THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE

I loved this book by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.  I just finished listening to it yesterday, though during the middle of it, I ordered the actual book, too.  I knew it was one I’d want to have and be able to reference.  It was a tough listen as times, but it explained a lot of what I’ve been through and continue to go through.

 

 

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What makes this book even more relevant to me is the fact that it was just published in 2014, which means it has the latest information about trauma that is available.

The inside dust jacket has this to say about Dr. Van Der Kolk and the book:

“This profoundly humane book offers a sweeping new understanding of the causes and consequences of trauma, offering hope and clarity to everyone touched by its devastation.  Trauma has emerged as one of the great public health challenges of our time, not only because of its well-documented effects on combat veterans and on victims of accidents and crimes, but because of the hidden toll of sexual and family violence and of communities and schools devastated by abuse, neglect and addiction.

Drawing on more than thirty years at the forefront of research and clinical practice, Bessel Van Der Kolk shows that the terror and isolation at the core of trauma literally reshape both brain and body.  New insights into our survival instincts explain why traumatized people experience incomprehensible anxiety and numbing and intolerable rage, and how trauma affects their capacity to concentrate, to remember, to form trusting relationships, and even to feel at home in their own bodies.  Having lost the sense of control of themselves and frustrated by failed therapies, they often fear that they are damages beyond repair.

THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE is the inspiring story of how a group of therapists and scientists–together with their courageous and memorable patients–has struggled to integrate recent advances in brain science, attachment research and body awareness into treatments that can free trauma survivors from the tyranny of the past.  These new paths to recovery activate the brain’s natural neuroplasticity to rewire disturbed functioning and rebuild step-by-step the ability to ‘know what you know and feel what you feel.’  They also offer experiences that directly counteract the helplessness and invisibility associated with trauma, enabling both adults and children to reclaim ownership of their bodies and their lives.

Readers will come away from this book with awe at human resilience and at the power of our relationships–whether in the intimacy of home or in our wider communities–to both hurt and heal.”

What this book also showed me is the things I did, EMDR, yoga, to name just two, were the ‘right’ ones to undertake and have contributed mightily in my healing process.  I also realize I still have more healing to do –dang it– but that it is possible to rewire the neuro pathways in my brain even more than I’m sure they have already been rewired.  It is a process and as much as I want it to be finished, the simple truth is it’s not.  I think, too, that for people who are on a healing path, it is lifelong endeavor, whether you suffered a traumatic childhood event, a devastating car accident, the death of a child or spouse, or just the day-to-day living of life that can sometimes be unbelievably difficult.  I’m realizing more and more that we are never really finished.  As I always told my therapist, I do not have a choice in this.  I have to keep moving forward.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has suffered a traumatic event personally or knows of someone who has.  The knowledge and insights you will gain will be invaluable to understanding the why of how trauma affects the body and mind.

 

IS THIS MY NEW NORMAL?

Just when I think I’m all done…Since it has been a little over three years, for some reason, I think my healing should be complete. Is this too much to ask for? I’ve worked really hard. I did I intense therapy (EMDR) for 14 months; I’ve read and reread (okay, actually I’ve listened and listened again, since I still have some trouble reading a book) books designed to help me through the trauma, and really, life in general; I workout again on a regular basis; I write about my experiences each week; I feel really good, for the most part. Oh, I have my moments, but they are few and far between. So why, oh why, is my body still hanging onto the muscle memory of my attack?

I am unable to walk, as in my working out walk, near the Hotel Del without a physical reaction. Usually this means that when I get too close, my back starts hurting. The really weird thing is I do yoga on Thursdays and Sundays practically in front of the Del, and that isn’t a problem. I can even go inside the hotel without a response, but if I walk anywhere near it, my body seems to think I’m still in some kind of danger. It is beyond frustrating. Do I have to walk by the Del?  No, but this is not a huge island and not being able to walk on that side of it definitely limits where I can walk. More importantly, how can I get my body to understand that I am safe? That proximity to where my attack happened does not mean it is going to happen again. Or is this something that I will just have to live with for the rest of my life?  Is this really my new normal?

