Coping with Anxiety at Disney World?

Discussion in 'disABILITIES!' started by Staceyl0u, Sep 29, 2012.

  1. Staceyl0u

    Staceyl0u Mouseketeer

    Feb 16, 2012
    Just looking for some advice and maybe reassurance I think. I'm 21 I've had panic attacks since I was 11. I have got better and worse in that time, currently I can hold down a job at a pub in the village I live in, sometimes my parents or boyf come and sit at work with me. I don't leave the village without one of my parents. But I can go pretty much anywhere with one of them, even busy places although I tend to struggle.

    I have been planning this amazing trip to Disney for a year. And the last month I've spent feeling sicker and sicker as I get more and more stressed for the first time in about four years I am panicking at home.

    I'm worried about flying (9 hours) and I'm worried about the business of parks, being ill and ruining it for everyone else, not coping and spending soooo much money to sit in a hotel room!

    So my real questions is any coping mechanisms anyone find helpful specific to Disney? (I know about breathing etc as I've been through nine councillers since I was about 13/14!) I know there is a first aid centre so I'm hoping that if I get really bad I can calm down there rather than leave the park altogether, maybe a gac but I would rather not use it to be honest.

    Thank you :wave2:
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  3. bookwormde

    bookwormde <font color=darkorchid>Heading out now, another ad

    Mar 16, 2008
    I will offer this advice. Do not put pressure on yourself to keep up with your party or to meet your "quota" of fun, that is a sur eway to raise anxiety.

    A lot depends on the core source of your anxiety. If it is from some trauma then avoiding triggers is a key, if it is from lack of ability to easily manage the social complexities and expectations then not overloading yourself and taking time to decompress from the effort and stress is critical.

    Do not underestimate the theraputic value of being at Disneyworld.

    It looks like you are staying at one of the DVC resorts, so that will help since they are more relaxing enviroments and are relatively easy to retreat to individually when needed.

    Good luck and have fun.
  4. SueM in MN

    SueM in MN combining the teacups with a roller coaster Moderator

    Aug 23, 1999
    You are going to busy time, which should be very helpful in your situation.

    The next thing I'm going to suggest would be using touring plan. You don't necessarily need to follow it exactly, but that give you the most control - Which is very important for most people with anxiety and panic attacks.

    Using a touring plan will help you to be in the least busy part of the least busy park for the day. That will not only help with waits for attractions, but also the general crowd will be less. Less crowded walkways, less crowded in other places where a GAC can't help you. Some of those places would be restaurants, restrooms and just generally getting around.
    That would be helpful even if you do plan to use a GAC - and you don't need to follow a touring plan exactly. Most give general principles to follow for those who don't want a rigid plan.

    Many people recommend or and find that using advice there, they can Plan their day for the shortest wait length and end up waiting 10 to 15 minutes for most attractions. This is even during busy times like Christmas and spring break.
    You can also download WDW touring apps to your smart phone or iPod touch. You would not want to use actual phone connection time since you are from the UK, but they are in the process of installing wifi in all parks. Touringplans has a nice app.

    There is more information about GACs in post six of the disABILITIES FAQs thread. You can find that thread near the top of this board or follow the link in my signature.

    Depending on exactly what your situation is, some people find using a GAC can be somewhat anxiety provoking. You need to approach a CM at each attraction where you are going to use the GAC, Show that person the card and interact with them. They may ask you some questions about what your needs are.

    Not every attraction has the same accommodations available, and even if something was available when you went the first time, it may not be available at a different time. This can be because of staffing or possibly the area is already full or unavailable at the time you return. They have also recently been not offering accommodations if the wait in the regular line is 15-20 minutes or less.

    So, while. GAC can very helpful for many people, quite a few use it as sort of insurance and prefer to use things like FASTPASS and touring plans that are more predictable and are available to everyone.

    If you just need to get away to someplace quiet for a while, keep in mind that you can leave MK and Epcot and walk to a nearby resort to hang out in the lobby for a while. Contemporary is within walking distance of MK (go toward the bus station, then follow a sidewalk that goes under the monorail track).
    Beach Club, Yacht Club and Boardwalk resorts are close to the International Gateway entrance of Epcot.
    You can also get to those resorts, plus Dolphin and Swan from a walkway at the Studio.

