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Contributor: Using Spoon Theory to Explain Chronic Illness

When you suffer from a chronic illness like arthritis, lupus or CRPS, every day can be a real struggle. Some days will be worse than others, so it helps to devise some coping strategies to help you through the roughest days. This may mean having to turn down social invitations or skimp on preparing a ‘proper’ dinner, but only you know how your body feels, so looking out for yourself in these situations is not selfish.

Another challenging aspect of chronic illness is trying to make others appreciate the pain through which you’re living every day. There are cynics out there who routinely accuse invisible illness sufferers of being melodramatic in describing their pain, but there is no call for such ignorance. Sometimes, it takes more than words to truly get a message across.

That’s what inspired Christine Miserandino to come up with the Spoon Theory, a metaphor that is now used across the world by chronic illness patients to communicate their struggles. She devised the theory in 2003 when she was asked by a friend over lunch what it was like to have lupus. Instead of launching into a detailed depiction of her pain, Christine took 12 spoons from unused tables, handed them to her friend and took them away one by one as her friend described a normal day. The point she was trying to communicate was that chronic illness sufferers only have so many ‘spoons’ in a day and regular activities like showering, cooking and cleaning all require spoons, so there is very little energy left by evening time.

Here is an infographic from Burning Nights that goes into further detail about the Spoon Theory and lists some great pointers on how to manage chronic illness effectively.

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Contributor: Furnishings for Your Home to Help Ease Pain

 

 

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Dealing with chronic pain is a challenging battle, especially as it is an extremely individualistic one. With more than 25.3 million Americans experiencing chronic pain every day for the last three months, it is a widespread issue that leads many people to seek the best methods for handling their pain.

However, there are better solutions to managing joint pain that you can add to your home. In addition to treating chronic pain with proper nutrition and plenty of sleep, you can also adjust your furnishings and the layout of your home to ease and reduce inflammation. By adjusting your home in the following ways, you can benefit from an environment that is centered on comfort and wellness.

Creating a soothing sanctuary for rest

One of the most crucial ways to care for your body when dealing with chronic pain is to get plenty of rest. Having a relaxing space at home where you can go to kick up your feet, snuggle under a warm blanket, and listen to calming music is essential to managing both stress and pain. You can add features to the space like hot water bottles, a speaker system to play slow tunes, and some plants that give off good vibes.

Additionally, you can make the space incredibly soothing by purchasing some calming natural soy candles and buying cozy curtains to block out the sun. During the day, when you are feeling the effects of your pain, you can go to this spot, dim the lights, and practice meditation. Knowing there is a designated space to work on relieving your pain will make your days easier, as you will have an outlet and safe space when the pain is at its worst.

Make things easy on yourself

When it gets to that certain point of the day when your pain has taken over and you feel unable to continue with your usual routine, you may feel defeated. But, you can still continue on with your activities if you incorporate certain items into your home to make life a little easier. In the kitchen, there are plenty of items that are friendly to people with pain, like peelers and knives with easy-to-grip handles. In the bathroom, you can consider buying a raised toilet seat or grippers for the tub/shower to help take the pressure off of your knees or other joints. There’s plenty of creative ways to make doing regular things in the house easier on your aching joints and muscles — it’s just a matter of doing some research and finding the alternatives!

By creating a soothing sanctuary in your home and adding some easy-to-use features, you can deal with your chronic pain in a naturalistic way and feel supported by your surroundings.

Jenny Holt  is a freelance writer and mother of two. She loves nothing more than getting away from it all and taking her pet Labrador Bruce for long walks, something she can do a lot more now she’s left the corporate world behind.

Contributor: Go Holistic for Pain Management

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The best approach for pain management, especially long-term chronic pain, is holistic. Pain-killing medication is avoided — as well as their associated side effects, such as an addiction to prescription pain killers.  Holistic therapies are often more effective, too. The American Society of Addiction Medicine states that, of the 20.5 million Americans age 12 or older who had a substance use disorder in 2015, 2 million people had a substance use disorder involving prescription medicine.  The holistic way is totally natural, and the benefits are far beyond pain management.  As the population ages because of longer lifespans, chronic pain has become a bigger issue, the most common of which is lower back pain, followed closely by migraines and neck problems.

