That difficult age

You may have been wondering about my lack of blogging this year… in fact I have been too. I started the year with grand plans for book writing, but these didn’t actually come to fruition until the last month and even then my writing is a bit erratic. To begin with I thought that I was just feeling uninspired and then Max died and I was feeling sad, but as the year progressed I realised that I was suffering from what I can only describe as brain fog, sometimes accompanied by poor sleep and lethargy and sometimes accompanied by feelings of stress. I bimbled along for a while before realising that these were symptoms of the menopause. It’s a funny old thing – if you are pregnant, you can talk about the effects of your hormones on your body and your brain quite freely (and get support and sympathy), but if (like 100% of women will be at some stage in their life) you are menopausal, you keep quiet. This means that you don’t know what to expect; I was beginning to think I was going bonkers.

The really strange thing was, as soon as I realised and started chatting to my friends of a similar age, it all seemed much more manageable and normal. Mr Snail was worried about me too, and finding out that what I am going through is normal has helped him immensely. Everybody has different experiences, but I found some common threads – often mental rather than physical. The classic symptom is the hot flush, which I started having these about six years ago. They are rare for me now and I assumed that their gradual disappearance meant that is was all over – I was wrong. Brain fog, however, seems to be something most women I have talked to experience.

Anyway, this is the real reason why I haven’t been writing much. It seems to have adversely affected my creativity too and so I haven’t produced so many fun/lovely/quirky things to show you. However, I’m hoping that my newfound honesty and support network (including Sister of Snail, Mrs Robinson and The Great Creator) will buoy me up and help me find a new perspective.

I’ve toyed with writing this post for the past few weeks and wondered whether it was just too much to share, but then I watched a programme on the BBC the other day about the subject, which highlighted the need to talk about this and not to feel ashamed or embarrassed.  So, here I am. Sorry gents if you find this uncomfortable, but if you ever encounter women, this is something that is relevant to you too and which it would be useful to understand. So, lets start some conversations and accept that we all go through changes in our lives during which we need support and understanding.

I’ll just finish with two of my favourite songs from the wonderful Henry Priestman both about getting older… listen to the lyrics, they are wonderful.

 

 

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57 Comments

  1. You have been often in my thoughts of late and I am ashamed to say the intention to put pen to paper never made it into reality. Menopause is a bitch of a thing! The lack of understanding and support around the process is deplorable. Mine lasted over 15 years and my life was absolutely awful with it. Not only the flushes, the night sweats, the fog and the over menstruating or yay it’s finished – whoops no here it is again menstruating – but the emotional turmoil that accompanied the surging and waning hormones. I am a huge fan of making no apologies, doing the research, finding natural ways to manage (yams!!) the symptoms and making allowances for yourself. Being more kind and conscious I am sure will get you through quicker and easier. The plus side is when you finally emerge on the other side it really is a brand new better life! I have gone from strength to strength since finishing and feel I have more truly become myself than ever before. Onwards and upwards Dr Snail – and above all else be kind to yourself xoxo

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    • I am starting to feel better on some days and I am getting a bit more of my creativity going. Daisy has been a real positive in this strange time – losing Max had a really severe effect on me and Sam, but Daisy’s arrival has got us out and about again, chatting to neighbours and generally stopping us sitting indoors feeling glum. I often think about you and Siddy doing the same.

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  2. Ah yes…. Mine is finally over. Six years ago it wasn’t even on my horizon; the women in my family seemed to go through the process at around 55, judging by my mother and 4 sisters. However, chemotherapy put a brick through that. Everything came to a screeching halt very suddenly, no gradual tapering off, and it’s still hard to determine how much of the fog of that time was chemo-brain and how much was menopause. Since I’m still fairly foggy and my memory is now crap where it used to be excellent, I’m assuming it was mainly chemo-brain. I’ve finally stopped having hot flushes about a year ago, and again, how of that was the oral chemo (Tamoxifen) and how much menopause I have no way of telling, but I’ve come to a point of equilibrium. I get tired more easily, my skin is less elastic, my hair has been grey since it first grew back, and I’m calmer than I used to be, but essentially I’m the same person. I find that exercise, my least favourite occupation, is necessary to maintain flexibility, and I can no longer eat like a horse, but on the bright side, I’m no longer as driven and stressed by things I can’t change 🙂

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    • Getting outdoors for a walk every day certainly helps. I have given up swimming for the time being – a combination of problems with my ears and the need for fresh rather than chorine-laden air driving me to stop.
      I seem to have lost the ability to find things some days… most recently the London A to Z which was right in front of me on the shelf when I first looked, but which I simply couldn’t see. Mr Snail being away doesn’t help… at least when he’s around he can do some of my thinking for me!

