Mental Illness and Exhaustion: Give Yourself a Break

Mental illness and exhaustion: Friends that seem like conjoined twins.

My friend texted to say she’d had a rough trip with her family. “Lots of stressors and I forgot my Xanax,” she said. By the time she texted, she was hiding in the bathroom, running the shower so people would think she was just taking a long shower, and sobbing.

Which got me thinking about mental illness and exhaustion, something virtually every mentally ill person I know deals with.

Any psychologist will warn you about stressors in your environment. My psychiatrist even tells me that she could make literally anyone psychotic if she were allowed to put them under certain kinds of stress. As she is a 5’2”, kind-as-can-be female, I don’t get too concerned when she celebrates this fact.

Everyone has stressors, and everyone can be pushed over the edge; it’s just that those of us with a mental illness are a good bit less capable of dealing with mental/emotional/psychological ones. And at least for me, here’s why: I already have about 80% of my capacity for stress happening inside of my brain at all times.

Whether it’s depression or anxiety or OCD or bi-polar disorder, if our illness(es) are up and running, we already feel like a normal person probably would after their most stressful week at work: Boss in a terrible mood, layoffs on the horizon, huge projects coming due, 70 hours, and missed three of your kids’ events to boot.

After all that, even a normal person would probably be pretty unhappy to find out that s/he had Friday night dinner guests coming over. But they could probably take a deep breath, muster up the last vestiges of energy they had, and smile when the guests arrived.

Now, maybe, we’re on a level playing field: you with your long week and me with my brain that never stops questioningaskingwonderingwhatifing, are both running on fumes, but if we hit the lights green and put the car in neutral as we’re going downhill, we can make it to the gas station. Maybe. If we’re lucky. If things go well, we might even enjoy the evening.

But we’re on exhausted and not at our best. If someone says the wrong thing; if your kid spills a drink; if your spouse uses that tone with you; or a million other “ifs,” we’re going to have to use the last of our energy to keep from performing professional wrestling moves on our dining room table. Actually, we’ll probably become angrily quiet and use the bathroom seven times until these intruders finally leave and we can go to bed or yell at our innocent families or pets.

I offer this not as an excuse but as an explanation from someone who has been both people in the above scenario. In my younger days, before my depression became overwhelming enough that it might well end my life if I ignore it, I could work a 70 hour week and still hang out with friends on a Friday night. Without even planning to slash their tires on my way out. I could even stomach a couple of busy weeks in a row with a not-very-restful weekend in between. Looking back, it seems like I had a puppy’s energy level in those days. I dealt with OCD back then, but it was well-medicated and fairly calm. I was pretty “normal.”

Not anymore, though. Between my OCD and my often-crippling depression, I feel like I’ve had a long week when I wake up after ten hours of sleep. If the kids are loud, or in bad moods, I’m pretending I need to use the bathroom for half an hour at a time just to attempt a reset. Which almost never works. Depression makes me feel completely sapped of energy, much like you would on the worst day of a bad cold. Technically, I probably could do the tasks that need doing, but just standing up from a chair feels like tasks 1-34. Then the guilt sets in that I can’t just suck it up and do what everyone else is able to do. And now I’m at war with two demons: the energy-drain of mental illness AND the guilt of being a human being who wants and wishes to do more.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve found a medical solution for this problem regarding our constant exhaustion. Maybe someday. But for now I offer two small things: First, you are not alone. If I can tell you anything from doing this work for awhile it’s that exhaustion is one of the most common symptoms of mental illness. I promise that you are not alone in this feeling. Second, give yourself grace. Any healing that might happen has to start there. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with providing for yourself the kind of care you need. Imagine if your body was lifting weights all day, every day, and even when you slept. You’d expect it to be exhausted. And that’s what your brain is actually doing.

To sum up: You’re very tired, and so am I. Others may not see why, but we can see why in ourselves and in others. So give yourself grace, and when you’re up for it, let someone else know they are not alone in their pain.


BEFORE YOU GO: Friends, in my consistently inconsistent fashion, I have finally gotten started with the page I began working on about six months ago. I’m as excited about it as anything I’ve ever done because it takes my story out of the center of this blog and puts yours there instead. Please head over to and listen to one or two of the stories there. THEN email me and let me know you would like to add yours. I’ll send you instructions. It can be anonymous if you want. I can even mask your voice a bit through the magic of technology. So don’t be shy! ALSO, NO MATTER WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY, YOUR STORY WOULD HELP SOMEONE. It doesn’t have to be jaw-dropping. The more ordinary the better. I just want people to know they have company in this world. I want there to be hundreds of 15-30 minute stories there eventually. All you need is a smart phone and a quiet place to record. I can edit out all of your mess-ups so you can just talk and not worry. Please, please consider joining in the effort and email me at:


Articles for further reading:

From The Mighty

From the Mental Illness Alphabet


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The Haunted Dreams of Mental Illness

I tell people that my brain never stops worrying, even in the middle of the night, and it’s true. If I wake up to pee, the thing I went to be worrying about is still churning, churning, churning. Sleep is the closest thing to relief that I get, but last night’s dream demonstrates that even my dreams are haunted by obsessive worry.

In the dream, I was in my psychiatrist’s waiting room. When the dream began it was just me and a couple of other people. Apparently, I didn’t have a set appointment but needed a refill on one of the medicines I take that gives me a few hours of relief from the internal strife. My doctor had come out from her office in the back to talk to me, and we were discussing whether it was in fact time for a refill on this medicine. She was worried that I was possibly abusing it (this is something that is a real-life concern of hers, though it’s unfounded). We weren’t exactly arguing, but I wasn’t convincing her that I actually needed the refill. In typical “dream time” fashion, the waiting room was suddenly full of about twenty people, all with appointments to see her. I was holding them up, in other words, and in the dream, I was well aware of how far behind my doctor now was.

