The Undiscussed Hell That Is Changing Prescription Depression Medications

I started a new anxiety and depression medication last month, and let me just say, there are reasons why most people, myself included, go out of their way to not change medications. It sucks, bad. But the thing was, I’d been on the same prescription for close to 10 years, and my anxiety was getting bad and my depression even worse. Add to that everything going on in 2020, and I had to make a change.

One afternoon, a couple days into the change, I got blindingly mad at Excel — and when I look back on that moment, getting that mad over Excel might be a new low. I mean, come on: Excel really shouldn’t dictate emotions. I was still working from home because of the pandemic, so I went downstairs to calm down, which led to me finding a bag of cooked bacon in the freezer. I ate it. All of it. I don’t know how much bacon it was, probably less than a pound, but far more than a serving. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten frozen cooked bacon straight from the freezer before; perhaps this is a normal thing people do, but somehow I doubt it. In that moment, as I shoved strips of rock hard freezing cold bacon in my mouth, it just felt so right. It was probably the best bacon I’d ever eaten, and I totally forgot about my computer rage.

I suppose the ironic part was that this medication was supposed to help me, and yet I was acting a little more bonkers than usual. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t depressed. Honestly, how depressed can you be while eating bacon? I wasn’t anxious, either. I was sleepy and hungry — and did I mention I’m a vegetarian?

None of this made sense, and yet it all seemed so right, and I didn’t realize how odd I was acting until I was halfway through the last strip of frozen bacon that I realized my wife was sitting at the kitchen table and had been watching me the whole time. “Why are you eating frozen bacon?” she asked.

I paused.

“And why were you screaming at your computer?”

I turned around, my eyes a little foggy, and explained that this new medication was making me feel moody and hungry, and now all I wanted was to eat and sleep and be left alone. I explained how every time I change medications something like this happens until my body gets used to it, and every time it feels worse than the last time, and this time in particular felt like I was going through man-opause.

“Maybe you should call the doctor,” she said.

I shrugged as I finished off the last of the bacon and said, “Probably.”

Then I went upstairs and took a nap instead of going back to work.

I went through almost a month of days exactly like the above, unable to explain my emotions, trying desperately to keep them in check, but failing. Most of my actions didn’t make logical sense to anyone but me. I ate too much every day, and I ate food I normally don’t, and all of it tasted better than the food I usually eat. And I know, the bacon eating really shouldn’t be on the list of grievances, but like I said above, I’m a vegetarian, and well… bacon really shouldn’t be on the menu. But bacon is still really good. I want you to know that, but at the same time, I want you to realize that I wasn’t myself.

Changing medications is like a test of yourself. It’s a test of your ability to be nuttier than usual and still maintain enough of your faculties to not get fired, divorced, arrested, or something worse.

Anyway, most of that emotional, irritable, eating phase has passed. I’ll be living with the bacon weight for a while, I’m sure. But on the positive, I want you to realize that I just said “on the positive.” That’s a big deal for me. I mean, honestly… I had a depressive episode when Coke Zero changed their formula, so yeah… I’m easily triggered.

I’m feeling more optimistic. I’m not sitting around focusing on my failures. I’m not thinking about how it all isn’t working out, and I’m not nervous for the sake of being nervous.

So yes, the last month has not been good. Not at all. And if you are going through a medication change in the middle of a pandemic, I understand your struggle. I want you to know that everyone who has ever switched medication does. But I can also say, now that I’m on the other end of it, now that I’ve made it through the fire, that I’m smiling a little more.

I am by no means out of the woods, but with mental illness, you never really are. But I’m seeing a little more sunlight each day, and as someone who has spent years living with depression and anxiety, that’s pretty awesome.

The post The Undiscussed Hell That Is Changing Prescription Depression Medications appeared first on Scary Mommy.

I’m A Physician Who Had Breast Cancer, And Here Are The Knowledge-Based Decisions I Made For Myself

So, 2020 has really been a shit year.

It has been for nearly everyone, of course, and when the stuff stops hitting the fan, we all need to take a collective breath, pat ourselves on the back, and celebrate.

I had a busy year planned for 2020: I’m a gynecologic surgeon seeing patients and trying to build a badly needed menopause clinic in a local hospital here in Seattle. I’m editing a book, and consulting and providing telemedicine care for women in menopause as Chief Medical Officer at Gennev.

But then in January, I got a diagnosis of breast cancer, and suddenly I was making new plans. Somehow I had to carve out five weeks from this life to recover from a double mastectomy, then more time later for recovery from reconstruction. I managed it, barely, to have my first surgery in March.

I thought I had it pretty much under control. My patients were scheduled with other physicians, meetings were on hold, a bunch of work up-front meant I could relax and heal. In February, I went on a vacation to Mexico, where I spent a lot of time crying on beaches and into margaritas with friends. It helped. I came back ready to move forward.

And then COVID-19 hit, and it hit right here at home: epicenter, Seattle.

Suddenly the chaos and noise of my own life have expanded to a global level, and all of us in health care are scrambling to find answers, help others stay calm and safe, keep ourselves as safe as possible on the front lines, and meanwhile I’m trying desperately to ignore the little voice inside that’s saying, “What about me?”

As a physician and surgeon, I know what cancer looks like. I have an idea how it progresses and how bad treatment can be. I wanted to get on with it, have the surgery and whatever treatment so I could recover and get back to my life. But with my first surgery scheduled for mid-March, now it looked like those carefully extracted five weeks weren’t mine anymore.

Oh, and did I mention, suddenly my kids were home all the time? They’re pretty much grown, so I have it easier than many, but the advanced clusterf*ck of trying to “home school” an attention-deficit high schooler while sympathizing with my college kid who was missing out on some pretty important stuff in her education and future career (she’s a dancer) deflated any zen I managed to scrape together in a hurry.

This is a tough time for teens and young adults who rely on their social structures more than ever, and suddenly mine were stuck with a sick mom and Zoom.

Despite being a pretty practical person, I haven’t always approached my health practically. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic at 42 that I finally started taking some things seriously. Perimenopause had added some belly fat and bumped up my bad cholesterol, so I — at last — started exercising regularly and taking medication, since eating better wasn’t enough anymore.

