Managing Anxiety and Making Friends

The fine folks at Christianity Today had me write a little bit about the challenges of community when you’re struggling with mental illness (or when you love someone who has a mental illness). Enjoy!

With mental illness, community becomes more challenging… and more essential.

I was a high school freshman when I had my first panic attack. Heart palpitating and lightheaded from heavy breathing, I laid down and tried to take deep breaths, but my lungs didn’t want to cooperate.

What was happening? Was I having a heart attack? My heart kept pounding and my head kept spinning, and I wondered what they’d say the next day at school if I died. I could see the memorial page in the yearbook. Why couldn’t I take a decent school picture? I’d forever be remembered as the girl with a spiral perm and uncooperative ‘90s bangs. This fact only worsened my condition.

My dad comforted me by telling me my “irrational fear” would go away, and it did—for a little while. But then it came back and stayed, 20 years of constant panic.

Some days here and there, I’ll find mild relief, but I’m almost certain it’s here to stay. Most of the time, I’m functional and happy, and my anxiety lays dormant in the chemicals and synapses in my mind, hushed by medication that knows when it starts getting too loud.

Even on the quiet days, my anxiety can put a wall up around me, whispering (or shouting) how it’s not safe to go outside, how I’m better off alone. But I know God desires more for me. He wants me to have community, real friends. People I can lean on and people who can lean on me.

No matter who you are, cultivating friendships is a difficult process. As our developed societies have become more independent, we’ve felt the effects of disconnectedness on such a deep level, we’re afraid to admit it at times. Even though we have screens and pixels to connect us to anyone, anywhere, any time, we’ve never felt more lonely or unhappy in any decade in modern history. We’re surrounded by people everywhere we go—both physically and virtually—yet the need to feel that we belong somewhere is undeniably palpable.

As if the symptoms of an anxiety disorder aren’t damaging enough, coping with any mental illness (to name just a handful: depression, bipolar, ADD, and obsessive-compulsive disorders) can add to the challenge of finding community.Real community. Friends you can be vulnerable with. People you let into those places in your life that seem unbearable…

[[Read the rest of the article here.]]

Having a Plan for Coping with Anxiety

Anne Marie Miller, Lake Michigan 2012

It was 3:12 am and it felt like what I imagine a heart attack feels like.

If I hadn’t felt this tightness hundreds of times before in the last 20 years, I probably would have been concerned, but it was a familiar foe. Rarely does it visit while I’m sleeping, but last night it did. I took some deep breaths, told my brain what was happening (because brains are only wired to know evidence – my racing heart and shallow breathing – not reason.)

“You are starting to have a panic attack. There is no reason you should be this afraid. You are healthy, you are safe. This feeling will pass in no more than 20 minutes, and then you will be asleep again.”

My brain somewhat bought the explanation.

The next step? Meditation.

In my mind, I pulled up a snapshot of Lake Michigan, which feels like the ocean, where there is so much space and air, and calming, rhythmic waves.

I repeated what I’ve been repeating for 10 years when I feel a panic attack coming on: “He keeps in perfect peace whose mind stays on Him.”

And at some point, I fell back asleep.

Anxiety sucks. There is no poetic way around it.

Having a plan for when your brain wants to take control is key.

Depression, Prozac, And Where I Come Out As a Nerdy Girl

If you’ve been around these parts for any amount of time, you know I’ve wrestled with seasons of anxiety, depression, and even a time where a shrink thought I was bi-polar II (I wasn’t). One of the crazy (ha!) things about mental health is it’s really difficult to diagnose and if you’re serious about getting healthy (Note: Not fixed, not medicated, but healthy), you agree to subject yourself to a myriad of paths to find that health. Paths like:

  • A commitment to be healthy physically – heal thyself. All the stuff you hear about eating well and exercising truly plays a large role in your mental health. Will it cure you? Maybe. Maybe not.
  • A commitment to be healthy spiritually – this is so when those uneducated folk say you just need to pray more, you can, with confidence and tact, tell them to shut up. But seriously, spend time with God. He wants to be with you in these seasons.
  • Medication – sometimes with horrible side effects. It is a roulette. I’ve been on medication that made me hallucinate and have paranoid thoughts before. Meds that made me have MORE panic attacks. Meds that made me gain weight. Meds that made me have brain zaps. Meds that numbed me out where I couldn’t laugh or feel anything. I’ve also had meds that work wonderfully. When you find those medications, you praise Jesus like there’s manna raining down from heaven above..