Less stress using a holistic approach

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) has advised that there is growing evidence suggesting complementary approaches are working for pain management.  Holistic therapies change the way the person perceives pain, and this can be as a direct result of reduced stress levels following the therapy.  Anxiety and depression are known to increase the perception of pain.  Often, it is a combination of holistic therapies that works best for an individual.

Practicing mindfulness and spirituality for pain relief

By including spirituality in your life — perhaps through meditation or mindfulness — a greater meaning and purpose can unfold together with a calmer sense of wellbeing. Spirituality enhances mental and physical wellness, and the subsequent effect on pain management is achieved. Spirituality does not have to be connected to religion, so it can be carried out by both religious and non-religious people.

Holistic therapies also include self-awareness, which is closely connected to mindfulness. Mindfulness is nonjudgmental and enables the surrounding situations to be identified.  Following this, self-awareness, sometimes in conjunction with meditation, identifies a space to relax and accept a particular situation. A calmer and more aware individual, with mental wellness, will find their pain is much more easily managed.

Holistic for pain-free body strength

Yoga is another popular holistic therapy that focuses on both developing physical coordination and flexibility alongside muscle strength. It can be particularly helpful in managing physical pain, as it not only works by reducing stress levels and pain perception, but also by strengthening and flexibility development, which can improve many pain-causing conditions — especially of a wear and tear nature. e.g., osteoarthritis.  Other therapies found useful are acupuncture and massage.

Find your holistic pain-free combination

For most people in pain, especially chronic pain, their unique combination of the various holistic practices available will work.  Sometimes it takes a little time to find this unique combination, but by experimentation and trying new therapies, you will usually be led to the correct mix. With your pain managed, you can enjoy a happy future.

Jenny Holt  is a freelance writer and mother of two. She loves nothing more than getting away from it all and taking her pet Labrador Bruce for long walks, something she can do a lot more now she’s left the corporate world behind.

Contributor: Managing Chronic Pain in Seniors

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via Cristian Newman @cristian_newman

More than 100 million American adults have chronic pain, which is more than the total number of people with diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer combined, according to figures provided by the American Academy of Pain Medicine. As the population ages, the issue of chronic pain in senior adults becomes more prevalent. Pain management and awareness are becoming more common. One such venture is Pain Awareness month, which is run by the American Chronic Pain Association.

Why Chronic Pain is Such a Big Issue

In 2016, there were approximately 46 million U.S. adults aged 65 and older, with this number expected to rise to 98 million by 2060. Unfortunately, research published by the National Library of Medicine confirms that 50% of adults who live alone and 75 – 85% living in elderly care homes have some form of  chronic pain.

Causes of Chronic Pain

There are many conditions that lead to chronic long term pain in seniors; however, in a survey conducted by the National Institute of Health Statistics, they noted that there are four conditions contributing to the majority of cases.

The most common causes of chronic pain are lower back pain (27%) followed by severe headaches or migraines (15%); neck pain (15%) and facial pain (4%) make up the conditions. These conditions can leave elderly relatives vulnerable to falls, or not being able to get up from a bed or chair. Families are using the latest technologies to provide an early alert that gets help for vulnerable family members.

Back Pain

Chronic low back pain affects approximately 25 million Americans. Roughly one in three adults aged between 65-74 reported chronic back pain in the last three months. As our population continues to age, this condition is likely to become more prevalent.

Headaches and Migraines

While most primary headaches are as similar for seniors as they are for younger people, there are some key differences. Late-life migraines and hypnic headache attacks (also known as “alarm clock” headaches) are often accompanied by visual or sensory phenomena. Hypnic headaches awaken patients from sleep, are short-lived, and mostly affect the elderly.

The other issue for seniors is that certain rescue medications often used to treat younger migraine sufferers or severe headache conditions are often not suitable for seniors because of the risks linked to coronary artery disease.