And as if the physical aspect of this isn’t enough…last Saturday at my Hoffman gathering, during one of the visualizations, up came my attack.  This was quite a surprise as with this particular tool, it is usually a scene from childhood that comes up.  No such luck.  And whereas I normally cannot see the patterns I am still hanging onto, I clearly saw and understood what they are this time.  Rats!  Even more distressing was the second time we did the visualization, I got the same dang scene.  That really threw me.  After we complete the elevators, we pair off to discuss them.  I simply did not wish to go into it with my partner.  It was nothing personally against him, but he is a guy, and a guy is the reason for my attack, so I chose to let him tell his scenes and I kept quiet about mine.  Because I am usually more forthcoming at these gatherings, the facilitator was a little curious as to why I did not want to share with my partner.  In the end, I ended up sharing it, to a degree, with the entire group.  Again, it wasn’t anything personal, but it was such a shock that it came up this way and I wanted time to think about it on my own.

So what have I thought about since Saturday?  Honestly, not much.  It seems that the memories come and go and I, apparently, have no real control over them.  I know that I want, more than anything, to be completely over my attack.  And maybe this is just unrealistic.  Do we ever totally get over the traumatic events of our lives?  Or is it more of a fading of the memories over time?  In the scheme of things, three years really isn’t that long.  It feels like it is, but, really, it just isn’t.  It feels like I’ve been dealing with this forever.  I just want to feel good again.  Like, really good, in mind, body and spirit.  I don’t think this is too much to ask.

If this is my new normal, (and just what is normal?), then, perhaps an attitude adjustment of sorts is in order.  What I’ve done, and continue to do, is what has gotten me to this point, and I think I am on the right track, so I just need to keep on keeping on, trusting that I’ll be finished with my healing when I’m finished with my healing.  There is no rushing it, as much as I’d like to, and as much as I keep trying to.  Clearly, that is not working.  And the truth is, I am much better able to deal with the mental aspects of this far better than the physical ones.  (After I finished my therapy and then five days later my back went out, I realized that I’d rather have to do another 14 months of intense mental work than have physical pain.  That, I am really not good at handling.)  As far as my body goes, I know I just need to keep moving it.  I need to feed it good, clean food.  I need to do my best to stay away from the things that make me feel worse, like my old friend sugar.  I do so well for a time, and then I fall off that sugar wagon.  Again.  Right now, I am half on, half off, which I guess is better than completely on, but not nearly as good as completely off.  Working on it, though.  Every day.  And getting used to the idea that this is my normal now, and that’s okay.  It is what it is.

DEPRESSION…AND HAPPINESS

Is it possible to be both depressed and happy?  Common sense would tend towards no.  But I’m thinking that it is possible to be both, at the same time, without even being aware of it, especially if your ‘normal’ state is some degree of depression.  I think that depression runs the gamut from mild sadness occasionally all the way to severe clinical depression.  I cannot honestly remember a time that I was not depressed, though if asked now, I would say I am happy.  What does that mean?  Being happy?  Obviously, happiness is subjective.  What makes me happy will not necessarily make you happy, and vice versa.

I can remember clearly the first time I was aware that I really didn’t want to be in this world.  I was 14 years old.  As I am thinking about this, though, I suspect that this idea occurred to me when I was far younger.  I simply do not remember.  Much of my childhood is a blur. I have very few actual memories, but knowing myself as I do, it makes sense that it would have come up long before I was 14.  So much more is known and understood these days about depression and the genetic link.  I am definitely predisposed to suffering from it.  My brother and uncle (my mother’s brother) are both diagnosed bipolar.  I believe that my grandmother, though not diagnosed, also suffered from it.  And plain old depression runs rampant in my family.  Two of my brothers have died as a result of it.  It is something I continue to struggle with, though certainly not to the degree I have in the past.