I had my first panic attack at the age of 14 and a roller coaster of neuro-transmitting madness in my 20s. Things mostly balanced out in my 30s until the last few years when I thought a brief spell of sadness and apathy would resolve like it normally did.

But it didn’t.

We moved to Lubbock a little over a month ago and within the first couple of weeks, the depression only intensified. Thoughts of harming myself crept in and wouldn’t go away. I made an appointment with a doctor and after a really good conversation (tip: doctors who listen are seriously the best), I started on 10 tiny milligrams of prozac – an SSRI that helps treat depression, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts.

My previous experience with SSRIs have been terrible. Literally. Terrible. So I was nervous to start, but I knew I couldn’t not. I had to jump back into that game of medication roulette.

This time, I decided I would get nerdy about it. If I went back to the doctor in a month and he asked how I was doing, I would probably think of how I felt overall in the last few days.

I wanted to see if prozac was really working for me, and if so, how well. I needed quantitative data.

So I charted. I pulled out my spreadsheet and I got to work.

I took six positive mental health characteristics (like energy and optimism) and four unhealthy characteristics (like apathy and anxiety) and rated them on a scale from 0 to 10 (0 being “not experiencing”; 10 being “fully experiencing”) and I went to town. Each night I would simply note what number I felt best represented how that day went with 10 of those characteristics.

Three weeks in, I have some cool looking charts that are providing me (and my doctor) with some good information.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 10.14.28 AM


You can click on it to see it full-size.

The top chart represents those healthy characteristics and the bottom chart represents the unhealthy ones. The hope is to see the top chart slowly climbing up while the bottom chart is steadily kerplunking down.

A few interesting observations which I wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t for a visual aid:

  • About every 7th day I have a rough day. You can see the top chart spike down and the bottom chart punch up.
  • While most of the healthy qualities are increasing and the unhealthy are decreasing, my anxiety is still pretty consistent, with it really going through the roof during certain times of the months when my hormones are crazy.

I’ve had people contact me before about their mental health, asking if it was a sin (no), if medication helps (usually), and how do we know if it’s working (here you go). Being aware (but not overly aware) of where we are weak and where we are strong and how we are changing by making healthful choices can truly provide huge relief where you’re struggling and where it seems hopeless.

You’re not alone, you never are, and you’re not “less than” if you feel your life is caught up in a whirlwind of seemingly uncontrollable anxiety, sadness, fear, loss, pain, or confusion. Speak about it. Speak openly about it. Ask for help. People want to help. Ask for prayer. People want to pray. Just know – even though you feel alone and those voices in your head are confirming it – you are not.

You are loved because you are His and because you are His, we all belong to each other.

Much love,

Anne Marie


Wanting God in the Midst of Imperfect and Crazy

Today I’ve asked my sweet friend Lisa to share on my blog. Because she has good things to say. Good things that resonate with my heart and soul and challenge me and beat me up in the best way. My life is usually crazy and always imperfect and I can choose to either embrace it with a bitter heart and want it all to be easy or I can want God. Lisa talks about this in her new book I Want God  and gives us a little glimpse of how deep this message goes in today’s blog post. I hope you love it!


I will never forget the day in college when my friend asks me to describe God, the way I see Him.

It catches me off-guard, this question I have never been asked before.

Sitting on the cold, community laundry room floor, I answer, in a clumsy, pedestrian way that is small, but honest.

“I think He has nice eyes,” I say, my own filling with tears.

I’m much older now and my college days seem far away, but I still picture this same Jesus.  I’ve learned and grown and studied since then and yet, it is what about Him, I see.

I know He is big.  I know He is all powerful and holy and can take me out in one breath.  And yet, He is everyday to me.  He is lover.  He is best friend.  He is humble and perfect and laughs at my quirks and wipes my tears with fingers I can’t see.

