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Posts tagged “mental illness

I’m not okay, but that’s okay.

Still not doing well, but what else is new? The point of this project was to focus on the journey to my PhD. To talk about my education and to share the things I learn along the way so others can survive the journey themselves. This wasn’t a blog so much about me as it was about the things I’ve learned. Well one of the things I’ve learned is that despite my desire to remain anonymous and share purely my education progress, it is difficult, if not impossible, to seperate myself from my education. And right now I’m not okay, but that’s okay.

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Sometimes it rains

Brains are wild. I mean we have this misshapen jello blob stuck in our head and it somehow gives us the ability to be aware. We exist and think, feel, reason, all the stuff that makes us who we are. Brains are great, except when they aren’t. Depression is a horrible thing, which lives in the brain. You can’t “just be happy” anymore than someone could just be rich. Obviously when you live with chronic depression you got a dud of a brain. It may have to do with genetics, environmental factors, the way we were raised, or maybe it’s just horrible luck, but out of all the organs we can fix or replace, the brain is not one of them. You’re stuck as you and sometimes that sucks.

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Controlled chaos

Life has been pretty messy lately. Not just because of the pandemic, but that is definitely not helping anything right now. I’ve got papers due, I’m making a job change, and the wildest part is that my Co-PI may be leaving so I’m not even sure the job I’m changing to will still be there after the end of the year. That doesn’t include the outside factors, car issues, home issues, health issues. Those are all there too, but mostly right now I’m concerned about work related stuff and I realized that for the past few months it’s just been controlled chaos.

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The end of summer

It’s officially the start of the new school year. I’ve got a lot of anxiety headed into this year, but not for me, for everyone else. This year will be the first year that I’m completely finished with my degree requirements, now I just need to do my research so there’s no real need for me to be inside a packed classroom with others who may or may not be wearing masks or are vaccinated. So instead of being super depressing, let’s look at some of the highlights from this summer and what is just around the corner.

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A new school year

Well today marks the start of year three for the 365 days of academia project! It also means I’m now a fourth year PhD candidate. Since we’re going into another year I think today I’ll revisit why I started this project in the first place and basically just give everyone a reminder about what keeps me going. That way I can talk about all the anxious feelings I have heading into the new year and how I feel like I’m nowhere near where I should be.

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The promise of tomorrow

We’ve reached the end of the 365 days of academia project, year two! Last year I wrote in depth about my past and in particular my suicide attempt (here). At the time it felt like a good way to wrap up an entire year of basically pouring my heart and soul into this blog. Writing every day for a full year, I didn’t think I would do it and now I’ve done it two years in a row (minus when I was trying not to freeze to death!). Since last year we looked back, today we’ll talk about why I’m alive. The short answer is in the title of this post, the promise of tomorrow, but I think I can explain better.

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A look back

What a journey, two years ago exactly I decided to start what I called the 365 days of academia project. It was an ambitious goal to blog, every. single. day. for a full year. Then in what felt like no time at all the year was over. Having a daily chronicle of my thoughts and knowledge is just as much for me as it is for all of you. It’s nice building a little archive of my journey and tomorrow will be the official end of year two. A year feels like a lot of time, until you hit the end of it. Like they say, the hardest part of any journey is the first step. Well, we made it to the end of yet another chapter, so let’s talk about it.

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No tree survives alone in the forest

From season 2 of The OA

Humans are odd creatures. We have weird quarks that make us want to organize the world in ways that make no sense. In this case I’m talking about trees. We have this thing about planting trees in straight lines. I think it’s because it adds a touch of order to something so organic and wild. Being the tiny insignificant things we really are, we cling to that order as a little reminder that we are something special. We don’t often acknowledge the idea that plants are living and intelligent things because they act so differently than things we prescribe intelligence. Put bluntly, the things that act like us. In reality, from what we can tell, trees talk to each other (more) and they know that there is strength in family because the truth is, a tree falls alone.

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I’m still afraid to open my eyes

There are some events in life that will forever change you as a person. I’m not the person I was when I went into the military and I’m certainly not the person I would’ve been had I chose not to enlist. Some things just stick with you for your life. This isn’t a military story though, I don’t particularly like talking about those days. Instead this is yet another story of my transition to civilian life and how difficult it was to make the leap. How even now, the stability I’ve found is only just so.

