By | November 18, 2011 16 Comments

The consequences of stress

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)

One of the things I studied in school was the findings of researchers on the effects of stress in our lives. Two researchers who have become the “gold standard” with their attempts to quantify stress and some of the effects on our lives (sickness and accidents) are Holmes and Rahe, who developed the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. According to Wikipedia:

In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of over 5,000 medical patients as a way to determine whether stressful events might cause illnesses. Patients were asked to tally a list of 43 life events based on a relative score. A positive correlation of 0.118 was found between their life events and their illnesses.

Their results were published as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), known more commonly as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Subsequent validation has supported the links between stress and illness.

Rahe carried out a study in 1970 testing the reliability of the stress scale as a predictor of illness. The scale was given to 2,500 US sailors and they were asked to rate scores of “life events” over the previous six months. Over the next six months, detailed records were kept of the sailors’ health. There was a +0.118 correlation between stress scale scores and illness, which was sufficient to support the hypothesis of a link between life events and illness.

The stress scale correlated with visits to medical dispensaries, and the H&R stress scale’s scores also correlated independently with individuals dropping out of stressful underwater demolitions training due to medical problems.

Click on the wiki link to get the stress scale that was developed by these two researchers and rate yourself. A score of 300 or more puts you at risk of illness.

Fight or flight

One of the things that makes stress hormones detrimental to our bodies and immune systems is that the “fight or flight” hormone, adrenaline, redirects the blood supplies away from our digestive system into our muscles. This is beneficial if you are running away from a tiger or fighting a sword-wielding soldier, but in the long term, it deprives your body from needed nutrients and deprives your immune system of needed substances as well.

One of the experiments that Holmes and Rahe did was to put mice into cages with one group “stressed” by being electrically shocked at random times so that they never knew when they would get “hit” with a jolt. Then they injected both sets of mice with various bacteria and viruses, and guess what the results were? The “stressed” mice got sicker than the non-stressed mice did and they got sick more frequently and died. The non-stressed mice had healthy immune systems that fought off the bacteria injected into them.

Change and stress

We can’t always control what happens in our lives that are stressful to us, but what we can do is control some of the things in our lives that add stress.

Change of any kind, even “good change,” was discovered to be “stressful” to our minds and bodies. So one of the things we can do if we are stressed is to decrease the amount of voluntary change in our lives. Decreasing the number of voluntary changes may not sound like it would be a “big deal,” but sometimes it can be, if we have been dealing with a psychopathic abuser in our lives or someone who produces a great deal of drama.

One of the reasons that “no contact” with the psychopath is helpful is that it decreases the number of “injuries” and “upsets” that the psychopath is able to deliver to our minds. If we don’t read the email they send, we aren’t upset by it. Leveling out our emotions is one of the best ways to help us decrease stress, and not allowing the psychopath to introduce new drama into our lives is a great way to do this. Of course, just deleting the psychopath from our lives is a stress in itself, but at the same time, it will decrease the number of upsets in the net result.

New relationships in our lives are stressful, and sometimes it seems to us that if we have broken up in a bad relationship the best way to “get over” that bad relationship is to find a better one. Our friends may tell us after a few months that we need to “get back into the dating game,” it will help us heal. Actually, new relationships are very stressful to our systems, even new ones that appear to be with good people. So, waiting before seeking a new person in your life is most likely a good idea.

1,500 points

Sometimes in the breakup of a long-standing relationship with a psychopath, such as a divorce, there are also other things that are involuntary changes we are required to make. Some of these big changes can be moving house, decreased financial stability, changing jobs, kids changing schools, new neighbors, new friends, loss of old friends, new church, and loss of or moving away from support groups.

All of these stresses are painful and cumulative ”¦ they add up quickly toward reaching that number of 300 “points” on the Stress Inventory at which point you become more prone to accident and illness. After my first divorce, I had more than 1,500 points in a 1-year period. In the three years leading up to and after my late husband’s death, I accumulated another 1,200 points, including an 8-month-long relationship with a psychopathic suitor, as well as four life-threatening infections requiring hospitalizations and surgeries.

