mental health

World Mental Health Day 2017

In true Catherine fashion, this is possibly a bit too honest and probably uncomfortably personal for some people.

Yesterday, I sat in my OBGYN’s office and expressed that because of my Bipolar disorder and my clotting disorder, I probably don’t want to have biological children.   “More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the illness or with unipolar major depression, indicating that the disease has a heritable component (National Institute of Mental Health).”  The clotting disorder, Factor V Leiden, is a genetic disorder, and would likely be passed down to any of my future potential offspring.  Though the clotting disorder is not a mental health disorder, it has direct effects on my mental health as it causes anxiety and panic attacks and even required the use of EMDR, a type of trauma therapy, as suggested by a therapist in my IOP because of my “PTSD like symptoms” surrounding my Pulmonary Embolism.

My doctor agreed that the clotting disorder would make any future pregnancy incredibly high risk but told me that since she loves me so much, she wouldn’t mind too much if I passed on the bipolar disorder.  I smiled and said thank you (and I was honestly somewhat flattered that my doctor thinks so highly of me), but what I wanted to say and perhaps should have said was, “spoken like someone who doesn’t have Bipolar Disorder.”  “Bipolar Disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year (National Institute of Mental Health).”  It, “results in 9.2 years reduction in expected life span, and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder completes suicide (National Institute of Mental Health).”  I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy, let alone an unsuspecting child.

Growing up, I always thought I would be a mother someday and there is the chance that I’ll eventually become someone’s step-mother or adoptive-mother, but I feel that it would be irresponsible, selfish, and somewhat cruel to insist on having my own children.  Population problems aside, how heartless would I have to be to knowingly put someone else through the hell that I have been through?  To subject them not only to a horribly debilitating mental illness that results in over 9 years reduced lifespan and possibly ends in suicide, but a genetic disease that can cause clots, Pulmonary Embolisms, Strokes, or even death.

The prospect of not having children of my own is a sad and difficult one, but it  seems like the right choice for me, given all of my health problems.  Today, on World Mental Health Day 2017, I urge you to think about the far reach mental illness has.  It not only affects how people function, but also important choices they must make about their lives and the lives of loved ones.  Mental illness is no joke and, honestly, I’m sick and tired of hearing it treated as one.  I’m tired of ableist language and of people referring to people or things as “crazy” when they really mean things like “unbelievable”, “surprising,” “angry”, “scary”, or “bad.”  I myself am guilty of using this type of language and am working on it, making an effort not to use it anymore.

If you think you or someone you know has Bipolar Disorder, I urge you to utilize the Mood Disorder Questionnaire and talk about it with your primary care physician or another health care professional.  You can find tests for Bipolar Disorder and other types of mental health disorders here.

If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .

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Books

September 1, 2017

*Nineteen Years Later*

Today is Harry Potter Epilogue Day.  It’s the date, nineteen years from the Battle of Hogwarts, when Albus Severus will board the Hogwarts Express for the first time, stressing out about what house he will be placed in.  It’s the date that Ron and Harry see Scorpius Malfoy for the first time.  It’s the date we find out that Harry is happily married to Ginny with three children and Ron and Hermione are married with two children.  It’s the date we found out “All was well.”

In honor of epilogue day, I’m going to talk yet again about what Harry Potter has meant to me over the years.  It’s so much more than a book and movie series to me and many people don’t understand my passion for it.  I received the first three books as a gift from my parents on Christmas Day during my fifth grade year.  I accidentally picked up the second book first and was very confused, but figured out within the first few pages what I had done.  I read all three books in about two days and then I just had to keep re-reading them because the fourth book wouldn’t come out until July 8, 2000, the summer between fifth and sixth grade.

My friends and I would pretend to be Ron, Harry, and Hermione and run around with sticks for wands.  I received my copy of Goblet of Fire in the mail and couldn’t put it down, barely sleeping and taking it to summer camp with me during the day until I finished it.  I had to wait almost three years for the fifth book, which came out the summer after 8th grade.  I started suffering from depression in seventh grade, so the books got dark around the time my life did.