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  3. Thank goodness for Mariella Frostrup. Much needed documentary. Thank you for spreading the word. Mx

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    • Yes, I was so glad it was aired, although I was left wanting more… and I guess that’s one of the reasons I posted this. It’s really good to hear other people’s experiences and to stop feeling so isolated.

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      • Absolutely right. Support from others in same/similar boat is the best help as you say. Best wishes for a happier change…just reminded me that Germaine Greer wrote a book about the menopause. I have not read it and it is quite old but a friend said she found it helpful. My views do not always coincide with Ms Greer’s but it may be worth a look. Mxxx

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  4. Ann Pole

     /  December 1, 2018

    Me too! 3 years of 3 month very heavy periods & other stuff, then a couple months of normality and the hot flushes started. They do seem to have eased a little now, but that could just be because it’s winter. Guess I wont know until next year. On the plus side I’m drinking more water & don’t feel the cold so much (Steves cold hands under hot armpits when gardening is bliss – for us both!). On the down side I put on weight and got quite stiff in the back/hips – even with our daily gardening. I now go to exercise class twice a week and that has helped immensely. I’m lucky though, I don’t think I’ve had too much emotional turmoil – so far! Good luck & lots of love ladies.

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    • Strangely, I was able to cope with the physical stuff much more easily – I understood the hot flushes etc (mostly stopped now), but the brain fog and emotional swings have been much more of a challenge and not something that I realised would be a major problem. I’m sure that grieving for Max just added an extra layer of emotions and may have been the final straw. However, I’m so encouraged to read about everyone’s experiences and to know that it’s such a universal and ‘normal’ thing that I’m going through.

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  5. You are very much welcome in this sisterhood of women! Thank you for your transparency!!!!!

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  6. Murtagh's Meadow

     /  December 1, 2018

    It is definitely something that needs to be talked about more. Well done for posting.

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  7. I’m so glad you let people know. It isn’t as though those of us who who get old enough don’t ALL go through it. I was lucky in that it was brief, hot flashes were manageable, and for the weird stuff–brain fog, anxiety, and other stuff I’ve forgotten–I talked to friends. And you’re right–as soon as you find this isn’t your strange problem and that other people have it, it becomes manageable. And goodness, it’s freeing. I actually feel so much better now, consistently, than I ever did before it. Hang on, talk it through, be kind to yourself and you’ll come out the other side in a good place.

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    • Thank you for your wise words. I’ve been suffering physical symptoms for about six years, but the mental stuff only seemed to descend in the past year and has really had an impact. I’m really hoping that it’s heralding the end. Currently I’m in the process of having some tests to assess the state of my hormones, which will at least give me some indication how far along I am.

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      • Oooh, that is too long. I had a bad run-up to menopause over a few years, but ugh, 6 is a lot. Or maybe I’ve lost count because I forget bad stuff. I hope you can get some answers or explanations, but likely it won’t be much. For some reason, getting stories from people who’ve been through your symptoms helps you figure out what to do. I hope things look up soon, one way or another!

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  8. I think I was just lucky, a few hot flashes is all I remember of the physical changes. Periods just tapered off over a year or less. Emotionally, it was a different story, but I think I wrote it off to just the usual (for me) PMS continuing. Sorry you (and so many others) have a more challenging time with it all. I think it’s great you wrote about it; as you say, it’s an avoided topic. I never had anyone to talk to about it at the time. Nice that you have support.

