Susan and Dano have presented in comments here two different ideas about isolation that I need to explore more deeply, with your help. This is hard for me to pin down alone. My mind wants to wander, to lose focus, to put itself to sleep because this gets at something I don’t want to face – so bear with me as I try to chain together a few thoughts about what is happening in the urge or the necessity to isolate.

Dano has written with crushing power about the worst times of depression when the illness flattens her under its unremitting pressure and pain. Isolation, then, is not a choice but a necessity. The ability to face others, to speak, to interact is completely stripped away.

I know that when I’m crashing into the thicket of Depression, I need to be alone. The very act of making eye contact, speaking, inhaling and exhaling have become monumental tasks. I feel contagious, as if by even being near me, others will get sucked into my mental black hole.

I know this feeling. When it hits, I can’t talk, can’t think, can hardly move in any direction. And all I’m hearing are voices tearing into my soul, full of hate and contempt. It becomes so intense I think I can’t stand living with myself for another minute. That’s when my inner rebellion begins, and I know it’s a battle for survival. The determination comes back that I’m not going to be defeated by this illness, I won’t let my mind be poisoned into wishing for death. That’s the inner struggle going on. If I don’t isolate myself to get through this fight, I won’t last long. That’s not choosing isolation – it’s a victory for survival and inner resilience.

Susan wrote in a comment here about a different state of feeling – or at least one that I see as very different. She calls it a Siren song of isolation –

I long for it when I am depressed, take the phone off the hook, don’t collect the mail, no human contact. I don’t want it. A few days into it, I long for it, but get so afraid of it…..I’ve lost so many friends over the years through this I don’t know. How can you long for something which is so toxic, but sings to you like a siren and destroys you in the end, and all your friendships and love relationships?

The Siren song is a good comparison. In Homer’s story, that song is an irresistible call to sailors passing the Sirens’ island, only to lure them to their deaths. Ulysses wants to know what their song sounds like so has his crew tie him to the ship’s mast, then seal their ears with wax, warning them not to pay attention to anything he might say or do to get them to obey the Siren’s call. So he listens and fiercely orders his men to free him and to head for the nearby island where the Sirens live. They ignore him and so he and his men survive. He has managed to outwit another of the fatal snares set for him and other travelers in their dangerous voyage. It’s a great fable for this problem.

I’ve heard this song too and have longed to give into it. But, like Susan, I know it will destroy me if I do. So what’s the equivalent of tying myself to the mast? I have no ship’s crew to turn to for help because I am not letting them get near me, but if that’ s true, I’ve already given in. I have to search back to the first moment I feel this lure, the first step I take to seal myself off. What is that? One of my best defenses against other symptoms is simply catching myself starting to accept the reality of the symptom. That’s where I have to stop and think; This is not a real state of mine – it’s a symptom of depression – shut it down, kick it out, just stop it! NOW!

That has worked when I start hearing the voice in my head telling me I can’t do anything right, I’m no good at this, give it up. I can catch myself believing that trash and yell back NO, shut up, you have nothing to do with me! And recently, I’ve been able to catch myself falling into another trap, especially when I’m writing, trying to reach deep inside, express real feeling. I suddenly get foggy in mind and feel the need to sleep, or I actually start nodding off in front of the computer. I know damn well that if I give in to that, I will wake up not refreshed but sluggish and more depressed than ever because my defenses are down. What I do instead is jump to an alternate activity, something more mechanical that can absorb my attention for a few minutes – or I get outside in the air, pace around, look up at the sky, respond to the simple life of the day, feel a part of that, come alive again. Then I can go back to writing, truly refreshed and energized.

What, then, is the first thing I do to isolate myself? In my case, as I think about it now, I stop talking to people, everyone, focus on my own thoughts, which suddenly take so much attention that I hardly notice anything or anyone around me. If I’m already alone, I cut off every possible way I might be reached. Turn off phones, computers, don’t respond to any knocking at my awareness, withdraw into a mesmerizing passivity, staring into a rich nothingness that offers a hope of inner peace.

This depression’s disguise as a pleasant condition promising restoration. It is inducing me to step aside from a troubling day, take a little rest, a little harmless rest. I can see myself soaking into the feeling, like bathing in perfect water. I want to slide under the surface and glide, glide smoothly in comfort and tranquility, the medium I flow in offering no resistance. I long to become one with it, feel myself dissolving in its warmth, wanting nothing more than to disappear as I descend.