Pain Management for Seniors

Pain management in seniors is often complicated by the fact that they can have several conditions that require a wider treatment plan. This can often lead to the under-treatment of pain in certain groups because of misdiagnoses.

Individual treatment plans comprised of medication and/or physical therapy will be put together by your medical professional. It is always recommended that seniors lead an active lifestyle and try to get light to moderate physical exercise.

Advancements in science and medicine means that we are living longer and generally in better health. It is inevitable that certain conditions will continue to be a health concern, and chronic pain is one of these. A healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet will always help to improve our overall good health well into our senior years.

Jenny Holt  is a freelance writer and mother of two. She loves nothing more than getting away from it all and taking her pet Labrador Bruce for long walks, something she can do a lot more now she’s left the corporate world behind.

How to Succeed on Your Terms When Life Interferes

Success is only what you put into it. The harder you work for something, the better the success will be. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.

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Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

I Googled “stupid quotes about hard work and motivation.” How pithy are these quotes? How out of touch with reality are they?

My reality, anyway. I think about quotes like this often, especially now, because I thought I was done with this blog. I thought it had taught me all I needed to know.

Except…

I had another MRI that shows degeneration above and below my two fusions, which explains the pain down my arms and up into my head that grows with intensity every day. Breakdown isn’t supposed to happen after a fusion for at least 10 years. My surgeon said that, unfortunately, I have “bad connective tissue.” Yay. This could lead to what is called the “ladder effect,” which is when you have fusion after fusion, laddering up and down the spine until there is, presumably, a pole of metal inside your body that holds you up.

Pair this fact with my tendency to work as hard as I physically can, and it’s a recipe for guilt-ridden disaster. Each day I try to work, and my pain or brain fog or a migraine interferes. No more eight-hour workdays, that’s for sure.

I refuse to give in to lethargy and despair. So how can I balance my physical problems with my desire to work? And, you know, help pay the mortgage?

I’ve distilled my approach down to two bullet points:

  • Be realistic about what you can achieve.
  • Work in spurts, whenever you can. 

Nothing other than this works for me. No To-Do Lists, no calendaring, no time blocking, no Kanban-ing, no bullet journaling. I’ve tried them all, and I keep coming back to this. I’m not happy about it, but I also can’t sit for a full day anymore, much less half a day.

Be realistic about what you can achieve

I can’t work eight hours straight anymore. Hell, I can barely work four hours. That is the limit I decided to try upon my therapist’s suggestion. She said I was still putting too much pressure on myself. I calculated exactly how many hours per month it would take to pay my bills and then divided that by week. I weighed that number against my physical capabilities and landed on four hours per day. That seems like nothing. I feel awkward and like I’m leaving work early each afternoon.

We are so hardwired in this culture to work, work, work, all the time, as much as we can. I realized that other cultures, like Sweden, had it right when they limited workdays. (Though I know that in the end, the experiment proved too expensive.) But if it’s just about the work, not the cost, then the argument still applies. The work still got done. You just prioritize your time better. Instead of filling my day with trips to Facebook or Instagram, I hunker down and get things done. Then I can set it aside for the afternoon and focus on yoga, stretching, podcasting, whatever. “Fun things.” Things for me, the ones that don’t require as much brainpower.

Work in spurts, whenever you can

This is why I work seven days a week and don’t have a weekend anymore. I’ll take days off whenever I need them, as many days as are necessary. But then I’ll work every day if I can, knowing that those off-days are likely coming. And it doesn’t mean I’ll work for a full day (ha, “full day”) on Saturday and Sunday. It means finishing an article before spending time with my husband or editing a few pieces before seeing my friends.

I have come to understand that my lifestyle no longer reflects the traditional workweek in any way, shape, or form. I can’t let that guilt weigh me down. Guilt comes from within, and I have no reason to feel guilty when I am meeting all of my current obligations. There’s just this overarching feeling of “I shouldn’t be doing this.”

Why not? Why not, when it’s literally all I can do?