I think part of the reason that depression is still so misunderstood and seen by many as some kind of weakness, is because it is possible to live with it and function almost normally.   I did it for many years before I finally took the antidepressants I needed to get my chemicals back in balance.  I’m sure I even had times that I felt happy in the midst of my suffering.   I remember when my grandmother found out I was taking an antidepressant, she said, “You’re not depressed.”  Ha!  I told her that just because she didn’t see it did not mean it wasn’t there.   I was very good at hiding it from everyone.  I knew for years, and other than a few attempts at therapy, I did nothing about it.  My mother’s attitude was, buck up and stop feeling like you do.  Oh, okay.  Too bad I didn’t think of that.  Unfortunately, that is the attitude of a lot of people.  If you were stronger you could do it.  It does not work that way.  If your chemicals are truly out of balance, no amount of wishing, hoping, talk therapy, exercise or anything else is going to change it.  You must get the help you need.  What made me finally break down and admit I had to go on medication was being in Key West, the sun shining and I was feeling nothing but darkness.  I thought, oh crap, my therapist is right, I do have to take something.  I was always able, when I lived in Chicago, to blame it on the weather and the lack of sunshine, which were definitely contributing factors.  But when I was in sunshine and warmth and still had such negative feelings, I knew the time had come.

When I got back to Chicago, I asked my therapist for a recommendation of a psychiatrist so that I could do what needed to be done.  When I first went to him (I do not even remember his name now) and he confirmed that, indeed, I needed medication, I asked how long I would have to take it.  He told me that usually a year, maybe a little longer was considered ‘normal.’  I said, “Okay, but that’s as long as I plan to take it.  No longer.”  He agreed, and I continued with my therapist and once a month saw him as well.  All I can really say about the drugs were they accomplished what needed to be done.  I have always described the process of being on them as hateful.  I was first prescribed Prozac, which just about killed me.  Every bad side-effect that was possible to get, I got.  Finally, he changed it to Wellbutrin and though I hated it too, it was not quite as bad as the Prozac had been.  In the end I took it for 14 months, and when I was done, that was it.  Luckily, he agreed, and I went off of it.  I felt better than I had in years.  At the time, too, I asked if I would ever have to take it again.  He told me that I might, that there was no way to really know, sometimes people did and sometimes they didn’t.  There have been times when I thought maybe I should probably be on something again, but until my attack, I never seriously considered it.

If you’ve been reading this blog all along, then you already know what happened when I attempted to take something for my depression, post attack.  Because I had had such a negative experience with antidepressants, even though they did help me, I really did not want to take one if I could somehow do it more naturally.  So, Suzie, my amazing therapist, recommended St John’s Wort, which is an herb.  I thought this was a suitable compromise.  Well, just as the prozac almost killed me, the St John’s Wort almost made me kill myself by jumping off the Coronado Bridge.  Thing is, I did not realize it was the pills, I just thought I wasn’t getting better.  I did not tell anyone, including Suzie, for a couple of weeks.  I finally told her and she immediately knew it was the supplement that was causing the problem.  I had to wean off of it, but because of that and the fact that every other thing I had tried taking and had had such a bad response to, I was afraid to try anything else.  I had to white-knuckle it the rest of my therapy.  As I’ve said before, my depression after my sexual assault was situational, not clinical, and I was able to do it.

Ask me if I’m happy now, and I’ll say YES.  Some times I am happier than other times, and I still have issues that definitely challenge me, but, over all, I am happy.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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A LINGERING SADNESS

In the fall of 1973, my mother gathered my (then) 3 brothers together and said, “Since we cannot decide on what kind of car to get, do you think we could decide on what kind of baby?”  (Note – In August of 1972, my mother had married Mark Shriver, who then adopted  me and my 3 brothers.  We had had a VW bus since 1965 (actually, we were on our second one by then) and since we were now 6 people, the bus just wasn’t big enough anymore, and so the need for a new car.  I do not remember what my brothers wanted, but I thought we should get the metallic blue beetle.  Yeah, like that was big enough!  In the end, we got a Dodge Sportsman Van (long before minivans were around) and a Mercedes 450SL.  Clearly, the van was for the kids and the 450SL was for the adults.) I, of course, wanted a girl and my brothers wanted a boy.  As I would be almost 14 years old when the baby was born, I’m not really sure what good a sister would have done me.  Really, I wanted a girl so I could make her little dresses.  I got another brother.  Andrew Mark Shriver was born on 29 April 1974.