However, as someone with a family history of cancers, I’m a huge advocate of screening and started annual mammograms at 40.

Now that’s irony, Alanis.

As with most women in their 40s, the mammograms showed that I had dense breasts, but nothing particularly concerning.

Then Gennev started working with MiraKind, an organization researching the connection between a gene defect called the KRAS variant and a greater likelihood of developing certain cancers. I got tested, and sure enough, I was a carrier. Knowing being KRAS positive could mean I was more susceptible to breast cancer, I added an MRI to my usual mammogram (remember, dense breasts).

Two days later, they called me and said, “So, there are a couple of masses on your MRI.” A couple of biopsies revealed invasive ductal carcinoma. More testing, more biopsies, more black and blue boobs.

Now I had a decision to make: I could get bilateral lumpectomies and sign up for a life of going in every six months and probably having to get biopsies every six months. Eventually they’d find something, and I’d be right back here again. I’m a doctor — I knew how I’d feel with these things on my chest, knowing there was cancer in them. So I decided on a bilateral mastectomy.

In the end, it was the right choice: there was more cancer that hadn’t yet been detected. It was small, sure; but it wouldn’t always be small.

The hospital where I would have my surgery started disallowing non-essential surgery the week before my mastectomy was planned. And surgery on anyone who was medically fragile – old, ill, likely to respond poorly to anesthesia, etc. – was postponed.

I wanted nothing to do with postponing the surgery. I had done everything to make taking those five weeks okay for everyone it affected — patients, family, colleagues. Just the thought of redoing all that was exhausting. I had taken the time to take care of me, and dammit, I was going to take care of me!

In the end, it came down to the fact that I was young and healthy going in, so I wouldn’t need an ICU bed that was needed for a COVID-19 patient. I’d be out the next day. So we went ahead.

On March 19, all my breast tissue was removed.

March and April were spent alternating holding my breath and breathing sighs of relief: biopsy of sentinal nodes revealed no signs of spreading. Testing of the tumor showed it wasn’t aggressive enough to require chemotherapy. Because I did what I did when I did it, the cancer was Stage 1. I’ll be treated with hormone therapy; I’m on Tamoxifen. They got great margins when they did the surgery, and I don’t need radiation.

Ask anyone who knows me: I’m pretty blunt. I’m never unkind, but if a patient wants a lot of touchy-feely handholding, they should probably find another doctor. However. Telling your daughters you have breast cancer is not an occasion for blunt.

Not only was I telling them I was sick, I also knew they would watch me for signs of what was to come for them. “Realistic but reassuring” is a delicate dance. Fortunately, I was able to be pretty reassuring. It was Stage 1, not a particularly aggressive form, and I’d be fine on the other side. But I also wanted to be honest with them about their own health and the screenings they’d need, given their family history.

I could complain about how unfair it is to have bad genetics, or how much it sucks to take care of myself and still have cancer, but I really have a “shit happens” approach to life, and it served me well. Yelling about how unfair it is — as much as I was screaming it on the inside sometimes — wasn’t going to help me or my kids get through it.

COVID and being isolated together certainly didn’t make it easier. This is a hard time for kids – their lives are dominated by social things, the groups they’re in, who they communicate with, the things they do. They’re missing out on things. So managing their emotions and my own is really tough; I’m maybe not as patient as I would be otherwise, because I’m going through some shit. I have cancer and it sucks. I don’t tell them everything because it wouldn’t help them. But I try to be open and honest because I know your imagination can sometimes be worse than the truth.

It could be easy to let cancer and COVID take charge and send me screaming to a safe room, but that’s really not my style. I take precautions to protect myself from the coronavirus, but I’m still seeing patients. I know that as a healthcare professional, I’ll get it eventually. I just intend to be at full strength when it happens.

I walk every day, three to five miles with my dog. I run three days a week. I’m back in physical therapy because too many hours performing surgery have caused problems with my neck. I truly think staying active has helped with my recovery.

Recovery was tough, not so much because of pain, but because COVID meant my friends and family couldn’t help the way they wanted to: they couldn’t come clean my house or cook meals, though many dropped meals on my doorstep, rang the bell and ran.

I have two sisters who live locally, and it was killing them not to be able to come and help. One sis is a chef and she just wanted to come and cook for me, but she couldn’t come into my house. That was hard, but honestly, it was harder for them than me, since I was pretty out of it for the first two weeks after surgery.

So, yeah, 2020 is a shit year, but at least some things will get easier now. No more mammograms for me, because the reconstruction surgery scheduled for July will be done using my own abdominal tissue. From now on, a check up involves making sure the area around the reconstruction is healthy and cancer-free, including the lymph nodes and chest wall.

I know a lot about health, particularly women’s health, because it’s my job. And I made a lot of decisions, together with my doctors, based on the knowledge I have. I wanted to share a few things that might help others have an easier time of it, COVID or no.

Exercising.

It might not prevent you from having health problems, but being fit can make it easier to handle the treatment and make recovery easier and faster.

Knowing my risks.

Diabetes, cancer, heart disease are all in my family history. Knowing that helped me make better choices. And the KRAS test prompted me to do the MRI that revealed the cancer while it was still early-stage. Knowledge matters.

Focusing on me.

When I got that pre-diabetes diagnosis, I decided it was time to get a handle on me – I’ve spent my life caring for others as a doctor, wife, and mom. I was trained in residency to “go until you drop.” But suddenly I realized I needed to focus on my own health too. I made changes in work and home life, ate better, took meds. I wanted to feel good and I did. And when this came up, I had good endurance, strong muscles, a strong cardiovascular system, even strong legs and abs to help me get out of bed when I couldn’t use my arms!

Prioritizing sleep.

For the past few years, I had managed my sleep patterns to feel better, and through all of this, I managed to — for the most part — still get good sleep.

Embracing the WTF moments and moving past them.

Because I made great decisions for a solid few years before this diagnosis, there was a little “WTF?” that I did everything right and still got this disease. But we live in a toxic world, I hadn’t always made great decisions, my work has at times been really stressful, plus, I just had some bad dumb luck. There’s always been that bit of pessimism in me because my family history indicates that I have at least one cancer in my future. But, I thought, this can be dealt with, I’m healthy going in, and I’ll take this one day at a time.

Being ready to live with my post-surgery body.