And that was about it. There was no clear ending to the dream. It just stopped. So let me play Freud here and offer an analysis…

First, I’m constantly worried about not having the right medication. There have been times when I’ve waited too long to refill my meds and then the pharmacy is out of something or my insurance company has decided they need prior authorization for a medicine I’ve taken for seven years or something like that. I freak out, come close to panicking, and then it gets resolved like no big deal. If only I could live in that reality – that it will work out – when it happens.

Second, there’s the worry that my doctor will quit giving me this particular medication that offers me some relief. It’s true that I have addictive tendencies, but it’s also true that I have never abused this medication. In fact, I don’t even take it as often as I’m allowed to because I’m afraid of getting addicted to it and because I always want to have a little left over to prevent the situation in #1.

Third, I am constantly anxious about time, thus the part of the dream where my doctor is running late because of me. My siblings and I joke about how my mom used to have dinner ready at 6:00 sharp. This didn’t mean 6:01 or 6:07, like it would in most households. It meant 5:59:43. If any of us happened to be out and about in the car and 5:57 rolled around and we weren’t home yet, the old school car phone would ring and we knew exactly why: “Where are you? We’re about to sit down. We’re going to start because everyone else is here and the food is warm.” Most of us were pulling up the driveway because we knew not to be late. But that call was inevitable unless you were 15 minutes early. So, to this day, when I start to sense that I’m going to be late or that I’m making someone else late, my anxiety level quadruples.

Finally, I want people to like me. In the dream, I could see the frustration building in the waiting room, and naturally, they were all blaming me for taking the doctor’s time rather than blaming the doctor who wouldn’t just write the prescription. I’ve said before that I battle an unwinnable internal cognitive dissonance: 49% of me wants everyone to like me; 51% of me wants to speak my mind and feel heard. These two do not play well together to say the least. Every time I pick one, I’m slaughtering the other half of myself essentially. But the part that needs to speak up usually wins out, and in this case, I needed for my doctor to understand my need for a refill, even if it meant all the other people hated me. But of course, that didn’t mean I didn’t have to suffer with all the anxiety that came with people being angry with me.

So there you have it: a night in the life of my anxious brain. There’s another dream I have, a sort of recurring (thematic) dream in which I need to get somewhere or escape something dangerous, but I am moving in slow motion or stuck in quick sand. The dream never comes to a conclusion…I just try to escape something or get somewhere with no hope of ever doing so.

There’s no off switch. Alcohol helps, but it makes me angry. Not good. Pot helps, but it makes me too numb. Not good. Psychiatric meds help, but in a slow and subtle way that quits feeling very magical after a few weeks. I’ve heard good things about Heroin, but I’ve also heard it comes with a drawback or two. Sleep helps, but only if I’m not having an anxious dream, and I have a lot of them. I honestly don’t remember life without profound anxiety, even extending into my dreams. It often feels like torture to be fully honest.

I wish I had a solution, like warm milk before bed, but I’m writing more to identify with those of you who feel like there is no escape than to provide some remedy. And twisted as it might be, that’s always my goal, really…not to fix you, but to encourage you. I know you’re out there and you’re not alone. Talk to someone who understands; hell, email me if you need to. But as always, my belief is that one of the best forms of help in our situation is to know that others are in the boat with you.

Sweet dreams.

I write this blog to let people know they are not alone. If you know someone who might need to read something like this, please pass it along or encourage them to email me at
To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help with a small (or large) donation if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with relationships or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!


Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Let’s Cause a Scene

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” – Albert Einstein

Over the past few weeks, my brain feels like it’s stuck in a death-spiral. The conversations in my head are never ending: There’s all the tweets and emails I’m crafting to tell Trump that he not only seems petty but also remarkably stupid – his life seems to be a testament to the fact that money can buy you almost everything: wives, power, prestige, and even the most powerful seat on earth; there are the inner dialogues between me and my Trump-voting friends and family members, with whom I’m still having trouble communicating; and there’s always the meta self-talk that evaluates my own idiocy for even bothering to care about these issues since I can’t change anything. And it’s that impotent feeling mixed with a brain that won’t stop rehashing things no matter how hard I try to make it quit that feels so insurmountable. Peace feels impossible.

I mean…

Can I really change anything in the minds of the old men in the cigar shop who spew racism and elitism without realizing that some of us don’t agree? Should I really say something to these men I barely know?

Can I really do anything about the enormous injustice happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline? How is it even possible that we (“Americans”) would consider doing this to Native Americans? It seems unfathomable to me that the North Dakota authorities are trying to block the roads that allow the protesters to get food and water. Yet we decimated their population once; why wouldn’t we do it again for our own gain?

Can I really change my long-time mentor’s mind about Trump. We have been long-connected because we see the world differently; we are critical of group-think, and particularly the group think of rich white Christian people. How can I move forward without seeing him differently now? We’ve talked and said our peace, but I still feel stuck from moving forward.

The same scenario is happening with some family members: I don’t know how to express my feelings of disrespect for the choice they made while maintaining the overall respect of the relationship. So many people out there are calling for unity and what not, but I sorta think they’re unaware of what their asking for. We didn’t just have an argument about which football franchise is better, the Patriots or the Packers…We had a raging fight about which fundamental, core values will prevail moving forward. Certain matters can’t be swept under the rug, at least not by me. The list of people who want me to let these matters go is embarrassingly long. It’s not that I don’t want to, but when my screwball brain can’t make sense of something, it is incapable of peace. Whether the conversation continues in real life or not, it will continue in my brain. Some have been going on for decades, literally.