And as His Church gets bigger and glossier and the craziness of making celebrities out of people who preach is the constant pull, I often retreat into my thoughts of who God is and what He is all about before I, myself, go mad.

And it always makes me want Him.  Just Him.  It is where I find rest.

[Tweet ““The only way I know to get better is to focus on God harder.” ~Lisa Whittle, I Want God”]

It’s not just the world and the Church that drives me crazy.  It’s me, too.  It’s my own stubbornness and need to be valued and the mental war of wanting God to make sense but knowing He likely won’t.  It’s the constant rub of wanting to be comfortable and yet, the desire to throw my contented life out the window so I can do the brave, big thing.

And right before I get too disillusioned, ready to throw in the towel I remember these things:

  • It is the wanting of God more than anything else, His power within us that makes us brave.
  • It is wanting God most that helps us love, keeps us together and keeps us humble.
  • It is the wanting of God that will drive us to stay the course, keep it real, accept ourselves, dive in, even when it’s hard and unclear.

The world will always be crazy.  The Church will sometimes get it wrong.  We will war with our flesh that tells us to be noticed and famous and our spirit that reminds us to become less – passionate to live our dreams one day, scared to death to move at all, the next.

But we can choose God.  We can pursue God.  We can long for God and lock eyes with Him.

And it will keep us sane.  And steady.  And ready for the day we can ditch all this imperfect mess and not want anything else anymore.


Lisa Whittle is an author and speaker, a lover of God, family, and the Church. Her high anticipated 4th book, I Want God: Forever Changed by the Revival of Your Soul, will release October 1. Lisa’s honest, bottom line approach is her trademark, as she points people to a passionate pursuit of God. In addition to speaking, media appearances and writing for Women of Faith, Catalyst, Relevant and various other publications, Lisa has done master’s work in Marriage and Family and is a part of the MOB [Mothers of Boys] Society writing team. Lisa is a wife and mother of three, plus one fluffy dog, residing in North Carolina. You can find her on Facebook, follow her on Instagram, Twitter [@LisaRWhittle] or Pinterest, and visit her ministry community at

Shake the Dust :: Letting Go

Sometimes things don’t go as planned.

Things fail.






Expectations rise and fall.


And fall. And fall.

(and rise?)

Someone says or does something (or perhaps nothing?) and it opens up scars from the past

Scars that say you’re not good enough

Or that you’re dumb

Or not worth it

Or too much…

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Anis Mojgani perform Shake the Dust

years and years and years ago.

Recently, my fingers found a scar not quite healed

and those voices

those LIES

came pouring down like gasoline on my open wound.

Stop it.

Stop it.

Stop it.

I said.

Let it be.

Let it go.

Shake the Dust

I heard it rattle in my mind.

And I hope that no matter what voices you may hear,

No matter who you are,

What you do,

What you look like,

Or how broken you are,

Shake the Dust. [watch the video below or if you don’t see one, click here…]



Loving Someone with Depression or Anxiety

Sometimes I have others write for my site. I’ve known Lon for a little while on Twitter and through blogging. He sent me this wonderful post on mental health that I couldn’t not post. Thank you, Lon. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.


You’re probably familiar with this passage of the Bible written by the Apostle Paul:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4-7, ESV)

We love these verses, don’t we? Beautiful written, wonderfully inspiring. You may even have had them recited at your wedding.

But what if loving this way involves supporting a spouse or a child with emotional health issues? What does 1 Corinthian 13 look like in that kind of real, often dark, life?

I live with three such women—one wife and two daughters—and I want to share what I’ve learned about loving and supporting them as Paul instructs. I hope you’ll find inspiration and new courage to love a similar someone in your life.

    Love believes all things… 

    What your spouse or child is feeling?—It’s real. It’s not “just in their head,” not in the dismissive way we usually use that phrase. The single most loving thing you can do for someone struggling with a mental health issue is to let them feel the validating sense of relief that comes from being believed. 

    Let your loved ones know it’s safe to confide their weird, icky, creepy, dark, scary thoughts with trustful, trustworthy, compassionate you.