Sometimes in our chaotic lives in dealing with the psychopath, we don’t really see what is important and what we can do without. Our judgment is clouded. I noticed that I allowed things to upset me almost daily because I reverted to not enforcing boundaries with people close to me, and when they violated those boundaries, I became upset with myself, rather than placing the blame for what they did where it belonged, on their shoulders, not mine. When I finally became somewhat stronger, I learned that enforcing boundaries without feeling guilty was not only possible, but it decreased my own stress response to these things. As I grew stronger, I started hitting the “delete” button on some of these stressful relationships altogether, and the stress in my life automatically decreased.

Taking care of me

Spending time with myself, in quiet and reflection, also strengthened my peace and decreased my stress. I also was able to examine myself, and the things that I did, that were counterproductive to better health and stress reduction. One of those things was to get a complete physical medical check up, as well as therapy for the PTSD caused by the plane crash that killed my husband and exacerbated by the stress from dealing with the psychopaths and their dupes in my family and my life.

I also realized that I needed to alter some of the bad health habits I had. One was smoking cigarettes, and I worked on this and accomplished it. I didn’t allow myself to use “excuses” about why I needed to continue to smoke until I had less stress or any other “reason.” I made up my mind to quit and I did QUIT. I also realized that I had slowly gained weight even prior to the stopping smoking, so I had to deal with the consequences of that—the high blood pressure and high blood sugar, as well as other side effects. So, just as I had made a decision to quit the cigarettes, I made a positive decision about my diet and exercise and started working on that aspect of becoming more healthy.

Once I had decreased my stress levels, and increased my peace and tranquility levels, I was able to make some positive changes in my lifestyle, which then of course made me not only be more healthy but feel more healthy.

Coping with stress

From time to time I will still get “hit out of the blue” with something that triggers stress in my life. But now that I am not continually stressed, I am able to respond to the intermittent stressful situation in a more proactive  and healthy way, and not have that situation “knock me for a loop” that lasts for weeks or months.

A year ago in January, my 30-year-long relationship with my “best friend” came to an end unexpectedly, and while I am sad about that, it wasn’t the end of my world. I was able to process the grief over the loss of that important relationship and to move on.

The January prior to that one, my relationship with my oldest son came to a big twist in the road when he lied to me, and I realized that though he is not a psychopath, that I can’t trust him. That was a very painful event for me, but because I was not under additional stresses, I was able to focus on that very hurtful event, to grieve it in a normal and healthy way and move on with my life.

Keeping our stress levels that we can control as low as possible is important, and allows us to process those stresses we can’t control in a healthy way, without overloading our entire system psychically, emotionally, and mentally.

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Thank you Oxy for this important reminder. I remember the physical symptoms that I suffered because of stress. There really is a strong mind-body connection.

Ox Drover

Donna so are so right about that, I was reading yesterday about the “broken heart syndrome” which mimics a heart attack, or can actually BE a heart attack brought on by stress. The Mayo Clinic article said that women over 50 are many times more likely to suffer this than men or younger people, but while it usually resolves without any damage to the actual heart muscle, it CAN even cause “sudden death.”

There really is no separation of mind-body, WE ARE ONE, and what effects the mind, effects the body, and vice versa.

Thanks Oxy for these important insights. In my 27 yrs with my ex P there was a constant sharp edged stress about all his plans and schemes that affected us all, and in the final years a gut wrenching roller coaster of financial insecurity- down to food insecurity- while we lived in a 10 sq. ft. mansion, and drove fancy cars. The stress of not only the insecurity, but the cognitive dissonance of “keeping up appearances” and keeping his secrets was torture.

No amount of talking or urging could right the ship, and I finally realized that the constant unbearable stress was going to do me in. Strangly my ex P never showed any signs of stress himself- which I questioned repeatedly, and eventually , naively, put down to his ” strenght” and “stoicism” while under great pressure. Finally I got out.

That was when I discovered that 99 % of the stressful situtations over the years, were fabricated for my consumption- deliberately trying to break me with ongoing crisis. There never was any financial inseurity- or lack of resources to buy food etc. All of it was manufactured, to destroy me, and keep me to afraid to leave with nothing.

What I am getting at is that the sadistic P’s have an inate sense of the harm that stress imposes on their victims and they use it as a tool to break us down – so they can “own” us, in our diminished, freaked out state.