But in the midst of that I can suddenly see I’m heading into a kind of death, either literal destruction or the emptiness of a total blockade against everything in my life. Panic sets in, and I am desperate to back away. By then, though, a lot of damage has already been done, especially to those closest to me, who have so much support to offer until I shut them out without a word.

All that I know how to do is to catch myself at that first sensation of yearning for the comfort of solitude. If I can recognize that, call it what it is – another symptom, not a real need of mine – I can see around it, avoid it, reach out to my loved ones and simply say, here’s what’s happening, I’m trying to fight, bear with me. Get a few words out, let myself hear a voice responding and so move farther and farther away from the fake call of a deadly Siren.

What do you do to break out of this trap?

Image: Some Rights Reserved by Eddi 07 at Flickr

32 Responses to “Isolation”

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  1. My daughter says:

    It’s a bit hard because I live in a small country town where I moved to 13 years ago and started to make friends only when my daughter was born 6 years ago and my closest friend left through a traumatic circumstance in her life which made things extremely complicated between us. So there’s that old remedy of ‘be around people’ but how do you make friends when your at your lowest, your not putting your best foot forward and what do you do when it may be a combination of the community your in and your depression ? I find one of the hardest things is when you know what you need but have no access to it. The community I live in is ‘I believe’ a long with many others fairly closed minded. Not sure… I know the pull towards comfort in isolation you talk about where it’s the depression talking not the real remedy…
    My question is what do you do when you are actually isolated physically?? I think I found that when I was at my lowest I would try to get out but felt like an freak I am an unshaven woman in a community where there aren’t any 40 year old single mothers like me what if the isolation is part of where you live ?? Any suggestions?? I know it’s self esteem also because When you feel good about who you are the thoughts and judgments of others are impenetrable but I know my self esteem got better because I met people when I was well enough to be an attractive friend. Some times the sheer shock that comes with panic about the fact that you have one shot and your not the person you once were and who are you anyway is enough to immobilise you and make you believe entirely you need to stay in because if you present yourself this way to the world your liable to go on a downward spiral leading to more and more symptoms you can’t get out of…
    the hardest thing for me in the world is that I have a child. The most beautiful and precious thing in the world and to feel I’m waiting to see how my life and lack of normal will impact on her is a terrifying wait..
    sorry not to be so posative this is a positive site, it’s really good to read things like this for a change the real side but people making a life thanks John good on you from south Australia xox

  2. chad says:

    You have articulated well this compulsion to isolate that has confounded me for years. When I am not in a depression funk I am utterly convinced that solitude and isolation is the thing that makes me most happy, but when I crash it is the thing that I fear most and I look at my lonely life as a kind of hell.

  3. Zel says:


    I have been isolated for nearly 6 years and realize that it has driven me crazy. I began to isolate because I wanted to comitt suicide by starvation. However, I believe the depression passed but I am still isolated and realize that every week that I do so I feel worse and worse. I’m now afraid to leave my house and am just getting worse. I am asking those out there to please pray for me…….

    • Clayton says:

      I’m doing the same thing. I got out of very abusive relationship 10 months ago after 21 years and I thought I would get better after leaving but it’s not. I LIVE IN MY BEDROOM . I use to be such an outgoing girl even after a terrible childhood. Don’t know how to break out of this. I pray I find a way and I will pray for you to

  4. Gene says:

    I’m finding your site a true revelation. I’ve very recently lost my marriage to depression and more recently using a physical separation as an excuse to isolate.
    I’m doing surprisingly well (exercise and meditation), but the sadness of acknowledging that I had succumbed to that siren song in the belief that the solitude was what I needed and to the delusion I was building something far better for myself (starting a business). I was lost in depression (again) and my efforts were never going to blossom for me in that state.
    I’ve been dealing with depression for 46 years and am just starting to see how much it controls my life and habits. It’s going to be a long but interesting road to learn different patterns, but I think I can do this.
    Thanks for this site, it is truly valuable.

  5. Jo says:

    This is the first time I have ever posted a comment on a site. I have suffered from depression for many years and have had about 5 major episodes. I feel myself slipping now. I am trying to head it off by not starting the isolation. I keep wondering if there are support groups where people can talk about what they’re going through since it’s so hard to share the honest (scary) feelings with non sufferers.

