The Weekly Edit: The Whirpool

Jun 17, 2020

I’ve written before about my struggles with depression and anxiety.  I spent most of 2017 and 2018 so deeply depressed that I was concerned I would never be able to breakout.  But I did the work, the clouds parted, and I crawled my way back.  At least most of the way back.

That dark period destroyed my confidence. Pursuing a challenging career.  Taking risks, being ambitious.  The things that used to make me, me.  I can’t do any of that anymore.  I am mostly paralyzed by fear.  It’s why I decided to craft a career path that was heavily reliant on blogging and political work with some lawyering.  It’s what felt stable and safe.

Then, COVID-19 happened.  And like so many Americans, my stable career became shaky at best.  Lose a few elections, blog takes a hit, legal work dries up, and now what?

The crushing fear of failure combined with having no professional support system where I live (and an entire skill set that is useless outside a capital city) has invited that darkness back in.

Every morning, I force myself out of bed with the same thought: You cannot let this happen again.  You cannot lose more time to this stupid disease.

So I get up, and I try to accomplish something, anything.  Because you’ve got to chase that black dog away or he will catch you.

If you don’t struggle with mental health issues, I can’t impress upon you enough how much they can sap your will to function.  A few years ago, a former boss was complaining about a co-worker who was late every day.  He couldn’t see it, but I could.  My colleague wasn’t late because he was inconsiderate, he was late because he was depressed.

When I tried to explain to my boss that I, as a person who had similar challenges, could see he was going through something deeper, my boss replied, “What does being sad have to do with getting to work on time?”

And that’s the biggest misconception about depression, that the person is just sad.

I have to avoid all social media on October 10th because, on world Mental Health Day, so many influencer feel the need to write Instagram captions about how they “get sad too” or “have bad days.”  People who struggle with mental health, whether temporary or life long, aren’t sad.  They are living every day, fighting a battle with their own mind.

The other question I get from well-meaning people is: Why don’t you just take something?

Given the thousands of television commercials advertising medications, the general public can be forgiven for thinking this problem is solved.  But many mental health sufferers spend years finding the right medicines and the right balance of medicines.  Some, like me, can’t take medication because of the side effects.

Put me on a drug like Zoloft or Celexa and I start to have uncontrollable, sudden suicidal thoughts.  Imagine walking down Independence Avenue on a bright, sunny day, a WMATA bus coming up the street in the lane next to you. Then, without warning, you are overcome by the desire to step in front of that bus.  That happened to me after just three days on medication.

I don’t take anything now.  I don’t even try.  It’s inconvenient, and unfortunate.  But it’s also necessary.

I wrote this today because, like I said, I’m not feeling my best right now.  You may come here some days and there will be no posts.  It’s not because I’ve forgotten about you, it’s because I just can’t do it that day.

I also wrote this because with 2020 doing her level best to shred everyone’s sense of stability and hope, I think there are probably a lot of people feeling this way.  Many for the very first time.

There are hard days.  There are hard weeks.  If you need support, I highly recommend talk therapy as a place to start.  It doesn’t always solve, but it keeps the feelings from bottling up, which can mitigate.  Online resources like BetterHelp can open the door.  Or you can ask your general practitioner for a referral.

2020 is a year that will last decades.  And we’re all trying to get through it together.  So take care of yourselves.  Hang in there.  And remember that you are stronger than you’re giving yourself credit for, even if you’re tired.

A few years ago, I bought a weighted blanket help me relax and sleep.  And, to my surprise, the Internet was right, it actually helped.

Recently, I went looking for it, and it’s nowhere to be found.  So I ordered this Gravity blanket for our bed.  If it’s hot where you are, may I recommend their cooling blanket with a moisture wicking duvet cover to keep things chill.

The extra weight helps you feel tired and ready for sleep.  I find it makes a big difference on nights when I can’t turn my mind off.

Do you like peanut sauce?  Have you tried to make it at home only to be really disappointed?  Hey, me too!

It makes no sense given all of the recipes I’ve tried, but my Asian-inspired peanut sauces never turn out as good as restaurant sauces.  Enter, African Peanut Sauce.

Food52’s Mother Africa Peanut Sauce has a different flavor profile than an Asian peanut sauce.  It’s richer, earthier, and a bit spicier.  But my heavens, this is the good stuff.