When he came home from the hospital, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  My mother had brought home a red baby!  I did not even like him until he was about 3 months old.  Then I fell in love.  He became ‘my baby.’  Although I was not his mother, I did have a huge influence on him, the main thing being I did not ‘allow’ him to have a southern accent.  Oh, no!  Since none of us had been born in Atlanta (me and my brothers in WV, my new father was born in NJ, and my mother in Missouri,) and none of us had southern accents, I decided he would not, could not, have one either.   When he started pre-school and came home saying things like, ‘ya’ll’ and ‘fixin” and ‘cut on the light,’ I knew I had to step in.  I am proud to say that I was quite successful.  So much so, that when he went away to college in Maine, when I went to his graduation, he introduced me to his friends as ‘she’s the reason I don’t have a southern accent.’  No one could believe that he had been born and spent his entire life in Georgia and did not speak like his mouth was full of cotton balls.

We went to the same private school: me, only for my senior year in 1977/78 and Andy, from 4th grade on.  Because there were so many years between us, and even Brian, who was closest in age to him was still 9 years older, most of his friends did not realize Andy had older siblings.  When people saw us together, they just assumed I was his mother, and were always surprised to find out I was his older sister.

In my mind, Andy had it all–he grew up in a family with 2 parents who were not divorced, he was, in essence, an only child, he had every advantage and he was a good kid.  He never did drugs or smoked (I do take credit for this since I told him if he ever smoked cigarettes, I would make him eat them, lit!) and he did well in school.  He went to college and actually graduated in 4 years, like you are supposed to.  After graduation, he went back to Atlanta and got a job.  He had lots of friends and seemed happy, seemed being the operative word.

Pretty much everyone in my immediate family suffers from either depression or has bipolar disorder.  I now know that I spent a good part of my life clinically depressed.  I am the only one who has every gotten help with it.  I have been in therapy various times through my life.  I took antidepressants, which were hateful, but they did what they were meant to do and got my chemicals back in balance.  I asked at the time whether I would ever have to take them again.  My doctor said maybe, but that there was no way to know for sure.  I have read and participated in all kinds of self-help seminars.  I have worked really hard to stick around, which is my way of saying I’ve worked really hard not to kill myself.  The same cannot be said for anyone else in my family.  Is it fun to deal with all the crap?  Ah, no, it’s not.  But there is something in me that makes me have to do it.  Just as after my attack.  Even my therapist said I had a choice to do it or not, but I never felt that I did.  I absolutely had to do it.

Andy was suffering from depression, but he never let anyone know.  He was also suffering from a completely ‘fixable’ heart condition.  Again, he never told anyone.  No one knew that he was, essentially, a ticking time bomb.  And that bomb went off on 14 June 2011.  He died from an aortic aneurism.  I will never forget the call I got telling me that he was dead.  How could this be?  He was 37 years old.  He was my ‘baby.’  And as it turned out, the only ‘baby’ I ever had.

Yesterday was, what should have been, his 40th birthday.  I spent the day feeling pretty crappy.  I was able to work, and while I was working, I could keep my mind off of him.  I worked until about 8:30p, and that’s when I realized that working had kept me from dwelling too much on his not being here.  I miss him more than I can say or even understand.

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HAS IT REALLY BEEN A YEAR?

Time flies.  And it seems to fly faster the older we get.  Remember being a kid and the days just dragging by?  Unless, of course, you were waiting for the bell to ring at 3p on the last day of school before summer vacation started!  And the truth is, time flies, whether or not you are having fun.  Well, according to the calendar, it has been a year since my boyfriend of almost 2 years broke up with me and, more or less, broke my heart.  As my heart, and all the rest of me, was still recovering from my encounter with cockroach boy, it was particularly difficult to deal with.  What was very clear to me, almost immediately, was that he had, in fact, done the right thing.  Oh, it’s not that I wanted to be alone.  Actually, I hated it, and, truth be told, still do.  What was right about it was I would have eventually broken up with him.  It probably would have taken me years to realize this because we really did have a great relationship in a lot of ways.  Was it perfect?  No, but it certainly was perfect for me, and I suspect, for him, right up until it wasn’t anymore.  Because of all the intense therapy I had done, and all of the crap from my past that had been dealt with during that therapy, I had grown.  A lot!  So much, in fact, that I had outgrown him.  I truly was no longer the person I had been when we first met.  Is this a bad thing?  No, it’s not.  Do I wish this ‘change’ had never occurred?  A part of me does.  A larger part knows, though, that it was necessary for me to experience and go through what I did to move me along my path.