    AK doesn't have any resorts in walking distance, but one of the quiets places to hang out is the paths in the Oasis - most people think of these as just the walking path that takes you from the parking lot to the park. They are actually animal viewing spots and are usually quiet except during peak entry and leaving times.
  5. LoveMMC

    LoveMMC Mouseketeer

    Jun 26, 2010
    My husband has severe anxiety and has lots of successful wdw trips under his belt now

    First accept the thoughts about your wdw worries- being anxious about going is normal ( just look at all the questions and worries on this board) just don't give them any power- have the thought, say ok and move on- trying not to worry about it is like holding a ball under water- it jumps up stronger!

    Bring something that works for you to occupy your mind in line or on the buses- my husband always has his ds or iPod to focus on

    Take time for rest or mid day breaks- harder to fight things when you are tired.

    Have a fantastic time!

    First time my husband was so sick- went on some rides and made it through. Last visit he ate and went on everything and had a blast!
  6. LoveMMC

    LoveMMC Mouseketeer

    Jun 26, 2010
    Oh and don't worry about your family! They know it's an issue and just want to see you have a good time. They understand and have seen your struggle. I can honestly say with DH nerves - if we had to leave early or he sent me on so he could work through issues- I did not mind at all-

    I know saying don't worry is just annoying but know your family understand!
  7. Staceyl0u

    Staceyl0u Mouseketeer

    Feb 16, 2012
    Thank you so much for all your kind words, I think I am going to have to accept maybe I can't do everything I would like to, I have used the touring plans website and our animal kingdom day has suddenly changed from a 3 to a 6.9 which has thrown me but if I choose a couple of rides at each park instead of a definite 20 ride time specific plan it leaves room for my anxiety and to stop and smell the roses instead.

    I really don't want to use th GAC it's more for whoever is 'looking after' me so they don't miss out if I am unable to get in a regular line, it would be nice to be able to wait somewhere else until our turn.

    The idea of stepping out and even just nipping back to a different resort is very helpful. My anxiety is worsened by crowds it's basically a fear of being ill, I can usually calm myself down if I am left alone to talk myself out of it, but busy areas and unfamiliar areas where I don't have escape routes make everything worse. I'm in therapy but the constant appears to be my fears are mainly irrational, not that that helps anything!!
  8. kandb

    kandb DIS Veteran

    Apr 22, 2006
    I get anxiety and just came back and did fine. Remember, you can always get a cab and leave any park if you want to (that always me feel less anxious knowing that) Also, there are areas of the parks that don't get super crowded. You aren't going during a very crowded time, so you should be alright. Ask a CM, where there is a quiet area if you need to just sit and relax. I also, do not take the monorail because it stopped a few times the last time I took it and we were just stuck in mid-air and that made me feel very uncomfortable (to say the least):rotfl2: I was feeling anxious about our last trip, before we went, but I told myself, I was not going to let anxiety take away a special time with my children and family and I did not let it stop me from doing the things I wanted to do. Have a great time. I don't know if you take medication, but perhaps the doctor could give you something for the airplane flight. I didn't need to take anything, but had valium on me, just in case I needed it and that helped.
  9. adoptivemomx2

    adoptivemomx2 Mouseketeer

    Jan 27, 2012
    Hi :) We just got back from Disney yesterday...we spent 8 days in the parks. I have Complex PTSD and anxiety/panic attacks. I worried about this trip for all the 6 months we planned it. It turned out, much to my suprise, to be way easier than I thought. I found less crowded areas to decompress, I took the half of a Klonopin a day as a preventative just as my doctor told me to (in addition to my regular medications). I also asked a cast member at each and every ride what the ride was like. They are very used to these questions and gave detailed answers and didn't seem to mind at all. I even asked at It's a Small World. I passed on many rides because of my dislike of roller coaster-type rides and claustrophobia. But my husbband and kids went and that made me happy. It just gave me time to people-watch or poke around the shops (and run ahead for fastpasses!). I had lots of interesting conversations with people, many from other countries....I don't get to do that much in the little town I live in.

    I told the monorail operator that I was scared and she explained why the monorail might need to stop (very patient, not judgemental at all). She then put us in the car right behind her and showed me a phone where I could be connected right to her so she could tell me what was going on! I even watched her direct the incoming passengers at various stops into other cars so we could have the car to ourselves so I wouldn't feel crowded in! <<< We did not ask her to do that...she took it upon herself.