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Midway through summer

Well in about a month and a half we’re going back to school! Wait… oh no. Okay the good news is I’ve accomplished a lot this summer! The bad news is I had no time for myself yet. That will change though, I plan on taking a few weeks for myself right before classes start back up again and since we’re at about the half way mark, I figured today we can look at what I’ve done and what I plan on doing. Today is where I force myself to take a damned break… eventually.

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The big brick wall

Art by the incredibly talented Lora Zombie (who will never read this, but her art really helped me)

No one likes to think about dying. Death is one of those things that is taboo because we’re alive and don’t need to worry about that sort of thing right now. There’s too much to live for to worry about death, so we tend to ignore the big brick wall we’re headed right for. No one lives forever and frankly I’m not sure that I would want to even if I could, but I can’t help but think about what happens when I get closer to that wall and what life will look like before the day I hit it.

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Recognizing the scars of abuse

I hate being right. We should of course start at the beginning, but the point is that I saw something today that made it very clear that a person close to me had been abused. No one else saw it, but I knew and afterwards a discussion in private made me realize that those scars aren’t always obvious to others who don’t know what they are seeing. But I knew, because I lived that too. I hate that there are so many of us out there, it makes me so fucking angry.

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The start of a busy week

Splitting your time between two labs should be pretty straightforward, on one hand my two PI’s have come to an agreement about how my time should be split and in a 40 hour work week, each should get roughly 20 hours of my time dedicated to the things they are working on. Easy, except it isn’t. Both are used to 40 hours to their lab and I’m not complaining, I enjoy being wanted, but as my Co-PI pointed out I have a lot going on and I need a break. Literally he told me to take a break, it’s bad enough that my Co-PI is telling me to go home.

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The need for support

Yesterday was a big deal for me. I’ve been to conferences, spoke at them, and done all of that, but this was the first time I was selected for an award. Moreover it was the first time since I started my PhD that I got to share some of the stuff I’m working on because of COVID and the transition from mechanical to neuro. Of course I invited everyone (here) to come say hi and I have to say you all did not disappoint! Then the moment passed, I shut off my camera, and had no one to share it with.

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And nothing was wrong with me…

Last summer I had some sort of autoimmune thing kick up. Frankly I’m not sure it was autoimmune or what the hell it was, but it hurt, left me feeling exhausted, and caused my hands, face, and elbows to form raised red spots that later peeled off (here). It was incredibly painful, made me question the minor breakouts of whatever it was that had been going on for a good ten years or so prior, and was a red flag that I was not okay. But the pandemic has been ongoing so getting attention from the VA, which is notoriously awful, had been difficult. Had been, I finally got the chance to see someone.

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Depression, a tale of hunger

Let’s pretend you have a pet that is constantly hungry. You can’t leave the house, you can’t sleep, you can’t even take a shower because anytime you want to do something for yourself this monster of a pet just won’t allow it to happen. It’s hungry. It wants to be fed and it wants to be fed NOW. Oh you’re exhausted, feed it. You want to do something for yourself? Too bad, feed it. It’s all consuming, it never sleeps, it never is satisfied, and you cannot get rid of it. Chronic depression is the pet you never asked for that demands your attention all day, every day.

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The importance of boundaries

Often times I hear stories about people who feel powerless doing a PhD and I can understand why. You’re given a position with some freedom, certainly more than you had as an undergraduate, but at the same time you have no real power. You’re an adult who is starting a career, but you have very little say in that career. The system is designed in such a way that you need to trust that your PI will take your feelings into consideration, but that doesn’t mean that they have to, are incentivized to, or frankly that they even will.

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On finishing a story

I am an avid reader. I absolutely love books and if I had more time I would probably read even more than I do. Despite being incredibly busy, I read daily and the amount I read varies wildly depending on how much time I have. Still, I manage to read an hour or so a day depending on how I’m feeling. So far this year I’ve read 19 books with a goal of hitting 30 by the end of the year. I would’ve gone for the whole book a week thing, but that felt like too much pressure for something I enjoy doing as a hobby. The problem with all that reading is inevitably stories end.