    Love is not arrogant or rude… 

    Most mental health issues aren’t caused by sinful decisions a person has made. Being bipolar, or depressed, aren’t sins people commit. Rather, they are specific manifestations of the universal human fall into sin and misery. They are signs of the same broken, sinful nature abiding within you. Anne has written more about this in Your Anxiety is Not a Sin.Let your loved ones know you still respect and admire them. They need to know your good opinion of them hasn’t changed.

    Love is patient, not irritable…You may hear the same, or similar, story over and over and over…Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t let exasperation slip out, even if you feel it once in a while. Instead, listen actively, patiently. Ask gentle questions, not to fix “it,” but to hear “it.”

    Give your loved ones the sounding board they need to process how they feel.

    Love hopes all things… 

    “It” is real, but it doesn’t haveto be the 24/7 center of family life.Keep your daily routines and annual traditions to maintain a sense of order and rhythm to life. The idea isn’t to pretend nothing is wrong, but to remind you and your family that life is still worth living.Help your loved ones see the meaningful enjoyment of small accomplishments, and family games, Sunday sermons, and trips to the beach. Make fun together. Make memories together. Laugh together.

    Love bears all things…
    Pray with them. For them. Out loud.Few things will fire more warmth and trust in a relationship than the simple act of asking God to help your loved one. A childlike plea will do. Often, the very act of praying for a loved one in need becomes the answer in the moment of need.
    Love endures all things… 

    Life as you knew itmay be interrupted for a while. You may have to become a caregiver and life coach for a season.You may be needed at 3 am to sooth a panic attack. You may have to make time just to help your loved one walk outside, to experience the sun and grass and flowers. You may need to do the laundry, at the last minute, just because. You may need to attend counseling or a support group. Maybe because he wants you to, maybe because she won’t go without you.You may have to become more than you imagined you could.

But, love will endure all this and more.


Where will you find the inner resources to love this way?

I’ve found that I have to rely on God for that.

I have to bring my weakness to Him to ask for His strength. I have to confess my inadequacy to ask for His sufficiency. I am the average husband and father who makes mistakes, speaks too harshly, listens half-heartedly, who sometimes, just doesn’t get it.

But God is great for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. God will pour out the Spirit of Christ to fill you with His love, patience, kindness, endurance, and all that you need to love the struggling person in your life well.

And even if this season of life lasts longer than you can imagine, set your hope on Christ’s promise of eternal peace and rest beyond the present suffering. Trust Him for this.

He is great, even when life isn’t.


Lon_square headshot_3Lon Hetrick writes a blog with his wife, Dawn, to inspire regular people to hope in God when life is crazy. They live, learn, work and worship in Atlanta. Find out what they’re learning about emotional health and the Christian life at Average Us.

Dear Sexual Abuse Survivor

marydemuth-headshot-squareToday, I am so thrilled to share a guest post from my friend Mary DeMuth. Mary and I met when I worked at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas. People knew I was writing and thought it’d be cool for me to meet a real author, so Mary came in and we chatted. She sent me a copy of her book and told me one day, maybe I’d have my book contract. Two years later, I did.

Beyond writing, Mary and I share a common thread that’s a little more faded, a little thinner. We were both sexually abused. Though our stories differ, our hearts beat the same for helping others know there is hope beyond abuse. We have survived, and you can too.

Here’s a letter from her to you. Or maybe to someone you know.

Love, Anne

(Get Mary’s Book Not Marked as an eBook here and a paperback here.).


Dear Sexual Abuse Survivor,

I don’t really like the word victim. Even survivor has a strange connotation. And I’m not too keen on victor. None of those words encapsulate what happened to you, the devastation sexual abuse enacted on your heart. But we’re strangled by language sometimes–even writers can’t adequately express horror.

I much like the word BRAVE. Because it’s so darn brave to walk away from something like that. It’s brave to forgive. Brave to live your life in the wake of sexual trauma. Brave to hold your head high.

First let me say I am sorry. I’m so terribly sad that sexual abuse is part of your story. It’s not right. Someone chose to take something from you–your volition and your body. That person (or people) violated you. They used their power and bully persuasion to overwhelm you with their sinful desires. And now you’re the one left feeling dirty and used–while so many perpetrators walk this earth free. 

