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“Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now”

-Bob Dylan (My Back Pages)

I’m only 22 years old, but the older I get… the less I judge… the less I realize I understand.

I was in a bookstore last week and I saw a book in the psychology section called “Depression is a Choice.”

Depression is not a choice. It’s just not.

But there are choices involved in dealing with it.. just as there are choices in any illness. A person with diabetes can choose to watch their diet closely, to check their blood-sugar levels regularly. Likewise, a person with depression can choose to do things that will help- working out, going to therapy, surrounding him or herself with supportive people, etc. Yet.. it’s harder to make those decisions when your dealing with an illness that affects your decision making… that when it’s bad enough, you just don’t believe that it can get better.

Mental illness runs rampant through my family. I haven’t been a stranger to it. When I was fourteen it became very apparent that both of my brothers suffered from mental illness- pretty severely. I visited both of them when they were in the hospital.. many times throughout the the last.. almost ten years. I read up on what they were suffering from.. the medications they were prescribed. I talked to them about it. I advocated for them.

Yet until my bout with it in the last few months, I can honestly say that I really had no idea. No idea at all. See, I was really depressed during many stages of my high school years. When I left my hometown and started building my own life away from the things that had weighed me down, and when I succeeded in being content and passionate about what I was doing, feeling happy and looking forward to the future, I concluded that I had been depressed because of my circumstances, my situation.. which seemed very alterable to me. In a way I really did think that depression was sort of a choice.. that if you chose to change your circumstance, you could pull yourself out of it.I had a roommate who seemed to be struggling with depression, and although I hate to admit it, I thought that she just wasn’t trying hard enough, that she had dug her own hole and jumped into it.

Depression certainly can be situational; there certainly are choices involved, but… I was a stable, independent, confident, and generally happy and hopeful person, and in a manner of just a couple months I completely fell from my high horse. I didn’t choose to have this mental illness- whatever it is- and I really don’t think I made any situational choices that led to it (although I did make a lot of bad choices after it started.)

I’ve been making really good choices for the last couple of months, doing everything I could think of to feel better.. and it has still gotten worse. I mean, I am further along than I was right before and after I was in the hospital, but a couple of weeks ago things started taking a turn for the worse. That’s part of the reason I was absent from the wordpress world. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is. Last week I had a breakdown that felt very similar to the one where I initially hit bottom. My low lasted almost the whole day.. and the things that usually helped just didn’t. I can’t describe it other than that it’s just excruciating emotional pain. The good thing is that I was here, close to my family who offers me so much support.

I feel like Doctor Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. I am trying so hard. I do believe that it will (and has) gotten better.

We all know someone that suffers from depression… yet there is still this huge misunderstanding of it, of all mental illness. Why is that? How could I misunderstand it so much even though I witnessed it so closely?

I’ve become a lot more private about most things in my life. I used to be a lot more open. Once I make more sense of all this, though, I want to be more open about it. There is such a huge negative stigma attached to mental illness. People who suffer from it are almost shunned. People with depression are labeled as lazy… others think, “why can’t they just be happy with what they have? Look at the bright side?” It’s just not that simple.

The older I get, the more I realize that although black and white DO exist, most things in life fall in between. It’s just not that simple.

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I have been absent from the wordpress world for the last week…  I’d have to say that things have been getting harder, but that’s a whole different story. I can definitely say that my meds are not helping- and I’m starting to wonder if they’re actually making things worse. More on that later, though.

What I do want to write about is pretty unrelated.

This morning I checked out a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The topic was life after death. I was really interested to hear what the minister would say about such a topic… especially because although they call themselves a religion, they don’t really have a set of doctrinal beliefs- so I wondered what they could possibly say about life after death.

The minister first gave a very general overview of what different world religions believe about life after death. She then talked about her own beliefs concerning the topic, which were very similar to mine… basically, that there is really no way to know.

As I’ve written in previous entries, my family is very religious- and I grew up that way too. I need to point out that they are religious in the sincere way- they truly believe what they say they believe. It’s not just about tradition or appearances.

