T suggested a visualisation - I really don’t want to do it!

shimmerz

MyPTSD Pro
I’m really confused by this...maybe someone can make sense of it for me, but my T is trying to help me find ways to stay in my window of tolerance so that I DONT fight/flight/freeze,
I think the problem with 'freezers' (I am one), is that the freeze response is a helpless thing. A freezer generally sees no other possibilities than brain looping and staying in place. The idea of looking for possibilities that include flight/fight is to introduce to the brain other body responses. It gets the brain/nervous system out of the loop which gets them out of freeze, which gets them out of helplessness. Then there can be some thought about what other more effective possibilities there may be to keep out of the freeze loop if they find themselves in a similar situation again. That was always my experience with moving from freeze to fight/flight and it helped a ton.
 

Mach123

MyPTSD Pro
I personally believe in the sub conscious which I understand some don’t . Monsters from the ID. Tilting at windmills . Idk what to do about it if anything. I know I’ve talked about it with the therapist a bunch of times but we’d never discussed anything actual. The one bodywork seminar I did was about this but it incorporates martial arts and I’m a jiu jitsu guy and it doesn’t work sadly. It didn’t work, not for me anyway and I was pretty good at it. So I know it’s there and I try and live around it. I think I’ve actually become more isolated not less, but I do feel a little better knowing about it.
 
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scout86

Moderator
I think @shimmerz is right. There's nothing innately wrong with any of those responses. (Fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.) They are all designed to help you survive something. The thing is, there are situations where they aren't especially useful or appropriate so it's handy to learn how to deliberately turn them on and off. They also exist on a continuum. "Fight" can go all the way from a literal physical fight to verbally advocating for yourself. You'd like to be in a place where the conscious, reasoning part of your brain has something to say about what's happening, right?
 

barefoot

Sponsor
Thanks so much for the reassurance and encouragement @scout86 and @Friday It still feels uncomfortable but I think I am feeling less self-critical about it.... I can now better see that writing the story in this way – where I end up being the abuser – doesn't make me an abuser or like him...but that, instead, it has allowed me to tap into my emotional experience of being on the receiving end of abuse. So, rather than it reflecting badly on me that I've written this, I suppose the exercise is helping me to process my own historical experiences on a more emotional level than I am generally able to do. And that must be a good thing. Even though it still feels yuck. Shame is still there but not as intense as the other day.

it’s a bit strange to me to think of *trying* to activate fight or flight instead of trying to find a healthy way to deal with it (since I can’t imagine either of those would be helpful in a situation with medical professionals either,

I think @shimmerz and @scout86 have addressed this well but I just wanted to add....it's not really that we are trying to trigger a fight/flight response...more just to get my brain used to having other options so that, if I find myself in a fight/flight/freeze provoking situation again, my brain is able to choose another option so that I don't 'just' freeze and potentially end up helpless/get harmed.

And, as @scout86 says, these things are on a continuum. So, it's not like a fight response has to be literally punching someone in the face (which, I agreee, is not often going to be an appropriate or helpful response) For instance: a recent-ish, minor example with a medical professional (I say minor because it was by all accounts – but it so happened that it triggered the hell out of me and it took several days to regulate myself!) was with a dentist who was taking a mould of my teeth for a mouth guard to sleep in. As soon as I walked in, I was overwhelmed and highly anxious – the set up was not what I expected. It was in a hospital rather than my usual dentist practice and I wasn't just in a separate room, in the way I would expect to be with a dentist. It was a huge, huge open space with loads of adjoining cubicles, just separated by low screens. It was crowded, noisy, I could overhear other people's medical conversations so it didn't feel private, the chair I had to sit on meant that I had my back to the walkway where people were just walking past centimetres away from my head, everything felt very rushed and abrupt....the whole thing was horrible and didn't want to be there and was panicking.... I had a freeze response (lower end of the scale – I wasn't completely immobile, I wasn't dissociating) – voice got hijacked so I couldn't speak up...and I just allowed myself to be guided into my cubicle and sat in the chair while they started getting ready, putting a gown and goggles on me, preparing the materials etc. I was just sort of 'floating' there. So, I had a freeze.