I made it last week, and it was so delicious, I froze the leftovers in one of Kyle’s cocktail ice trays.  Just add a little bit of it to chicken or vegetables and it’s phenomenal.

My apologies to those with peanut allergies.  Nut Free Wok has an Asian dipping sauce that uses Sunflower Butter instead, so you might be able to do something similar here.

Earlier this week, I realized that my favorite pair of earrings is missing.  I’ve barely left my house for weeks, so I know they must be somewhere, but where?  Kyle and I tore the house apart looking for them, and nothing.  They were a gift from my Mom, so I’m basically devastated.

I need something to wear in the interim while we continue the search, so I bounced over to Shopbop.  These Gorjana studs masquerading as hoops are an affordable $28.  These Shashi lightning bolts and modern pearls also caught my eye.  For hoops, their small pebble huggies are worth a look.

Since the Black Lives Matter protests began, I’ve become more interested in how the Republican Party ended up taking in Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats.  Which led me to want to know more about Barry Goldwater, a friend from Arizona recommended this documentary on Amazon.

The film talks about Goldwater’s early life, his conservatism, and how his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act came to be.  It’s not a complete canon on the subject, but it’s a starting place.  It also featured an interesting group of guests including Sen. John McCain, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and James Carville.

I admit that I didn’t know much about Goldwater prior before this.  Discovering another pro-choice, pro-gay rights conservative was gratifying.  But it’s hard to ignore the fact that, while his personal opposition to the ’64 Civil Rights Act may have been rooted purely in constitutional concerns, it allowed people with hate in their hearts to find a safe space in the GOP.

It’s a fascinating watch that gives you the broad strokes of a very interesting life story.  From using his short wave radio to arrange calls between soldiers in Vietnam and stateside family to his utter contempt for Nixon, there’s a lot of noteworthy material.

I heard about this Origins Out of Trouble mask from a friend with similar breakout and skin troubles to mine.  When I realized that it was out-of-stock at Sephora and Ulta, I was even more intrigued.  So I dashed down to the local Sephora (which re-opened last week) to pick it up.  And rushed to the bathroom to apply it.

The camphor was cooling and soothing on the skin, and when I removed it 10-minutes later, the change was visible.  Swollen blemishes were calmed.  Pores looked less noticeable.  Everything felt smoother and softer.  I was deeply, deeply impressed.

Then, I realized my eyes were itching.  In my rush to try the product, I had failed to notice that it had colloidal sulfur in it.  I’m allergic to sulfur.

I am sufficiently upset about not being able to use what is obviously an awesome product.  The zinc and sulfur soak up the excess oil and treat breakouts.  The camphor cools.  And the clay sweeps debris out of pores.  The mask works, it’s amazing, and I can’t believe I have to return it.

If you have similarly oily/combination skin and/or acne, definitely give it a try.  You won’t regret it.

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  1. sara says:

    Thanks for your honesty about depression and the many forms it takes.
    I’ve struggled with minor depression for years – and I take lexapro for it – but nothing has been like how it’s been in 2020 for me. Best of luck with fighting the disease – I know you know that you are not alone!

    Also I’ve lost like FOUR valuable things during the past 3 months. With my partner having moved in last October, and finally taking the time to reorganize and buy new furniture, bag donations, and not going on trips (please make sure you’ve looked in every single coat pocket and every single travel bag’s seams and pockets for your prized earrings!) I still to this day haven’t located 1 (one) of a pair of my favorite Birkenstocks, my go-to white cami I wear every summer, and my favorite Gorjana choker. No idea. Quarantine brain?

  2. DK says:

    Thanks for posting about your battle with depression and anxiety. I, too, face similar struggles and am having an especially hard time right now, between COVID, unemployment, losing a family member, and other stresses… I just can’t. It helps to hear about other people who are struggling right now with similar issues. Hang in there. Reading your blog is always a highlight of my day! Thank you for all the work you’ve put into it, even when it’s hard.

  3. MCF says:

    Thank you for sharing, Abra.

  4. Rachel says:

    Thank you for being so open about your mental health. I went through a period of depression that lasted about a year. I recently had my first panic attack in years. In the week that followed, I couldn’t get anything done at work and I’m still struggling to regain my focus. 2020 is a hard year. I’m trying to be kind to myself.