In high school, there were a couple of times when I was suicidal, but decided not to kill myself because I had to know how Harry Potter ended (and I couldn’t leave my family behind, but Harry Potter was a big factor, too).  J.K. Rowling quite literally saved my life with the books she wrote.  Aside from needing to know how the books would end, the books gave me hope.  More than being stories about magic, they are stories about love, hope, family, friendship, courage, loyalty and good conquering evil.  The characters may be fictional, but they are like old friends to me.  J

.K. Rowling taught me that Dementors don’t have to be the end and that  I can survive hard feelings.  She created the Dementors as an allegory for depression and I can’t think of a better one in any literature I’ve read.  They suck all of the happiness away and make you feel as though you’ll never be cheerful again, which is exactly what depression does to me.

When I find myself feeling sad or lonely, watching or reading Harry Potter always makes me feel better about my life, even if it’s just temporary.  So Happy Epilogue Day.  I hope the Harry Potter series can bring joy and peace to others the way it does for me.  I’m off to watch some Harry Potter!

mental health

Hospitalization #2

I don’t typically find it difficult to write, but over the past week I’ve struggled and struggled with how to write this post.  I try to be pretty open about my experiences with bipolar disorder in the hopes that it will help someone else with a mental illness to feel like it’s okay to talk about it or reach out for help.  For a refresher on Bipolar Disorder, please click here.

Days since last hospitalization: 6.

You may or may not know that I very recently spent quite a bit of time in the hospital.  11 days to be precise.  The time leading up to my hospitalization is a bit of a blur.  I’m not sure if I have things in the right order or not, but I’ll do my best.

I was depressed from October to the end of May.  My doctor and I were considering doing ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy (Shock Treatments) as we had tried most available medications and they didn’t seem to be helping.  In the end of May or beginning of June, the doctor put me on a medication called Vraylar that’s supposed to be particularly good for mixed episodes, which I have sometimes (Those are where you experience the symptoms of depression and mania at the same time and are considered the most dangerous time for people who have them because you may have suicidal thoughts AND the energy to carry out any plan you create).  He thought it may help with the depression and it did.  However, my spending started increasing and I mentioned to my doctor that I thought I was becoming manic.  I also expressed to him that I felt like the number of medications I was on was too much, particularly since they didn’t seem to be working.  He continued to add medications.  He said he didn’t want to start removing medications while I was manic.

I ended up in the ER on Monday, August 31st because I was rapid cycling between depression and mania and wasn’t sleeping well.  Really, some nights/days I was sleeping too well and some nights I was sleeping barely if at all.  I slept for most of three and a half days then was awake for 36 hours then slept for something like 16 or 18 hours then only slept for 2 hours the next few nights then sometimes wasn’t able to sleep at all then slept all night and all day again.  While I was awake I was talking to some of my friends a lot more and a lot more intensely than usual.  My spending was getting out of control.  Sometimes when I wasn’t able to sleep I would just lie awake in bed thinking about what a failure I felt like I was.  I was rapid cycling between depression and mania.

I had tried calling my doctor’s office for 45 minutes that Monday and no one answered.  I have given up on leaving messages there because they never return them.  I called my therapist and she suggested that I drive over to the psychiatrist’s office, explain to the receptionist what was happening, and ask to be seen.    The receptionist offered me an appointment on Wednesday when the doctor had a cancellation.  48 hours later was the earliest I could be seen.

At the ER, they asked me if I wanted to be admitted to the behavioral health unit.  I declined as I was still hoping things could be managed at home and since I wasn’t having any thoughts about hurting myself or anyone else.  They gave me a prescription for Lunesta and sent me home.  That first night, I took the Lunesta and fell right to sleep.  The second night, I took the Lunesta and still only slept for about two hours.  I think it was that day that I started packing for an inpatient stay.  I hallucinated on a couple of occasions, thinking that my Mom had called my name when she hadn’t and feeling like there were bugs crawling all over me.