  6. jon says:

    I am deff in the stage of isolation…. reading this article made me do some deep thinking of why…. ive always been quiet to myself type of person…. But now its become extreme…. after releasing myself from a bad relationship i felt it was time to be alone for a while and it was a good thing since i wasnt used to not talking to anyone…. but then it kind of became a life of its own…. working in retail i see all kinds of mess at my job we sometimes get the worst of the worst and it has really made me hate people hate being around them….talking, touching has become repulsive….. its made me look at the friends in my life ina diff way…. when ever i talk whether it be friend or stanger nobody really seems to give a damn about mu words… they look of uninterested while ive always made an effort to be a listening ear…. so now i just shut my mouth an say nothing. i dont talk to any friends i dont trust my famlily to understand….. i feel like im dying inside and no one seems to notice or care dispite my isolation no one seems to notice but my mom and shes never been depressed (clinicly atleast) so she doesnt understand…… i am alone and i hate it so i isolate as much as possible now….. ive become to emotional and vunerable to make honest connections i am a constant mask….. but this article has been a sigh of relief in my loneliness thankyou for this….

  7. Lalula says:

    Thank you. Finally I feel less alone in my loneliness. No-one ever told me I was depressed, not even my therapist after years. She’s an excellent therapist, so I don’t hold it against her, I think she was trying to avoid “defining” my feelings. She mentioned once that depression is an umbrella-term that can at times not really mean anything.
    But to me, now, to be able to define what I feel, and to know that it also happens to others is really touching. I need to know this, I need to know what is “wrong with me”. It is an illness. I am not some kind of freak, I am suffering from an illness… this is so relieving.
    I wiill keep reading and looking for information. I do, I really do want to function as normally as possible. Keeping up with daily life seems like an impossible chore at times, but I have a child and want to do better, for my kid.
    So, thank you for reaching out and letting me know I am not the only one struggling. All of you out there understand my pain.

  8. Lynette says:

    I have spent quite a bit of time going through this site, and have found it to be very useful for me right now.

    My boyfriend of 3 years has once again disappeared. He isn’t communicating with me at all. I find this so hard and so confusing. At the same time, I want to know what I can do to help. I realise that I cannot empathise in any way with him because I do not suffer from depression. I have no idea what he is going through, other than to read through this website and try to gain an objective view. This isn’t the first time he has done this, and thankfully I kept a diary which, when I read back, I see that he has been behaving in more or less the same way, for 3 years. the diary kept me sane because I was able to vent all the feelings of anger, frustration, confusion(!) that I was going through.

    I need to know what I can do to help. I call him every few days just to keep my bond with him going (it is waning however), and just today he said he’s struggling with being able to trust me, and with not blaming me for how he feels. Hearing this I’m able to discern that it is more likely the depressed person saying this, but I also was pretty angry – and let him know that I will not take on responsibility for his depression. Sorry, that’s too convenient. I also realise that it’s easier for him to hate me right now, than to love me. Hate is a far less vulnerable/exposed state than being in love. I can’t hurt him when he hates me.

    He says he’s trying to get help. I’m struggling to believe him because apparently he has spent years in therapy to no avail. And…he doesn’t want to do drugs for fear of dependency, or I guess, the unknown. I don’t understand why he won’t let me help him; I’ll drive him to appointments, I’ll help find doctors etc. I feel so useless and hopeless. And I am so afraid that this relationship will end and not for a good reason.

    So any insights on how I can help? What can I do? Should I keep calling him every few days even when he doesn’t want me to? How honest can I be when he asks me how I’m doing – what’s the point of being honest if he is filtering the message in a negative way, and using whatever I say as a reason to leave me.

  9. Lil says:

    Thank you for your writing and the comments of people on here.

    I stumbled on here through despair after spending 11 months in my house in isolation. I read this, went and got dressed and took my first walk in nearly a year, it was only down the road but I live rurally and so I went to the edge of the woods and watched the rooks gather and go to bed. I also waved at the local farmer when he waved as he went past on his quad. I can’t describe how big a deal this is for me and it is due to this page.