Flight mode in that scenario would have only needed to be lower end of the continuum...just the decision to leave because I didn't want to be in that environment, I didn't feel safe, I found it frightening. No dramatic running for my life required. Just a realisation that I could choose to leave and that choice would be ok. But, I didn't...I sat in the chair and let them do what they needed to do to me.

Fight mode in this scenario, for me, would have been speaking up – asking if there was somewhere quieter we could go...seeing if I could make an appointment to come back another day and just see someone in a room 1:1. Asking if he could slow down a bit and explain what he was doing. After he'd done the mould and taken it all out my mouth, I could feel putty all around my mouth and over my lips. I reached for a tissue on the table to wipe it off. He saw me reaching and – being 'helpful' – said, 'Oh, don't worry – I'll do that for you' and I very quietly managed to half-protest but he just grabbed the tissue and started wiping my mouth. It felt HORRIBLE and led to more panic. He had no idea it was having such a negative effect, no idea I was so distressed by it. He was just doing his job and thinking he was providing great customer care, cleaning my mouth for me so that I didn't have to do it myself. It still distresses me to think about that! So fight mode there would have been finding my voice and being assertive, perhaps putting my arm up to block him: 'No thank you – I would prefer to do it myself.'

So, we're certainly not looking for me to start ninja kicking my way out of every day situations. Just trying to train my brain so that freeze isn't the only option it sees when I find myself in triggering situations. I guess that, ideally, yes....we all would like to get to a point where we don't get triggered anymore. But fight/flight/freeze is always there as a threat response, whether we have PTSD or whether we have done lots of work on managing our triggers or not – it's how all human – and animal – brains are wired for survival and to respond this way to threat.

My T is trying to get me to come up with a “rescue” visualization - something safe (like a memory, place or situation that makes me feel good) that isn’t associated with any sort of trauma I’ve experienced

I was in a group once (Sleep CBT) where the psychologist facilitating the session asked us to imagine a safe space so that then we could go on to do this particular guided mediation to help her sleep. Everyone else was saying that theirs was a beautiful beach or a sunny meadow full of flowers or a forest with a stream trickling through it with fish and birds and butterflies everywhere....all described in minute detail! I couldn't 'see' anything/anywhere – I find it difficult to see places I've actually been too! But I was able to 'sense' somewhere without seeing, so I did get something from it....though, where everyone else had beautiful, lush places in nature, the place I sensed was being in a cage in a basement/dungeon. Not quite so glamorous. And it was a bit of a conversation stopper when we were each invited to share where our safe space was!

I can’t prepare because it’s like how you wake up in a nightmare and it’s already happening

I think I know what you mean here....because, fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses are automatic....we don't actively pause to ponder the options and decide which one to go for. It just happens unconsciously. So, the idea of doing an exercise like this to open up other possibilities, when my brain will just automatically select the response anyway....I do feel a bit sceptical about it. Though, the way my T explains it, imagining different responses to my norm, creates new neural pathways...and the more I go over those visualisations and write those stories with different endings etc the more those new neural pathways will strengthen and embed....and the stronger we make them, the more possible/likely it is that my brain may choose one of those options as they are now more available and accessible rather than going to the only one that has always been available (freeze)
We'll see...!

There's nothing innately wrong with any of those responses. (Fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.) They are all designed to help you survive something

Yes, this is important to remember, I think.

I think I have always felt frustrated with myself and ashamed for my tendency to freeze and dissociate....why didn't I run, why didn't I say no, why didn't I shout out, why didn't I fight him off, why did I go mute and just lay there and let it all happen etc etc.

Last session, we were talking about fight and flight feeling more powerful/less helpless and about wanting to be able to access them as empowered responses. And then my T said 'And freeze is an empowered response too...' And then she said more about that but I can't remember what...because my mind was so blown by that line. That freeze is an empowered response too. It gets to protect the self/the psyche. Which is pretty awesome! So, perhaps I don't need to beat myself up so much about freezing and spacing out in the past...there's a thought...!
 

Muttly

MyPTSD Pro
I'm a freezer, and I can be super self-critical about it. But if I step back, from a basic evolutionary level it's a good response. Animals use it all the time, successfully to avoid predators. And if freeze allows us to survive, and, as you said, protect the psyche, then it's done it's job. It's allowed us to survive and from their we can work on other responses, healing, etc.

I haven't had much to add but I appreciate this thread. There's a lot I can really relate to.
 