It has taken three years, but I am finally above water and holding my own, and the difference in my outlook, without all the constant stress, and the palpable sense of relaxation in my body is truly a gift. Long long dreamed of gift.

Thanks again for the post,


Oxy -thanks for this article. I truly believe in it 100% how stress can kill your body, since I have been experiencing it for years-since my early twenties.

My physician told me last year that stress, in addition to my female problems, was causing my weight gains and inability to lose. She actually believes that stress is what is causing my female problems-symptoms of menopause beginning at age 38 last year. They symptoms are getting worse. She told me that I needed to get rid of the stress in my life, and this is before what I went through this year with the job/financial situation.

Here are my remedies-first of all, adopting Remy, since animals are shown to be a huge stress reliever in life. Then I got a job and everything changed. I was really depressed for so long. I had to do something very big recently that I didn’t want to do. I filed for Chapter 13. I had two major creditors who were trying to sue me for unpaid bills and was facing a lien for my back taxes. My new job was at risk over this. I did it to save my job. I feel like the huge stack of weight that had been on me for years is gone. All my bills are going to be paid off over 5 years and no one can come after me anymore. Up until now I have been having a hard time staying off the smoking due to the stress-which actually is worse for your adrenal system-too much caffeine and smoking.

Today is my quit day. I am not buying anymore cigarettes anymore. I am all out of excuses for why I can’t do it-I have a good job, my financial stress is off and I don’t have to work myself to death anymore. I can do my three nights a week at work and enjoy the rest of the time off. My job allows me payroll deduction for the hospital fitness center and I am joining. An exercise program is what helped me quit smoking three years ago. I now have the funds to start eating healthy again-instead of buying what it cheapest. The day after Thanksgiving I am starting my clean eating plan and luckily Christmas falls on the weekend, so I can have a cheat meal that day.

I can’t believe how it feels to not have the stress. It actually causes a little bit of anxiety because it’s not there-kinda like the drama withdrawal I was having when I got rid of the drama. I think it is SO bizarre that I feel nervous over not having stress and drama, since I am so used to it. I am sitting here on my day off on the computer with my cat, doing laundry and freaking out a little bit because I am not “doing something productive” and I don’t know how to let down, have downtime and enjoy myself. Why does this freak me out so much?

Ox Drover

Anitasee and Lizzy, glad you are making steps too cut the stress in your lives….it takes TIME for the effects of the past stress to heal, and recent research is showing that even, then it does leave some changes in our systems, “scars,” for lack of a better word. Our brains literally CHANGE in response to PTSD from stress, either a single high level stress, or smaller stresses but continual….it makes changes in our bodies and minds.

Our local newspaper has a health article written by a noted local physician on Sundays and last week his article was that research has shown that people who unhappy (I would call that “stressed”) actually live shorter lives than people who are “happy.” DUH?! I could have told them that! LOL

I think it takes a while, Lizzy, to get out of the “drama” mind set, as we DO become used to it, and “things don’t feel right” when they are calm and peaceful. We are still hyper vigilant and expecting the other shoe to drop. It takes MONTHS/YEARS for our systems to adapt to the slower rate, the lack of drama and chaos. It isn’t just an over night thing.

After my chaotic/dramatic divorce I was devastated, my life crushed, and one day I was in the back yard in the summer using a water hose to clean off a chair I was redoing, and one of the kids came by and I squirted him with the hose, and he “counter attacked” and then the other kid came up and before long we were rolling on the ground “fighting” over the hose and squirting each other and LAUGGGGGGHING, and all of a sudden it hit me—WE WERE HAPPY AGAIN. While we “hadn’t been looking” happiness had sneaked up and caught us! It was an “ah ha!” moment.

I think when we keep chaos and stress out of our lives for the most part (the parts we can control) it allows happiness and peace and joy to “sneak” in and fill our lives again. It also allows us to accumulate strength to take care of those episodes of stress that are “normal” to living, and not let them kick us to the ground.

I think our emotional strengths to handle stress are like a bank account, we need to “budget” our strengths so that we don’t go bankrupt when we break a finger nail. We need to make “deposits” in the account and “save up” our strengths for the important needs in our lives, not “spend” our strengths on unnecessary drama!