I’ve lost sensation in my chest area. I bump into things, and I don’t even know it. It’s weird, and I’m mourning the loss of sensation there, but I knew it would happen, and I was at least somewhat prepared. Make plans. Have a wedge for your bed. Know what the drain looks like coming out of your body. Know who will help you shower and who will make you laugh when your life just has so much yuck in it. Because there’s a lot of yuck; you’re going to need your sense of humor. And if yours is AWOL, borrow some from a friend.

Balancing practicality and emotion.

Just because I knew what was coming doesn’t mean I didn’t have emotions around it. I had to let myself grieve the loss of my breasts even as I was taking control of the decision to have the bilateral mastectomy. I had to stop being practical and allow myself to mourn.

Finding medical providers I connected with.

Living in Seattle, I am blessed with having so many amazing medical professionals in cancer treatment. But I also wanted to work with someone I was comfortable with, someone I trusted with my body, with my future. I needed to feel they were making decisions that worked for me. Please know that you’re not hurting a doctor’s feelings if you decide to move on from them because you’re not connecting well with them. It happens all the time, and docs understand how important it is that you feel comfortable. I picked people I felt great with and felt we were making decisions for the same reasons.

Finding the blessings when I can.

Hey, I get a tummy tuck out of this – get lemons, make lemonade! I’m not exactly going to be voluptuous, but I’m good with Bs or even really big As that look nice….

THIS IS A BIGGIE: Get a screening regimen.

Don’t rely on self-breast exams — even when I knew where my biggest tumor was, I couldn’t feel it. Also, some people are pushing thermograms, claiming they’re safer than mammograms, but they are NOT safer, so do your research before committing. A mammogram isn’t perfect, but it’s a good tool and has saved lives. And you won’t get breast cancer from mammograms. The radiation is minimal: you get more from walking around for two weeks in the world. Be informed about your choices before you make them.

I could have put off the reconstruction until next year, when there’s a chance COVID-19 will be behind us, and things will be back to whatever “normal” there is on the other side. But I figured, 2020 is already a hot mess of a year, I might as well shove all the shit into this one and look forward to 2021.

So that’s what I’m doing. May you get all your shit behind you too. Now go schedule your next screening.

The post I’m A Physician Who Had Breast Cancer, And Here Are The Knowledge-Based Decisions I Made For Myself appeared first on Scary Mommy.

The Day I Could No Longer Deny The Impact Of My Eating Disorder On My Child

Just like moseying into the kitchen to grab a coffee as soon as my eyelids cracked open, stopping to examine my body every time I passed a mirror was a subconscious compulsion I did without a second thought. I’d turn to one side, then the other, and determine my worth for the day based on how much my stomach protruded.

For as long as I could remember, at least since hitting puberty when my once-flat belly began to bloat, my stomach size determined my worth every single day. If it stuck out more than normal, I’d be ashamed and starve myself for the day. But, if it was within my acceptable range, I’d splurge and binge, sometimes eating thousands of calories in one meal.

Since giving birth to my oldest daughter, I knew I needed to get a handle on my eating disorders; my biggest fear was passing my habits onto her. But healing my relationship with food was always tomorrow’s problem. I continually told myself the children were too young to notice my habits, let alone comprehend my inner dialogue. One day I’d recover, but I didn’t have to quite yet.

Looking back, I wasn’t ready to heal because I feared that, without the appearance of control, my body would swing like a pendulum to a point of no return. My eating disorders wrapped me in a cocoon of self-absorption that kept me from reflecting on the things holding me back in my life. My fight against food meant I wasn’t fighting with my then-husband, setting boundaries with people who wronged me, or researching and advocating against issues in society. I was too busy spending every free moment reading about body cleanses and foods that blasted belly fat that I didn’t have the room to think about anything else.

One ordinary morning as I turned to the side to examine my body from every angle, I caught my five-year-old’s eye in the mirror. When I noticed her watching me, my nerves prickled like a startled cat as if I’d just been caught in a lie. I didn’t know how long she’d been watching, or if she saw me grab the skin and pull it out, and then suck it back in as far as I possibly could. I opened my mouth to try and say something witty or deflective but she looked away, seemingly uninterested, and I exhaled relief at the thought that I was still in the clear.

Not long after that, I caught her observing me in the mirror again. Her eyes were glazed over with a neutral look, the way she looked when we’d been walking through the Target aisles for two hours. But this time it didn’t alarm me as much; she had no idea what I was doing and didn’t care. According to her, I was looking at my body. It was innocent. It’s not like she’d ever seen me shove my toothbrush down my throat in an attempt to vomit an entire meal. I made certain to only do that at night when she was asleep, or when she was at preschool. Yes, she watched me weigh food, log it into my phone, and sometimes not eat, but anyone watching their weight did that. It was normal. I was normal(ish).

I was as certain that I was getting away with this big secret as I was that if I bought a carton of ice cream, I’d eat the entire thing in one sitting.

And then one day as I carried a bag full of laundry into my room to fold, I caught my daughter looking in the mirror as she turned to the side the same way I did. Her eyes grazed down her tiny body as she looked at her tummy like she was trying to understand what I had been doing. A red flag popped up, but that inner demon inside me — the one that gave me delusional self-worth based on my size — reassured me that she was only looking at herself in the mirror. Everyone did that. I took an extra precaution and cheerily said she looked beautiful and was so lucky to have such a strong and healthy body.

Then I caught her doing it again. And again. Every time her eyes were searching for some sort of answer. I don’t know if it was days or weeks later, but one morning as I left the bathroom and examined my stomach in the mirror, my five-year-old came into the room and said, “I wish my tummy was as small as yours, mommy.” My heart dropped into my stomach and knocked the air out of me.

It was one of those moments when the pretty glass reality you were living in gets cracked and tumbles down. When I looked at her face, I instantly recognized the pain in her eyes; it was the same pain I felt on the days I was deemed unworthy of food. I’d planted a seed of self-loathing in her brain, that I then watered every time I mentally picked myself apart in the mirror. And now here she was, about to start kindergarten, already filled with the agony I felt of not loving your body or self.