    Thanks for the links to Henry Priestman; I hadn’t heard of him before and I really like his work. Great songs! I’m off to read about him and listen some more . . . ~ Linne

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  9. I haven’t found menopause a topic to be avoided as such, and there’s nothing about it that I didn’t feel able to talk about with other people (mostly women, now that I think back). Clearly, however, I have been extremely lucky – the most noticeable aspect was mood swings, which didn’t last terribly long. I’ve never had a hot flush or night sweats, and the tapering off of menstruation was delightful. The tapering-off began when I was about 50. It’s harder with brain fog – I could attribute that to so many things, but since I was about 52 or 53, my memory has definitely started declining.
    I’m really sorry your experience is lousy, and hope the worst is over for you. Hang in there, and be kind to yourself ❤

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    • I think the real communication problem occurs before the symptoms appear. Since I realised the cause, I have discovered friends willing to talk about it and share experiences, but I had a difficult and worrying time prior to realisation dawning. I think it would be helpful for mothers to talk to their daughters and older women to talk to their younger friends and give them some warning of what it might be like.
      It does interest that, having broached the subject, I feel I am now surrounded by the most wonderful supportive friends who are completely willing to advise, suggest and who really do seem to care. Thank you all.

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      • You make a very good point about communication and prior knowledge. Also, it doesn’t help that it starts at such different times in women’s lives (some in their early 40s, some in their late 50s). The other thing that seems enormously variable is the duration.
        An aside – humans are the only mammals who go through menopause !

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  10. Thanks for sharing. I always say I got away quite lightly in that I had any hot flushes during the night – though not bad enough to have to change my nightclothes or sheets or anything – whereas I have friends who have been having dramatic, upsetting and public hot flushes for years now. Then I think about less visible physical symptoms and realise I didn’t get away with everything – I never manage a whole night’s sleep any more for instance. Mine started early – in my late 40s and I remember an actress (Jenny Agutter I think) saying on a radio programme that she had managed her symptoms with lots of seeds. I was determined not to have HRT so I sprinkled seeds over everything and caused a bit of a problem with my digestionI As a bonus for starting early, it finished quite early too although my Mum used to say – as she sat shivering in our house while I swanned about in a t-shirt – that I was warm because of ‘my age’ and said I might think it’s finished but it goes on for years. Thanks Mum! As for discussing it with friends – as you’ve discovered on here as well as in ‘real life’ – just find somebody of a similar age or older and you will be reassured that you’re not alone.
    Bon courage!

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    • I’ve been having hot flushes on and off for years and, like you, I found them relatively manageable. The first time I noticed their value was standing in a soggy field one September night at the UK Permaculture Convergence abut seven years ago and noticing that I was wearing a light cotton top and everyone else was wearing woolly jumpers and coats! This year, though, I have been much more affected mentally and it has made life much more difficult. I am discovering that if I can motivate myself to do things I feel much better, so having a dog that wants a brisk walk every day is a real benefit. I hoping once I get a strategy I will be able to function better.
      Thank you for being so supportive – it means such a lot to know how normal it all is.

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  11. Like a number of you I found that other events (in my case the illness and death of my hisband) made it hard to know what was caused by what. Really glad to say that although I still get warm flushes (not the hot sweaty ones that I had at the beginning) I seem to be over the worst. And so I should be at 68! I began to think it would go on until I was in my grave! I have also concluded that we women have a bum deal – pre-puberty (I know of a few girls horribly hormonal but not yet menstruating), menstruation, the maelstrom of pregnancy and the baby blues for some of us, and then the menopause. It is a very lucky woman who gets theough it all without any problems. A big cheer to us all for keeping on keeping on and doing it mostly with good humour and sisterly support.

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    • Hurrah for us all – and for all of us supporting each other. I finally started to understand what was going on when my sister came to stay over the summer and we had the opportunity to talk – she sort of switched the light on for me and things have been improving ever since.

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  12. I had missed your posts but thought you were busy working on your book. I am sorry I made that assumption.
    It must have been a hard time when you were worrying about what was wrong.
    A bit of a relief for you really to know it is just a natural phase of life. But I always think that whilst we might be glad for the end of the periods, the blood, the mood changes, it can be a time to grieve for the passing of time.
    I had an easy time really. It took many years for the periods to end completely. I had no menopausal symptoms and was through sometime in my 50s. Be warned just when you think you have had the last period, another one comes along. In my case there was a 23 month gap right at the end, and a full blown PMT red mist.
    I don’t know why women don’t talk about it more. It happens to us all, but I suppose with varying symptoms and over varying ages. I suppose we don’t want to be the butt of jokes and we don’t want to admit to the passing of time.
    On the bright side, no more periods, no more awful flooding, and think of the money you are going to save on sanitary products.
    Welcome to the next phase of life.