Which brings me back to my brain: It NEVER stops. EVER. When I wake up in the middle of the night, my brain picks right back up in medias res as I plan my brilliant letter to the world that will make everyone see the light. But then I read stories like the one of a man spewing racism in a drug store check-out line. A woman worked up the nerve to confront him and flat out asked her peers to join her in standing up to him. But they didn’t! At least not at first. After a few minutes, some of them joined her, but it didn’t happen quickly. So while this was a story presented as a triumph, I saw it as a story that confirms my fears: people are going to sit back and watch evil things happen because that’s what most people do. Even otherwise good people. Most people’s primary mantra in life seems to be, “Don’t make a scene!”

So I think of the Einstein quote, not just in regard to Trump; this is bigger than that. For me, the question is to what degree do I want to make my own people-pleasing life somewhat miserable by speaking up in the face of injustice. One way to look at it is that I am going to be miserable if I don’t speak my mind because of injustice, but I’m also going to be miserable if I do speak my mind because of my fear of rejection. If that’s the case, I suppose I’d rather be a pariah who speaks the truth than someone with lots of friends who don’t know how I really feel. Not quite a Sophie’s Choice but a shitty choice for sure.

I’ve been thinking out loud but I actually want to make a point and not just pontificate. The point is simply the one Albert Einstein made: our world is not endangered nearly as much by Trump’s climate science denying team as it is by those of us who think climate change is real but do nothing. Our world isn’t endangered as much by the kid who spray paints a swastika on a black person’s house as it is by the handful of neighbors who know which kid did it and don’t confront him.

On Wikipedia, they’re doing their annual fundraiser, and the banner says that if every user gave $3, the campaign would last 15 minutes. Think about that! Think about the power of doing something, even something tiny.

So, if those of us who are passionate about the environment fund environmental companies and causes, we can overcome any policy Trump’s team puts in place. And if enough of us cared about the pipeline issue to protest at Senators’ offices or even go join the actual protest itself, maybe we could do something. Our Facebook posts aren’t enough I don’t think.

But here’s the rub: it only works if all of us who might rather stay silent actually give the $3, or the like.

This isn’t, hopefully, just another rah rah speech from someone who happens to be angry right now. This election has made me feel invested in our country in a way I never have. Honestly, I have probably been as lukewarm about our country as I could be. But now that the stakes feel so much higher, I am committed to giving money to organizations that will be overlooked in Trump’s America. I am committed to being involved in causes that I think will make the world my kids inherit a better place. I’m passionate about the climate change issue; I’m passionate about equal rights for the LGTBQ community; and I’m passionate about fairness in our healthcare system for ALL people, especially those who have been overlooked in the past.

As for my mental illnesses, here’s where I (also) need your help. I get discouraged very easily. I need people who will stand with me and hold me accountable to staying this course of activism. I need other mentally ill people, who understand what I feel when I hit a setback or when I feel despondent about the state of the world, to help me keep my chin up. I need people who will make commitments that inspire and challenge me and others to take similar action steps.

I’m grateful for Facebook because, despite it’s potential for distraction, I have made new friends and reconnected with old friends who have made me feel much, much less alone, both in my political beliefs and in my mental illness. We are more connected today than ever before. That can make it easier for ISIS to organize, but it can also make it easier for us to organize. No matter what your platform is, you need to stand on it and shout. And so do I.

So whether it’s funding research for depression or raising money to educate people that Muslim doesn’t equal terrorist, let’s do something. I’m in a fighting mood. Who wants to join me?

Here’s a great place to start:

To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help with a small (or large) donation if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with relationships or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!


Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Mental Illness and Relationship Problems

There’s a sign at the Zaxby’s near my house with a quote from John Wayne that reads, “Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.” I’d like to make a similar sign that reads, “relationships are hard; they’re harder if you have a mental illness.”

I’ve come across countless people since I started this blog who have basically the same story: I’ve lost friends’ and family members’ support because of my illness; I have no one left.

My friend who battles profound depression had a group of friends tell her they couldn’t go through one more bout with her and they walked out of her life.

My friend with severe OCD had a decades-long friend ditch her because she couldn’t get over her germ obsessions to take the dog to the vet when it was sick.

Some don’t get dumped so precipitously. It happens slowly, too: This week I came across a great article by a college student about how anxiety is an unacceptable excuse for not being able to go out with friends. Most people will put up with an anxious friend who often backs out of plans at the last minute, but few will do so indefinitely. They give up and move on to people who aren’t worried about ridiculous things.

My own friendships have been harmed or lost due to my hypersensitivity. Over the years, more times than I can count, I’ve gotten upset by things that wouldn’t upset other people. I am incapable of just “moving on” and so I tend to tell the other people how I feel. Often I do this nicely; sometimes I don’t. But surprise, surprise…a lot of people don’t enjoy this quality of mine which is a mixture of OCD (I can’t just let it go) and anxiety (a fear of abandonment that leads me to wonder why other people have treated me a certain way).

Sometimes just telling another person they’ve upset me, even nicely, makes them distance themselves from me. Thankfully, many of my friends have been able to handle that version of me. What’s harder to handle is the anger that sometimes rears its ugly head in my confrontations. On an aware-of-the-world-around-me scale, I’m living at level 9 out of 10 all the time. So when something causes you to go from your normal 3 to an angry 6 (call it a normal argument level), I would then be at a 12. I say things I shouldn’t say; I get more angry than I should probably ever get; and our argument goes from something normal and irritating to something that might end our friendship.

I’ve had more of these arguments than I care to list. I’m incredibly ashamed of them, and I’m not even willing to go into much detail here because the shame is still so palpable. But over the past few years, as I’ve really struggled to maintain my grip on sanity, these blow ups have been painfully prevalent.

Those on the receiving end of all this perceive it as simply bad behavior. They can’t fathom why you’ve taken a “small” conflict and turned it into something enormous. The reality is, you can’t either. But you keep doing it because your brain doesn’t have a normal baseline, and sadly, your illness doesn’t show up on an X-ray; it shows up as “behavior that you should be in control of.”

