting black, red and gold made a lot of people very uncomfortable back in 2006 when Germany was the host for the FIFA World Cup.  Flags and patriotism were always inherently linked to 1933-1943 and big Nazi rallies. War guilt is such a big thing in Germany and it's what most of us have to wrestle with because it's always brought up by the loud mouthed ignorants of the day.  My generation has been brought up by a generation, who in their history lessons, had to watch the original concentration camp liberation tapes the Americans made.  My mother has often told me how traumatised she was by this.  Shame, self loathing and avoiding strong displays of loving your country were the order of the day. 
However, football has started to change all that and even though I am not a sports fan I think the beautiful game and all it stands for (unity, team spirit and pride) has worked wonders for Germany. Not only do we happen to have a good team (in case you hadn't noticed yet) but we're slowly starting to feel good about supporting a country that has overcome so much.  We're a new generation now, we will never forget what has gone and we will never make those mistakes again but I don't want to hide my nationality anymore.  We have a lot to be ashamed about but we also have a lot we can be proud of.  We're a great country with warm and funny people (contrary to popular belief), beautiful countryside, amazing food and a history we can all learn something from.

The longer I live in the UK the more German I feel.  There are days when my heart is heavy for Germany.  The best word I can use to describe how I feel is a German word - 'sehnsucht' which means "longing, yearning or in a wider sense a type of "intensely missing".  After years of terrible self esteem linked to my anxiety of being German I've finally come around.  I've also learnt to understand that 'hilarious' and 'original' WWII and nazi jokes tell me more about the ignorance and stupidity of the 'joker' rather than my country.  If you have ever been to Germany or know anything about us, you will know how serious we take Holocaust memorials and how important they are to us.

Football has become my small way of being proud of where I'm from, of supporting a country that has gone through so much but that has learnt just as much.  It may only be a game to some people but to me it has become so much more.

'An eurer Seite' roughly translates to 'at your side' and it's the tag line of the German FIFA World Cup effort.  I think we've been doing pretty well so far.  We are all standing together, supporting each other.  Seeing pictures of German fans celebrating together warms my heart and keeps me on the right path.  Watching this video gives me a big lump in my throat.  I'm optimistically posting this before the final kick off this evening in Rio de Janeiro because regardless of the outcome I'm still so proud of Germany and being German.

The moral of this story is don't waste your life hating something when no good can come out of it.  Love where you're from, be open minded and kind.  That's all there really is to it.

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Sunday, 6 July 2014

All the boys say, Welcome to the jungle

Zara Leaf Print Blazer
Zara Leaf Print Blazer
Zara Leaf Print Blazer
Zara Leaf Print Blazer
Zara Leaf Print Blazer
Jacket: Zara (sale)
Jeans: Topshop
Top: Primark
Shoes: Dorothy Perkins
Bag: Lola And Me
Glasses: Scout by Glasses Direct*
Lips: MAC Red

Last night I was invited to the launch of Make Me Amazing which is run by the lovely Rachel and Nic who aim to sell beauty products that they believe in and that actually work.  The event was exciting and it was great to see so many ladies get together.

The invite said the dress code was 'dress to impress', which meant I was grappling with what to wear hours before the event.  I didn't want to wear a dress and risk being overdressed.  In hindsight having seen what everyone else wore even in my first choice dress I would have been underdressed (this is Cardiff we're talking about).  In the end I settled for all black with a pop of print thanks to my latest Zara addition.  I love bright jackets as they really standout when you wear them with all black. 

I'm starting my first real day at my new job on Tuesday.  Already slightly nervous, keep your fingers crossed for me!

Hope you're all having a great weekend!

Zara Leaf Print Blazer
Zara Leaf Print Blazer

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