I said all the reassuring things that I thought would fix it. “Your body is perfect!” “You’re beautiful!” “Don’t think things like that!” “Don’t ever compare your body to anyone else’s!” As if throwing words at her would fix this problem before it snowballed into a life-consuming avalanche that she’d spend years trying to run from. And, of course, it didn’t work.

She’d later tell me three more times that she wished her stomach was smaller. And then a friend told me she overheard my sweet, gentle daughter tell her friends that she wanted to be as skinny as another friend’s mother when she was older. I didn’t understand how she even learned the verbiage when I’d been so careful not to say anything negative around her. I was a mother, her protector, and her teacher. Like a sponge, something ugly absorbed into her through our parent-child osmosis. She saw how I felt about myself and thought if I, her role model, didn’t love my body the way it was, then she shouldn’t love hers either.

I decided, at least for her, that it was time to stop hiding and numbing. Like learning a new language, I immersed myself in recovery. I bought books, listened to podcasts, read articles, watched YouTube videos of people who healed, and started going to therapy. I ate, breathed, and lived eating disorder recovery for six months as the pings of disillusion and fear became less and less. I retrained my lower brain to trust me by promising myself I’d never starve again, which eventually stopped the binging, followed by the desire to purge. And, so very slowly, almost beyond my awareness, I learned to let go of the control.

I began to love myself, to eat when I was hungry, and stop when I was full. I stopped excessively exercising with the mentality of punishment and began going on more walks with my children, and doing fewer sit-ups alone in my room. Over time, new pathways formed in my brain while others shut down like abandoned ghost towns.

Somewhere along the way, my daughter stopped talking about her body and looking in the mirror with criticism. Letting go of the control felt like hell, but it was worth it so my two daughters could grow up with a mother who mirrors self-love instead of self-hate.

My recovery may have been inspired by my daughter, but it ended up being especially for me.

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Becoming Sisters: The Bonds Of A Missed Experience of Motherhood

Trigger warning: child loss

It had been over an hour and a half since my brother had texted me to tell me that his wife, Amy, was headed in for an emergency c-section. I tried not to worry. I tried not to text Ben again. Maybe the baby had to go to the NICU. A million different scenarios ran through my head. None of which included the baby dying. Babies didn’t die during childbirth in 2020.

****
It was impossible not to love Amy. She was like a Disney character: she wore her emotions on the outside and her primary emotion was love. When Amy and Ben got engaged, I was jealous. The “Alanas,” as my mom liked to refer to Amy’s girl gang, made it clear that no one was supposed to wear white to Amy’s bachelorette because it was Amy’s weekend. But I showed up in Las Vegas dressed head to toe in a white jumpsuit. The Alanas all gave me judgy stares. But Amy just embraced me, screaming in her drunken exuberance, “My sister is here! Everyone, my sister is here!” Never having contemplated the possibility of referring to each other as sisters before (or being a hugger myself), I didn’t really understand how I, as the future sister-in-law, had been elevated to such a high status, but I adored Amy, so I went with it.

When Amy announced her pregnancy, I was already pregnant with my second. Amy had only let it slip once that it irked her that I was going to have two children before she had her first. Upon noticing that I wasn’t drinking at a family event, she said, “You’re not fucking pregnant again, are you?”

However, this is where our stories diverge. At 33 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Amy continued to have a normal and healthy pregnancy while I gave birth to a healthy baby girl followed by a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation.

Throughout Amy’s pregnancy, there had been a distance between us. Her unfiltered joy chafed against my depression. After all, I had been deprived of many of the greatest joys of motherhood: nursing your baby peacefully to sleep on your lap; strolling away the days of maternity leave with a sleeping newborn; and the opportunity to get completely lost inside this beautiful being. My memories of the early months of my daughter’s life stood in sharp contrast: watching videos from the chemo room of my nanny bottle feeding my daughter; the fanny pack that hid the drains from my surgery so I could walk discreetly with my daughter; and, most significantly, the feeling that I was always missing out.

****

As Josh and I sat shell shocked on the plane on the way to the hospital to see Amy and Ben, I muttered, “I should have been there more for her throughout her pregnancy.”

“You were fighting cancer,” he said.

We rode the 12 floors up to a miscellaneous floor in the hospital (since Amy had to be moved off the labor and delivery floor), as I continued replaying the events of the previous day.

I kept checking my phone into the wee hours of the night, waiting for that first picture of a little newborn to pop up: eyelids shiny and closed, face a little smushed, all swaddled up in one of those ubiquitous flannel blankets with the stripes. If we were lucky, we might even get to find out a name.

Finally, the screen lit up with a text from Ben. The first thing I noticed was that there was no picture attached. It read, “Amy is healthy. But the baby has no brain function. She wasn’t breathing, but they got her to breathe.”

Hours passed and I lay there wide awake. I texted my brother again, “Any updates?”

“The doctors are still working on the baby. I didn’t even get to see her.” My heart sunk. I felt like I was going to throw up.

“Hang in there. This is shitty. I love you,” I replied, careful not to say it would be okay when I didn’t know if it would be.

“I’m pretty scared,” he said. My little brother had never admitted to being scared before.

****

The scene when we entered Amy’s room was otherworldly. Amy was proudly holding her baby, staring into her daughter’s beautiful face, and for a second I almost forgot that the baby wasn’t alive. Amy was as pale as a sheet, her long hair matted and dishevelled, her protruding belly the only part of her tiny shape visible beneath her large open hospital gown.

“Hey Jen, hi Josh. Thanks, guys, for coming. Means so much. Do you want to see her?”

It was obvious by the slow, monotone candor of her speech that she was on a cocktail of painkillers to numb all different kinds of pain.

Curious, I tentatively approached the baby. When I saw her face, I nearly gasped. She looked just like my daughter, Lyla, except that her hat was covering the abrasions on her head, and her eyelids were a ghastly bruised color due to the brain hemorrhaging.

As Amy placed the baby back in the bassinet, she began to weep. It was the weeping of a person who had been crying for so long that she did not even notice anymore. A nurse came in to roll away the bassinet and Amy kissed the baby longingly on the forehead. “Goodbye forever,” she murmured, as the nurse once again covered the baby’s face with a blanket.

****

The next day, an oddball gang of fairy godmothers assembled at Amy’s and Ben’s house to disassemble any landmines that would trigger Amy.