If you are mentally ill in some way, I suspect you have stories of your own. Often the trouble comes from people who think you should just “get over it.” Sometimes it comes from your own quirky (I refuse to call it “bad”) behavior. Regardless, mental illness makes relationship more difficult than they already are. My hope is that this blog can in some small way be a touchstone to let you know that you are not alone and that you deserve better: You deserve understanding, patience, grace, and kindness. You are some of the most caring and tender souls in the universe and it’s a cruel joke that you often can’t find the understanding you need. Keep fighting; I hope you will find someone(s) who let you be you, quirks, relationship difficulties and all.

To those of you who are the supporters, this is where you have the chance to help erase the stigma. When someone you love has a mental illness, accept the very real truth of this…just as you would if they were in a wheelchair or had a chronic disease or even something like cancer. You’d change your expectations to accommodate for the illness. You don’t have to quit holding them accountable: you can still tell them when they’ve stepped over a boundary line, but you might start from a different place than consuming frustration or raging anger. Start from the same place you would if your friend in a wheelchair got frustrated navigating the park and just gave up and decided to lag behind for the rest of the trip. Maybe they were whiny; maybe they took their frustration out on you or blamed you for wanting to come to this hilly park; maybe they acted like an ass. You can tell them that, but give them a little grace, too. You’ve never been to a hilly park in a wheel chair.

Finally, please remember this if you take nothing else away: the quote at the top about those who cease to be friends is true. If you give up on a friendship when the other person is still willing to work on it, your part of the friendship wasn’t as genuine as you may have thought. I don’t say this to shame anyone; I use strong words here to drive home my point. Truly caring for a mentally ill person means there are going to be some tough waters to wade through. Please stay the course. We need people in our lives who will do that.


To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help with a small (or large) donation if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with relationships or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!


Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Podcast: Two of Tim’s Friends Discuss Their Journeys with Religion and Mental Illness

In this episode, the final episode of a three part series on religion and mental illness, two of Tim’s friends, Alison and Matt, share their own journeys with mental illness and religion. While Alison comes to similar conclusions as Tim, Matt’s journey has ended differently. Please enjoy, and please know that I promise to be done with this topic for awhile!

Music Credit: Lady Antebellum, “Compass”

To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!


Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Anger and Mental Illness

I’ve been told many times that I might have a teeny tiny tendency to fly off the handle in the midst of conflict. To which I say: “Guilty as charged!” I have anger issues.

Therapists say that anger is a “secondary emotion,” meaning that there’s an underlying cause, which is the actual problem. So when someone gets angry, it’s really hurt or fear or sadness manifesting itself as anger. Unfortunately, anger, at least for a man, is more socially appropriate that sadness or fear or hurt feelings – not that those are the only three things that become anger, but those are the top three for me.

I hate to brag, but part of my problem is that I’m often way ahead of people, but not in a I-already-looked-up-the-directions-to-the-restaurant sort of way (I never look up directions until I’ve actually started moving in the car). My way-ahead-of-you-ness is more like this: When you pissed me off yesterday by saying something that you thought was no big deal but I was upset by because I’m hyper-sensitive, I started having a conversation in my head that involved all the possible things you might say to me, and if you say x, y, or z, I’m going to lose it because there’s a backstory to why those sorts of comments infuriate me going all the way back to fourth grade, but there you went and said that very thing, and now I’m as pissed as if you punched my wife in the face, so please forgive me while I slash your tires because you said THAT.

I’ve never actually slashed anyone’s tires, and for the record, I’ve never punched anyone, slapped anyone, or even grabbed anyone by the hair and swung them around just to scare them. Never. Basically, when I’m mad, I become the world’s best arguer, you see, because I’ve already had this conversation 64 times before we got started. I did not want to have this conversation 64 times, but my feelings were hurt, and I have these overwhelming abandonment issues, you see, so the second things go awry, I’m basically a little child who is scared.

And like a scared little child, I lie awake and think of all the awful things that might happen mixed with all the awful things that have already happened, and I’m inconsolable. I just happen to be a grown man with a pretty good handle on the English language so that makes me a little child who is good at making you feel pretty bad about yourself. And because I’m a grown man, I’m not allowed to do what kids do: ask incessant questions to try to feel safe…or cry to the person who upset them because they haven’t learned the stupid social code that tells them not to admit weakness…or even just sulk until someone drags it out of them. Nope, I just start putting up the defenses, which involve an angry tone of voice, body language, and words.

Certainly not all folks with a mental illness respond to the world around them in anger. However, all mentally ill people I know struggle mightily with feeling misunderstood. Because our brains won’t cooperate, we respond to situations in extreme ways. Here’s a metaphor: We’ve all had that road rage encounter where something very minor goes awry, and another driver absolutely loses it – honking, shooting the bird, maybe even pointing a finger gun at you and pretending to kill you, as I once had happen. The natural reaction, of course, is to think, “What has humankind come to? What kind of crazy people are out here wandering the streets? I hope that guy accidentally cuts all of his fingernails way too short and lives in pain for a week.”

But we also, hopefully, know that whatever happened in that moment is certainly not the whole story…that the healthier reaction, if we could sit down with Road Rage Man would be to ask, “What’s going on that something so minor upset you so much?” For our own sanity and the sanity of the world at large, the better reaction would be to feel sorry for someone who overreacted so badly. No one overreacts without cause, and who knows what justifiable reasons that driver actually has to pretend to kill you just because you moved over a lane when he wanted that empty space to himself?

I assume the analogy is clear, but I like overstating the case, so I’ll spell it out for you: Mentally ill people (and plenty of others, too!) are the angry driver. Are they overreacting? Of course. Are they far too angry about the situation at hand? Definitely. But might they have a very good reason? Yes.