    Thank you, a small step but the first one in a long long time and it came just in time.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Lil –

      It’s so wonderful to hear that you made this breakthrough. It sounds like much more than a small step – the only measure is the isolated life you’ve been living, so it sounds huge to me. Watching birds has long been a form of re-entry for me, as is simply walking out the door into the daylight. All my best wishes to you for more and longer walks!


    • Clayton says:

      Wow a walk sounds simple but I just keep putting it off. Not anymore

  10. Jocelyn says:

    Dear John: thank you; still holding on until I can see someone to perphaps prescribe some kind of medication to calm and help me get my balance. Today is a holiday so I couldn’t get an appointment with a psychiatrist. I will try really hard to get a little distance from the despair I feel byt writing, going to exercise.

    • Timmy says:


      I feel that my isolation comes out in the open. I prefer to be alone and “wallow” in my depression. I miss family get togethers, holidays, even find excuses not to go on vacations with the extended family that I have been going on for years. When I do get around people I just blend to the background and hopes everyone leaves me alone. Unable to enjoy myself because I fell as if I do not deserve to be happy because of the people I believe I have hurt.

      • John Folk-Williams says:

        Hi, Timmy –

        I can relate so well to the isolation you describe here and the anger you mentioned in your earlier comment. Have you worked with a therapist at all? I’ve always found it helpful to get the perspective of someone who has dealt with the problems of depression in many clients. It was the first time I realized that I didn’t have to live with depression as if it were my fate.


  11. Jocelyn says:

    It is true that “that friends can desert you when you most need them. I find that many people are not just turned off by your mood but some are frightened. That’s one of the reactions that leads them to say unsympathetic or cruel things.” My husband is cruel and unsympathetic because he is tired and frustrated. He has no more to give, or very little. I have consumed all his patience, love, passion and kindness. Amazing all that I have destroyed and keep destroying! As he says, “I have destroyed the marriage, even my relationship with God. Someone who looks and acts like me doesn’t love God, is not his child.” The one thing my husband found attractive and respected about me was my love for God; he says it was this that may him want to help when we first started dating, had been deserted by my first husband and was in serious debt. So sad how I have destroyed it all. He is hurt and frightened and really traumatized by me, my actions and my words. He says I use the depression as an excuse. He is right about everything. I try to write, to go work out, to read a little, but nothing seems to work. We are both at home. He is retired and I took some time off from a very stressful work as a school adminsitrator. I yearn for his company, his love, encouraging words, but most interactions are the oppositive and make me feel worse about myself. I don’t like isolation. I love people, but I don’t want people to know about this.

    I seem to be using isolation to punish myself, to wait for some miracle to happen and recover my husband’s kindness, love and passion, to recover and go back to the way things used to be. So I stay home, waiting for the few moments when we interact, hoping for the redemption of his closeness and love, sinking deeper into isolation after each failed attempt of reconnecting with him emotionally or intimately. Isolation is not me. I know it. My husband likes isolation. He has not friends. I am his only friend and I have betrayed his trust, an ingrate soul who doesn’t know how to be happy, doesn’t appreciate the blessings she has. Isolation feeds all of this for him and for me. I know isolation is my enemy, the marriage’s enemy, but he doesn’t watn counseling or anyone else to get into our business. I am the one with the problem and I am just using him as a escapegoat. If I fix myself, then all will be well, including perhaps, our relationship. I need to break the cycle f isolation and get some medication, too. Feeling suicidal in this isolation.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hold on there, Jocelyn! You hardly sound like the same person who wrote all the earlier comments. You seem to be at rock bottom and blaming yourself for everything. This is depression – a serious illness! And it’s a symptom of depression when you believe you’re some sort of human poison. NO! From what you said before you know better than that, and I hope you can get help from your therapist to see the illness for what it is – again.

      Your getting counseling has nothing to do anyone getting into your business, as you put it. Maybe you were referring to your husband refusing counseling when you mentioned that – that’s his decision and shouldn’t affect you.

      Hopefully, writing this down can help you get a little distance from the despair you’re feeling now. If you get frightened by ideas of suicide – please call a hotline!


    • peter says:

      dear Jocelyn you are indeed blaming everything on yourself! you should try faster eft by robert smith. you can find his videos on youtube, there about sixhundred of them all for free! this also helped me a lot! good luck!