    I did the same on the ferry to Magic Kingdom. I NEVER, EVER thought I would take either the monorail or the ferry, but I did and I'm so suprised!

    If you fear you might get sick, could you tell a cast member? They've heard it all! Then they could reassure you that it happens and they have a procedure in place to take care of it with no problem.

    One little funny: There were two cast member standing together at the river safari ride and I asked if there were any tunnels. They said yes and I asked if you could see the end of the tunnel once you got in it (part of my claustrophobia). The guy CM asked me, "Is there a small child in your party who's afraid of tunnels?" I said, "Yes! Me!" and we all cracked up!
  10. melancholywings

    melancholywings <font color=royalblue>How do you prepare for a ban

    Nov 7, 2007
    I'm not sure if any of this will help you.
    I have anxiety and panic attacks in crowds. When in line I'm usually in front with my family behind so that I'm not crowded. I have a hardest time with the bus from the hotel to the park as they will shove so many people, and their strollers into them that there's no sitting room. Usually I take the window or I put DD by the window, I'll sit next to her and DH will give up his seat and stand in the isle next to me. We also will skip the fireworks and go back to the resort early to swim. I also like to do the early early ADR's so that we can take the earliest bus and skip the rope drop rush. The stores can also get a bit crowded. I like shopping but a lot of the shops have the same merchandise, so if a store is too crowded I'll wait outside for my family and I'll later go to a different store that is less packed.

    Some of the most magical moments of our trips or the most meaningful memories have been when I've needed time to decompress and we'll find moments of magic in the often under appreciated and calm areas of the park.
  11. dsneprincess

    dsneprincess DIS Veteran

    Feb 3, 2009
    Just remember that you can always find a quiet out of the way spot to relax, recharge, just catch your breath, if need be. Just keep your eyes open, if you feel the need to find a spot. At Animal Kingdom, there are quiet places long the river & around the tree that are usually pretty empty. At Magic Kingdom, around the Splash Mountain exit/bathroom area. Tom Sawyer Island is a great escape, sometimes, You can secure a rocking chair with a water view & forget you are in a busy park. Just remember to go at your pace, relax and enjoy! No one can see it all in one trip & neither can you! If you are helped by blocking out sound/stimuli, maybe carry an iPod & concentrate on that in lines if you need to. Use your family as a buffer if you need to. Not to make light of your situation, just know that everyone reaches their breakpoint sometime within their Disney vacation & most of us use some sort of similar coping strategy to deal with parks, crowds, heat, family, whatever. DW is NOT for the faint of heart!!!
  12. SDSorority

    SDSorority Traumatized by Magic Journeys and Haunted Mansion

    Dec 29, 2009
    Hi I'm another panic-attacker! :wave2: I'm going to be very honest with you, are you ready?? Last year's trip was the highest anxiety trip I have ever had. The experience I had going through that hard time will help you (hopefully!!).

    1- I was absolutely FINE in the parks. I did have one semi-episode in CoP but I was able to calm myself down pretty quickly. The hardest thing with anxiety is being really PRESENT. In the moment. Our minds race to "oh my gosh I should have done X...." or "oh my gosh what if X happens...." or "oh my gosh I'm feeling X so that must mean Y". That's what happened to me in CoP. It was right when the doors shut and Ralphie (lol) started talking. The room was hot because the door had been open so I started really freaking out. As soon as the scene changed the room cooled off, and everything was fine when I really started focusing on the show- being really present. So, that's my first piece of advice- be 'in the moment'. At the happiest place on earth, there is so much detail, so much joy. Really BE THERE, and that will give you a better experience.

    2- There are some great "out of the way" spots to take a breather. We like:

    MK- Rose Garden by the castle, Tomorrowland Transit Authority (it's just so chill and goes in the dark and is quiet... we LOVE it), out of the way benches at Pirates of the Caribbean.

    EPCOT- Spaceship Earth (also so chill, dark and quiet), inside the courtyard of Morocco and the Moroccan art room (whatever that's called with the henna), by the fountain at France, close to the friendship boat dock at the back entrance to World Showcase, Stave Church at Norway.