That doesn’t mean you allow people to walk all over you or yell at you unnecessarily. But it means you will improve your relationship with your mentally ill loved one if you can learn to see past the surface behavior and try to understand what’s at the root of said behavior. For my part, I know I’m angry. That’s not news to me any more than my awareness that I’m male. But it’s also true that, when someone will stick around long enough to get past my fit of rage, they will realize that I’m actually just sad and fearful and broken. And those emotions are far easier for most people to interact with than anger.

So for those on the “giving” end of the anger, you’re not alone, and mercifully, I’ve discovered that there are some people out there in the world who can see past your anger. Try not to shut them out the first time they infuriate you. Many of them really do want what’s best for you. And for those on the “receiving” end of the anger, take deep breaths; try to be patient; and try to see that your loved one might not mean to fire finger guns at you; they’ve just been sitting in traffic for a long, long time.


Well, the time has come to ask what I hate asking because I am pathologically afraid of annoying people. But the reality is that this endeavor has grown beyond a simple blog. I’m already spending a couple of thousand dollars a year now that I’m podcasting and doing some advertising (promoting) on Facebook. In the near future, I also plan to start at least one and hopefully multiple small groups dedicated specifically to helping mentally ill people know they have company. That, too, will require time and money. Long story short, I need some additional resources. Now that I have 501(c)(3) status, I can ask you for help while at the very least offering you a tax deduction. There are 3 ways to donate:

  1. You can transfer money directly from your bank via PayPal donations (seriously, why don’t you have a PayPal account by now, people?!).
  2. You can use PayPal to make a credit card donation.

  4. You can write an old-school checks (ask your grandmother to show you how to write one, and then email me at for the mailing address).

All covering-up-my-discomfort-with-humor aside, I want to grow this endeavor into something that helps more people and helps them in more of a variety of ways. Anything you can contribute would be profoundly appreciated.


More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!


Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]



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Podcast: Christianity and Mental Illness


Religion and Mental Illness Podcast Show Notes:

Psyche (root of psychology): originally viewed as the human soul, mind, or spirit. Today we view the psyche as essentially rooted in our brains…something distinctly separate from our spirit. However, in religious circles, these two are still decidedly overlapped. Herein lies the problem/issue that is addressed in this podcast.

No matter how you slice it, we have a serious problem in that religion and psychology are usually seen as being at odds with each other. Many religious people refuse mental health treatment, believing that God can/will cure them.

Early 20th-century interest in religion and mental health was sparked by Freud’s view of religion as intrinsically neurotic. Freud described religion and its rituals as a collective neurosis, which, he suggested, could save a person the effort of forming an individual neurosis. For example, in an early paper, Freud (1907/1924) spelt out the similarities between religious rituals and obsessional rituals. He argued that guilt is created when rituals are not carried out, and assuaged when they are, so a self-perpetuating ‘ritualaholic’ cycle is set up.

Freud’s views prompted furious reaction from the religious establishment, leading in some circles to the dismissal of psychotherapy and psychotherapists as worthless atheistic frauds; but there were parallel counter-movements. Within psychodynamic theory and practice, and in the social scientific and psychiatric arenas, there were serious attempts to explore religiosity and spirituality and their mental health implications.

A recent LifeWay Research survey produced some interesting statistics related to mental illness…48 percent believe serious mental illness can be cured by prayer alone.


Can Christianity Cure Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The author shows that Luther, Bunyan, and Therese had textbook OCD and overcame it by trusting in God with their obsessions. They gave the obsession and outcome into God’s hands and trusted in Christ’s righteousness as being their righteousness. I struggled with the Calvinistic bent Bunyan and Luther have. They seem to trust more in God’s sovereignty over ALL areas of life, whereas I still allow for free will. I admit that my OCD would be less intense if I were a Calvinist, but I’m not still not convinced. I do believe this would be a great read for a Christian with OCD. The author doesn’t push “trust therapy” (my own term) to the exclusion of other therapies (medication, cognitive-behavioral, etc.) but mentions that “trust therapy” leads to spiritual growth. This is a very important point. I think the book could be reduced in length because the “trust therapy,” but it’s still a fairly quick read. It is written on a layman’s level. If you suffer from OCD, may God show his grace to you. And remember, don’t give up.

Scrupulosity: A form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involving religious or moral obsessions. Scrupulous individuals are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine.


It hasn’t been easy. There are times when Earle is angry and withdrawn. He is often exhausted. I often feel overwhelmed with having to shoulder much of the responsibility for running the home and family. And I sometimes get discouraged knowing we serve a Lord who could reach down and heal this in an instant — but has chosen not to do so.

Finally, it might be that in some cases overcoming depression requires nothing more than praying for the will to be joyful.There’s a woman I know whose health has failed in many ways. She can only breathe with the help of oxygen tanks; her husband has deserted her; she needs charity to survive. But she is determined to be happy—and she is. Lincoln once said that most people are about as happy as they decide to be. In the end, you may have to pray for the grace and courage to decide to say “yes” to life and, by so doing, prove to the world that you have indeed been saved: “by grace through faith.” To make such a decision is not to be a Pollyanna. It is willing to will the will of God.

As we consider the causes of depression, those of us in the church must face the ways we might be responsible for creating it. Supposedly, we offer a gospel that delivers people from guilt, but often, when we think people do not feel guilty enough to take our gospel seriously, we preach to them in a way that makes them feel guilty. Sadly, we do a much better job of making people feel guilty than we do of delivering them from the guilt we create. We need to confess this and change our ways.


God may be using anxiety to draw us closer to him, allowing us to recognize our need and limitations as anchors to the One who is sufficient. Focusing on the way Jesus set boundaries in community and kept a constant line of communication open with his Father, (The Anxious Xian by Rhett Smith)Smith helpfully and practically reconciles the experience of anxiety with the reality of God’s goodness.