Contributor: The Latest Approaches To Joint Pain Management 

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Photo by Nino Liverani on Unsplash

Arthritis is now the most common cause of disability in USA, and it is on the rise. In a study by John Hopkins Arthritis Centre, the average time lost from productive work as a result of back pain and arthritis was a staggering 5.2 hours per week. Long-term use of pain-relieving medication can have unpleasant side effects, so let’s look at a few of Nature’s remedies that are at our disposal. These, in combination with stretching, weight loss and other techniques, may be useful tools in the fight against pain.

Glucosamine – an amazing sugar

Glucosamine is what’s known as an amino sugar, which means it’s a kind of sugar/protein hybrid. It is produced in our bodies, but its production naturally slows as we get older. It is needed to produce substances that are the building blocks of our cartilage – the layer of tissue that keeps our joints well lubricated – and reduce the possibility of our bones painfully grinding together, which is essentially what happens in arthritis. A supplement of Glucosamine may therefore help in the repair of cartilage and therefore reduce pain.

Fabulous fish

Glucosamine is best taken in combination with Omega 3 oil, which is found in cold water fish like sardines, salmon and mackerel. Studies have found that these fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation and therefore assist with pain.

Reach for the vinegar

The use of apple cider vinegar dates back thousands of years and has always been a popular folk remedy. In fact, it is said it was used by Hippocrates. It has long been known to help with arthritis, and although we don’t know its mode of action, there’s no harm in including it in your diet, as it is great when used in salad dressings and marinades.

Be aware of nightshade

Yes, you read it correctly – there are foods commonly used in our diets that belong to the same family as the notorious deadly nightshade! While that doesn’t mean they’re poisonous, they do contain substances that need to be safely broken down by the body, and some people appear to be sensitive to these compounds. Some, although not all, arthritis patients find that by cutting down on these foods can help reduce joint problems. The culprits, amazingly, are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and aubergines. Maybe give them a miss for as little as a week and see if your symptoms improve.

Wise old Hippocrates used to say, “Let food be your medicine.” Why not see if these simple measures help to reduce your chronic pain?

Jenny Holt is a freelance writer and mother of two. She loves nothing more than getting away from it all and taking her pet Labrador Bruce for long walks, something she can do a lot more now she’s left the corporate world behind. Email her at jennyholtwriter@gmail.com! 

Contributor: Herbs for Helping with Chronic Back Pain

It can be tempting and convenient to reach for the pills when it comes to chronic pain, especially in the back. However, strong medication often has its adverse side effects that sometimes outweigh the benefits.

There are numerous natural alternatives when it comes to pain relief that can be worth checking out. For thousands of years, native plants like herbs have been used in aid of relieving bodily pain and discomfort. Let’s take a look at some herbs that can help with chronic back pain.

Ginger

Ginger is known for its numerous healing properties, including the ability to calm an upset stomach and subside overwhelming feelings of nausea. But recent research has shown that it just might be the perfect remedy for chronic pain issues as well. Another property that ginger has shown promise is inflammation.

While there haven’t been too many studies that can conclusively state how effective ginger is in relieving inflammation, it is known that it has some benefits. The presence of phytochemicals in the ginger extract help with this. The other advantage to taking ginger for back pain is that there are very few side effects when taken in small doses.

Turmeric and Feverfew

Turmeric is one of the spice powerhouses, long known for its healing properties. It has been used to relieve the pain of arthritis and heartburn for centuries and, like ginger, is also known for its inflammatory properties. Turmeric has a chemical called curcumin that has been linked closely with being an anti-inflammatory. While turmeric is harmless in small doses, it is worth noting that consuming too much potentially causes indigestion.

Feverfew is another tried and true herbal remedy for symptoms like chronic back pain. It has been widely used for centuries around issues like headaches, stomachaches, and toothaches. Nowadays, it is known for being used to relieve symptoms of arthritis and migraines – both of which can be caused by back pain. It’s one to try as it hasn’t been associated with any serious side effects. However, if taken in high doses, it can potentially cause canker sores and irritation of the mouth and tongue.