For my mom, her beliefs grant her huge comfort. The idea that she thinks she knows where she’s going after she dies consoles her in some of her hardest struggles. It used to be that way for me too- I was very passionate about my faith. Yet in the midst of that I always had this fear that I was or could be wrong… and then always felt guilty for having that fear. The ultimate freedom for me was actually admitting what I really believed all along- that I really didn’t know- that there really is no way to know... and that that’s okay, and life is still worth living even if there are no pearly gates. I believe more than ever that this life is the most precious gift, and now I only fear death when I am feeling truly in love with life and don’t want it to end. But even then it’s not really a fear of death- it’s just a love of life. To me, that is comforting.

I think I made a mistake though. Just a few minutes ago I told my mom that I went to the UU Fellowship. I tried to preface it by telling her that what she had heard about UU was probably wrong or very misleading, and explained that it’s not a religion in the sense of the word that Christians think of as a religion. Although different answers to some of life’s biggest questions are presented, none of them are really taught to be the Truth. They encourage you to explore your spirituality and boast that people from all different faiths are a part of their church. They don’t tell you there is a God, but they don’t tell you there isn’t one either.

My mom was not happy. In all fairness, she wasn’t angry either. I know I’m lucky for that. At least she didn’t scream at me, threaten to kick me out. But you should have seen the look on her face. Pure concern and sadness.

It’s not her reaction that upset me (although I obviously don’t want her to be worried or sad.) What upsets me, what angers me, is that her reaction was based on what she knows about Unitarian Universalism- which comes from the world of conservative Christianity and Christian Family Radio. “UU is dangerous! They will indoctrinate you with false teachings!” How ironic considering UU emphasizes not having any formal doctrines or creeds, whereas at the church I grew up in, we all spoke in unison our creed every week. Every week, every day I was indoctrinated. Maybe “indoctrinated” is a strong word- but I was certainly taught that what our religion proclaimed was the Truth. The UU minister this morning openly admitted that she could be wrong about what she thought. That doesn’t sound like indoctrination to me.

Don’t get me wrong- I have enormous respect for my mom and her beliefs. Maybe I’m the cowardly one, sticking to the easy, middle-ground answer of “well, I don’t really know.” But that’s honest- it’s the truth. I recently told my mom that I thought certain things were really impossible to know (in the midst of a conversation about religion) and she thought that I was ascribing to relativity, or that I was saying that the truth really isn’t that important. Again, there’s so much irony in that; it’s because the truth is important to me that I’ve admitted that I don’t know. I can’t pretend to believe something that I don’t.

I guess it also frustrates me because I wish she would have been happy for me. Yet at the same time, I understand why she isn’t. I don’t agree with it, but I understand.

Yes, Mom, there is reason to be very concerned about me. I’m really struggling here. There is something not right in my brain- the chemicals, they’re mixed up. But in the sense of spiritual and religious beliefs, I am healthier than I ever have been.

After seeing the look on my mom’s face today, I know that I can never be completely honest with her about how I feel about religion. Along with frustrating me, it broke my heart she was so sad and worried about it… because honestly, I’m glad that she gets so much comfort and hope from her faith. I admire it. I just wish she could admire the way I address those same questions.

Road trips are the best.

I’m writing to you from Brookings, South Dakota. My mom, brother and I left yesterday morning at six a.m. and got here at about three-ish. We really had beautiful weather for our drive, and it’s beautiful outside today as well.

My favorite part about this place is that I have been coming here since I was born. My aunt, uncle, grandma, and cousins (and their kids) live out here. My aunt’s house is really the only place that has remained in my life for my whole life.

There’s not a whole lot to do out here. In fact, my aunt and uncle don’t even live in Brookings- they live a few miles away out in the country. There are miles and miles of flat lands surrounding them filled with crops which I couldn’t tell you the name of. When it’s nice out you can take long walks, but their winter usually lasts even longer than mine in Wisconsin lasts.

The part I was looking forward to the most about this trip, though, was the drive to and from- partly because I really do enjoy long drives, but mostly I was looking forward to the conversations I would have with my mom. Even during the years when I didn’t talk much to my mom at all, we would have great conversations on trips out here. Sure enough, yesterday was no different.