  5. Ac says:

    Thank you for your openness about your struggles with depression. It is so helpful in lifting the stigma and making other depression fighters feel not so alone.

  6. Madeline Vied says:

    Thank you for sharing your struggles. I have had depression most of my life and I have done my fair share of explaining that no, nothing is “wrong,” I just can’t get out of bed. I’m not “sad” and nothing has happened to me, I just can’t stop crying and have no will to do anything. It’s been 20 years of fighting the black dog with prayer, focused thinking, food, exercise, probiotics, Lexapro, talk therapy… It is a lifelong struggle for me, and so many other people, and this COVID nightmare + civil upheaval around race relations (much needed) is triggering so many that fight this depression fight. Thank you for bringing this topic to the forefront and helping to normalize conversations around mental health. Keep fighting the good fight. You are doing great work. This season will end. There will be good days again! You are not alone!!!

  7. Sarah says:

    Thank you for sharing. When you feel like you do not have a community, know we are here.

  8. Cara says:

    Thank you for sharing what so many of us are feeling. You are a bright light in this weird world. Take care of yourself.

  9. TheLOOP says:

    Thank you Abra, not just for sharing but for explaining. I will out myself as someone who didn’t quite understand what mental health issues mean (it’s been taboo to talk about in my culture until more recently) or how they can impact a person. I struggled to empathize with a colleague who was going through mental health issues; I made sure they took several weeks of time off but couldn’t fully put myself in their shoes. I have tried to educate myself by reading but your posts about your battle with depression feel visceral in a way that other materials haven’t and have helped me understand it better. I am sure opening up about it to strangers is not easy but thank you for doing so.

    • Coco says:

      Thx for your post “the loop”-which captures my feelings too.

      Abra, thx for your honesty and risk taking – you have better helped me to understand mental health issues. I enjoy your blog tremendously and wish you the best!

  10. Nichole says:

    The link for the mask isn’t working. Have you found it somewhere else? I’d like you to get the affiliate $.

  11. Tina says:

    Belle, this sounds really tough. Sending lots of virtual hugs your way!

  12. MMC says:

    Have you explored an integrative or functional psychiatrist? I’ve been working with one for several months and the impact, while slow, has been significant. Sending good thoughts your way…

  13. Bee says:

    Abra, thanks for sharing. We’ll still be here even if you don’t post every day, or as often as you used to. I’m a longtime reader in a similar industry and have genuinely looked forward to reading each and every one of your posts since I found your blog. As another reader said, thank you for the work you put in!

  14. Nadine says:

    I’m sorry you’re struggling again, Abra. I can’t imagine how such a challenging time wouldn’t affect you. I take something, and it works. I still have my job — but working from home and living alone these past months has been lonely, and I have had to pay special attention to keeping myself well (exercise, meditation, skipping alcohol, lots of sleep). In short, things are easier for me right now in lots of ways and I’m still finding it hard. Good for you for doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

  15. EK says:

    Longtime reader (since at least 2012?) and first-time commenter. If there are no posts some day – do not worry about us. You cannot let us down except by not doing what you need to in oder to cope with your illness. I wish I had more eloquent thoughts but I just wanted to say that. We all understand. You are fighting a hard battle.

  16. Cindi says:

    2020 has been incredibly difficult so far. For those of us with anxiety and depression remember that daily life now has multiple trauma triggers at a very high level. The grocery store used to be comfortable and familiar. Now it may trigger flight or fight responses. Same with the gas station, amazon packages, seeing family and friends and the news (that is the worst one). What we have is high intensity trauma and triggers for a sustained period of time. This is unprecedented in our lifetimes. And we are all spending so much time in our own heads. Please be kind to yourself and understand that anxiety and depression are valid responses to 2020. Please be kind to yourself and if you need help, please reach out to those in your life who will support you. Many therapists are doing virtual sessions.

  17. Charli says:

    Sharing your mental health struggles helps me to remember that I am not alone with these experiences. Thank you for sharing, and I hope these comments in turn help you to remember that you too are not alone! Capitol Hill Style has been a joy to read for these many years; thank you for all the hard work you put into it.