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    • I was relieved to stop bleeding quite a while ago, although I’m still on the alert, just in case. Currently I’m having a series of blood tests to assess where my hormones are at. It won’t make much difference but it will be nice to know whether I am still fertile… this would really not be the time to get pregnant!!!

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  13. I am so glad that you posted this. I too had assumed that you were happily busy doing other things and blogging had taken a back seat for rather more positive reasons. I think communication is incredibly important, and I remember the frustration of realising how much support there was out there surrounding puberty and pregnancy and how little there seemed to be for the menopause. I can’t say I dealt with it terribly well, and I think my family had to show considerable forbearance while I went through mood swings, tearfulness, lethargy and more. But I feel much more myself now, and you will too in time. Truly.

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    • I was in a bit of a decline when we visited you, but the holiday and your beautiful part of the world really perked me up… if Jon wasn’t working away I’d be making plans to come back very soon, but alas it’s not possible at the moment. Anyway, after a challenging summer I think I may be coping better now and it has certainly been wonderful to find so many supportive friends around me (both face-to-face and on-line). The lethargy is what is really doing for me… once I motivate myself I feel much better, but there are many days when I could happily stay in bed and do nothing… although I know this would make me feel worse in the end. Walks with Daisy and Sam are helping and I bought a new pair of walking boots the other day for comfy and dry feet this winter.
      I’m glad to hear that you are feeling better too – we are all amazing women.

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  14. I went through an enforced menopause – and found hormones great for the hot flushes. But my memory is awful and I find that I am stressed out far more quickly than I ever used to be. It is great to talk about symptoms – as now I know what to expect (think I am probably right in the middle of everything) – and won’t feel that I am going through everything on my own.

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    • I’m discovering that we all want to talk about it now, but beforehand I only ever heard mention of hot flushes which, frankly, are the least of my worries! I just wish I’d had some prior warning about the range of symptoms – it would have helped me to avoid so much stress.

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  15. Good to raise the topic, and hopefully it helps not to feel alone in it. I am 66 and still get flushes – really what is the point of them!? A definite design flaw. I got painful arthritis in my joints during the menopause and thought it was the beginning of a gradual deterioration, but it all settled down after a couple of years and now it is just my left knee that sometimes reminds me of it.
    My memory too – yuck I thought I was heading for dementia, but things have improved – and although brain fog is still there, especially if I’m stressed, I’m not worried about it any more.
    I’m sure diet, exercise and crochet helps!
    Take care Mrs Snail, we are all in very similar boats! ❤ but we proudly sail on!

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  16. Good post my love, the symptoms of menopause are ‘many and varied’ to borrow one of my favourite phrases, and also seem to come and go for no discernible reason.
    And to any male readers, I would urge you to continue to learn about this stuff, you can really really help us with a bit of understanding. Most of you will have women in your life, mothers, sisters, partners, daughters, work mates, every other other person on the planet in fact will go through this stage in their lives. It’s tough, so your help really helps. It’s like a second puberty whilst we transition into our wild, free, adventurous and wisest selves, come along for the ride and we will love you forever!!!xxx

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  17. Thank goodness the taboo of talking about “the change” is lifting. this is an important phase of a woman’s life and there is no shame in it. So much weight is given to women as reproducers – as though that is all we’re good for – it is infuriating to me. I have no doubt you will continue to flower in your post-menopausal years, differently perhaps, maybe not as prolific but who says quantity is everything? Thanks for sharing your thoughts and worries. Long may you shine!

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    • As a woman who made a conscious choice not to have children I have, in the past, been made to feel like I have failed somehow and that I have missed out on what would have been the best experience of my life. It really annoys me and I know that I’ve done (and continue to do) fabulous things and love my nieces and nephew very dearly even though they are not ‘mine’. So, I’m not going to mourn the absence of reproductive potential… I am going to celebrate being a wise (if slightly bonkers) woman and enjoy the company of other such women… we are all fabulous.