  12. judy says:

    Two comments–my father, a wood scultor, did a carving of me called “falling baby.” I fell, he got a sketch pad, and drew me. This sculpture always really bothered me. It is so similar to John’s mother with her camera.

    Second–on the Isolation thing: it is my pattern, also. I feel that it is self protection from being hurt by people. If they can’t reach me, they can’t hurt me. Needless to say, it only results in more depression. Got in this state yesterday, and had to force myself to take a walk–on the first glorious springlike day. I just wanted to hide. The walk helped.

    • john says:

      Hello, judy – Thank you for describing these experiences. Your father sketching you falling is exactly like my Mom’s reactions with her camera – great moment to record! Sounds like that wasn’t the only time you got a response like that. And I know so well what you mean about wanting to hide! Congratulations that you could force yourself to get out in the sun – that’s a big step – breaking the cycle. I wish you well as you keep working at this. It’s so hard to push back when those feelings overtake you.

      All my best — John

  13. amp says:

    Many moons ago I would drink, take drugs, and engage in risky sexual behavior…I never knew I was depressed because I was too stoned or hungover to think. I have cleaned up my act only to realize how sick I really am. I have totally isolated myself from everyone, afraid they will see that I am ‘different’. When I am alone I crave friendship/companionship, yet when I do recieve a phonecall or am in the co. of others I find myself turning off the ringer or making an excuse so I can get home and be alone! I do remember a time without the drugs,etc. that I was happy and enjoyed being with others. I have photos where I was smiling on the outside as well as within. I want to find me again and stop singing the “siren song”…told my psych yesterday, either i get well, or i am going to die, soon! I wish for all of you to find peace inside and ability to go out into the world again…we have one life, so sad we must view it from our pc screens!

  14. John D says:

    Austin –

    Thank you for your kind words about the images – that means a lot to me coming from such an accomplished artist. I hope you will be able to read more in time. There is someone I often have in mind when writing here, but that person also just can’t read the blog. I guess reading about all this takes getting used to, or a kind of readiness. My best wishes to you!

    Hips Magee –

    I’ve been through long lonely periods such as you describe – and it seemed to me that aloneness would never end. Eventually it did, but I then found that I still had depression with me. Often I could be just as lonely surrounded by loving people because I could hardly see or hear them. I hope you have a good source of support and treatment to deal with the depression. Best of luck to you.

  15. Hips Magee says:


    I read with interest your article on Isolation. I found it interesting how people say they need to be alone, away from other people, when they are feeling low. I have to say that I am mostly the opposite; I get down when there is no one around to talk to. Its probably because I am then left with nothing to do but listen to the thoughts in my head. I am by no means a social creature, I really only have my mother to turn to. After 10 years of being alone I really wish i had someone to talk to, the ability to go out and meet people. Who knows, perhaps if I had friends I would experience similar feelings as what has been written about above. Isolation for me, is a major contributer to my depression.

  16. says:

    I don’t know how ready I am to read more entries. I’ve been here a few times now and I’m so very much struck by the artwork you include in your entries. I think that’s why I keep coming back. As I said, I’m kind of not ready to read but trust me when I say the art speaks volumes. This piece here is magnificently powerful.

    Austin of Sundrip Journals

  17. John D says:

    ian – I’m glad you’ve made a breakthrough, and I would be interested to know more about hypnotherapy. I have no experience of that at all. Good for you that you’re not looking back – here’s hoping you can go the rest of the way for those longer term relationships.

    Aurora – It is one of the terrible parts of depression (and in my case at least the loneliness comes from this problem) that friends can desert you when you most need them. I find that many people are not just turned off by your mood but some are frightened. That’s one of the reactions that leads them to say unsympathetic or cruel things. Your experience is not weird at all. In my twenties, I lived in the West Village in Manhattan, a crowded center of creative people, and in depression was as lonely as could be. And married men in their forties have told me exactly the same thing, despite family and a busy life. I hope you reach out for some help – if not from friends, from a counselor or someone who can help sort out what’s going on.

  18. Aurora says:

    Sometimes I don’t think I suffer from depression, just loneliness. I feel completely alone in the world with nobody to talk to. I hate that the more depressed you are, the more you need friends to pull you out of it, but the more depressed you are, the more your friends can’t understand you. They don’t know what to do or say. Or they are too busy. Or you just repel them with your nothingness. Or they don’t care enough.