Keep on taking care of yourselves! Put yourself first! There is a big pay off in the end! (((hugs)))


Oxy-you are right about the hypervigilance and the drama mindset in your second paragraph. I do keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I knew I had to file the Chapter 13 and I was so afraid I would lose my job over it-even though my attorney has 30 clients at my hospital, including quite a few nurses that are in bankruptcy and nothing ever happened with them. I think after my 90 day probationary period is over I may feel better about it.

I am hopefully going to start my volunteer work with the police department soon, so I can be around people that are like minded. I am so thrilled to have my job but there is a lot of negativity and complaining there. Some of the nurses were telling me who I had to be careful of, since they are spies for the manager. They think they have it so bad and they do eat each other up-nurses. It took me all of 6 shifts to get aggravated.

I don’t say anything in response to what they say. All I can think of is-ya’ll haven’t been out of work for 8 months and almost lost everything. I think they need to suck it up and get over it. I am going to do everything I can to stay positive amongst their attitudes. For the time being I have to just take deep breaths and continuously tell myself to calm down.

Ox Drover

Lizzy, I am on a blog for nurses where research is done and talked about, and until I started reading some of the research, ACTUAL RESEARCH I thought that I was the one who THOUGHT NURSES ATE THEIR YOUNG, but bullying IS RIFE AMONG NURSES and it is not just me thinking that, it is proven by research. More so than other professions. I’m not sure just why, but could make some guesses about my observations that there are a high percentage of nurses who are borderline personality disorder and/or psychopaths.

Plus, hospital administration in an effort to curry favor with doctors and cut expenses allow physicians to abuse nurses, and cut the number of nurses employed to the bare bones. That is why I think so many nurses are opting out of hospital bedside work and get out of the hospitals as quickly as they can after working a year or two post graduation for experience.

The only advice I can give you is to not get too friendly with these people who are setting up the “triangles” and just be “sweetsie” to them, make “nicie” with them but DO NOT TRUST THEM OR TRY TO ACTUALLY MAKE ANY REAL FRIENDS AMONG THEM….it is the “game you have to play” in order to not become a target for their bullying, or allow them to suck you into their bully games.

Don’t share with them anything about your hopes, dreams or desires….or your personal life. Talk about “neutral” things like your cat or trying to quit smoking, don’t even share with them what you do outside of work. I used to call it “saying NOTHING in 10,000 words or more” it is a form of the “boring gray rock” make yourself boring to them, play dumb and stoooopid socially, just bore them to death but do your job well, so you can stay out of their target zone. Good luck. Oh, and if you are upset by anything for Goodness sakes, don’t show it. NEVER LET EM SEE YOU BLEED.

Oxy, I love the “bank account” easy one to remember and refer to mentally. I am borrowing it. : )

“I think our emotional strengths to handle stress are like a bank account, we need to “budget” our strengths so that we don’t go bankrupt when we break a finger nail. We need to make “deposits” in the account and “save up” our strengths for the important needs in our lives, not “spend” our strengths on unnecessary drama!” ( Oxy says)

I stopped my self several times in the thre years since the split from P-thinking- ” are you creating your own drama here? are you so addicted that you are now continuing his work for him?” And the answer on some level was definitely YES.

I was setting myself up to be under unbearable pressure – trying to do more than I could possibly do- (hang on to the farm, literally) which of course mimicked the strees I had been under for years. But without the P to make me doubt myself, and gaslight, there was still a new and underlying sense of calm, of this too shall pass, of having faith in myself, and being in the now…that kind of smoothed out and balanced the very real stress I was under.

Even in the dead of February last year, unable to afford to heat the house except to the barest minimum etc, there was a sense of deep calm within me- like – this does not matter – it is small potatoes- you are such a lucky girl- kind of mantra in my head. I would go to sleep joyous most nights.

This comes, I believe from finally realizing that I now have “control” that I am in charge- and I care about myself and my happiness- I can trust me.

Sort of like having been on a runaway train, barrelling down a twisty windy path, waaay to fast, and then finally being given the conductors job, applying the brakes, and so on.

Best to all,

Ox Drover

Dear Anitasee,

I can’t remember where I came up with the “bank account” analogy I’m sure it wasn’t original, but it is a good one and you are welcome to borrow it.

I’m on my way out of town for the Holiday, so don’t have time to completely answer your post, but good for you! Take care of YOU and make frequent DEPOSITS into your account by being good to yourself, by stopping along the road and smelling the roses.