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      • My lady parts didn’t produce so my husband and I adopted children. The whole reproductive/fertility business (IVF, etc.) is based on stoking that feeling that women are failures if they can’t make a baby. As for the “joys” of child-rearing, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

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  18. Germaine Greer wrote a very good book on the subject. – ‘The Change’.

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  19. Oh thank you! Once again you have written words that resonate. And the comments make fascinating reading too. I had a fairly easy time of it, but my periods were reasonably easy too. I wonder if there is a link there? Also, like Kate, my periods ended at the same time as my treatment for breast cancer began ~ radiotherapy and then Tamoxifen for 5 years. I remember feeling that I was unable to control my body’s temperature and some mood swings. There have been lovely comments about how liberating it is, which is so true, although I think retirement was much more of a liberation for me. So, think of how much wool you will be able to buy with the money you are saving on sanitary products!

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    • I’m blown away by all the comments, support and stories here – what a brilliant bunch of women we are. Oh, and please don’t let on to Mr Snail that there might be even more wool in the house 😉

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  20. Hang in there! It gets better. For me, when it was over, I felt as though I had the energy and creativity that my prepubescent self had with few of the self-conscious cares I had as an adult woman. There is a loss, but there is also a gain. I am reveling in it.

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    • I’m so pleased to read so many comments like this. To be honest I do think I’m getting better – or at least coping better now than I was six months ago and it’s such a relief to feel part of a big, understanding community.

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      • Nice to be able to “talk” about it and know that you are not going crazy. And also that it does get better. So many postmenopausal women are energetic and creative, and that’s no accident.

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  21. I haven’t experienced brain fog yet and hope, of course, I don’t.

    Menopause is one of the last taboos but I was pleased to see at work that a number of workshops were laid on to inform the staff. I doubt that those who need most informing will have attended, though.

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    • You clearly have a very enlightened workplace, even if some of your colleagues aren’t quite so enlightened.
      I’ve already had six years of physical symptoms but the brain fog/lethargy only set in this year. I’m really hoping that it won’t last too long, but if it does, I will just have to spend my time crocheting.

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  22. So sorry to hear that you’re having a hard time of it. And yes, many of us do it seems, with very little understanding other than (in my fortunate case) from our nearest and dearest. Mine went on for years, and thankfully I’m almost out the other side, but with a legacy of longterm chronic insomnia I now seem unable to move on from.
    But – I’m so glad to see that at long last women are starting to bring this out into the open, instead of whispering it quietly among ourselves and suffering alone. So well done you for being part of that, and I hope that you find a way through it that works for you.
    On the plus side, and I apologise if this is way too much information, sex after menopause is great! none of that messy period stuff, none of the contraception, none of the worry about unwanted pregnancy, none of the painful breasts etc, and all of the enjoyment. Not something I would normally share somewhere like this, but what the hell – this is our life!

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    • I have to say that the prospect of not having to worry about pregnancy is very appealing – since I never wanted to have children, this is something I have been extremely careful about my whole life, so hurrah for gay abandon in that department… especially considering how forgetful I can be with the brain fog!!

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  23. Oh heavens why don’t we notice when someone close is going through similar feelings? It’s seems impolite to ask if something is ‘wrong’ (out of balance) and somehow a judgement to ask if it is hormone related – so we never ask, but if you are a woman it is part of being you. Long held cultural thinking of the ‘unclean’ woman and the shame of being female, affect us even when we don’t think they do. Much love xx

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    • Well, you’d had rather a lot on your plate this year and I haven’t really felt able to talk about it until quite recently. Anyway, Knit Night is such a joy just to come and be creative together that it’s therapy in its own right.

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  24. Thank you for sharing, and sorry to hear you’ve had a rough time of it. I really appreciate people sharing stories like this though. I’m only 38 and not there yet so I hope when my time comes I’ll be a bit more aware having read about experiences like yours. I’ve also chosen not to have children and am very much looking forward to not having to think about that side of things any more!

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    • I don’t want you to feel that it’s all dreadful – my life is actually really settled and happy, and I think I would have coped much better if I had simply known what was going on. Anyway, hopefully forewarned is forearmed and you will be confident you know what’s going on. I’m just waiting for test results to confirm whether or not I’m still ovulating… it will be a huge relief when I get to the point that I’m sure I’m not!

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