“Did you check the living room?!” one of us would scream, as we swarmed towards it. “There is a baby swing in the living room!”

But there was no avoiding the landmines in the nursery. Amy had meticulously folded all of Lyla’s hand-me-down outfits, organizing them into drawers lined with ivory paper marked 0-3, 3-6 and 6-12. The piece de resistance was a custom halogen sign with the name “Sloane” emblazoned on it in neon pink letters. We had to snap the sign in half in order to remove it from the wall.

****

One day, out of the blue, Amy texted me, “Hey Jen! I’ve been so wrapped up in my own stuff that I haven’t really checked in. I’m sorry. How are you feeling about the end of treatment? It must be so nice to finally be able to focus on the kids.”

I had long ago resigned myself to the fact that I would never have a sister, but at that moment, I realized that I did. I guess that’s the thing about sisters. The relationship may be fraught at times, but no one is ever there for you like your sister.

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Check Your Pantry: Two Children’s Cough Medicines Were Recalled

Have any children’s Robitussin or Dimetapp cough syrup in the kitchen?

Parents, if you have any cough syrup in your pantry, listen up. On Thursday, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare voluntarily recalled two lots of Children’s Robitussin Honey Cough and Chest Congestion DM and one lot of Children’s Dimetapp Cold and Cough. The products had incorrect dosing cups in their packaging.

According to the FDA, the dosing cups for the Children’s Robitussin Honey product are missing the 5 mL and 10 mL graduations, and the dosing cups for the Children’s Dimetapp product are missing the 10 mL graduation. Both products’ dosing cups only have the 20 mL graduation.

The company discovered the error during a review of the products’ packaging documents.

“There is a potential risk of accidental overdose if caregivers dispensing the syrup do not notice the discrepancies between the graduations printed on the dosing cups and the indicated amounts to be administered (as directed in the instructions for use),” the FDA states.

The recall is limited to the following three lots:

Children’s Robitussin Honey Cough and Chest Congestion DM, 4 oz.
NDC 0031-8760-12
Lots: 02177, expiration: January 2022; 02178, expiration: January 2022

Children’s Dimetapp Cold and Cough, 8 oz.
NDC 0031-2234-19
Lot: CL8292, expiration September 2021

FDA

These lots were distributed nationwide between Feb. 5, 2020 and June 3, 2020.

Symptoms of overdose of either product may include elevation in blood pressure, severe dizziness or drowsiness, fainting, seizure, decreased respiration, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and more, the FDA reports.

“As of the date of the recall announcement, GSK Consumer Healthcare has not received any adverse events related to these products or consumer complaints regarding the incorrect dosing cups supplied with the product,” the FDA states, adding that GSK Consumer Healthcare has notified wholesalers, distributors, and retailers to arrange for return of any recalled products, and that those with an existing inventory of the lots being recalled should stop distribution and quarantine these lots immediately.

Call 1-800-762-4675 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. EST Monday through Friday for questions or to report an adverse reaction.

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If Having Adult ADHD Was Hard Before, It’s Been Amplified By The Pandemic

I have ADHD severe enough that I take the FDA’s highest permitted long-acting dose of methamphetamines, and I still have trouble functioning on a regular day. Having ADHD during a pandemic makes basic living and adulting far, far more difficult at a time when our basic living and adulting skills are most needed. I can drive other people bonkers. They can drive me bonkers. ADHD and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, especially in women, with one fueling the other. Caffeine keeps me sane. Caffeine prevents me from drinking enough actual, vital liquid. I forget all the things all the time because generally I can’t even remember what day it is, let alone what week.

An Example of ADHD During a Pandemic

I am writing this essay at 3am the day after it was due. There are several very good reasons for this.

First, I can’t sleep. This is common. According to ADDitude Magazine, about 75% of people with ADHD say they can’t “shut off my mind so I can fall asleep at night.” Try having ADHD during a pandemic and see what happens. You’re either obsessing about the pandemic, or obsessing about other things so as not to obsess about the pandemic. In my case, I fall asleep rapidly (thank you, modern medicine), and wake around 3am with racing thoughts. I’m already awake; I might as well write.

I also forgot what day it was. No, I literally forgot what day it was. Everyone jokes that staying home during COVID-19 has jolted time into meaninglessness. For those of us with ADHD, time was a problem anyway, and with no external cues, it becomes this strange ocean rather than a moving river.

And even if I had remembered the date, I couldn’t remember if my work was due that day, anyway. I had to check. So I was singing “Substitute,” freaking out, and scrolling like a madwoman all at the same time. Those of us with ADHD are champion multitaskers.

Hobbies Become Obsessions

I’m a writer. I write a lot. Like, a lot. Like, to the exclusion of many other normal human activities — and this is on a regular day. It’s called hyperfocus: the “experience of deep and intense concentration among some people with ADHD” according to Healthline. Having ADHD during a pandemic seems to exacerbate it. Maybe we need a mental escape. Maybe we can’t cope with the social isolation. Maybe we’re chewing our goddamn nails off because we can’t even drive around and sing “Under Pressure” really loud, which is what we usually do when we need to calm the hell down.

Maybe that’s me. Anyway.

My husband’s ADHD is nearly as severe as mine. So while I sit on a hammock on the front porch and pound on my keyboards like that Kermit gif, he’s erected a complicated woodshop in our carport and has begun building All The Things. Tables. Bookcases. Lap desks. Stilts. He’s currently ginning up some extremely complicated UV sterilization box involving wood, mylar, duct tape, a UV light, a fan, and bizarre Amazon purchases I no longer question.

Our children, who also have ADHD, are currently so into Metroid on old school Nintendo — with my oldest playing, my middle son navigating, and my youngest watching like this is The Greatest Story Ever Told — that my middle son literally paid my oldest to play the game yesterday. Having ADHD during a pandemic does some weird stuff to you.

 

Having ADHD During a Pandemic Gives Me a Relationship With Caffeine

An intense one: I’m either looking at my cup of coffee and saying, “Caffeine, you’re my only friend,” or glaring at it with resentment and singing, “Hello darkness my old friend.”