TruthSeeker

MyPTSD Pro
I’ve recently been talking with my T about fight/flight/freeze responses. And how my default is freeze - I don’t remember ever doing either of the others.

It would be good to have access to fight/flight responses so I don’t end up being really vulnerable because I freeze and can’t do anything to get out of the situation.

It’s not really that I’m expecting to be attacked or assaulted at some point and am trying to equip myself to ninja my way out of an ambush and run for my life.

A key area for me where freeze gets in the way is medical appointments/procedures. I tend to freeze and my voice gets hijacked and I fail to self-advocate and things often then go pear-shaped and I end up very triggered and with a very distressing, stressful and messy experience. I would really like to find a way where I don’t just default freeze in these situations so that I can advocate for myself and have better experiences.

In the last few minutes of today’s session, T suggested a visualisation exercise for me to do on my own every day before our next session.

The exercise is:
- think of a real situation where I froze
- imagine a big tv screen in front of me and imagine that I am holding the tv remote control
- start to watch the situation unfold on the screen
- at the moment when I started to freeze in real life, imagine turning over to a different tv channel. Then imagine a different outcome where, instead of freezing, I had a fight or flight response
- allow this new direction to play out on the screen.

T says that imagining these different outcomes will create and strengthen new neural pathways so that fight/flight can become more available to my brain as response options - not just freeze.

While I want to be able to navigate medical stuff better so I don’t freeze and end up in a very stressful experience, I am aware that I feel incredibly anti doing this exercise. There are a few reasons:

- I have tried a similar process before (with a pause and rewind approach rather than changing channels) It turned into a very distressing experience - I dissociated badly and it took days to regulate myself. I do realise, however, that this was before I’d had any therapy and that I wasn’t in a psychologically safe environment or with a trusted person. But I really struggled with it.

- This kind of exercise feels very NLP to me (the above experience was with a Master NLP coach) I have done some NLP training myself as a practitioner years ago but a lot of it didn’t sit well with me and I don’t use it. My T and I talked about NLP quite near the start of our work together. We both said it wasn’t for us and that we felt uncomfortable with some of it including the ‘cultish’ of aspects of it. So, I’m surprised - and not in a good way - that this is the sort of exercise she has suggested I do.

- I’m not good at visualisations in general. I am not a visual person at all, I find it practically impossible to ‘see’ anything in my head. So, I don’t know how to ‘see’ the scene on the tv. I struggled with this before. Is is important that I can visualise it in this way? Can I just think through different outcomes instead without seeing it like a film, or would this not ‘work’?

- It’s really hard to pinpoint when a freeze started to then be able to ‘change channels’ and imagine what else could happen next. If I froze - especially if I then dissociated - it’s all so patchy and fragmented in my memory - there isn’t a clear moment when it started.

- It’s also hard to identify these specific moments where a situation (eg a medical procedure) often involves a cluster of trigger points. Again, it’s just not clear when the moment is that I’m meant to take as my key moment.

I’m aware that, as well as feeling anti the exercise I am also feeling a bit annoyed with my T. She just sort of rushed through the explanation at the end of our session and has left me to it and there just wasn’t the chance to talk through any of my concerns/previous bad experience with something similar because we had run out of time.

I could email her and tell her. Or just not do it and tell her next time why I didn’t. Or, I could just persevere. But I really feel strongly that I don’t want to do it.

Any thoughts around this?

Anyone done this sort of exercise? How did you find it?

Any tips for getting around my challenges with it?

Should I go with my gut and not do the exercise because I feel such a strong ‘no’ about it? Or should I push through this resistance and make myself try it again?

Thanks!
The process of visualization take practice. At first, if visualization isn't your strength.....then like anything new.....people naysay or resist. It isn't like you practiced for a month and told T I tried really hard and just can't get the hang of it. Visualization has helped me in so many ways when it comes to medical issues, calming strategies, and even stopping looping (anger related intrusions). I too, have lots of medical trauma......and visualization and grounding strategies have helped me stay grounded in the doctor's office with my words in check. I don't do well with psychiatrists......lots of doctor created trauma there....