It’s not fair.

Some of you feel shame and guilt in gigantic measure, heaped upon you. Some of you feel that you invited the abuse. The way you dressed. The hole in your heart that longed for attention. The equating of sex with love and affection. You feel you wooed the perpetrator somehow. Let me say this: A person who adores and loves you would NEVER EVER violate you. Never. Instead of violation, they would protect. They would pray for you. They would honor your boundaries.

Someone’s selfish gratification is not your fault. Don’t own that. Dare to believe your worth, and allow yourself the feel the grace that God grants you. Forgive yourself. Let yourself off the hook. You were abused. You didn’t want it. Someone took from you–like a thief. They may have used slick words, threatened you, persuaded you that you wanted it, but it’s not true. Thieves are often liars.

In sexual abuse’s aftermath, you’ve possibly thought of suicide. You’ve cut your skin until the blood came. You over-ate. You spent years hard as rock, bitter as horseradish, always vigilant–ready to fight. You’ve protected your heart with ironclad resolve. No one will EVER hurt you that way again. Not on your watch.

All these coping strategies had good purpose a long time ago. They protected you. But now they’re strangling the life out of you. I only say that because I’ve walked the path of isolation and withdrawal. Actually, I spent about a decade of my life keeping the sexual abuse secret. And once I let the secret out, I decided I’d been healed, so I tucked it back away for another decade and lived inside myself–not daring to deeply engage my heart.

An untold story never heals, friend. Isolation only masks the problem.

That’s not living. It’s existing. It’s pushing stuff down that you hope stays submerged forever.

Unfortunately, our stories have a way of coming out–almost always in our actions. We end up hurting those we love. Some people become perpetrators because they never deal with getting better.

I know there are questions. I have them too. 

  • Why did God allow this to happen?
  • Why didn’t He step in and rescue?
  • Why do I have to suffer seemingly forever for something someone else did to me?
  • Why can’t I ever feel normal?
  • Will I ever be able to enjoy sex?
  • Why does my spouse have to suffer for something someone else did to me?
  • What’s wrong with me that I kept being violated?
  • Was I put on this earth to be stolen from?
  • Why am I here?
  • What was it about me that perpetrators found irresistible?
  • Why do other people keep telling me it was a long time ago and I should be over this?

I want to assure you that these questions are entirely, utterly normal. And you should ask them. You should wrestle with them. Some of them will not be answered this side of eternity.

When I feel overwhelmed by the whys and the whats, I stop a moment and consider Jesus. This may not resonate with you because you might be mad at Him. That’s okay. I hear you. But there is comfort in knowing Jesus understands.

He took on the sins of everyone, including sexual sin, upon His holy, undeserving shoulders. He suffered for everyone’s wicked crookedness. And when He hung on a cross, He did so naked. Exposed. Shamed. Humiliated. Bleeding.

NOT MARKED - FOR AMAZON 3DThat’s why, when I write about sexual abuse recovery, I have to involve Jesus. He has been the single best healer in my journey. He understands. He comes alongside. He “gets” violation.

Sexual abuse is devastating. It pulls the rug out from under your worth. It keeps you scared. It infiltrates nearly every area of your life, consciously and subconsciously.

But I am here to let you know there is hope. Though the healing journey is long, it is possible. When I tell my story now, it feels like I’m sharing about another person’s sexual abuse. I’ve experienced profound healing. It didn’t happen passively or quickly. I had to WANT it, pursue it. I had to stop shoving it down and bringing my story into the light–with praying friends, with counselors, with my husband.

Today I enjoy sex. I can share my story without getting that vomit-y feeling in my stomach. The flashbacks are less and less. I still have moments, of course. But I am so much farther along than I had been.

I want to end this letter with this truth: You are amazing. You survived something traumatic and horrific. You are reading this letter blessedly alive, connected to others. Your story absolutely matters. Don’t let the trauma steal your story of hope today.

Joyfully free,



I’m humbled and grateful to be here today. A huge thank you to Anne for allowing me to share my heart. A little background. I’ve shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven’t always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been good.