  18. KC says:

    I’ve been reading your blog since 2012 and will continue to read. Thank you so much for sharing about your mental health and know there are people here who greatly appreciate your posts, whenever you’re able to get them up <3

  19. Annie says:

    Abra, thank you so much for posting your struggles with depression. I was diagnosed with OCD a few years ago, when I was really in the midst of an anxiety breakdown. Your line — “I am mostly paralyzed by fear” — rings so true for me, too. I’m proud of myself for being in a better place now, but I’m mostly terrified of ever going back to feeling that way, and Covid-19 has made me especially wary of that. I take Prozac, and I’m thankful it works so well for me.

    This current climate is also the first time my boyfriend is dealing with anxiety, and it’s like looking through a funhouse mirror, watching him go through the same patterns I’ve gone through, and knowing I can only do so much and he has to work through it at his own pace.

  20. Monica T says:

    It’s hard to imagine someone equating depression with sadness, but I think that’s why de-stigmatizing mental health issues so that we feel comfortable sharing and helping others to understand what they really mean is so important.

    For years you have done amazing work in that regard by normalizing depression and mental health issues so that more people can understand that ambitious people, successful people, everyday people can be suffering in silence, sometimes with a smile on their face. Thank you for that and everything else you do. Echoing everyone saying that we will still be here when you feel able to meet us.

  21. JennifeR says:

    I empathize with your depression, as I have always dealt with it my entire adult life. It’s impossible for someone who hasn’t experienced it to really understand. We are here when you are ready to post.

  22. Leigh says:

    I’m sorry you are experiencing this pain again Abra. I also struggle with anxiety and depression, and I know everyone has a unique experience with it. Thank you for helping others understand how you experience it and contributing to a more open discussion of mental health with your platform

  23. rachel says:

    I wish I had something to say about the mental health issues, other than hearing you talk about it outloud is so empowering.

    As to “how did the republican party get here”…Have you watched Mrs. America on Hulu? Its probably a “fun” version of Goldwater. It pits the “libbers” against Phyllis Schlafly and her work. It certainly helps you visualize how they got to Reagan and beyond and why decisions were made as they were. Though I am certain most of this will be familiar to you.

  24. Rachel says:

    Longtime reader here – thank you for sharing so openly about your struggle. I can completely relate to having your confidence shaken by setbacks in your professional life. It’s such a challenge to deal with that, especially for those of us who spent much of our lives believing that self worth stems from academic and professional achievement. You should know that your blog is one of my favorites, and it means a lot to readers like me. Please don’t worry about not posting as frequently as usual – give yourself a break, take care, and hang in there!

  25. ARI says:

    I feel for you so much. Ignore this advice if it isn’t helpful, but I am a lawyer in Seattle, and have struggled with depression for a long, long time. My best advice: Move. I went to a tiny tropical island when I felt like there was no way out, but literally anywhere will do. It breaks you out of routine, lets you pursue a new dream, and you find out what makes you happy. Sometimes you have to change everything that is not working, to find out what you want.

  26. Sierra Delta says:

    2020 is doing a number on us all, and I think even people who’ve never struggled are feeling things they never expected to and don’t know how to deal with. Mental health is akin to physical health, except for the stigma. If you need a doctor for something wrong with your body, you make an appointment with your healthcare provider and think nothing of it. If you need a therapist because something’s wrong with how your mind is processing what’s going on internally or externally, you think twice about sharing because you don’t want to be judged.

    I thought I was doing pretty well until my mother died two years ago. She left her estate in a mess, and the short version of a complex story is that one sibling has chosen to sever relations with three of us. I needed a therapist to talk me down and give me perspective, but I won’t be able to mourn my mother until all of the legal aspects are resolved, which is some years away. My black dog would like me to remember how seductive oncoming traffic can be, so I don’t go for walks by myself. My black dog would also like me to be on medication, but my side effects are similar to Abra’s.

    I know that life is a struggle and I’m not alone in feeling that, but this year feels like it’s harder to find moments of joy to hang on to. Thank you to Abra and all of you here who make it safe to acknowledge that everything isn’t okay but to remind us that there are resources available.

  27. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for sharing. Your blog is something I look forward to each day. And if you’re brave enough to try one more Asian peanut sauce, this one from the Kitchn is my fav. I just throw everything in a food processor, so I don’t have to worry about chopping/grating the garlic and ginger. Its a lot of ingredients, but its so much better than the simpler ones.