On Friday, August 4, I ended up in the ER again.  This time, I was all packed and ready to be admitted.  I thankfully never ended up having thoughts of harming myself or anyone else, but all of the other symptoms had become too much to manage on my own.  I spent 11 days in the hospital trying to regulate my mood and my sleep.  While my mood is much more stable, I am a little on the depressed side now.  I also only got one good night of sleep the entire time I was in the hospital.  Since I’ve been home, I’ve gotten a few nights of good sleep but it’s still pretty hit or miss even with the new sleeping medications I am taking.  I just got out this past Monday.  The doctors took me off of about half of my psychiatric drugs, which I’m very very pleased about.  One of the medications I’m taking to help me sleep could potentially help with the depression but it may take a few weeks to work.  I feel clearer, more grounded, and generally better.  I will start an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) next Tuesday.  An IOP is where you go to group counseling three days a week for three hours or so.  I will probably do that for about six weeks.

I have to say, I’m really really grateful to Park Ridge Women’s Hope Unit and the amazing nurses and doctors there.  I don’t know where I would be without them.  This is twice they have helped me in times of desperate need and they are definitely my first choice of hospital to go to.  It’s an all women unit that only has eleven single rooms, the food is good, and the groups they have are meaningful and helpful.

Mom and Dad took excellent care of River for me while I was gone and she even got to come to the hospital and visit me with them every chance they got since she is a fully trained service dog.  It was tremendously tremendously helpful to see the three of them so often and to know that they were all taking good care of each other.  I cannot express the gratitude I feel for my parents for always loving me, supporting me, and helping me.  I have no idea what I would do if they weren’t kind enough to let me live with them.

Thank you so much to all of you for reading this and for your support.  I appreciate it more than you could possibly know.  ❤

 

 

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm or harming someone else, please call 911, go to the nearest Emergency Room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

Adventure

Update

So, I wrote a whole long blog post and it somehow accidentaly got deleted.  Here are the main points:

  • I got a job!  I’m teaching ESL to Chinese students online through VIPKid.  You must have a Bachelor’s Degree or an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Development and 1 year experience with children.  They prefer that it’s in the classroom, but they’ll accept tutoring, babysitting, and the like.  If you’re interested, please let me know and I’ll give you more info!  I’d really appreciate it if you use my referral link if you decide to apply:  https://t.vipkid.com.cn/?refereeId=5980771  .  My first class was actually really rough because the kid didn’t speak any English and just kept repeating everything I said.  I have another class this Sunday though and I have faith that it will be better and that I’ll get better with each class that passes.
  • I have been doing a terrible job on my TBR pile for the summer.  I read through part-way through the fifth Outlander book then decided to re-read The Handmaid’s Tale even though I had just read it about a month ago.  It’s just so good!  I had a blog post about it, but I took it down as I am re-writing it along with my re-read.
  • I was depressed for seven months, then I started to feel better, but it was apparently TOO better because I became manic.  Now I’m rapid cycling which means one day (or for a couple days) I sleep all day, then the next day (or next couple of days) I have a ton of extra energy and want to do everything and spend all the money I don’t have.  My doctor put me on lithium, which brings the total psychiatric drug count up to 8 and the count of medications that can cause weight gain up to 6-7.  I get really sad when I look at pictures of me from when I was thinner and think about how I thought I was too fat and unattractive then.  Sad because I’ll probably never be that thin again and sad because I let someone make me feel gross and disgusting when I was beautiful.
  • Here are some upcoming things I’m excited about:
         SEPTEMBER- ED SHEERAN WITH MY DAD!!
         SEPTEMBER- Dad’s 20 mile swim
         SEPTEMBER- My cousin, Malea’s wedding!
         OCTOBER- Possible beach trip with my parents and my pup
         NOVEMBER- LADY GAGA WITH TIFFANY!!!
Adventure

Factor V Leiden and DVTs

You may recall that in 2015, I had quite an exciting week when I had a small pulmonary embolism and ended up in the hospital via a very exciting  terrifying ambulance ride.  They found a large blood clot in my left leg that day by ultrasound.  A few months later, after I got off of coumadin, I was tested for a variety of clotting disorders and they found that I have Factor V Leiden, a mutation of one of the clotting factors in the blood that increases your chance of developing clots.  You can be heterozygous (one copy of the gene) or homozygous (two copies of the gene).  Homozygous is supposed to be the more dangerous of the two.  I am heterozygous.