We may not live in a botanical garden of roses, but there are still a few flowers along our paths even if the paths are stony and I think stopping to appreciate those blessings and beauties in our lives helps fill up our bank accounts that help us survive the really really REALLY stressful times that we don’t have control over.

(((hugs))) and blessings for a great TG day!

Oxy, I just went to a doctor here in Germany with a list. I went down my thorough list, because, once and for all, I am going to knock out my health problems. I have painful scoliosis, vision problems that started in 2008 (when the sociopath first entered my life…hmmm), symptoms of possible type 2 diabetes, a fungal overgrowth on my thumb, and possibly parasites (again). I went down the list with her (after informing her that I was there for MANY reasons). Then at the end I told her I need to see a specialist for victims of sociopaths. It was a little funny, because when she said, “Why are you here?” I told her to be patient please because I had about 5 years of neglected medical issues that I was going to start solving all at this moment.

Would you believe that I walked out of there within 30 minutes with 2 medicine prescriptions and 3 recommendations to see specialists?

I love this post of yours. As stress creates health issues, health issues create more stress. I’m trying very hard to overcome my PTSD from the spath by starting with my neglected body. Finally. (Gotta love Germany’s social health system btw).

And….you are right….I am in a new relationship. Whoops. He’s a great guy, but my PTSD is going apeshit with this. He’s reading “The Sociopath Next Door” and then he will read “Women Who Love Psychopaths” because he wants to stop “triggering” me. At least if he reads up on some things, he may eventually understand that everything from the color of his hair to his gender can upset the delicate balance. It’s like being an autistic that is overly sensitive to sound, then playing a song for them and asking which instrument is causing them pain. Well…..hmmm……how about all of them? He has helped me in many ways because he does repeatedly re-wire the brainwashed brain my ex left me with. I expect a “spath” response and when I don’t get that, I am relieved to find that the whole world isn’t like that….which eases my PTSD. So, there’s two sides to this.


I just counted all the scores of the coalition of the several events culminating this summer : knee operation, break-up with the spath, losing the school, principal decimating me in an unfair review, the tourleading stress along with having a tourist along intimidating me and making me feel watched for mistakes every minute of the day and night, paying off the loan and financial resources, and then unemployment… Most of that in 3 months time…. adds up to a whopping 246 points on the stress scale, and that leaves out the post traumatic stress, which isn’t mentioned in the scale.

Those routines and making them my foremost priority has helped the most. But I was only able to do that after the peace and quiet of being at home for 2 months.

Elizabeth… it’s true… pets reduce stress levels… the furrier, the softer, the easier to cuddle… the more they help ease stress. … Sigh… Darwin come here so I can cuddle you!

Ox Drover

Darwin, the recommendation is that in order to decrease your stress level, you decrease the amount of changes (even positive changes if you can) in your life….and over a THREE YEAR period your score should go below 150 (that is as high as you want it to possibly be.) Then keep it below 150.

Panther, new relationships are stressful, which is one reason that I recommend that people delay starting new relationships for from 18 to 36 months (minimum) after a break up or a death of a spouse as the grieving for the past relationship needs to be pretty far along before a new relationship gets started. If the stress level is pretty high with other things as well as the break up, even more time might be necessary than 36 months.l I think at this point 7 + years after my husband’s death I am at a point where I could be logical enough and calm enough that if the right guy came along I might be ready for a relationship. I had 5 years of unremitting stress though, as well as the loss of my husband. So timing is very individual. Many times when people jump into a relationship too soon, it ends up being a poor choice for a relationship, just adding more stress. But each of us must make up our own mind about when we are ready for another relationship.


There are two major changes in my life ahead: moving to a new apartment and my studies… But I have until summer to plan and prepare for the move. And for my studies this semester I only have to do 1 exam and 1 project. In general it feels as if I’m chosing my responsibilities more carefully at the moment. My biggest responsibility and priority is towards myself at the moment: budget, building routines, the studies. And now that I work as an interim teacher, I’m starting to see that as a benefit. It does not make for the best stabiity, but the pressure is off my performance. Not that I don’t want to do my job well, but the whole statuary games don’t apply to me, no performance evaluation, no watchdog, etc… And it liberates me to be more myself in class, and I notice I’m starting to remedy automatically some issues I used to have now. It helps me to let me go of my perfectionism bor out of fear, which only came true last year anyway.