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On birth and family

Sometimes a topic just rattles around in my head until I get it out. Today is one of those days. A friend recently decided to cut ties with some toxic family and it was probably well overdue. I’m happy for them and I think they are making the right choice, but I know not everyone would see it that way. Sometimes people confuse the idea of family and romanticize it, but the truth of the matter is family isn’t the people who gave birth to you, it’s the people you choose.

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Surprise summer project!

I’m super excited! My Co-PI sent me an email late yesterday asking me if I had time to help with an experiment. I absolutely love my Co-PI’s lab and all the stuff they do (throw back to this post), so of course I wanted a project! Well I read over the proposal and what he wanted me to do and let’s just say that I am in for a fun summer. I cannot wait to get started, since I can’t go over the details about what I’ll be doing, I think I’ll talk about the consequences.

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Path planning

I’m an anxious person, I acknowledge this. PTSD, anxiety, depression, just a few of the things I live with and try to manage daily. To help keep me sane(ish), I have certain things I do. I like making to-do lists, having a well organized calendar, and I like to keep track of where I’ve been and where I’m going. That last one, that’s the topic for the day. With summer here things have changed. I am done with classes, I’m going to be teaching (here), I set my “lazy goals” (here), and it’s the time where I review my progress and plan for the next year. I figure others may benefit from doing something similar, so let’s go over how I do this.

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Presentation anxiety

Today is day two (of three) for the first conference of the year for me (more here). Presenting live is always a challenge and the difference between a good presentation and an okay presentation (any attempt is at least an okay attempt in my opinion) is a combination of planning, practicing, and luck. Of course there are things that can make this particularly difficult, for example one of the issues I have is aphasia, so while I can write normally (mostly), speaking can be a challenge. This is particularly apparent when I’m stressed, so presentations are a challenge.

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On saying “thank you”

The day to day pleasantries, I’m sure we go through the motions on a regular basis, please, thank you, it’s pretty engrained into most of us. At least I would hope, broad statements like that always have exceptions, but more often than not I would like to believe that the majority of people are decent enough to say thank you to someone who is doing something for them, even if it’s just their job. Sometimes simply saying thank you can have a huge impact to a person, even if you don’t expect it to.

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Half done, or half left?

With the end of the term, I’m dealing with a lot of complex emotions. Maybe it’s the fact that my funding is running out soon and I need to come up with options before I take (at best) a significant pay cut. It could be the fact that my research, the stuff I REALLY want to do seems to keep slipping further away from me. It may even be because I’m still, STILL trying to get my papers published and it’s just disheartening. Whatever the reason, I’m at the halfway point and I’m just not sure what I’m feeling exactly.

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Return of the lazy goals

It’s the end of the term and that means two things. The first is that I no longer have to worry about classes. Actually that’s going to be a permanent shift now that I’m done with the required classes for my degree (aww yeah!), so that’s handy. The second is, of course, taking extra time to focus on my mental health. Hence what I like to call my lazy goals, because let’s face it, goal setting just feels like the adult way to make sure you’re relaxing the way you really want to.

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The transition to summer

Well it’s official, my grades are in. Okay not “official” exactly, but they posted to the class website and I passed, obviously. In hindsight it’s funny because I was constantly worried about how well I would do in the class, especially with this project being worth so much, but I managed to get 100% in the class, so there’s that. Now I am statistics and it bends to my will! That would be a super power for sure, even though the class was a pain, I’m glad I took it. Now I make the slow transition to summer. It’s slow because it doesn’t happen all at once, but I’m excited.

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Major milestone 3 (of 3)

I’m exhausted. Let’s just get that out of the way. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much work to get done in my life. No, scratch that I know I’ve never had this much work to do in such little time in my life. My eyes feel like they are about to bleed and I’m afraid if I turn my head to the side my brain will leak out my ears. The end of the term is usually an academic marathon, but this is ridiculous. It’s just been deadlines left and right. Anyway today is the end of the next set of major milestones, it’s not the victory I was hoping for, but I’m hoping rest will not be too far behind.

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Major milestone 2 (of 3)

Can’t stop now. We’re at what I’m calling major milestone 2 of 3. Yep, yet another batch of stuff is due today. I’m not super thrilled with all this and I still have so much to do before Friday I want to scream. As with major milestone 1 (here), we’re going over what I have done (spoiler not enough), what I need to do (a whole lot), and the plan to get it finished (cry for a few hours). Let’s just dive into it since there isn’t a whole lot of time (for me anyway).