    DHS- Benches by Echo lake, benches by ToT, benches by American Idol

    AK- Oasis Area, area behind Tree of Life, Rafiki's planet watch

    3- Rent a car. This is BIG for us. I have issues with claustrophobia, and I don't like being crowded on the Disney Buses. Having a car allows me to come and go as I want, go offsite to get some groceries/snacks, and is a quiet "refuge" that quickly gets me out of the hustle and bustle. DH always drives, and I can navigate with my eyes closed now :thumbsup2

    4- Explore the resorts! I LOOOOVED watching Wishes from the Poly Beach. We weren't staying there, and that's ok!! We loved walking around the Boardwalk/Swan Dolphin at night. We loved touring the Wilderness Lodge, Poly and Grand Floridian Lobbies. We loved listening to the Grand Floridian piano player and band play (DH and I are both professional musicians). These were all quiet times and we brought snacks and just walked around and enjoyed. We were staying at Pop, and had no problems at all talking to the gate attendant and just telling him that we were there to check out the resort.

    5- We did a lot of research on restaurant food, but didn't do a lot of research on restaurant ambiance. We were at Raglan Road and holy cow, it was the loudest restaurant ever. I had a panic attack in the restaurant (twice). Poor DH, he's such a trooper. I knew what I had to do though- I just got up, told DH that I had to go outside for a while because I was panicking, and did just that. I walked outside, I looked at the little gift shop outside the restaurant- took some "me time". When I felt ready, I went back in. I had to get up and leave a 2nd time, but after I came back in, DH offered to switch seats with me and I busied myself with taking pictures and planning out our day. He pulled out his iphone and we looked through pictures, played some games, etc. I couldn't eat most of my meal (too sick feeling from the panic) so DH was happy to eat mine too HAHA. I gotta say though, what I did eat was YUMMY! I have a review in my signature- I talk about my panic a little bit so feel free to browse around! When I'm in situations like that where I feel too sick to eat but know that I need to for my health, I have a trick. I don't know if this is going to help you at all, but what I do is I get out DH's iPhone or he and I start talking about something totally unrelated to our meal- like a future vacation, past vacation, what rides we want to go on, etc. Then, I take a small (tiny) bite and get my mind immediately off of it. I can normally drink water, so I tend to kind of just swallow the food like it were a pill and get my mind on something else. I also squeeze my thumbs just to have something to hold on to. Or, I'll get the food "to go" and eat it while walking somewhere else. I need that multi-tasking sometimes. I cried in 3 restaurants at WDW this last trip- Raglan Rd, The Wave, and Jiko, and it took me a while to figure out what tricks work for me to calm me down. Again, it's that whole being present thing... in restaurants I'm still trying to work on that.

    6- Bring some comfort items from home. I always have the following with me: Rescue Remedy, Thieves and Di-Gize oils from Young Living, Lavender body spray by Hugo Naturals (calming scent), my iPod loaded with favorite music, games, and relaxation podcasts, hand sanitizer, a washcloth with some ice in a ziplock (if you put some cool water on your cheeks and back of neck it helps you if you're having a panic episode or if you're feeling claustrophobic), Oscillococcinum (if I start feeling a cold coming on- I love this stuff), water, snacks, hat. For the room I always bring my own blanket (travel size) and a lounge-around track suit to make sure I'm comfortable but I can also go out in it if I need to. I also will always bring ear plugs with me, too.

    I hope this wasn't way too long or too much information. When I'm at WDW, I'm in my happy place. I know what tricks I need to do to keep me calm, but really, the only places I have problems with still are in restaurants, and I know how to divert that. When I'm on a ride- I'm 100% fine. You will be too. :thumbsup2

    Also, bring some Rescue Remedy (by Bach) with you- it's FABULOUS. I love it, I swear by it... I used it this morning, actually!
  13. were45

    were45 Mouseketeer

    Feb 9, 2012
    What great advice you/we are getting! We're leaving soon for our 3rd trip to WDW. My previous 2 trips were during really good times where I hadn't been having anxiety/panic issues. I had absolutely no problems during those trips for which I am so grateful. My episodes tend to come in waves, and I believe they are often tied to hormonal changes. Well, I've recently started having problems again (pre-menopausal) and am feeling just like you. It's so frustrating to be planning a trip to the happiest place on earth, and fearing a trip to the happiest place on earth, all at the same time!