I went on a hike recently and my legs were killing me.  I assumed it was just because I was extremely extremely out of shape, but over the past few weeks my legs have really hurt and been swollen.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the car recently (even though I get out to walk every hour or hour and a half) and I became worried that I may have another blood clot, particularly a few nights ago when the pain was so bad that I had to take a leftover pain pill from the last time I had a clot.  I expressed this concern to my dear friend, Monica, and she urged me to go to the doctor.  Early the next morning, I sent a message to my doctor via our patient portal explaining the situation and saying that I thought I needed an ultrasound.  She replied as soon as the office opened saying that I should be there at 10:50 for an ultrasound and that I would have an appointment with her immediately after.

The ultrasound took about an hour as they did both of my legs.  River was very well behaved.  She got up once from her spot but came over to lay by me and didn’t move again until the ultrasound was over.  I expressed concern to the ultrasound technician when she hovered over a specific spot for a very long time, but she assured me she just wanted to be thorough.  After the ultrasound, I went back to the waiting room and was called in by my doctor’s nurse shortly thereafter.  She asked me some questions and left to scan in a copy of the genetic testing I had done (it tells you which medications are best for you and which to avoid) to my file.  She left a sheet of paper behind, which I am sure she didn’t mean to do.  I took a picture of it.

clots

The doctor came in and told me that the results were inconclusive for a DVT but that it was likely that I had one and that the ultrasound technician had sent my ultrasound to the radiologist with a request for a rush read on it.  My doctor wrote me prescriptions for Lovenox and Coumadin but told me to wait to get them filled until I heard for sure whether or not I had a clot.  She told me it was a different dosage of Lovenox from the last time I had a clot and that the pharmacy may not have it on hand and I may have to go to another pharmacy.

I left, much calmer than I thought I would be after seeing on a sheet of paper that I had multiple potential clots, and went straight to the pharmacy.  I figured that if they were going to need to order the Lovenox and Coumadin, it would be best if I went ahead and had them filled.  I reasoned that I could always not pick them up and tell the pharmacy I didn’t need them anymore if I didn’t have a clot.  The pharmacy didn’t have the medication but they ordered it and said it would be in the next morning.  The nurse called while I was still at the pharmacy waiting for my pain medication the doctor had given me and said they had found a clot in the low part of my right leg.  There was nothing I could do about it at the moment, so I went home and propped my legs up, as I had been told to do.

When I got home, I realized I had a lot of questions about my clot that hadn’t been answered.  Where exactly was it?  How big was it?  Did it block the vein completely or only part of the way?  I sent these questions to my doctor via the patient portal and this was her response:

Nonoccluisive clot in femoral vein on right; non occlusive clot in popliteal vein on right; occlusive clot of peroneal vein on right and non occlusive clot of left femoral vein. non occlusive means the vessel is not totally blocked that blood is getting past the clot So there are multiple clots in the right leg and “only” one in the left. It is fairly extensive! They do not comment on the old clot so I suspect it has reabsorbed. No wonder you are hurting. Try to take it easy and keep legs elevated. No strenuous activity. Don’t do much at all for the next few days.

So while the nurse told me I had one clot, I actually have FOUR clots and one of them is blocking the whole vein.  One clot would be scary.  Four is terrifying.  Until the blood thinners are in my system at the correct level, I am at risk of part of any of the clots breaking off and going to my lungs (causing a pulmonary embolism) or heart, or brain.  For the next 2-6 days I will be very anxious.  I have no doubt I’ll have at least one panic attack, which will feel like a pulmonary embolism, which will be terrifying.  I went to the pharmacy yesterday morning, picked up the Lovenox, and immediately gave myself the shot in my stomach in my car, not wanting to wait a single second more.  I give myself a shot of the Lovenox every twelve hours and I started the Coumadin last night.  My INR level will be checked on Wednesday.  That’s how they measure if there’s enough Coumadin in my system or not.