To me routines and less commitments seem to do the trick to stop any increase of stress than what I had, and I can feel how it is slowly decreasing.



I just read your post about your health issues. I had a few thoughts, for what they’re worth.

Scoliosis: Did you happen to have braces on your teeth when you were younger? I heard from a very well-respected massage mentor that dentists could put on braces while some of the jaw muscles are extended and the others are flexed, leaving an imbalance. This can translate down the spine, and over time, cause scoliosis. If you happen to have this, craniosacral therapy can help.

Parasites and Type 2 Diabetes: These are curable through diet. There is an anti-parasite diet that you do for 5 days that cleanses your system. It involves no sugar, starches, or processed foods – it is very strict. The only fruits you can have are grapefruit and lemon. I cannot remember the name of the book, but if you’re interested, I’ll try to find out. Not surprisingly, cutting out starches, processed foods, refined sugar, etc. and sticking to a mostly paleo diet can also help insulin levels normalize. The book I read that got me started was “Breaking the Viscious Cycle” by Elaine Gotschall. It is mostly about intestinal health. She gives a diet (with good recipes) for preventing and curing colitis, celiac disease, diverticulitis, Krohn’s Syndrome, and other intestinal ills. This diet can also be given to autistic patients because there has been shown to be a direct corrolation between autism and poor diet. I have been on this diet for nearly a year, and physically, I feel great.

Fungus: Candida is a common affliction and many people have it unknowingly. It can be caused by molds in foods or just a high intake of sugar and refined foods. There is a special candida-free diet that involves avoiding all foods with mold (peanuts in shells, for instance). It is also a very strict diet.

I also have herbal recipes for kidney cleanse and liver cleanse. Anyone who is prone to kidney stones would benefit from the kidney cleanse. They say that if you do the kidney cleanse, you can actually pee out the preformed kidney stones before they can hurt you. The liver cleanse is good for anyone who has been on ongoing medications such as antidepressants that can affect the liver. Both cleanses can be found in the book, “A Cure For All Diseases” by Dr. Hulda Clark. I have not personally done either of these cleanses but I plan to next year.

Sorry for the long post and all the information – just wanted to share what I’ve learned about all of the health issues you mentioned.

I totally applaud you for taking your health back, Panther! What a great way to rebuild your life. And kudos on the new healthy relationship. Sounds like a great guy who is willing to read those books and help you with your PTSD.

PTSD: Cellular Release Therapy (which I have received) is VERY effective for PTSD, by the way. 🙂

I thought as always,Oxy wrote an excellent and timeless article;one that many of us here have not yet had the chance to read.We’ve often heard that “stress can kill”…literally!

I haven’t added up my points on the stress scale,but having lived YEARS under stress so ‘thick’,it felt like you could cut it with a knife!It’s no wonder that I have fibromyalgia….and it’s actually a wonder that I’m still walking!After learning alot about why spaths do the things they do,I’m sure he was deliberately increasing the stressload to see how long it would take for me to “drop”.It was a game to him all along!And when this ‘birdie’ didn’t drop like she was supposed to,he got real depressed!


Oxy, having a background in biology I have been doing a lot of research regarding stress, its affects, as well as neuroplasticity(permanently altering and re-wiring thought patterns in your brain) I just got back from vacation and was telling a group of friends the affects that stress had on me in SUCH a short time(I was only with him for 3.5 years) I gained about 20 pounds, stop working out entirely, started drinking at LEAST a bottle of wine a day, and slept terribly. I felt AWEFUL!! Being about 3 months out of the relationship(still had had some contact which I regret) but I am finally making changes. Cut my drinking WAY down because I used to swing by the wine store ANY and EVERY time we had a fight…which became everyday. I have started to go to bed early and I am ALMOST sleeping through the night(I’m also getting old so that may be a factor lol)

Your point about how NC being hard but allows there to be WAY LESS blowout rush of negativity is really true….I am beginning to handle the fewer and fewer pains of the NC and I’m often distracted from that rather then if he were to “slime” me with something if we had contact.

Thanks for the post!

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