    One thing that helps me is knowing I'm not alone in having these experiences. (And neither are you)

    Another thing I like is having open space around me, so all these tips about calm places to relax are spot on. A previous poster talked about being present and that is terrific advice, because it forces us to take the focus off our fear and put it somewhere safe. I just wrote "Be Present" on a sticky note and attached it to my computer - it will now be my mantra!

    I also like this saying: "Fear is like fire. It can burn your house down, or it can keep you warm and cook your food." When the fear comes, I remind myself that I can either let the fear control me, or I can control the fear. I know sometimes that is easier said than done, but it's a good goal!

    Often the fear of what MIGHT happen is worse than what actually does happen. That's a big problem for me; the what if's. A wise therapist once gave this advice: If the worst does happen, you WILL get through it just as you have in the past. She practically shrugged her shoulders as if to say "So what. You've got this handled. The world will keep spinning." I found that surprisingly comforting. I like knowing that even when it feels like MY world is ending, the world around me is truly not affected by what's happening to me. That calms me down.

    I am taking our upcoming trip one step at a time. If you never saw the Bill Murray movie "What about Bob", you should. I sometimes say to myself 'baby steps' to remind myself how funny life (and Bill Murray) can really be. Putting a humorous spin on a not-so-funny situation can go a long way towards relaxing.

    I'm praying for all of us with these issues to have peaceful, joyful, in-the-moment experiences everywhere we go.

    You'll be okay, Sweetheart.
  14. kandb

    kandb DIS Veteran

    Apr 22, 2006
    We just got back mid-Sept and I was feeling anxious and questioning if I was going to be able to do some things before we went but I told myself I was not going to miss out on things I and especially my children wanted to do. (just refused to let the anxiety rule what I was going to do). I think when I realized it would take away from my children's good time, it helped me not let it control what I was going to do. The trip went smoothly and I didn't have any issues on the vacation. One moment at a time, and one day at a time. Alot of people have anxiety issues, have a great time.
  15. jaminmd

    jaminmd DIS Veteran

    Oct 28, 2008
    I'm very familiar with anxiety and panic attacks. First thing to remember - what is the worst thing that will happen to you? You won't die because of crowds (even though you might feel like you will). I'm not saying that to be mean - I know what those irrational fears are like. I'm just trying to give you perspective.

    Second, you can always go back to your hotel if you need to get away from the crowds.

    Third, if you aren't already medicated, get something like Xanax. A small dose can take the edge off without making you too drowsy.

    Fourth, Florida offers excellent healthcare. If the worst possible thing happens and you become ill, you can be treated for it.

    I hope you have a wonderful, anxiety-free vacation.
  16. I Love Pluto

    I Love Pluto DIS Veteran<br><font color=green>I guess that make

    Jun 20, 2006
    I don't understand panic attacks, but I do understand that you have a hidden disability that is difficult to deal with. Good luck to you on your vacation. :goodvibes

    Concentrate on nature & how beautiful Disney is - how the attractions were designed, and how clever the designers were. Keep thinking of the GOOD things around you. You won't have too much time left to be upset. It's kind of like dieting. It's easier when you're out & busy than when you're 10 feet away from the refrigerator!

    Have a GREAT time at Disney! :thumbsup2
  17. SAT887

    SAT887 DIS Veteran

    Dec 7, 2010
    I have panic attacks, claustrophobia, issues with crowds, anxiety of flying etc... Lots of great suggestions here! A few things, pick a couple must dos because there is so much to do and trying to fit it in would be hard. Resort break mid day- recharging!! Also, I rely on my husband to help bc the past few years we've gone down with Another family- but I can discreetly whisper to my husband that I need help, space, whatever and he plays interference so I can regain my composure before it gets bad (it helps from me spiraling into panic/anxiety episodes). Good luck, take it easy and breath!! When it gets tough sit and relax!
  18. scojos