I messaged my doctor today asking for a referral to a hematologist.  She said there wasn’t really any point in going as I’ll now be on Coumadin for life and it’s not as though they can take me off of it to do any testing, but she agreed to make the referral since it would make me more comfortable.  I have questions that I want to ask the hematologist and I imagine that my parents do as well.  Plus almost everyone in my Facebook Factor V Leiden Support Group has a hematologist, so it seems like I should have one, too.

Anyways, that’s what’s going on with me!

mental health

The Intervention Letter Part 2

Lately, I’ve been feeling like a failure.  Like someone who is unsuccessful and doesn’t give back to the community.  Like someone who will never be a productive member of society.  Like my life is worthless.  Like I was a fraud for going to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteers event because I only completed 5 months of service.  I’ve felt hopeless, helpless, lonely, and ashamed.  You guys seemed to really like my last Intervention Letter, so I’ve decided to write another one for how I’m currently feeling.

The Intervention Letter
The quote on the right says, “We have done the impossible and that makes us mighty.”
-Captain Malcolm Reynolds

The Intervention Letter (Assignment from Park Ridge IOP)

“The script each person reads during a family intervention is called the intervention letter.  We are going to be writing an intervention letter to ourselves regarding our negative core beliefs.

Ideally, you want your letter to:

  1. Communicate genuine love and compassion for yourself, and to convey that you only want to see yourself get better
  2. Help yourself realize the severity of the impact of the core belief on daily life
  3. Help yourself to understand that your belief and its daily self-talk manifestations and behavioral impact cause hurt and pain
  4. Clearly express commitment to accept change through challenging negative core beliefs and living as if you believed new balanced beliefs about yourself/others/world
  5. Clearly express the consequences of not adjusting beliefs and living with old patterns of negative thinking”

 

Dear Catherine,
Look at you, out in the world doing things even though you’re depressed and all you want to do is stay in bed and watch Netflix all day every day!  You took two memoir writing classes, you’re taking a sewing class, you’ve gone bowling and out for tea and to numerous movies, even some where you had to sit by people you didn’t know.  You’ve somewhat kept up with your blog, you’re doing a podcast and blog with Joanne about mental health that is helping who knows how many people, and you try your very hardest to be there for your friends when they need you.  You submitted an essay you wrote to eleven different publications.  Even though you haven’t gotten published yet, you will one day.  You are courageous, strong, intelligent, and giving.  You write well and you take good care of River.  Even the vet said you’re a good dog mom.  You make a conscious choice every day to do Opposite Action- getting out of bed and going and doing things even though you want to hide away from the world and everyone in it.

Your core belief that you are a failure is affecting everything in your life.  It changes the way you view yourself, others, and the world around you.  You are constantly comparing yourself to other people’s success even though their definitions of success may be very different from what your definition of success needs to be right now because of your illness.  You are depressed.  You have been depressed for seven months.  You need to cut yourself some slack.  It is not feasible or realistic right now to expect yourself to have a job or own a home or buy a new car.  It is not fair to you to judge yourself based on where the lives of people you love are or are going.  You have different needs from them right now.

Your job is to keep getting out of the bed, day after day, until one day it doesn’t feel so monumental.  Your job is to try to keep showering as often as possible.  Your job is to take your medications as prescribed.  Your job is to go to therapy for your appointments.  Your job is to have active conversations with your psychiatrist about what the next step is.  Your job may or may not include ECT in the coming months, which I know is very scary for you.  Your job is to keep yourself alive.  1 in 3 people with Bipolar Disorder attempt suicide and 1 in 5 successfully complete suicide.  Your job is to not become one of those statistics.  In those respects, you are very much not a failure.  When you change your definition of success, which won’t happen overnight, you’ll see that you are accomplishing great things for where you are in your life and in light of the fact that you have Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Attacks.  You are alive after suffering from Bipolar Disorder for 3.5 years.  That in itself is a feat you should be proud of.