Cayenne and Capsaicin

These two are virtually the same herb – capsaicin is the active ingredient found in Cayenne pepper and other spicy sources that aids in the relief of issues like chronic back pain. There are a couple of ways to apply this herb to help the problem. By ingesting it orally in cayenne pepper, you can relieve symptoms of inflammation and irritation. There are also products available that have derived capsaicin from the chili pepper, which makes it more concentrated and effective. This is then used as a topical cream and can be applied directly to the areas that are most affected. Capsaicin works by slowly draining the body of substance P. Substance P is responsible for the conveying of the pain sensation from the problem area to the central nervous system, so it gets to the core of the problem and works its way out from there.

Devil’s Claw and Cat’s Claw

Devil’s Claw is a South African herb that has also been used for centuries in aid of relieving pain and discomfort of the body. While it might sound similar to Cat’s Claw, it’s actually from a different continent entirely. Devil’s Claw is shown to be useful in helping arthritis and lower back pain, and there are little-known side effects if taken in high doses. Cat’s claw is also effective in improving chronic back pain. From Latin America, Cat’s claw can help with specific back issues like a herniated disc, joint inflammation, and arthritis of the spine.

While prescribed medication can be useful for a small period, they run the risk of long-term effects that can be detrimental to the rest of the body. Medicine tends to mask the pain temporarily so while it might seem like the answer initially, it’s not productive at eradicating the problem entirely. Trying a natural alternative like herbs can not only be beneficial in relieving pain, but they can also work over time to permanently put a dent in the problem.

By Anne Keiley from Free Your Spine

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Anne has suffered with back pain for many years, and in 2014 she added to that when she was diagnosed with multiple cervical herniated discs. Anne has managed to navigate a path through her chronic pain using natural medicine and techniques. She believes in finding and dealing with the root cause of pain wherever possible.

A Look at “Zero to Hero” When You Feel Like a Zero

I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

“You get to work from home! That’s so great!”

Whenever people say that, I never know how to respond.

Like, yeah, of course, it’s great to be home all the time… I guess. I forget what day of the week it is. I wear sweatpants. I shower when I want to shower. I work in the living room from my recliner or in the office, whichever is more comfortable. The television is on for “background noise.” I keep the cat and bunny from murdering each other.

I also have very little human interaction other than Slack, Gchat, Facebook, or email. I’m a slave to the elements, meaning my Quell says, “Today’s weather may worsen your pain. Consider increased Quell use.” I’ve gotten that warning for the past two weeks straight. If it’s cold or raining, I stay inside. Sometimes I stay inside for days at a time if the weather is against me. It’s like living in a hamster ball.

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Meeeeeeeeee! Photo by jackiembarr on VisualHunt.com / CC BY

God, can you imagine roaming around the neighborhood in a hamster ball? That’d be amazing. I’d be legendary.

ANYWAY. It’s been hard to work from home recently, mainly because I’ve been wiped out. My body has been rejecting the concept of work, and I have been in increased levels of pain — a month-long flare that has incapacitated me. I took on an extra project that had me running around far more than usual, going into the city and driving and interviewing people, and afterward I had the biggest flare I’ve had in years. The recovery has been, shall we say… difficult.

I’m looking for alternative methods of pain control. For a few months now I have been doing a workout program that I quite enjoy called Zero to Hero, which was created by Megan Densmore. She suffers from fibromyalgia, not that you’d ever be able to tell from her incredibly well-sculpted body. She competes in kettlebell tournaments and stuff. She created this 12-month online program for people with chronic illnesses who need guidance with their workouts. And yes, I got the first part of the program for free in exchange for the review. But my God, look at her. She’s her own testimonial.

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BEAST MODE. Via charitygirlproblems.com

“I designed this program specifically for people who have received a chronic illness diagnosis and who have been told that exercise would be helpful in managing their symptoms and increasing their energy level. I find this recommendation is given liberally but there are almost no actual tools to take this advice! Zero to Hero also works well for people who have chronic pain from injuries and some forms of arthritis (when physical therapy has been completed and individuals have been cleared for mild exercise).”