I drink a lot of caffeine. I wake up to coffee. I continue drinking coffee. In the middle of the afternoon, if I don’t drink one of those Monster Energy drinks, I crash hard. I struggle to drink regular things, to the point that we’ve realized I’m most likely, in the absence of available Starbucks black tea, to consume sugar-free blue Gatorade. We have to buy it from Amazon in giant packages with single-serving packets, like Splenda or something. Having ADHD during a pandemic usually means I’m so busy focusing on writing or parenting or six other things that I forget to drink it, anyway.

Having ADHD During a Pandemic Means Losing Vital Items

Sounds stupid, right? How could you lose your wallet or car keys or prescription sunglasses or driver’s license in your own goddamn house? 

Don’t use it for a week. Then see what happens.

We don’t go out. So, we forget things you need to go out. Like the aforementioned car keys and wallets. I’m forever losing my CBD vape pens. Speaking of pens, where the hell are mine? Oh yeah, the ever-bored children stole them again.

You Think You Had a Reason To Be Distracted Before?

Y’all, I can video-call my friends in the middle of the day and they will pick up. We can talk forever! Or I can decide that, since my kids are playing Metroid, I need to show them the “All Your Base” video:

 

And did you know you could make T-shirts on canva.com?! So then I needed to make an “All Your Base” T-shirt, because one of my favorite distraction hobbies is making T-shirts with disaffected slogans on Canva. This led to a deep dive down the interwebs.

A swim in the depths of the internet is a problem for everyone. Having ADHD during a pandemic means that it lasts for hours. Don’t even get me started on what can happen if I get hold of TikTok. I had to uninstall that thing from my phone.

Basically: imagine a pandemic, but with everything turned up to eleven.

And your house is still a mess, because cleaning it is not an interesting task. If you have ADHD during a pandemic, or ADHD anytime, really, you save your focus for interesting tasks. Laundry is not one of them. Sorry, kids. Go dig a shirt out of those baskets again.

Who are we kidding? You weren’t going to wear a shirt anyway. Unless it’s that “All Your Base” tee, of course.

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To Doctors, My Fertility Was More Important Than My Pain

“Are you sure you’re done?” my doctor said to me. “You’re still young.”

I had been fidgeting with my hands, rubbing the space between my fingers one by one, when I felt my hands ball up into tight fists and release. Here I was in front of a gynecological specialist I’d traveled more than two hours to see, and he had spent the first five minutes of our conversation asking me about my dating and sex life. Informing him that I’m currently going through a divorce was enough to move the conversation about my chronic back and pelvic pain, frequent periods, and family history of reproductive cancers to concerns about whether I’d ever have babies again.

Yes, I was absolutely sure. My road to fertility was long and bumpy, and my pregnancy was no walk in the park. I was 31 when my then-husband and I decided to try to get pregnant. It had been more than 10 years since my first pregnancy, which happened much too easily. This time, after more than a year of trying to conceive, I decided to seek help from my gynecologist. After tests, ultrasounds, several appointments, and a laparoscopic procedure, I was diagnosed with endometriosis — a disorder that causes the lining of the uterus to grow outside of the uterine cavity. Turns out, endometriosis is not only a common cause of secondary infertility, it had been the cause of the debilitating painful pelvic pain my previous doctors had brushed off for years.

The pain felt like a shark bite to my insides and wasn’t limited to my period. It was accompanied by fatigue, bloating, and often sent me straight to bed for days. I knew it wasn’t normal, but — with the help of many doctors — had been convinced that it was. It was the culmination of a complicated relationship with pain. Strong Black women don’t complain about the pain. We just do our best through it.

When I was 25, I walked out of a top teaching hospital in Chicago with head and back pain so severe I couldn’t hold my head upright. I didn’t, in fact, receive any treatment or medicine. I was sent home with instructions to take a few ibuprofen and later ended up in a different hospital, where it was determined my spinal fluid was slowly leaking and needed to be patched. I could have died, but years of being sent away by doctors taught me that protesting too much was a waste of energy.

Now, after two surgeries to remove the endometriosis, I was finally in front of a specialist. I had severe left-sided pain that was undoubtedly caused by the left ovary adhered to my pelvic sidewall. I had come out of anesthesia years ago after my first surgery to remove the endometriosis to find that problematic ovary still there, still adhered. My OB-GYN wanted to save it to give me a better chance at pregnancy, even though I know now many women get pregnant just fine with only one ovary. This time, though, I didn’t want anything saved except my sanity. I wanted the pain gone, and I wanted every remaining piece of my jinxed reproductive system out. I wanted to be able to sleep through the night, play with my four-year-old without doubling over, and not dread every single change associated with each cycle phase.

“I’m sure,” I said. “Take the fallopian tube, uterus, ovary, and whatever other damage you find.” The images from my ultrasound were on full display behind us. There was my fallopian tube, clear as day and filled with an unknown mass. “Technically, a normal fallopian tube isn’t large enough to be seen on ultrasound,” the doctor had said just minutes before my fertility became the topic of discussion. Technically, I shouldn’t be able to (or have to) feel my fallopian tube either, but I do. He spent a few more minutes clicking through photos and talking very quickly about conservative options that included taking medications for an indefinite amount of time with a high risk of having nightly sweats and hot flashes.

I drove home confused about how once again I’d let a doctor throw a Band-Aid at my suffering. This time I wasn’t going to be gaslit. I wanted a do-over. I called and I left a message demanding we take a closer look at what was going on because none of it feels normal. I put my pain in words the best way I could through the tears that had come to my eyes. The nurse called me back to schedule a CT scan. The results showed a suspicious “thickening” in the lining of my uterine wall and some fluid in the pelvic cavity to add to the list of masses and painful situations the ultrasound uncovered. Now we could proceed with the surgery to remove my uterus, tubes, and ovary.

To doctors, women’s fertility is often more important than our reproductive pain. I had to take whatever comfort I could from the fact that at least my life took precedence over whether I could change my mind about having more babies or not.

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I’m ‘Comparing My Suffering’ As A Way To Gain Perspective During COVID-19

When it first hit me how bad the pandemic was going to get, a feeling of dread settled in my gut like a heavy ball of lead. That feeling is still there. It impacts my memory, my sleep, my appetite, my energy levels. There are many layers to this dread—it is not simply fear. It’s anger too, and frustration. A feeling of lost equilibrium, of the halting of forward motion.

And yet.