As much as I enjoy the trips out here, though, the best road trip I have ever taken was two summers ago. One of my best friends and I took a road trip out west for a whole month. We drove ten thousand miles during that month, and we camped every night. From the Grand Tetons, to Yellowstone, to the Badlands, to Sequoia, to the Pacific…. and others. It was amazing. You’d think that after a month of sleeping outside and eating granola bars that I would have been ready to go home.. but I honestly would have loved to keep going. I think I literally cried when I crossed back over to the east side of the Mississippi River.

There’s just something about the open road… the open sky… music blasting in my ears, windows down, cigarette in hand…

I do miss the boy though. He’s been amazing.

Well, I should sign off. Hope you all are doing well.

“When you’re young… everything that happens is a thing all by itself. It’s a lonely thing. I know, I ‘member… They’s a time of change, an’ when that comes, dyin; is a piece of all dyin’, and bearin’ is a piece of all bearin’, an’ bearin’ an’ dyin’ is two pieces of the same thing. I wisht I could tell you so you’d know, but I can’t.”

-John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath

I know, I know… Steinbeck again? Sorry, but I love him.

I’ve been thinking about this quote. A woman is talking to her daughter. The grandmother just passed away and the daughter is pregnant.

I think there’s such wisdom in this quote. It’s so easy to only see the small picture… unconnected from anything else.

When I was a Christian, I always felt uneasy when people consoled me or others with that whole “God has a plan” spiel or “everything happens for a reason.” I figured that God could make the best of any situation, but to say that something horrible was part of his plan, well, I just couldn’t believe that.

I don’t really think that everything happens for a reason. I do believe, however, that good can come out of any situation… as hard as it may seem at the time. And that good may not directly make up for the bad, but it is what you choose to rest your eyes on- the good or the bad- that will ease or increase your suffering.

I believe that there is beauty in sadness. A friend once told me, “Two things can bring you to your knees: beauty and pain.” There’s wisdom in that.

Where I’m at right now… it’s hard to focus on the good coming out of all of this. I do see a few things already though. I feel really at peace with my family. My heart has really opened up to love. I know that I will come out of this thing much stronger than when I entered it. I’m learning a lot…

But in no way have I pulled through it yet. I still suffer daily from bouts of despair, hopelessness, terror, panic… times when I don’t see the good at all. Other times during the day I just feel like I’m sort of teetering on the edge but not quite there. And yet other times I feel on top of the world. Every day I go through this range of emotions, and it does get quite exhausting. And to make things even more complicated, even when I’m feeling like myself, sometimes I will think about the good part of my life that I left behind and of course I naturally grow very, very sad. I think about the beautiful children I worked with, the amazing organization I worked for, my friends, my consistent passion for life and learning…the path I was on, it was exciting and I was very content with it. I try to tell myself to be happy that I got to experience those things, know those people, and that helps. Sometime in April or May I’m going to go to Milwaukee for the day and visit the kids, get some closure. I think that will help too.

Yeah, it’s pretty hard to see the big picture sometimes. It seems, like the mother from Grapes of Wrath said, that “ever’thing that happens is a thing all by itself.” There is a bigger picture, though, and many different levels at which things are connected. There is peace in that…

Since returning to the town I grew up in, I have run into a lot of familiar faces- some that bring warmth to my heart, others that make me sort of nervous, and others that I run from as fast as I can.

Mostly, I’m just not ready to see most people yet.

On Tuesday nights I’ve been going to open mics at my favorite cafe in the world. (In fact, I’m there right now, sipping on tea and letting the sun warm me through the window.) Open Mic Night here used to be what I looked forward to throughout the week when I was in high school. I met a lot of amazing people there.

It’s been fun going again, but at least once a week someone asks me why I’m not playing. The truth is, I’m still having a really hard time picking up my guitar… and I’m not really sure why. An artist uses all feelings for inspiration whether they be happiness or sorrow, hopefulness or despair, or really anything. I’ve always been like that. My sound had sort of evolved into this acoustic folk- the overall theme being one of hope and beauty, but always interlaced with elements of sadness.