    My experience is weird I know, I think because I am 17 and never had “romantic relationships” and don’t really have a family, so its just friends that I rely on. But they are 17 too, busy with their futures and would rather be with happy people.

  19. ian says:

    hi, I’ve just read your posting, and interested to it… Because I’ve through my isolated life for almost 3 years.

    I was suffered depression for almost 3 years, and hide myself from everyone, even to my own girlfriend, spend my day to other days hanging alone in cafe for hours, just sitting and reading… Totally alone. It’s very hard even to make simple human contact to other person. I had my breakthrough 4 month ago, when I met a hypnotherapist and try to understand my deep feeling.

    Now I’m already able to make simple contact to human again, yet it still difficult to make longterm relationship (for romance, friendship, or business partner) but I keep trying, never looked back. I also started blogging (to refresh my English skill, and making money).

    Thanks for your post. I won’t destruct myself again, and you gave me brief inside look.

  20. John D says:

    My apologies for being so late responding. I’ve let too many distractions keep me from this most precious part of blogging.

    Susan – I know that fuzziness of mind. It is one of the worst parts of those low times because, as you say, you can’t focus enough on anything. My defenses and tricks for coping go away – the fully formed thoughts and intentions disappear. Best of luck in getting out of that state.

    Merely Me – I like your friend’s way of helping you start to come back to connecting with people. Writing down what I’m feeling is usually the one thing I can bear to do and it always helps.

    Jaliya – Eight months! I’m glad you’re finally coming out of that. My main reason for taking medication is to restore enough clarity of mind that I can at least get work done, even when I don’t want to face people. And that helps bring me back. I hope you can find some way of cutting those months down at least to weeks. And thank you for those kind words. I look forward to getting to know your blog.

    Georganna – Thank you for this insight about your experience. It sounds like you have a way of catching yourself before you get too deep into isolation, and that checks its power. It’s so helpful to hear the different ways people have learned to cope.

    John D

  21. It is so much easier to deal with people if you don’t. Hide in hte house. Surf the Internet. Feel in control.

    Unfortunately isolation intensifies the problems. They exaggerate, inflate, explode. Minute details become all-important without feedback from other real, live people.

    Instead of avoiding others because of this feeling that I will drag them down, I seek them out with the intention of avoiding complaints, finding something positive to say, enjoying the few moments they may grant me, that being present and The Present.

  22. Jaliya says:

    Isolation … I have to push hard sometimes to even make real contact with my husband. But I know that I’m beginning to emerge from the depths when I start having actual conversations with the people I trust. Yesterday and today, I had three, so I know I’ve turned a corner after eight months in the dumps.

    I have a distinction between isolation and solitude: Solitude is a quiet space … I’m engaged with some creative activity, whether it be reading, writing, thinking … Isolation is just that: cut off. No creation; no contact or relation. I’m also out of touch with anything in my mind that can imagine reaching out …

    This is a wonderful, beautifully presented blog … Thank you for it 🙂

  23. Merely Me says:

    Oh I am so glad that you have met/know susan! She is absolutely wonderful and has been a support to me in the blog world through my own times of depression.

    Isolation. Yes I know it well. I feel during those times that I do not wish to burden anyone with me…with this melancholy. I feel like a beast who needs to hide from the sun and humankind until I am well again.

    And sometimes it actually does help to not be around people. It takes so much energy that I do not have to engage. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t wish for people to try.

    I think it is truly up to the individual to decide when isolation becomes detrimental to healing and when it is necessary for healing. It is a tough call to make especially when you are unable to think during those black dog days.

    Sometimes just a teensy bit of engagement is all I need to get me to speed up the process. I have a friend who knows me well who writes to me and simply asks if I will type out one word…”okay” or “hello” or whatver…just as a smoke signal that I am here and responsive. Completing this simple act of engagement makes me feel successful during the bad times.

    Excellent question and post as usual. Love your blog and I definitely will spread the word about you.

  24. susan says:

    Hi John,

    Been thinking about isolation too, I am in the midst of a 4 day total isolation right now.

    Let me think about the salient positions you raised with your eloquence and get back to you when my brain is a little less fuzzy.

    Thank you.
    p.s. Added you to my blogroll.

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