I’m also okay. I know I’m okay. I know that compared to many others, I have so much to be grateful for.

“Compared to others” has become a taboo thing to say. I’ve seen beautiful Instagram posts from people like Glennon Doyle and Brene Brown, both of whom I respect and adore, encouraging us not to compare our situations to others’. I see it in comment sections too, when people compare their coronavirus struggles—“This isn’t the suffering Olympics!”

The thinking is that when we compare our suffering to others’, we shame ourselves for perfectly legitimate emotions. We’re all allowed to struggle. We’re allowed to feel all the feelings. We shouldn’t judge ourselves for feeling how we feel. All grief is valid. We should never compare suffering.

I am one-hundred percent on board with not shaming ourselves for how we feel. I want to make that clear. And I acknowledge that there is a wide field of psychologists and researchers who will tell you that comparing suffering is a bad idea.

But I disagree that we shouldn’t use comparison to gain perspective and pull ourselves out of a tough emotional spot. The idea of “downward comparison” was introduced in the 1980s as a social phenomenon whereby an individual compares an aspect of their social status to that of others “beneath” them in order to feel subjectively better about their own position in the hierarchy. The theory has been debated because it doesn’t always account for nuances like accessibility, motivation, and opportunity.

In layman’s terms: Sometimes downward comparison doesn’t work because a person’s situation really is objectively the fucking worst and they have no means of helping themselves, so for fuck’s sake, don’t ask them to tell themselves, “Hey, it could always be worse!”

But, to flip that: For those of us who have privilege, our situation is most likely not the worst. It is absolutely reasonable to use downward comparison to cultivate a more optimistic outlook. It’s entirely possible for a person to tell themselves to stop complaining because, compared to others, they actually have it pretty good. One can engage in this internal dialogue without curling up on the floor in a self-hating ball of shame. The goal isn’t shame; it’s perspective.

In my own experience with COVID-19, I have had some really difficult days. Mood-wise, there have been numerous panic attacks. There have been days when I only got myself out of bed because I knew my kids were watching and needed to see me being positive. Days when the reason I took a shower was not to get clean, but was because I needed a place to cry. That knot of dread still sits like a lead weight in my belly.

Logistics-wise, I have no idea what is next. I have multiple income streams, a couple of which were immediately choked off by the pandemic, and any of the others which may be choked off at any moment. My partner is 1400 miles away and I have no idea when I will see them again because it’s not safe to fly. My kids’ schooling situation is uncertain for the coming year, as the area where I live is a weird mix of people being careful and people flagrantly breathing in each other’s faces to make a political statement. I used to have an idea of what to expect one month down the road. Now, anything is possible, and most potential outcomes are not outcomes I would look forward to.

I could say, poor me.

Instead, I compare. Yes, I have had a few panic attacks and some listless, tearful days. And yet, compared to many, I am healthy both physically and mentally. I don’t rely on any medication whose supply could potentially be compromised. If I were to need medicine, either for my mental or physical health, I have a healthcare plan and trusted providers who would make sure I was taken care of. Compared to many, I am truly lucky. Reminding myself of this helps me feel better.

I have lost some income, but I still have income coming in. Compared to others who have lost their entire livelihoods, I am doing well. I’m lucky. It’s true that I don’t know what will happen next, but unlike many others, I have a support system that will prevent me or my children from ever going hungry, no matter how much money or how many material possessions we may lose. Reminding myself of this helps me feel better.

I don’t know when I will see my partner again. But I think of military families who are often separated for a year or more; for people who are in different time zones than their loved ones; or even how hard it would be to have maintained this relationship 20 years ago when we wouldn’t have had access to the technology we use to keep our connection strong. It could be so much worse. Reminding myself of this helps me feel better.

I don’t know what will happen with my kids’ schooling, but I know many others have it so much worse. There are places in the world where kids didn’t have school even before the pandemic hit. We are okay. We have choices. This time without structured school, and whatever may come in the future, cannot be qualified as insurmountable suffering. The resources we had access to prior to the pandemic will still be there once the pandemic is done, and the truth is, we are privileged and we will be okay. Reminding myself of this helps me feel better.

All of these “downward comparisons” make me feel better. I don’t love the term “downward comparison,” by the way, because it sounds like an expression of arrogance when that really isn’t the point. The goal of downward comparison should not be to conclude you’re better than anyone else—it should be to gain perspective.

When that leaded ball of dread in my gut makes me want to curl into the fetal position and cry, comparing my own suffering to the more intense suffering of others gives me that much-needed perspective so I can pick myself up and keep going, perhaps even reach out and be of service to someone who is struggling more than I am.

I’m not ashamed of having bad days or admitting that I’m sad, that I’m grieving, that I wish things were different. No one should be. But it really is okay—beneficial, even—to compare. It really is true that perspective is everything.

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We Could All Benefit From A ‘Gratitude Scavenger Hunt’

Last week, I was in a bit of a funk. Oh, who am I kidding, I’ve been in a bit of a funk for the past two and half months. I’ve been grouchy. I’m slogging through the day, unable to focus and generally just “off.” I feel mentally and emotionally and even physically exhausted. This whole global pandemic thing can really bring a girl down, that’s for sure.

I could definitely use a pick-me-up, and maybe you could too.

Folks love to tout the power of a gratitude to combat the blues. And as much as it sounds like trite advice, they’re right. Perspective really is everything.

It isn’t just anecdotal evidence either; research also backs it up too. Harvard Medical School reports that research done by psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, found that those who wrote about gratitude for 10 weeks were more optimistic and satisfied with their lives than those who spent 10 weeks journaling about things that irritated them.

Some common gratitude practices include a gratitude journal, writing thank you letters, prayer or meditation, and generally taking a glass-half-full-count-your-blessing approach to life. But let’s be honest, some of these things are easier said than done. I’d love to have hours to spending writing in a gratitude journal each day, but most days are a sprint from sun-up-to-sun-down before collapsing in a heap, too mentally drained to do anything other than stay mindlessly at whatever is on the Food Network. Same for letter writing. And sometimes I am just too much in my feelings to take a count-your-blessings approach. Don’t even get me started on trying to get my kids to be more grateful and appreciative; they’d much rather work on mastering that art of whining and complaining.