6. Anxiety is pointless.

Matthew 6:27: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” [Answer: no one.]

7. Anxiety is worldly.

Matthew 6:31-32: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things. . . .”

James 4:4: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

8. Tomorrow has enough to worry about and doesn’t need my help.

Matthew 6:34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Lamentations 3:23: “[God’s mercies] are new every morning.”

Studies have gone back and forth on the benefits of religion for mental health, but all that’s really clear is that the relationship is very complex.

This supports my belief that it’s an individual issue – some are helped and some are hurt.

The controversial ruling comes after a 5-year study by the APA showed devoutly religious people often suffered from anxiety, emotional distress, hallucinations, and paranoia. The study stated that those who perceived God as punitive was directly related to their poorer health, while those who viewed God as benevolent did not suffer as many mental problems. The religious views of both groups often resulted in them being disconnected from reality.

A 2010 study by Newberg and colleagues that included brain scans of Tibetan Buddhist and Franciscan nuns found that these long-term meditators had more activity in frontal-lobe areas such as the prefrontal cortex, compared with people who were not long-term meditators.

Strengthening these areas of the brain may help people be “more calm, less reactionary, better able to deal with stressors,” Newberg said. However, these studies can’t say that prayer changed the brain — it’s possible that these differences existed before the meditators took up their prayer practice. [Mind Games: 7 Reasons You Should Meditate]


Well, the time has come to ask what I hate asking because I am pathologically afraid of annoying people. But if I am going to have the time and resources to keep writing, podcasting, and researching possible methods and models for small groups dedicated specifically to helping mentally ill people know they have company, I need some additional resources. Now that I have 501(c)(3) status, I can ask you for help while offering you a tax deduction. There are 3 ways to donate:

  1. You can transfer money directly from your bank via PayPal donations (seriously, why don’t you have a PayPal account by now, people?!).
  2. You can use PayPal to make a credit card donation.

  4. You can write an old-school checks (ask your grandmother to show you how to write one, and then email me at for the mailing address).

All covering-up-my-discomfort-with-humor aside, I want to grow this endeavor into something that helps more people and helps them in more of a variety of ways. Anything you can contribute would be profoundly appreciated.


More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!



Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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After Orlando

My friend Matt, from California, texted me this week to say how much things like the Orlando shooting affect his moods. I understood what he meant. When I’m not doing well, I literally can’t read the news – any news – because the bad news (most of it) will inevitably send me spiraling downward.

Rather than heed the internal voice that told me to stay away from the news about Orlando, in an attempt to make my own life miserable, I did the equivalent of a diabetic eating nothing but donuts: I started sharing my political views on Facebook. There’s a reason people suggest not doing this, and now I know what it is: people are fucking crazy. And illogical. And mean. And, well, stupid. (Not you, of course!)

Not to mention the “me” part of the equation: I’m hypersensitive, opinionated, liberal (with lots of conservative friends), and mentally ill. I don’t know how long it’s going to take before I realize that I am not emotionally equipped to have “spirited” debates about things like whether or not a 9-year-old should be allowed to take her AK-47 to the playground for recess, but 40 years haven’t done the trick. I STILL think, “this time, I’ll be fine. My brain is in a good place (which it’s not, actually)…I can deal with a little backlash.” So I post something nice and benign, something Gandhi would probably post, like this: “I think semi-automatic rifles are helpful…for identifying the people with the smallest penises and the greatest need for a therapist who specializes in daddy issues.” Oddly, people react negatively, and then guess what? I get my feelings hurt because I’ve been misunderstood. Again. (For the record, I do like the idea of the post above, but what I actually posted was a good deal more nuanced and generous.)

But completely seriously, I’ve discovered yet again how bad it is for my brain to get into debates without some really safe boundary lines. I only have a few people in my life with whom there is enough trust and safety that I know we can discuss anything openly without me losing my shit at some point. It’s true that perhaps the quickest way to send me over the edge is to make me feel misunderstood about something I am passionate about. I still can’t entirely identify why it makes me so angry to feel like someone isn’t hearing me out or catching my drift, but aside from threatening my wife or children, it’s the quickest way to see my very worst side. Please don’t try it!

In talking with my mentally ill pals, what I’ve discovered is that this sensitivity is a common theme. Our brains are already hardwired for chaos, fear, depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, etc. We don’t need any help going down rabbit trails that are unhealthy. So when a “friend” calls us “willfully ignorant” or “just another liberal who espouses tolerance while being intolerant,” we are not able to, as some seem capable of doing, think to ourselves, “Oh well, that’s just X’s opinion. We’ll agree to disagree.” Instead, we lay awake at night going back and forth between mentally drafting angry responses to wanting to cry for how misunderstood we feel. And this, my friends, has been my week: attempts at dialogue leading to arguments leading to hurt feelings leading to lost sleep, anxiety, incessant what if questions about how to proceed, withdrawal from family, extra doses of Xanax, and so on.

So the first point I’d like to make is this: If we are going to take care of ourselves as mentally ill people, we have to be willing to set different boundaries than our “normal” friends set. So often I am guilty of berating myself for not being able to do things like so-and-so does them, and my friends tell me this is true of them, too. But we have do some inner child work here. We would never tell a five-year-old that he should be able to do what a fifteen-year-old does. Likewise, we must parent our own inner, mentally ill child and reassure him that it’s okay to not be like the other boys and girls. It’s okay that he can’t handle the madness of Facebook the week after another massacre. If Sally can handle it just fine, let her. I’m not Sally. I will do what’s best for me. It’s not so different from alcoholism. The alcoholic has to forgive herself that she can’t hang out at bars with friends. Sure, the rest of her friends can do so, and sure, she wishes desperately that she could. But the bad too far outweighs the good, and she has to gently, lovingly care for the inner child that simply isn’t capable of handling the temptations of a bar.