I believe you want to be prepared in the office.....so first, write down a list of every possible question imaginable before going....so if you get a bit dissociated...you have your questions physically ready.
Secondly, I want to believe you-your self, really wants to get a handle on your triggers in the office.....and if you want to stay grounded and in control and your brain is taking a left turn and you end up feeling worse at the doctor's office because of not being grounded or not able to control yourself and your reactions.....more guilt, anger, and shame. If you are given a strategy by someone you pay to help you with your emotions and behavior.....and you won't even try......it must not be that big of a deal..................OR..............you are terrified of change or doing something different. Either of these ring true? But it is clear that you want to nix your T's
idea. However.....think on this, if your protective part is sending you a "No" message, it is trying to protect you.....and doesn't appreciate it when you make changes and you're in control....because that part of you won't be doing it's job. It's job is to freeze or flee or whatever protective response it chooses at the time....but if you take over and are in control...that part becomes kinda lost and angry.....because it isn't in control (that is the part that is triggered by medical stuff and causes your messy visits). You might need a conversation with that part of you that is telling you this is a stupid idea......and ask it to give it a serious trial.....then reward yourself with a special reward. Gonna have a piece of cake with icing when you get through the office without the mess you speak of. It sounds dumb, but I started having less "messy doctor issues" when I was understanding the "internal message" and where they were coming from and why.

This is the best example I can think of-practice makes perfect. My grandson was 22 months old when I taught him breathing regulatory skills because of his tantruming. We did them as fun exercises each day.....I led and he followed and we smiled.....I'd do it when he was a little ramped up to help him refocus and stay grounded.....I wanted him to "feel the calm" and know how to get there...from ramped up to calm. They became routine daily exercises which he enjoyed. There was a reason to teach him.....he had tantrums when he didn't follow directions and put toys up when I asked. I counted to 3 and if toys weren't being moved on 3, he got to sit in the No No chair. He'd wind up, uncontrolled and wouldn't stop......but he'd just stay on the chair and have the tantrum and it was awful. So, once he learned the breathing exercises, I would stand there and start the breathing exercises while he screamed on the chair....encourage him to breath with me to get him to calm down. He'd be screaming, but still start doing breathing exercise and as soon as he started moving his palms up....breath, then palms down....things improved quickly.....get more O2 to his brain, the exercise was focused, and his brain took over the activity....as it had a strategy to get unwound. He was allowed to get off the chair when he stopped screaming and calmed down. He was praised each time he got under control (as adults, we can do that ourselves).....and in short order, the tantrums became less intense and he calmed down much faster. It was the daily practice that I could tap into....since his brain already had learned the calming effects of breathing......palms move up.....breath out......palms face and move down. The suggested T visualization exercise might help you or you may need a different strategy....and I'd be more inclined to think you had a 50% chance of it helping or greater if you were completely onboard with trying a new intervention. With PTSD frequently comes....the resistance to change..(the "NO" in your head or the feeling of "No"not doing this)...so I'm guessing you might want to check in with that "No" part and work with it to change so all of you will be less resistant/more onboard to making changes to improve your quality of life. I do visualization....and it took practice but I'm much better now, and it really does help. Sounds like your T is well-trauma trained. That's just my opinion....but good luck with that.
 

barefoot

Sponsor
Sorry to hear you have a lot of medical trauma and therefore some struggles in this area too @TruthSeeker and I'm happy to read that visualisations have helped you with handling medical situations now.

I agree that prep for appointments is important – I do prep thoroughly these days, thinking of all possible questions they may ask or questions that I want to ask and I have them written down as you suggest. I also spend quite a bit of time on boundary setting – working out how I can articulate my boundaries before and during the appointment....do I want to ask for a chaperone to be present, do I want them to tell me before they touch me etc. So, I do do a lot of prep (and run through it all with my T) But I still get caught out if something blindsides me or something happens that wasn't factored into my plans or if someone ignores boundaries I have expressed etc. And that's when I'm still likely to freeze.

I'm not sure whether you read the whole thread/all my posts in this thread or if you only read my OP.

I gave a number of reasons for my resistance to this exercise. While you're right in that I posted here saying my initial reaction was that I didn't want to do the exercise before I had tried it in this instance, I did explain that I have tried several other visualisation exercises in the past including one very similar to this one, which was very distressing, re-traumatising and triggered some dissociation. So, my resistance to trying this particular exercise wasn't based on nothing.