Simply put: those helpful and happiness-inducting gratitude practices are hard sometimes, especially in the midst of world that feels flipped upside down.

Which is why I absolutely adore this Gratitude Scavenger List created by Simple Acres Blog. It was recently posted on the We Are Teachers Facebook page, and has since been shared more than 6,400 times. It is simple, straight-forward, and doesn’t even feel like a “gratitude practice,” per se.

 

That’s because it’s a game. Muck like a typical scavenger hunt, it includes a list of things to find – but because you’re looking for “simple pleasures,” you can’t help but feel more grateful and less funk-ish in the process.

The list includes things like “find something that’s your favorite color” and “find something that makes you happy” and “find something that you can use to make a gift for someone.” It’s perfect for a family walk, or a class Zoom activity, though as one commenter pointed out, you may be able to find all these things right inside your home – the ultimate stimulant of gratitude.

There are plenty of other options for gratitude scavenger hunts, and if you’re really creative, you can come up with your own too.

 

What I love about these gratitude scavenger hunts is that they don’t have to feel like we’re teaching our kids a “lesson”; it just becomes a fun game. In the process, the entire family can have a little fun, forget about how the world feels like it’s falling apart, and practice the art of gratitude. It’s a win-win.

The pandemic has really upended our lives, and maybe it’s time for a new perspective. If for no other reason than my grouchiness is getting kind of boring. I’m ready for something new. A scavenger hunt around the neighborhood to remind me that there is still so much to be grateful for, so much to appreciate, so much beauty in this wild and brutal world… well, that might be just the thing to do it.

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How Changing My ‘Sleep Hygiene’ Habits Helped My Anxiety

With so many folks’ schedules being thrown for a loop, as well as the extra “togetherness” taking place in households all over the U.S. at this time, I think it’s fair to assume that most all of us are experiencing an inconsistency in our sleep patterns. It’s easy to get off schedule — even worth it in some instances when you find yourself like me and have FOMO. But if you’re an anxious person who already wrestles with falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night, knocking your sleep routine could cost you a whole lot more than just some extra ZZZs.

As I’ve had to teach and re-teach myself over and over throughout the course of my life, maintaining healthy sleep habits (often referred to as “sleep hygiene”) is the only way I will ever feel like the real me. It doesn’t mean that I’m always going to like going to bed or wake up at the same time every single night or morning, because I usually don’t… especially when there are a million other things I need or want to be doing. But just like I don’t like having to take my anxiety or blood pressure medication every dang day, and yet, still do, I know that I’m at my best when I prioritize and exercise my need for proper sleep hygiene daily.

“As a nation we are not getting enough sleep,” Wayne Giles, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of Population Health, says on the CDC’s webpage. “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”

Every once in a blue moon, staying up at night or sleeping in later than usual in the morning is okay — we get to decide whether the benefit of throwing the schedule out the window outweighs the possible consequences of disregarding a regular sleep routine. As for me, I’ve found that not getting enough sleep on a consistent basis invites my anxiety to step up its game big time.

As a busy mother, my night and morning routines are dependent on each other, which also means that they are contingent on me getting an adequate night’s rest. I go to bed at around midnight or a little before, and I wake up at 7:30 a.m., like clockwork, the following morning. As someone with a mental health disorder, I can’t always just lay down and “go to sleep.” Unlike my husband who is literally out cold the second his head hits the pillow, I have to trick my mind into believing it’s time for bed before it’s actually time for bed by setting up a routine, avoiding screen time, slowing down on caffeinated beverages, and saying an early goodnight to my much-loved wine slushies.

Depending on how my day unfolded or how I’m feeling that night, my nightly schedule typically starts off with dimmed lights and an aromatherapy shower or bath… you know, to help put myself in “sleep mode.” But since I constantly crave productivity, it’s not easy for me to avoid picking up my phone and start scrolling while my hands are idle and soaking in the tub. Knowing this about myself, I take steps to prevent my subconscious mind from physically acting out by placing my phone out of arm’s reach.

If my mind starts to wonder, reminding me of every little thing I ought to be doing or didn’t get done that day (which let’s be honest, it always does), I reel it back in and remind myself to focus on the only thing I really should be doing: breathing. Inhaling these hard-to-come-by-moments of being still and mindful, and then exhaling the newly-found, sleepy peace.

Sometimes I’ll massage my calves, arms, neck, or any other part of my body where I can feel the tension or anxiety building. Other times, I’ll allow myself a 5-10 minute time span entirely devoted to stretching. And if I’m really feeling like a zen-centered cliché, I’ll turn on some soft white noise or a meditation track to help achieve the level of rest needed for a good night’s sleep.

Of course, what works for one person might not for another. For some, they could try all of these relaxation techniques plus some and still wrestle with falling and staying asleep. In such a case, it would be wise to consult with a physician just to rule out any underlying causes which could be a contributing factor. But when medical conditions aren’t involved, it wouldn’t hurt to challenge yourself with some self-discipline regarding your sleep hygiene — particularly if you’re like me and find yourself feeling anxious over every little thing every single day. Evaluating your sleep patterns could just be your saving grace.

My nightly routine allows me to focus solely on myself in a way that I find relaxing and soothing, in a way I wouldn’t have the time for unless I designated a slot in my day just for me. So although the reason behind maintaining this schedule has been to benefit my sleep health, it’s also left lasting positive effects on my mental health too.

I still stay up a couple of hours later than my children; therefore, I am not robbing myself of “me time” before I go to bed. Because I lie down at a set time each night and typically have adequate-enough sleep, I am ready to wake up early in the morning and drink steaming hot coffee, in the beauty of silence, while getting ready. When my kids finally roll out of bed in the morning, I’m able to give myself to them fully — already feeling good accomplished for prioritizing my needs first.

Do I skip a day here and there? Abso-freaking-lutely. I’d be the biggest liar if I said that I didn’t stay up until 2 a.m. on occasion watching stupid videos on my phone while drinking a Dr. Pepper. But the thing is, those days are meant to be a release… they are not meant to be my everyday reality.

What I failed to realize for so long is that my sleep hygiene habits actually align perfectly with what I need to do each day to feel like a real human being. By sacrificing what has come to be just an hour or two each day, I’ve found the secret to becoming one of the best versions of me.

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