    scojos <font color=peach>I want to be Tinkerbell and fly

    Jan 10, 2006
    my advice would be call virgin or whichever airline ur flying with and inform them of your special needs and ask what they can do to help, check out the website, plan what films you are going to watch etc.
    buy a kindle... i sweae by mine:goodvibes
    we stayed at ssr and the hotel is amazing, request a room with a view of DTD... sit on the patio and relax in the evening, praise yourself for everything you dealt with that day.
    if you dont like characters (they freaked me out the 1st time:rotfl:...just stay away:flower3:
    plan what you re going to eat, i have ocd planning, and that helps alot, knowing when i can sit down/chill
    be aware the 1st aid stations in the parks will give you a quiet haven to lie down/sleep whatever helps you to relax
    use youtube to watch videos of fantasmic/rides etc so you are prepared.
    get used to the idea of size, no one can prepare you for how big wdw actually is... the car parks for example are huge!! write down where tthe car is so you dont panic about not finding it, put something personal in the windscreen as all hire cars look the same!!
    i second the comment about watching wishes from the beach at the poly;)

    have a great time and try and enjoy yourself
    tracy xx
  19. book_junkie

    book_junkie DIS Veteran

    Mar 27, 2010
    Two other things that have worked with friends of mine-
    If you can, try and board your airplane first, and make sure you have the window seat (this, of course, only helps if the height is not going to bother you). That way, someone you know will be on one side, no one will be on the other, and you will have a little room to move side to side and have that breathing space.

    Another thing is, since you're going with others, have them help form a barrier for you if you start feeling the start of your anxiety. While you're going during a slower time (according to your countdown), there can still be lines and crowds. Having people you know around you will help, and what they can do to help you is to make a space, if that makes any sense. They can spread out a bit in the queue or the sidewalk, so that you're in the middle (think :grouphug: ) and then you have some breathing room instead of feeling like this: :crowded:

    And there are a lot of places in all the parks to take a breather- benches, out of the way pathways, even corners of counter service eateries where you can put your back to the wall. Make your plans without having everything exact to the minute (say, today I'll be in Animal Kingdom, and I'll have an awesome day if I get to ride Expedition Everest and see Festival of the Lion King, instead of at rope drop I'm running to EE, then to the Safari and then by 10 I have to be at dinosaur and by 10:30 I have to catch the first Nemo show, and then....)

    Hope your trip is wonderful!

  20. disneymarie

    disneymarie <font color=blue>Its a rumour about the donuts...<

    Aug 31, 2007
    I had to ask twice the recent trip or a place o sit away for a bit to control nerves. Once my dd was in line for Princesses at MNSSHP and the line was so long, not moving and I just had a melt down. I sat away for about an hr as she went brow the line and the CM left me know as she got close. He was very kind. His brother has as purgers and can only due three hrs of Disney before too much stimulation.

    There is so much expectation to get all we can from a trip, but some of my calmest enjoyable times were watching a squirell, sitting having a Dole Whip, or pineapple juice, chatting with new friends, or getting big hugs from Goofy with tears running down my face cause he loved me....PS I am 57........oh, I forgot to carry my Ativan to the park, I think that would have helped too.
  21. rebeccaariel

    rebeccaariel DIS Veteran

    Oct 14, 2012
    I'm 20 and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when I was 14. I'm on medication, which helps my day-to-day anxiety, but doesn't help if I'm triggered by something specific. Because of this, I was very worried about my most recent trip to WDW, but with planning, I had an amazing time, and so will you!

    As other have said, accepting that you may not be able to "keep up" with everyone else is important. You'll have a wonderful time even if things don't go according to plan - which can be hard to believe, as I'm usually unable to handle plans going wrong, but WDW has a way of making everything okay.

    I don't know when you're booked, but off-season is best so there won't be as many crowds. Try and go as early as possible each day to avoid crowds, and take breaks when you feel overwhelmed. One of my triggers is being touched by strangers in crowds, so this one was very important for me. Resting helped me regroup.

    Using touring plans was a lifesaver. Having my days planned in advance lessened my anxiety tenfold. Even if things didn't go exactly as planned, I could use the plans to get back on track and I felt much more in control, which helps my anxiety. It helps if your family is on board with this and let's you take the lead.

    Another one of my issues is getting unwanted attention/being judged/being embarrassed, so I understand not wanting to use a GAC. It might be worth it to get one just in case. Knowing you have it if you need it may ease some worries. Disney cast members are extremely nice and very helpful, and many of my biggest concerns were put at ease on day 1. I never once felt judged.

    I hope you have an amazing time! I'd be happy to answer any specific questions you have, as we're almost the same age and it seems we have similar anxiety issues.

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