With all the context I've included in the thread, plus where I got to with it (discussing it with my T the following week, and her confirming that doing it as a written story rather than a visualisation would still 'work' plus would work better for me), I think it's quite a leap to assume that either getting triggered and ungrounded and freezing in medical scenarios 'must not be that big of a deal' or that I'm 'terrified of change or trying something different.' Honestly? No, neither of those options ring true. And if I was determined to 'nix' the idea and had just flat out decided I wasn't doing it from the get go, I wouldn't have bothered writing a thread about it here. Hence all the discussion in this thread about, if visualisations haven't worked well for me in the past, how might I be able to adapt the exercise so that it can be more effective for me...which is an idea my T was supportive of, adapting the intervention to suit me better. And I have since done that written exercise – I shared it with her today.

We don't really do 'proper' (!) parts work, but do sometimes touch on the idea of parts as 'aspects of ourselves.' I'll think on your idea of perhaps having a protector part, which can feed into resistance.
 

barefoot

Sponsor
So, the piece I wrote the other day and was quite disgusted by/felt bad about: I shared it with my T today. I read it out 😱 It was tough to start but it got easier as I continued. I don't think it really hit the mark in terms of what the original purpose of the exercise was – to start to create new neural pathways to potentially give my brain more access to fight/flight responses rather than only freeze. But it still felt like something valuable to share so perhaps it just did whatever I needed most at the moment?! There was a lot in it to unpack. We both said the exercise had allowed me to tell my story and tap into my feelings in a safe way. And we focused quite a bit on my discomfort with becoming the perpetrator in the story. Which is also a theme of a recurring dream I have regularly, which I hate and wish I could stop. She said it's complex. I guess it is. I feel a bit overwhelmed with it now, post-session. But I think there was important stuff in the story for me to express and for her to know. I think we'll pick it up again next time.
 

TruthSeeker

MyPTSD Pro
Sorry to hear you have a lot of medical trauma and therefore some struggles in this area too @TruthSeeker and I'm happy to read that visualisations have helped you with handling medical situations now.

I agree that prep for appointments is important – I do prep thoroughly these days, thinking of all possible questions they may ask or questions that I want to ask and I have them written down as you suggest. I also spend quite a bit of time on boundary setting – working out how I can articulate my boundaries before and during the appointment....do I want to ask for a chaperone to be present, do I want them to tell me before they touch me etc. So, I do do a lot of prep (and run through it all with my T) But I still get caught out if something blindsides me or something happens that wasn't factored into my plans or if someone ignores boundaries I have expressed etc. And that's when I'm still likely to freeze.

I'm not sure whether you read the whole thread/all my posts in this thread or if you only read my OP.

I gave a number of reasons for my resistance to this exercise. While you're right in that I posted here saying my initial reaction was that I didn't want to do the exercise before I had tried it in this instance, I did explain that I have tried several other visualisation exercises in the past including one very similar to this one, which was very distressing, re-traumatising and triggered some dissociation. So, my resistance to trying this particular exercise wasn't based on nothing.

With all the context I've included in the thread, plus where I got to with it (discussing it with my T the following week, and her confirming that doing it as a written story rather than a visualisation would still 'work' plus would work better for me), I think it's quite a leap to assume that either getting triggered and ungrounded and freezing in medical scenarios 'must not be that big of a deal' or that I'm 'terrified of change or trying something different.' Honestly? No, neither of those options ring true. And if I was determined to 'nix' the idea and had just flat out decided I wasn't doing it from the get go, I wouldn't have bothered writing a thread about it here. Hence all the discussion in this thread about, if visualisations haven't worked well for me in the past, how might I be able to adapt the exercise so that it can be more effective for me...which is an idea my T was supportive of, adapting the intervention to suit me better. And I have since done that written exercise – I shared it with her today.

We don't really do 'proper' (!) parts work, but do sometimes touch on the idea of parts as 'aspects of ourselves.' I'll think on your idea of perhaps having a protector part, which can feed into resistance.
Not meant to say that a part of you didn't want to do it or try it...hence the thread. I took my reaction from your initial thread....

"freeze and end up in a very stressful experience, I am aware that I feel incredibly anti doing this exercise. There are a few reasons:"

Said no to NLP- That makes sense......I wouldn't venture in that direction, either but there are many therapies and spiritual practices or meditative practices that use one form of meditative visualization or another to access the inner self.