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One major milestone down

Yesterday was sort of a cliffhanger. Everything was due, not a lot was fully complete and I had not one, but two things that my main-PI needed to urgently respond to and he was MIA. I swear you couldn’t write something with more drama if you tried (at least for a PhD candidate). Never fear today I’m taking a brief respite from the work I need to get done today to share what happened yesterday. As the usual this week, it was a wild ride all the way to the end.

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On the prefrontal cortex and abuse

Adulthood is often thought of as the point where you’re done developing. Most states for example don’t allow anyone under 21 to drink because that was where we drew the line, but we allow people as young as 18 (here in the US) to join the military, vote, etc. You may think that this would be roughly where we stop developing and that would explain the somewhat artificial line we’ve drawn. The truth is much stranger than that and when it comes to the brain you don’t develop evenly.

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Mental health and time management

I don’t make the rules. As much as I like to think I’m in charge of my body and that I can will it to do what I want, I’m more of a passenger here. Sure I can make plans, that doesn’t mean my body will agree or that my brain will let me do all the things. It’s a very tense arrangement, I have life stuff to do because I have basic human needs and my body/brain tells me exactly where I can shove all that. Somehow I’ve managed and I figure why not share how I’ve developed work arounds for some of this, maybe it will help someone else in the same boat.

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Not so alone

Of all the odd twists and random occurrences that have happened in my life, I think yesterday was probably in the top ten, if not top five in my most unexpected events list. For those who don’t follow me on Twitter (you totally should FYI), I’ll explain and if you already know what I’m talking about then maybe just skip to the middle/end of the post because that would be for you specifically.

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When the exhaustion hits

Woke up this morning feeling less than stellar. This happens pretty regularly when I push myself for long periods of time. It’s not ideal, since I still have a bunch of stuff to do, but thankfully after living with my limits for so long I have a few back up strategies to help me get through it all. Ideally the school would offer accommodations to people like me, but to get them there is a lot of hoop jumping, enough that it doesn’t make it worth the effort. I suspect that’s the point.

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Mental health in academia

Five years, that’s the average time it takes to finish your PhD. Depending on who you are and how you think, that may be a blink of an eye or forever. I signed away four years of my life early on so five years and frankly the commitments leading up to it didn’t feel like that long at all. In a lot of ways getting a PhD is a lifetime of work and not long at all. I’ve hit the half way point roughly and I can see why so many people drop out of the program. It’s a lot.

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Cracks in the support system

Family, friends, relationships, these are just a few things that provide people with a safety net. How many people, if they lost their job, would be able to rely on family for support? Surely not everyone, but a good portion of people have others to help them if they were in need. Hell, here in the US we’ve made it almost necessary to rely on the kindness of others to crowd fund for healthcare needs. Like it or not, people need people, well most do anyway…

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The tightrope of mental health

My mental health is like walking on a tightrope, one slip and I’m done. Getting back up could take years for someone like me. The truth is, things are hard on the best of days. Getting out of bed, shaving, cutting my hair at regular intervals, things that would come easy to some require sheer force of will to accomplish. All the small choices through the day eat away at what little energy I have until I’m drained before breakfast. Yet here I am, pushing forward. It’s days like today remind me that for all the progress I’ve made, it’s still just a tightrope I walk.

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Not cool Robert Frost!

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” starts Frost in a poem that most people are at least familiar with, but typically is misnamed. The poem is typically identified as, “The Road Less Traveled”. This makes sense because the poem talks about the thought process behind why he chose the road less traveled and that it was worth it. That’s not the name of the poem though.

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Book chapter update

It feels like it’s been a while since we talked explicitly about the book chapter I am writing. A lot has happened since that first post, mostly edits and what not. Since the second round of edits was due yesterday (and I hit that goal, thank you!) it won’t hurt to do a bit of a refresh and remind everyone why I took on yet another thing on my long list of to-do tasks.

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Time management as a student

AHHHHH! There’s so much going on right now my head feels like it’s going to explode. Still, I am hopeful that today is the day that I check a few of those things off my list. Let me just say, the more I have to remember the more stressed out I get, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll forget something. The solution is simple, don’t try to remember anything, but that is problematic… right?