Partly, I’m just out of practice… and the last couple of weeks I get so down during the morning and early afternoon that I can’t do much other than read a book. Then at night, I’ll feel a bit better and want to go out and do something. By the time I get home it’s too late to play anything without waking someone up.

Last night as I watched people play, I really missed it. So I hope I’ll pick it up again soon. It’s a huge part of who I am. I’ve just never been one to force myself with my music.. it needs to come naturally.

Anyway, last night I ran into someone that I haven’t seen for almost four years. I actually met him and his brother at open mic. I played music with them for a few months. They introduced me to musicians like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. It was really the beginning of me falling in love with folk music. That year I was a senior in high school, but I actually lived more of the typical college life that year than I have since then. We would play shows and then go back to their house on campus and just play music all night. Acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolins, harmonicas, an upright bass… it was a good time.

He told me that tonight he and his brother (who I was always closer to) are playing a show. I’m definitely going to be there.

It just reminds me that often times people walk in and out of your life.. and then walk back in just as unexpectedly. I’m really looking forward to seeing them tonight and to hearing their music.

And.. drinking a beer or two. It is St. Patrick’s Day afterall.

“Happiness is only real when shared.”

-Christopher McCandless

One of my favorite movies is Into the Wild. There’s also a book that tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a man who leaves behind the norms and demands of current society to rough it in the wild. Part of what fuels him is his resentment of his family and how he feels that what he believed in growing up isn’t the truth. At the end of all of his solo journey he concludes that happiness is only real when shared.

Love really does make the world go around.

When I finally hit the bottom after three months of rejecting and pushing away the help that people who loved me were trying to give me, the only thing that helped me to pick up my phone for help was love.

I was the lowest I had ever been. I really cannot explain what it was like, but I can tell you that it was the most pain that I’ve ever been in in my life. I believed that I would never be well again, that happiness wasn’t real… that nothing was real. I wished I hadn’t ever been born; I did not want to live. I lay on my bed crying, feeling utterly trapped. Suicide did seem like a way out- it felt like the only way out. Yet I couldn’t consider it, because I didn’t want to hurt all the people that loved me. Then I figured that if nothing else was real, love was. And with that thought, I picked up the phone and dialed the number for the person who I knew loved me most unconditionally- my mom.

Love is real. When nothing else makes sense, when all else fails, love is real.

It doesn’t always make sense. Love will make you do things that you wouldn’t otherwise do. It is the only motivation behind selflessness. And when there’s no other way out, love is there. It is real.

I’ve felt like Christopher McCandless many times. I’ve felt that my family was based on lies.. that what I was taught growing up was a lie. And it drove me from my family. I let the anger and resentment grow just as Christopher McCandless did. When all this started happening in November, I pushed away my family’s help more forcefully than anyone else’s. You want to love me now? You want to be there for me now? I thought.

Yet when I hit bottom, there they were… waiting for me.

Accepting their love didn’t make all the issues go away, but it was the best decision I made during all those months.

I keep talking about this foundation that I lost… and that I’m trying to rebuild again. Well, one thing I know that needs to be plastered down into that foundation is love. That is the first block that I choose to lay down.

I’m still lost. The last week or so has been really rough. I went to the doctor yesterday and he increased the dosage of both the mood stabilizer and the anti-depressant. I’m really hoping that will do the trick. Starting a new and different medication would be a lot more complicated. I was making progress with what I’m on, so hopefully just increasing the dosage will work.

I had a good talk with my mom last night. I cried… I told her I felt like a prisoner in this. She hugged me and said, “You know I would do anything to help you.” She was crying too. I was too choked up to say it, but she already is doing more than I can even ask.. loving me unconditionally. It’s ironic- my family used to be the reason behind my sadness, but now my family is the solid ground beneath my feet, enabling me to find my way on this scary journey.

Yeah… love is real.

O ME! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; 5
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer.
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

-Walt Whitman

Sometimes when I read Walt Whitman, I am happy just to exist. What freedom there is in that!

The past couple of days have been pretty hard. It’s up and down.. but in general, the lows have been lower than they had been for a while. I really don’t know what it is. I had to reschedule my appointment with the psychiatrist (because of my new job) and they couldn’t get me in until the beginning of April. I called back today and told them I really needed to be squeezed in as soon as possible… so I get to go in tomorrow. I’m very relieved about that.