We were only six months into the relationship when my sexual assault happened.  At the time, I asked him, “Does this mean you aren’t going to like me anymore?”  He told me, “No.  You are precious to me.”  And I believed him, and that belief allowed me to focus on myself and my healing.  No one, least of all me, knew exactly how long that would take.  I probably thought it would take a few weeks or, maybe, a couple of months.  It never occurred to me that it would take as long as it did.  I went to therapy, every Monday, week after week after week, for 13  months, and I hated every minute of it, though I loved my therapist.   It was incredibly hard and physically painful for lot of it.  Through it all, though, I had this amazing, loving, supportive, incredibly encouraging boyfriend.  I cannot imagine how much more difficult it would have been had I not been in this relationship.

When I inquired it he thought the breakup was a delayed reaction to my attack, he said, “No.  Yes.  I don’t know.  All I do know is I’m exhausted from having to deal with it.”  Okay. Well, so was I.  Still am.  Because I am still dealing with it.  Certainly not in the same ways, but the effects are ever-present.  There are certain books I cannot read and movies I cannot see.  Although I am not afraid of it, I do not really walk in the dark anymore.  When a stranger approaches me, especially at night, I wonder if he is going to attack me.  When I get sick, yet again, I curse cockroach boy for the trauma my body has suffered and continues to suffer.  I live with the thought, in the back of my mind, that one day in the not-too-distant-future, he will get out of prison, and though I do not believe he will come after me, who knows what he’ll do?  I certainly never expected to be attacked in the first place. One of the things I do tell myself, and something that allows me to carry on from day-to-day, is because it happened once, there is just no way it could happen again.  Don’t know if this is actually true, but I HAVE to tell myself this or I’m not sure I could go on.  It feels like all of these things are a part of my being now.  Will they fade in time?  Will they go completely away?  I have no idea.  I hope so.

What I was then, and will continue to be is grateful to my ex for sticking around  the way he did.  I know it made all the difference in the world to have him stand beside me, to not walk away.  It wasn’t easy for him, and even though I knew it, at least to a degree, I wish I had been more aware of how it was effecting him.  Would that have made a difference in the end?  No way to know.   All I am really certain of is he was/is a good man, and I miss him.  Still.

 

ONGOING ISSUES

In November, there was an article in MORE Magazine called, “A Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness,” written by Alexia Jetter.  It was about the long-term effects of domestic abuse.  I was not, nor have I ever been physically abused by a partner, BUT the information was enlightening to me.  Ever since my attack I have had one physical thing after another come up.  At first it made sense, sort of, that this was happening.  While I was in therapy and was in quite a lot of physical pain, not to mention the psychological and emotional turmoil I was experiencing, it was at least understandable that I would have stuff come up.  And, really, for the most part, my body did remarkably well, considering all I was dealing with.  The truth is, until cockroach boy was sentenced to prison, I did not get sick.  Not even when my boyfriend did get sick (now I know it was my attack that caused this) and stayed that way for close to 2 months, and even with all the time I was spending with him then, I never got sick.  So when I did get sick after the court date (just a cold, but annoying nonetheless, especially because it was summer,) it made perfect sense that the entire 9 months before, my body was, essentially, keeping me where I needed to be to get myself healed.  And if you’ll remember, 5 days after my therapy was finished, my back went out and I spent 96 hours not being able to move at all.  Again, I realized that my body had been holding onto the physical trauma until I was through the emotional work and could then deal with another aspect of the entire process.  I got through that, and then about 2 months later, my boyfriend broke up with me, which resulted in more trauma, both emotional and physical.  In this case, my emotional sadness and heartache manifested itself into my foot, resulting in a neuroma in my right foot.