About a year ago, I sensed God wanted me to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. I wrote “The Sexy Wife I Cannot Be” on Deeper Story, which went crazy (so many comments), followed by “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” on Christianity Today. The overwhelming response to those two posts prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

The book proved too risky for publishers, so I decided to crowdfund it, which turned out to be an amazing success. I cannot believe that now I can hold Not Marked in my hands, and also offer it to you. What’s unique about it: It’s written from the perspective of a survivor. It doesn’t offer cliche answers. It’s honest. And my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse.


When Joy is Hard to Come By

I’m a little late in the game (no pun intended).

My husband and I just started watching Friday Night Lights. For the longest time, I refused to lay eyes on the show. I grew up in West Texas, and the Odessa Permian Panthers (the Dillon Panthers in the show) were probably our biggest rival. My sophomore year, at a basketball game, as I was going up for a lay up, a very fast Panther power forward threw her arm into my back and slammed me into a cinderblock wall which messed my knee up badly enough I had to go to physical therapy for a year and couldn’t play basketball competitively anymore. Not watching Friday Night Lights was my boycott, my personal commitment to not give anything Panther related a second of my time.

But then we started. And you guys, if you haven’t watched Friday Night Lights and you have Amazon Prime or Netflix, just go. Take a six-week leave of absence and dive in.

Friday Night LIghts

Enough of that.

(But really, go watch it).

Last night, one of the characters (the QB1, or starting quarter back), Matt, had a really bad day. I won’t go into it all, but everything that could possibly go wrong, did. I think we’ve all had days like that. You maybe don’t feel the best, you get the phone call that something bad has happened, you don’t get any sleep, you were so late for church you ended up staying home, you drop everything on the floor, you lose your keys, a friend isn’t responding to you, your dog is sick, you feel like you’re a fake at your work, you take it all out on your spouse with angry crossed arms and irrational accusations.

If that isn’t you, I can assure you that the things I just described happened to me in the last three days.

Please don’t hear that as a pity party. I had my pity party. I’m okay.

But you are not alone when you’re so stressed, you want to change your name and move to Malaysia.

My mini-crises ended up with my husband loving me so beyond what I deserved, that my façade of toughness and meanness broke. Tears spilled out with words of my perceived truth. And I use the phrase “my perceived truth” because once I actually spoke my fears, my hurts, and what the voices in my head were telling me, I started to see them as the lies they were. And if I didn’t see something as a lie, Tim was there to gently direct me back to find truth again.

I was lucky. I haven’t had someone with me every time I’ve found myself so far away from joy, but in the last few years, I’ve learned something about when this happens.

  • Don’t ever drink more than a couple of glasses of wine
  • Talk to someone anyway

The death of a brilliant actor looms over us all, a life cut too short by an addiction to something that brings a deep sense of peace. That’s why we escape. When we look in our faces and minds and spirits and hearts and we’re far away from the God who loves us and His truth, when the pain feels like a red-hot black hole inside our chest, we want to escape it. Some do it with needles, others run into the arms of a one-night stand. I’ve used alcohol and food and sleep to run away before.

Photo by Vincepal

In 2011, I was physically sick from my anxiety. I layed down on cool tiles of a hotel bathroom floor in Orlando at 3 am, finally finding the courage to reach out a couple hours later. A few weeks earlier, I asked a small group of people to be my friends. It sounds clunky and unsexy, but it’s one of the best decisions I made.

Asking someone to be a friend is one thing. Telling them when you’re lost and hurting is another.

Pushing through awkward words and my greatest fear of rejection, I reached out. I got help. I was a weighty, heavy, burdened and hurt girl and I needed to be carried. My friends carried me. I could lean on them.

If you’re in that place today where you can tangibly feel the pain of lost joy searing you, or perhaps you’re so far beyond hurting that you’ve numbed yourself into apathy, please reach out.

We worry that we’re going to be a burden to someone. Here’s the catch. Not one of us is a burden.

Are the things we’re going through burdens? Maybe. But you, a person, are not a burden. You are flesh and blood and skin and bone and pain and hurt and yes, even joy. There is joy for you and you may have to fight through ten thousand armies of evil to see it again.

But you don’t have to fight alone.



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