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Overloading in education

Get your PhD they said! It will be worth it they said. You’ll have a good time they said! They certainly say a lot don’t they? Well I say things shouldn’t be so freaking hard. I get that getting your PhD requires work and frankly, it should require work, I mean it’s a freaking PhD! That said, it shouldn’t be a four to six year gauntlet of torture to see how many times you break down mentally and physically. It doesn’t build character, or better PhD’s, but it is the system we work in.

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How do I relax?

Yes, once again I am trying to force myself to do nothing useful. Or rather to do useful things for myself instead of for others. My mental health has run ragged since the pandemic hit and it only got worse as the year progressed. Since winter time is particularly difficult for me to deal, I plan on some decompression time. I’ve talked about it before, but what’s the point of blogging daily if I can’t talk about it again?

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Happy Holidays!

If you read my blog, it’s no secret I celebrate a non-religious Christmas, but no matter what you celebrate I hope you and your loved ones have a happy holiday season. While the pandemic means that things may look different for a lot of us, we shouldn’t need a holiday to remind us to be kind and love one another. The holiday season may be a good time to remember that lesson, but it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate any time of the year. When this is all over we can mourn the loss of loved ones and celebrate being able to be close once again properly. For now, stay safe, stay vigilant, and hopefully the new year will bring some good changes.


A Video Game Christmas

Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house, the computer could be heard along with the clicking of a mouse. Sure it’s a cheesy way to start today’s post, but have you seen the rest of the blog? Without all the traditional holiday festivities due to COVID, I’m making a moderately sized dinner tomorrow. Since I don’t need to do a whole lot of prep, I’m free to find other activities for the day.

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The pandemic, holidays, and your mental health

When was the last time you thought about your own mental health? I mean really thought about how you’re doing right now, not the typical, “Huh, I think things are going to hell, but I’ll worry about it later” kind of thinking about things. Maybe it’s just me, but this time of year is hard to begin with, add to that the fact that we’re almost a full year into the pandemic and I would think this time of year would be overwhelming for the majority of people.

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Time off!

Today was the last experiment that I’ll be doing for the next couple of weeks and since classes are over it’s time to kick my feet up and relax. Okay, not really. There are still some odds and ends that I will probably be working on while I’m “taking a break,” but overall I’m excited to not have things I NEED to do. I’ll probably be doing some house stuff too, but hey at least its a change.

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In need of a break

Well that’s the post. Okay fine I’ll elaborate. It’s been a busy couple of weeks, if I’m honest it’s been a busy couple of months! Between all the writing, data collection, surgery, data analysis, code writing, etc, I haven’t had a chance to breathe! Maybe that’s why I feel dead, I haven’t had a moment to collect my thoughts.

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Disability and Education

Per the VA, I am 100% totally and permanently disabled. I wasn’t always given that designation, I had to fight for it, go through years (yes, years and in fact almost a decade) of medical tests and several diagnoses before they finally acknowledged it. Thinking about how hard it was to get to this point, reminded me of an important issue, disability and education. The system isn’t accessible, but don’t worry that’s by design.

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Why do we lack a safety net?

Art by the incredibly talented Lora Zombie

Ever have a day where you just don’t want to do anything, but need to do basically everything? Today is one of those days. Most of the time when the feeling hits I have at least a buffer that I can use to relax and not have to worry, but unfortunately that’s not the case this time. Why the hell we built a society like this is beyond me, but here we are.

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On anxiety

If you’re finding yourself in the high anxiety club, welcome! I’ve been a member since well before the pandemic. I’m sorry, but I’ve got some bad news for you. We are constantly being bombarded with reasons why we should be highly efficient and constantly producing something. That’s how we end up with articles claiming that we can turn anxiety into a super power. Which are complete garbage and are written by people who’ve obviously never lived with chronic anxiety.

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I’m writing a book chapter!

Well talk about spoilers am I right? The title gives away the surprise for sure, but we can talk details since that’s probably why you’re even reading this. I get to write a book chapter, as in a actual published book you could get at the library, book chapter. Not something technical either, something more personal. Don’t worry I’ll explain.

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