So I have spent the last 10 or so months having acupuncture to heal my foot.  Some people choose to have surgery to deal with this type of injury, but I opted for the alternative route.  Besides not wanting to pay for surgery, and already knowing how my body responds to surgery, there was no way I was putting myself through another traumatic experience when there was another option.  Being injured proved very challenging for me.  After my attack and the sharp decrease of my physical activity, I had had to learn how to, basically, walk again.  As I mentioned in the story of the day of my actual attack, I went from walking 60-90 miles a week to zero.  That was a huge loss.  My walking was not only my physical exercise, but it was also my praying/meditating/me time. Even after I was able to walk again on a somewhat regular basis, it was just not the same.  And then my injury occurred and I was once again sidelined.  I was still doing yoga, at least to the best of my ability, modified to allow me to practice in spite of my hurt foot.  But, at least for me, yoga will never be enough exercise for my body.  I started getting depressed again with the lack of ‘moving.’  Luckily, I realized what was going on and looked for other ways to move my body without walking.  I rode my bike to the store or uptown to the book store or library, activities I normally walked to do.  I joined the gym again, and rode my bike there, as well.  I sometimes just rode my (beach) bike around the island, though that was a more leisurely activity than anything else.  And I kept going to acupuncture each week.

After my attack, with the loss of my ability to exercise in the way I was used to, I gained ten pounds.  I was pretty much able to limit my weight gain (in that year and a half) by walking, in time, as much as was possible.  Then when Bill broke up with me almost a year ago, I gained ten more.  You have to understand that when I was attacked, I weighed 135 pounds, and at 5’10” that was thin.  So I eventually ended up at 155 (maybe even a little more, but as I do not have a scale, I am not exactly sure) which really isn’t too much for my height, but it is too much for me.  My clothes did not fit and I was not comfortable in my own body.  For me, exercise and moving my body is as necessary as food and water.  Without that outlet, I am not happy.  Something had to change.  I was still self-soothing and it was definitely taking a toll on me.  In the summer and fall it wasn’t so bad when my clothes did not fit; but once it got colder and I needed to be wearing something besides loose dresses or yoga pants, I had to make a choice to stop what was clearly not working and do something different.

What I did was a whole food cleanse with Elizabeth Hirsh and Charlette Preslar.  It was 14 days and it changed my attitude about food and my body.  I cannot say that I am exactly where I’d like to be, but I am more accepting of where I am.  Although the cleanse was not a weight loss program per se, I did lose some weight.  And I am happy to say that my jeans fit me again.  I learned a new way to eat, and though I am not 100% good, I definitely have incorporated the recipes we used on the cleanse.

Back to the article about the hidden and long-term  effects of domestic abuse…although I do not know of any studies that have been done about the hidden effects of sexual assault on our bodies, I KNOW this is the case.  Since my attack I have had more things happen and I been sick more than I have in the last 20 years.  I have no way of knowing if and when this will stop.  I am ever hopeful that, in time, these things will at least lessen.  It is very frustrating not knowing what else may come up.  All I can do is continue to put one foot in front of the other, literally and figuratively,  and believe that it is possible to completely heal.  Clearly, I am not there yet.

On 3 January this is what I wrote in my journal:  “Not sure why I am surprised that I am still healing from my attack.  Matt (this is my acupuncturist) pointed this out to me this morning. I guess I think I should be all better by now.  The mistake I seem to have made was in thinking I would be finished when my therapy was done.  Ha!  Joke’s on me, except it isn’t so funny.  I suppose the best thing I can do for myself and my state of mind/sanity is to just let go of all and any preconceived notions I’ve had or continue to have around how long or exactly the path my healing will take/is taking.  I keep thinking I’m done/it’s done and clearly this is not the case.  So, I’ll say again, I am not sure why any of this comes as a surprise.  It will take as long as it takes and no amount of wishing it were different seems to be working.  Well, rats!”

DREAM BOARD

Last year at this time, I created this dream board.

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It was about 3 weeks past the sentencing of cockroach boy, and I had been biding my time since January, when I had first gotten the idea for At Long Last Heard, to launch this site.  I was still deep in the recovery process and, although I was then ‘free’ to talk about what had happened, I was still hesitant and, most likely, afraid to put it out there for anyone to see.  I was still suffering from PTSD at that point.  When the opportunity presented itself for making a dream/vision board, I jumped at the chance.  I saw it as a way for me to have a tangible representation of all the healing quotes and phrases that were constantly running through my head.  And instead of having just a board full of quotes, which I could have done, I chose to have flowers, as well.

I have it beside my bed and still look at it each day for inspiration.