I really wish I could explain it better. I got pretty scared though today and yesterday, because for a few moments, it felt like nothing was real. That’s the best way I can describe it. It then becomes this thing where if nothing is real, than nothing matters… and everything just sort of tumbles down. That’s what convinced me to call the doctor back and ask for an appointment that would be sooner. I just… I want my life back. I feel like this thing has robbed me of my identity.

Those thoughts that I have like that, that’s not me. The real Sarah sees beauty in the little things. The real Sarah knows that as hard as life can be sometimes, it’s still beautiful- and the greatest gift. The real Sarah is inspired by things all throughout the day. The real.. me, knows that this all does matter.

I believe that Walt Whitman left out something in his answer: To love.

You’ve probably heard it before. Girls who have unhealthy relationships with their fathers often have unhealthy relationships with men when they get older.

Well, that’s me. But I guess in my case it’s not really that simple.

My father didn’t abuse me in any way. He just wasn’t there. Well, he was physically there sometimes, but I really had no relationship with him while I was growing up. He was completely emotionally absent.

Not only that, but he was also emotionally absent from his relationship with my mother. Honestly, I hardly ever saw them talk let alone show physical affection. The part of that that was probably the worst for me was that I thought that was normal. I really had no idea it wasn’t until when I was around fourteen or fifteen.

A lot was happening in my family around this time. My mom started confiding in me about her issues with my dad. I put on a strong front- I wanted to be there for her. I listened as she told me how trapped she felt. She didn’t want to hurt us kids, she didn’t want to disobey God, and she felt that as a pastor’s wife she really didn’t have a way out.

I began to despise my dad. I blamed him for a lot of things that weren’t his fault. Nothing seemed to get through to him.

Since then, my dad has changed a lot. That’s a whole different story, but I can honestly say that I have forgiven him and actually have a loving relationship with him now. But I still have huge commitment issues. Some of them are so complicated that I don’t even know where to begin.

I don’t have a hard time making emotional connections to people. In fact, I think I excel at it. Yet when it comes to dating, I subconsciously put up an iron wall. I don’t think that I’m afraid of getting hurt so much as I’m afraid of feeling trapped- just like my mom was. I’ve also realized that I try to be perfect for the guy… as if that is how relationships work.

The truth is, relationships take a lot of work. There will be times when your significant other gets on your nerves. You will both make mistakes. And… any relationship is a risk. The more you love someone, the more vulnerable you are to them… but that’s part of what makes love such an amazing thing.

So here’s another confession that I haven’t shared with you all: there’s a guy. I have a lot of history with him… he lives here. We’ve dated twice and I ended it both times. Both times it was long distance. When I was in the hospital- more vulnerable than I ever have been before- I thought about him a lot. I thought about who I would want to see or spend time with when I got out, and he came to mind over and over. And if you can believe this, it wasn’t in any way because I wanted to win him back again. I’m completely fine being single (more than anyone I know probably.) I never thought he would even consider dating me again. I wasn’t considering it myself.

I’ll always have feelings for him. I know that.

So we’ve spent time together since I’ve been here. He’s changed a lot… and obviously I have too. See, so many things about us together make sense. That’s why it was so frustrating when it wouldn’t work out. But I think the fact is that we never made good friends. Friendship in a relationship is so important. I’m really learning that. When we weren’t dating, I had no problem opening up to him, but as soon as we were… I just didn’t.

Having said all that… fast forward to now. In the past week, things have moved past us being just friends. They haven’t moved much beyond that.. but the desire is there for both of us- and that’s out in the open now. Last night we talked about it. We talked about things from the past- what didn’t work, what did… and we talked about the future- not much, but that we have to take this really slowly… and we talked about not making the same mistakes again.

I’m terrified. This time… it’s not in the same way… this time, I’m terrified because I think I’m starting to let myself really love him. I’m terrified because I’m vulnerable, but that’s okay… because I never let myself be vulnerable to him before. That wall has gone down. And I know that subconsciously I’m going to try and put it up again, but consciously I’m going to fight that as much as I can.