  28. Cara says:

    Thank you. I deeply appreciate your openness about life-long depression as someone that also lives with this. I don’t see many talking about it as openly as you do and it helps. My mornings are mostly focused on mental health – morning pages, exercise, and meditation with the Calm app. Medication worked in the past, but now makes me suicidal so I went off of it (with my doctor’s blessing). I hope my newish routine keeps working for as long as it can. I hope you find something that works for a spell too.

  29. sara says:

    Abra, your blog is wonderful and I have been reading it for a long time. I’m a therpist and I love your ability to share your experience with depression. It is so common yet misunderstood.

  30. Mel says:

    Abra, I am so sorry you are battling this disease again. As another lawyer with similar mental health issues, I see a lot of myself in your story. Many of us have been in that dark pit. We will always be here for you to share some of the light with you.

  31. RR says:

    Abra, I appreciate your honest writing on depression. I went through a couple years where I would have days of just staring at my computer doing nothing. Playing on my phone, reading websites, but nothing production. Just absolutely nothing. I chalked it up as a lack of motivation. I was also angry. Just in a state of near constant rage. I chalked it up as my feelings about a toxic work environment, a big loss, and the state of our country. Ultimately, I realized it was depression and anxiety, spent some time in therapy, and started a low dose of Lexapro, which I was incredibly lucky to have work well for me. My heart is with you. You and your blog matter to a lot of us. On the worst days, I enjoy coming here and reading it. Never forget that.

  32. Nora says:

    Abra, sending you hugs and wishing for a break in the depression clouds. I admire your being open and honest about it.

    I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety since I was 8 or 9. It’s hit my three siblings as well.

    Meds are definitely no silver bullet. Even when something works, it may not work forever. I finally got to the point where when a med DID work, I realized I had 18 months to build good habits and figure things out before the impact gradually waned. (And that 18 months or so was always a godsend to break habits that made the depression worse to begin with.)

    Although I’ve gone long periods in remission, I’ve accepted that it’s a chronic condition to manage with an often-changing cocktail of physical activity, meds, careful eating, attention to sleep, careful doses of social life, and ongoing experiments with things like yoga/meditation, neurofeedback, and a gratitude practice (all worked for the anxiety), probiotics, Vitamin D, craniosacral therapy (all fails for me) etc.

    I know you aren’t asking for advice, but I will just say, plan to try everything. You’ll come up with a cocktail eventually that will help immensely (if not permanently.)

  33. Nancy says:

    When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he reportedly said that with a stroke of a pen he just gave the South to the Republicans. I think he was right.
    As for your depression, I have run marathons in your shoes. It really is worth it to keep trying medicine, because it DOES help. Please keep trying.
    And keep writing, too. This is wasaaaay more than a group looking for something nice to wear…..

  34. cate says:

    I echo the comments of others and agree that you describe anxiety and depression better than any self-help book or article I have read. Your posts helped me realize that I needed to get help and that, as a lawyer and person who seemingly has it all together, it is OK to ask for help. After years of anxiety and some depression (which I always attributed to being “type A”/busy/etc.), I finally started Lexapro and it has made a world of difference. For the first time in as long as I can remember I feel content and able to work and live without constantly spinning and feeling out of control. So, thank you again for your honesty and vulnerability. Please take the time you need. We’ll all be here when you are back.

  35. Cricket says:

    Thank you for your honesty. Bloggers always seem so perfect but one of the reasons I love your blog so much is because you are so human.

  36. Sally says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. <3

  37. Nicole says:

    Appreciate the honest post about your mental health struggles. For so many years I focused on a “cure”, getting better, and not having to deal with it anymore. I’ve only recently come to terms with the concept that this it is chronic and that stable will always involve meds, talk therapy, and constant self-work.

    My uncle has to take insulin for his diabetes. My dad takes cholesterol meds despite running marathons. We each have to do different things to take care of our bodies and our mental health is a part of that.

    Keep going!