You said, "-I’m not good at visualisations in general. I am not a visual person at all, I find it practically impossible to ‘see’ anything in my head. So, I don’t know how to ‘see’ the scene on the tv. I struggled with this before. Is is important that I can visualise it in this way? Can I just think through different outcomes instead without seeing it like a film, or would this not ‘work’?"

.Not meaning to ignore your dissociative reaction (I totally get this....and safety is a huge part of staying grounded and not leaving the space you're in mentally, when triggered-well, that took lots of practice to not dissociate when headed to the neurologist....or take a medical test for me, too. I've also made doctor visits....messy, and changed doctors a number of times.....because that part of me said internally....No to that doctor-can't be trusted...leave him/her....but while in the doctors office....I always just froze. So I can relate totally.

I guess what I got from your thread initially, was that you were resistant to change.....with lots of reasons that made sense to you...... But in the end, IMHO our excuses are reasons not to change or not to try something that might be helpful.....they are an internal part of us that doesn't want to do it. My gut reaction was that you said you were anti- and gave lots of reasons. Most of my resistance to try something new is fear-based and that's the foundation for PTSD. Throughout my life, I have been battling a fearful part of myself...and after I worked with that fearful part of me, and went searching for strategies to stay grounded under stress, I gain more confidence and can now go to the doctor without fog or just totally disappearing into space.

Dealing with the protective part of me that kept me in fear and hypervigilant was a pivotal point in recovery to reducing dissociation almost completely and staying grounded.....and stopping the freezing response. Besides battling that protective part that is fearful saps my energy level and can keep me stuck, inside or when life was total shit, stuck in bed.......that's the part that thinks my bedroom is the safe place......and it has a strong needs to stay in control so I'm protected. When that part of me panics.....I go to my room and disappear mentally.....but having tools and grounding skills has been super helpful, along with a new T whose specialty is trauma and dissociative disorders. When I'm out away from the house somewhere, and I felt threatened (doesn't matter whether I really was or not)....I froze, too. Medical trauma is a real bummer........Learning new tools took a serious and active desire to change....and visualization is only one tool in my arsenal, journaling has been a huge help. This is change (and I'm skeptical and resistant with new things) but it has been the new things that have worked better than my old patterned responses, and trusting has helped, too ....and little successes, over time, built confidence. But it wouldn't have happened if I had listened to my "No part." I'd still be stuck. I guess that's my point.

Being blindsided is the pits, and I get that we can't always anticipate our brain taking over-but it doesn't have to be that way, I can now fight the fog....and get rid of it because I'm really aware that it is a hindrance to being safe. I think that the more tools we have in our arsenal to staying/getting grounded, the more prepared we can be for whatever comes......and the safer we'll feel in a potentially threatening situation.

Good luck with finding something that works for you......
 

Mach123

MyPTSD Pro
So, the piece I wrote the other day and was quite disgusted by/felt bad about: I shared it with my T today. I read it out 😱 It was tough to start but it got easier as I continued. I don't think it really hit the mark in terms of what the original purpose of the exercise was – to start to create new neural pathways to potentially give my brain more access to fight/flight responses rather than only freeze. But it still felt like something valuable to share so perhaps it just did whatever I needed most at the moment?! There was a lot in it to unpack. We both said the exercise had allowed me to tell my story and tap into my feelings in a safe way. And we focused quite a bit on my discomfort with becoming the perpetrator in the story. Which is also a theme of a recurring dream I have regularly, which I hate and wish I could stop. She said it's complex. I guess it is. I feel a bit overwhelmed with it now, post-session. But I think there was important stuff in the story for me to express and for her to know. I think we'll pick it up again next time.
I identify with this a lot. I’m doing the same basic thing, but it’s 4 or 5 years later. I have “a bit of discomfort” at a lot of things that happen in the story. “There’s a lot to unpack and it’s complex”. You can say that again. Lots of things happened when I was too young to form proper thoughts feelings emotions, but we keep going over it. There has been a lot of progress but mostly in terms of understanding it. I feel like there are lots of pathways that form if you have to deal with this at too early an age and they become permanent. It sounds like it went great for you. Sharing any of it especially at first is so difficult. It’s a huge accomplishment.
 
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