I want to look like that. I don’t yet. I’ve been doing the program for a few months now, and each video is about seven to ten minutes long. And they are difficult. For normal people (healthy people), they probably wouldn’t be very hard. See, the problem for those of us with chronic conditions is that we start exercising, and then we hit The Wall. We get all excited, we get our gym memberships, we buy all the clothes, we do good for maybe a week or two — and then we hit an all-consuming exhaustion and level of pain we didn’t realize was possible. Then we stop exercising and revert back to our sloth-like states.

Megan understands The Wall because she’s been there. Normal people don’t hit The Wall.  They get sore and tired, sure. But they don’t feel body-wide exhaustion and pain. She’s designed this program to be slow enough and gentle enough that we can kind of… edge around The Wall and keep trotting down the road.

I’ll definitely be continuing the program past what has been made freely available to me. I want to look like that. More importantly, I want to feel better. And honestly? I can tell my flare would have been worse if I hadn’t have been doing these workouts, because now I actually have some sort of core muscle strength to keep me stabilized. I looked in the mirror the other day and was like, “What are those? Is that… Are those muscles?” I actually have some semblance of a core now. For a while I was confused and thought it was just some extra flab, but nope — it has some definition. There’s a purpose to it. I AM ON MY WAY TO BEAST MODE.

Megan has been able to control her fibromyalgia symptoms for a number of years now and live the life she wants to live. I want to do that, too.

Hey Guys, Free Stuff! (Maybe!) Pain Awareness Month Giveaway

September is almost over, guys. That means that our month — Pain Awareness Month — is almost over. However, there are still a few things that I want to share with you.

Backer Nation, a website that profiled me recently and is also keeping in line with the American Chronic Pain Association’s mission this month, is doing a giveaway for a gift basket filled with back pain and wellness goodies valued at more than $1,000. They have partnered with companies like Quell and others so they can get the message out for pain patients, using the hashtag #effbackpain for people to share stories and inspire others.

Disclaimer: I’m not getting anything for telling you that. I hope you win the basket!

Funny story, Backer Nation approached me independently of Quell, and then Quell said, “Hey, we’ve been working with Backer Nation and made these graphics for Pain Awareness Month [see below]. Maybe you can share them?” It’s a small world, people.

So the graphics! NeuroMetrix (AKA, the Quell people) have come up with some interesting graphics in tandem with Backer Nation, which I have pasted below for your reading pleasure. You can use this information in arguments with people when you need to lay down the law.

Happy Fall, everyone! Best month of the year!

Pain Awareness Month 2017

Hello there, my lovelies!

It’s September 1st, and you know what that means — and if you don’t, let me drop some knowledge on you. It’s Pain Awareness Month!

 

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Via U.S. Pain Foundation

*Sound the trumpets*

Yes, it is the month that those of us with chronic conditions have taken as our own to raise awareness of our maladies. Naturally I won’t be here for the Boston Abilities Expo (gotta celebrate my dad’s birthday!), but there are plenty of things happening this month, and the U.S. Pain Foundation is keeping track of many goings-on, like fundraisers, the 30-day challenge (follow @US_pain on Twitter and @USPainAwarenessMonth on Instagram for this year’s challenge), proclamations, etc. You can even change your profile picture on Facebook to raise awareness, since many of the most common pain conditions are invisible to the eye.

So that’s cool! Keep on the lookout for Pain Awareness Month-related things and see if there is a family member or friend you can help.

Also, side note, I was featured on Dr. Melissa Cady’s “Pain Out Loud” blog, though you need to sign up to watch it (there’s a free membership). The community is pretty great, and she has a series of videos centered around different types of patients. She is known as the Challenge Doctor, and here is her bio:

Melissa Cady, D.O. is an osteopathic physician certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine by the American Board of Anesthesiology. Dr. Cady can relate to her own subject matter, as she has endured and managed her own chronic pain. Her strong desire to overcome it has made her a passionate patient advocate for optimizing health through rational means while minimizing excessive and unnecessary medical interventions.

You can watch it here.

Peace!