  38. Jen says:

    Just wanted to say I am rooting for you, I care, and I am wishing all of the good things to be headed your way and in whatever way you may need them each day. xoxox

  39. S says:

    You mention the time it takes to get the medications right, if you can even. That is such a suffocating part of treatment. Having your life be a damn experiment while trying to solve this hell of an illness, while suffering in silence.You’re working so hard to get things under control and your existence is treated like Russian roulette. It’s so unfair.

  40. Lauren says:

    I always appreciate you sharing your struggles. I took a month off of work before the pandemic this year, with FMLA during a major depressive episode. I now have intermittent FMLA and still miss work regularly and worry about losing my job. I’ve had depression since childhood.

    Not to be ‘here’s something to try!’, but you may want to look into TMS. It’s not medication, and there is a time commitment. I did it last year and it did help some, but there’s no way to guarantee it will work for someone. But it may be worth a consultation if medication is off the table. I’m currently getting sprovato treatment which is helping me significantly. I’ve been doing fairly well as of late, but this week was tough, and I’m angry/disappointed with myself for having a setback. It feels so hard to reset.

    Always wishing you the best. I hope that after the stress so many are experiencing with the pandemic, people will become more understanding of mental health issues. It’s a lifetime thing, and the best we can do is manage it the best ways we can.

  41. Katherine says:

    Abra, so sorry to hear you’re going through such a difficult time. It takes strength to be vulnerable and open up in the way that you have, and I respect and admire you for that as much as I admire your writing and thoughtful perspectives. Sending support and best wishes.

  42. Ashley says:

    Abra, thank you for your honesty and openness. I am a long-time reader of the blog and just wanted to give you props for everything you are doing during this difficult period (for you personally and the world). I think your content has been spot on, and I will continue to read (and shop) while working from home. You are an inspiration in so many ways.

  43. Dia says:

    I appreciate your real ness & honesty & aspire to it. Thank you for being a light in darkness.

  44. Emma says:

    Abra, I admire how open you are with sharing your mental health concerns. I have had lifelong anxiety and my first major depressive episode more than a year ago now. I’m still in the process of clawing my way back to myself. I was not able to fully understand how hard it is to live with depression until I experienced it. AND I work in the MH field! Medicine has been very important to giving my symptoms a floor they cannot get past. I am very medication sensitive and have also had SI as an immediate side effect on SSRIs. I now take a SSNRI. I started experimenting with dietary supplements as well. I’m surprised by how much taking a fish oil supplement daily has helped (I like the one by Hum Nutrition). I also use a weighted blanket for sleep and take Natural Calm when needed for increased relaxation. It’s just a magnesium powder supplement but it works better for me than a benzodiazepine. I have to avoid alcohol and get exercise as well (both are terrible). Please be gentle with yourself. Sending peaceful vibes your way.

  45. MXJ says:

    I originally came here for the fashion advice (c. 2012) and stayed for your authentic, true to yourself, takes on everything from what to wear to being honest and open about what you’re doing through. Your openness is an inspiration to many, myself included. What you’re going through sounds so tough. I could offer platitudes about hoping things get better soon, but I doubt that helps. So just know that even though I’m just a reader, I care. And genuinely no worries about there not being posts some days. I (and I’m sure many others) will still be here for your unbiased reviews and recommendations, links, etc. whenever you are up for posting them.

  46. Niki says:

    As someone who has experienced diagnosed depression and anxiety for 20+ years (runs in my family – yay!), and as someone who can tolerate medicine and finally found one that works, I cannot even imagine not being able to treat my depression without it. I tried to commit suicide in my 20s and have had those same types of walk in front of the bus thoughts withOUT medicine. I think you are incredibly strong to be doing this without pharmaceutical help. I would not be alive without it. There’s nothing I can say that will help or make you feel better, so please know that I am thinking about you and sending internet stranger love to you. <3

  47. v says:

    Long time reader who loves your blog! Thank you for sharing & wish I could think of something funny or more clever to say. All I can think of is to say is that: 1) I really appreciate this blog as a safe, warm, happy place to get away when the world gets too heavy; and 2) that you’re brave, you’re strong, and I can’t wait to see what you do next. Hugs:)

  48. Elizabeth Tulasi says:

    Always appreciate your candor and I think you show extreme generosity of spirit here when you give people the benefit of the doubt about their thoughtless comments or assumptions. Wishing you all the best during the dark times.


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