And I’m going to remind myself that neither of us know what will happen in the future. Neither of us are looking to get married any time soon. For once, I’m going to let us just be what we are- two people that really care about each other, two people who have made a lot of mistakes (and will inevitably make more,) two people.. trying to learn how to love a little better.

I really do believe that it’s the little things in life that often hold the most happiness, the most beauty- even the most inspiration sometimes.

So, in spirit of my “small victories” post, I figured I would make a list of little things that I have been enjoying lately.

1. Coffee!
-It’s true. Sometimes I make it purely out of habit or to wake up, but once it’s brewing, I usually get really excited. There’s just something about relaxing with a nice cup of coffee… writing your thoughts… or whatever it is you like to do.

2. Sunshine
-I guess it could easily be debated on whether this even qualifies as a “little thing,” but regardless, the sunshine can really lift my spirits sometimes, especially in the beginning of spring. It often is so easy to take for granted, but after months of dreary, cold weather, the sun almost makes me manic.

3. Bird(s)
-Hear me out. Sometimes when I’m driving I’ll glance up and notice that one lone bird flying through the sky.. or simply just in the air gliding in one place. Or there will be a whole flock of them flying. I’m not sure why, but birds have become a symbol of hope to me. They can be so beautiful.

4. Jumping into the shower after a work-out
-Do I even need to explain this one?

5. Finding a new song you’re in love with
-To me, this one really doesn’t qualify as a “little thing,” but it probably would to most. It might just describe where you’re at, or inspire you, or simply aesthetically do something for you that hasn’t been done before.

6. Breakfast
-My favorite meal of the day. I love waking up super hungry and just slowly savoring each bite of my food. Lately I’ve been into raisin bran crunch. Delicious.

7. Coffee shops
-Whether you’re meeting a friend or sitting by yourself, people watching or writing or reading or whatever… this is one of my favorite places to be.

8. A good conversation
-A good conversation with anyone brightens my day… and by good, I mean one that makes me think.

9. Humor
-That person who always makes you laugh… or simply being able to laugh at yourself. Laughing is essential.

10. A good book
-I almost didn’t put this, because it really is huge to me… but it’s a little thing in that it’s so easy to do (and inexpensive.) Sometimes I really think I wouldn’t survive without good books.

11. Nice strangers
-not creepy nice, but that stranger who hangs back a second to hold the door for you, or the stranger who flashes you a genuine, warm smile. Those things make my day.

12. Driving with the windows down
-I know some people hate this, but I love it. I almost never use the AC in my car. Turn the music up, windows down, old country road… it’s almost heaven for me.

Post your own list of little things or comment and let me know the small things in life that make you happy 🙂

Baby steps.

That has been something I have told myself over and over about lots of things since I came home from the hospital. It’s like my mantra.

I got hired at a daycare working just a few hours a week. I love spending time with kids, and it’s really good for me to be working just a little. Plus it’s a heavy weight off of my shoulders as far as finances are considered.

Yesterday was my first day. Before I went in I wasn’t having a very good day as far as my moods go. Starting any new job is really difficult… meeting all the new people, learning all the new things, wanting to make a good impression and do a good job. The first hour I was there I was counting the minutes until I would get done. I was put in the one and a half year old room, and I really don’t have experience with kids younger than three or four. By the second hour, however, I was no longer thinking about the time. I was just having fun with the kids, feeling good about being productive and remembering why I love working with kids so much.

It’s a small victory, but I am celebrating nonetheless. It’s been frustrating lately, because as I progress, I get even more anxious to start feeling truly stable again. Also, in the last week I sort of feel like I’ve run into a brick wall as far as progress goes. I’m doing a lot better than before, but this last week I didn’t really feel like I kept making improvement (again, as far as moods go.) I see the psychiatrist this week and we’ll have to talk about adjusting meds. When I left the daycare yesterday I was feeling so good about it, but within ten minutes I felt like my heart was just wrenched with anxiety and fear… again, of what? Nothing. I don’t know. I had plans for later that night and I almost canceled them. I forced myself not to though, and a couple hours later I made myself go. Another small victory.

But I’m celebrating nonetheless.