There’s another angle on the Orlando shootings in regard to mental illness, though. It has to do with the “all of these mass murderers are mentally ill…that’s the problem we should be focusing on” utterances of this week. On a practical note, and for the record, anyone who says, “THIS is the issue we must focus on” is oversimplifying the problem. It’s never just one thing. But the reality is that virtually every shooting is perpetrated by someone who is mentally ill. I once talked to a very experienced therapist who made the point that he didn’t think anyone who WASN’T mentally ill even had the capacity to commit murder. It may just be that, in order to kill someone, by definition, one must be mentally ill.

This week, yet again on Facebook, during one of these, uh, er, discussions I was having on Facebook, someone pointed toward mental illness as the thing we really need to be talking about. I whole-heartedly agreed. But I don’t think I meant what she thought I meant. I wouldn’t put mass murder at the top of the list of reasons why we need to address mental illness in this country.

First on my list would be simply the quality of life for mentally ill people…then maybe preventing mentally ill people’s suicides…and so on. As horrific as these mass murders are, what might be even more horrific is the daily trauma faced by millions of people who suffer inside their own minds and can’t find anything to make the problem better.

It’s amazing to me that we can send a rover to Mars that communicates with earth and we can send an email to Japan that takes less than one second to get there, yet despite the collective thousands and thousands of years those of us who participate in this blog have spent seeking mental health treatment, many of us are more hopeless than ever. We’ve tried the drugs, the talk therapy, the shock treatment, the magnetic field treatments, the deep brain stimulation, the support groups, the illegal drugs, the alcohol, and yet, we are still DESPERATE for something that provides even just a little bit of relief. People who like to point to the mental illness crisis as the reason for these mass shootings may mean well, but if they really knew what they were talking about, they would sound this drum day in and day out on behalf of those of us who grimly hope that we will one day be the victim of a mass shooting. Many more lives are being lost at the hands of mental illness than the victims of shootings. Millions of people right here in America have lost their lives in an entirely different sense. Let’s talk more about how to help those people.


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How To Help Someone with Mental Illness

supportIt can be awfully hard to know how to help someone with mental illness! Take me for example: Saturday morning, I was comatose with depression on my couch for four hours, hoping for a stray meteor to find its way to me. Today, I’m overflowing with so many exciting ideas for how to solve the world’s problems that I would challenge Steve Jobs to a Battle of Creativity. This, my friends, we call Bi-Polar (type 2 to be exact). You can imagine what fun my wife and kids have playing the “what mood will daddy be in ten minutes from now” game (for now, Ann has a small lead over Josiah, and for some reason Ellie Ruth isn’t very good at the game…she’s way behind, but I’m starting to develop some special signals for her so she can catch up).

So perhaps I’m the wrong person to write this post, since I haven’t had to be the supporter in any substantial way. Thus, what follows is simply the advice of someone WITH mental illness(es) to those who, thanklessly, painfully, fearfully…are supporting someone with mental illness.

A friend of mine recently called looking for advice on how to support his deeply depressed wife. Like many people who are NOT mentally ill, he was frustrated and baffled by his wife’s behavior and her unwillingness to listen to reason. He continued attempting to have conversations with her about how he could help, but he was thwarted by her erratic answers – sometimes she simply told him, amidst sobs, that she didn’t know how he could help; other times, the “saner” moments, she was reluctant, even embarrassed to discuss her previous behavior and couldn’t/wouldn’t offer much in the way of advice to her husband about what she needed when she was in “that place.” My friend was stumped, scared, and frustrated.

Perhaps you’ve been there if you’re reading this…You want to help, but you don’t know how, and the person you are trying to help behaves so inconsistently that you never know if you should leave them alone, hug them, take them to the hospital, or tell them to snap out of it. I’m quite sure my amazing wife, Ann, would understand your frustration as she has felt it with me (but not for at least an hour or two!).

I certainly can’t speak for everyone with mental illnesses, but I’d like to offer a few pointers that might be of help:

    1. Take charge lovingly. Recognize that you are the one who is seeing the world more clearly than your mentally ill loved one, and take charge of the situation lovingly with that in mind. For example, my young children wear me out mentally. I’m just not cut out to be with small people for prolonged periods of time without becoming extremely overwhelmed and ultimately depressed/angry. But I want to be a good dad/husband, so I often am with them for long periods of time, thus becoming overwhelmed, depressed, and/or angry. My wife knows when I’ve had enough based on how I speak to the kids, and she is usually kind enough to ask me, “Do you need a break?” But here’s the problem: My broken brain can’t see straight in those moments, so guilt usually wins out over my mental health and I say, “No.” The truth is, and I’m not saying that this is fair, that I want Ann to say to me: “Tim, you need a break. Go take 15 minutes of alone time and then we can reassess.” I would take her up on it 100% of the time, but when I’m left to make the choice for myself, I’m not able to think reasonably, “You know, I do need a break, and yes, my wonderful wife, I’ll accept your offer!” Again, that’s not necessarily fair, but if you, the healthy one, will take charge of the situation, I for one would appreciate it, and I suspect others with a mental illness want the same thing.
    2. Don’t expect them to be reasonable. Once again, I’ll use my children as an example. When one of my children throws a temper tantrum, I, of course, get frustrated by their behavior. Despite having plenty of evidence that you can’t reason with a small child who is throwing a tantrum, I continue to try to reason them out of this behavior by saying things like, “You’re not helping the situation” or “You’re making your own life worse by acting this way.” Any reasonable person would understand what I mean, right? Of course! But a tantrum-throwing child isn’t in a reasonable state of mind, and “fighting” a tantrum with reason will only lead to frustration for both parties. The best solution when a child throws a tantrum is to literally put them in a safe place so they can “process” their anger without hurting themselves, your dog, their sibling, or your eardrums. It’s the same thing with a mental illness: Help the person get to a place, literal or figurative, where they can feel what they’re feeling safely and productively. Having dealt with OCD my whole life, I am well aware that my obsessive thoughts are unreasonable…that’s why they’re so disturbing! But that hasn’t enabled me to stop them from running through my mind. This is where this piece of advice ties back to #1: You, the sane one, need to lovingly take charge. If someone is in the throes of depression, don’t tell them to look at the bright side. Instead, gently insist that they go do the thing(s) that tend to help them improve. For me, it’s time to myself to think and write…it almost always helps. If not that, then working with my hands on a tangible project will sometimes do the trick. Sometimes, there’s nothing that helps, but when I’m in the midst of depression, it’s virtually impossible for me to stand up for myself and to take what I need. I can’t be reasonable, but if someone around me can push me in the right direction, it might help me get back to a good place more quickly.
    3. Set boundaries about how you will respond to their struggles. As you probably know if you’re reading this, it’s exhausting to support someone with any illness, especially one that is unpredictable and turns your normally-rational loved one into an irrational mess. The friend I mention above confided in me that his wife is not above a little melodrama, so he’s never sure how much of her behavior is attention-seeking and how much is authentic. My advice to him was to tell his wife that he had no choice but to take her at her word…the stakes are too high. Thus, if she says she’s suicidal, he should tell her that he will take her to the hospital because he can’t take the chance that she’s just being dramatic. Another important boundary involves the mentally ill person taking his/her pain out on the care-taker. I’ll use myself as an example here: When my OCD regarding my wife (see my book for more on this) is raging, one of the natural compulsions is to think that talking to her about it might help me get to the bottom of my concern. It won’t! Ever. And it’s entirely unfair for me to talk to her about my negative thoughts about her. All that will do is to hurt her deeply. In this case, we have a boundary that when I’m obsessing about her, if I need someone to talk to, I need to pick one of the other close friends (or a therapist) to discuss this stuff with. The scenarios are endless for what boundaries you might need to set, but start paying attention to yourself, and know that the best way to love someone is to be the healthiest version of yourself so you can be there for them when they need you most. It might take time to figure out the appropriate boundaries, but don’t feel guilty for needing to set them. It’s ONLY by setting them that you can help your mentally ill loved one thoroughly.
    4. When they’re feeling good, ask them how they want/need to be dealt with in the bad moments. Most people with a mental illness have their good days and their bad days. As someone who offers support to a mentally ill person, your best resource might well be that very person, but only when they’re in a good place. This will have to be an ongoing conversation about what is and is not helpful to your loved one, but every day, week, and month you gather more data that can be used to help both you and the other person move forward to a more healthy place. As I’ve mentioned before, one thing I need when I’m in a bad place is for my wife, who is quick to recognize it these days, to take the lead and tell me what to do. In my case, she needs to tell me to take some time away to hit the reset button. When I’m in that bad place, I’m nearly incapable of taking care of myself, but by staying physically present with my wife and kids when I’m not doing well can cause a lot of unnecessary damage – a lot more damage than would be caused by my taking a “time out” to get my head clear. Your loved one might not know how you can best help them right away, but tell them to ponder and pay attention to what they need when they’re not doing well. Maybe it’s a hug; maybe it’s a time out; maybe it’s a trip around the world on a Disney Cruise ship…who knows? But let your mentally ill loved one be your most helpful resource when they are in a healthy enough state to think clearly about what they would want/need in their bad moments.
    5. Take care of yourself. This goes back to #3, but I can’t say enough about it. If you’re not healthy, you can’t be of very much help. Think of it this way: If you were taking care of someone with the flu, you’re not much good to them if you run yourself so ragged that you get sick, too. Not only do you endanger their health further, your own ability to respond to the sick person promptly and thoroughly is diminished if you aren’t healthy. The same goes for mental health. Figure out how to fill up your own gas tank so you can help the person you care about. If your tank is empty, you’re of no real use to them.
    6. Give grace…to yourself and your loved one. Start with yourself. This shit is hard! It ends friendships, marriages, and even lives. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming yourself for not always knowing the right thing to say or how to be of the most help. Instead, literally say this to yourself, “I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all I can do.” It sounds corny, but having been forced by a therapist to do this myself, I can say it actually works: Look in the mirror and affirm yourself for trying, for loving someone who isn’t always easy to love, and for demonstrating the truest version of love – the unconditional kind. And don’t forget to give grace to your mentally ill loved one, too. Hopefully, they’re trying as well, and some day down the road, we’ll be better and figuring out exactly what part of a person’s brain is malfunctioning. Those x-rays or images will make it easier to understand that the person isn’t necessarily choosing to be an erratic ass. Most likely, they’re similar to a person with a broken leg trying to walk without a cast or crutches. If the bone was sticking out of their leg, it wouldn’t be hard to give them grace for going a bit slower than normal or yelping in pain every few steps. But mental illnesses aren’t visible…yet. So whatever metaphor helps you recognize that they’re dealing with something that really is physical and that really can’t be just wished away, try to remind yourself that you can’t expect someone with a broken brain to process life the same way you do. And once again, when you fail, give yourself grace. Then try again. That’s the best you can do.


**People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!

Other articles you might enjoy:

Amy Glynn reflects on Robin Williams’s suicide in a compassionate and helpful way, acknowledging that we should wish our friends who commit suicide had been equipped to stay around longer, but we should never simplify their behavior as “selfish” or “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” A refreshing piece!

“7 of the Most Helpful Things You Can Say to Someone with Depression” An excellent piece that “gets it right” about how to help someone who is depressed.

(This post is also a page on the blog. It can always be accessed from the top menu.)

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