Your self-talk about you being a failure and your life being worthless has a horrible effect on your mood.  I know that it’s hard to change your self-talk, especially when you are depressed and feel like everything is horrible and going horribly wrong, but try to use your Thought Diary Worksheets to help you come up with better and healthier ways of thinking about yourself.  Telling yourself “I am worthless”, “I don’t deserve to go to RPCV functions”, “I’ll never amount to anything”, “I am not a productive citizen”, “I am incapable of helping others”, and all of the other self-talk you have been using lately is unhealthy.  It is demeaning and untrue.  It’s time to print out those worksheets and keep them with you in your purse.  It’s time to keep copies beside your bed.  It’s time to really use them because you know how well they can work to change negative thinking patterns.  It’s time to commit to different ways of thinking.  You must at least try, even if you don’t believe the “balanced thoughts” section at the end of the worksheet at first.  You must keep trying and trying until you start to belief in your worth as a person again.

If you keep going down this road, you will just become more and more depressed.  If you keep letting these thoughts control you, you could have to be hospitalized again.  If you don’t start trying for change, you’ll never know how much better you could feel.  I know it’s hard when depression has you in it’s grips.  I know it feels like this will never end and you will always feel this way, but you’ve come out of this before and you will come out of it again, even if it means increasing your medication by a bunch or doing Electro Convulsive Therapy.  You are so loved by so many people and you owe it to yourself and to them to do your best to get better.  So please, try the worksheets to help you overcome some of your “Stinkin’ Thinkin’.”

Love Always,
Catherine

 

 

Thought Diary 3- Resource for Negative Thinking

 

Adventure

TBR for the Summer/Fall

My To Be Read Pile is growing quickly, but I wanted to share some of the books I’m hopeful I will read this summer and fall.  If I read them, I’ll try to write reviews about them so you know what I think about them (with the exception of the HP books probably, because if you know me at all, you know I love them).  If you want any of these books, I suggest purchasing from smile.amazon.com instead of regular Amazon.  You still get Prime benefits if you have Prime, but a portion of the proceeds of your sale goes to a charity, I suggest Together Rising in Falls Church, VA.

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
⚯͛△⃒⃘
I try to re-read the entire Harry Potter Series every year, but I’ve been struggling with my mental health so much that I didn’t finish it last year and I’ve barely started it this year.  Pottermore is starting a book club to re-read each book and Mugglenet offers a chapter by chapter podcast that I’m interested in, so I’m hoping to do this re-read in a very interactive way.

A Study in Charlotte and The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte.jpeg
The Last of August

I read and LOVED the first book in this series, but by the time The Last of August came out, I was in the grips of a terrible depression and couldn’t focus enough to re-read A Study in Charlotte and read The Last of August.  It had been a while since I read the first book, so I wanted to re-read it before I read the second one.

The Inconceivable Life of Quinn by Marianna Baer

The Inconceivable Life of Quinn
This is one of those books that just keeps popping up on GoodReads as one of the best YA books coming out this year, so I feel obligated to read it.  I’ve got it on my Nook and it may be one of the books I work on at the beach.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic
I still haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love, but Big Magic just kept popping up in interviews I was watching with Glennon Doyle Melton and Brené Brown and I ADORE those two.  Plus, I love the idea of creative living beyond fear and I thought it may help me with my quest to write my own memoir.

You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero

You Are a Badass
This book has kept popping up in my life and I’m really working on learning how to love myself right now, so I thought this might help provide the inspiration I need.

Almost Adulting by Arden Rose

Almost Adulting
Do you see a theme here?  I really wish I could get my life together and maybe reading enough humorous self-help books will help me accomplish that in some way.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime
This one I want to read because I adore both Trevor Noah and learning about South African culture.  Even though I lived in South Africa for 5 months, there is so much more for me to learn about what Apartheid was really like from someone who actually lived through it but is closer to my age than the late great Nelson Mandela’s (I read Long Walk to Freedom, it was indeed long and parts of it were hard to get through).

Challenger Deep by Neal Schusterman

Challenger Deep
I want to read Challenger Deep because it is based on the author’s son’s struggle with schizophrenia and I am pretty much always down to read a story that is based on mental health and raising mental health awareness.

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

Voyager
This book I want to read because I want to know what happens in season 3 of Outlander before I actually watch it.  I’ve read the first book and part of the second, but I had trouble finishing it as I was in the psych ward at the time.  I put it down and never picked it back up.

That’s what’s in my TBR Pile/ on my TBR list.  Let me know in the comments what’s in/on yours!!