Dealing with mental health issues

I guess it is a function of social media that of late, people talk openly about mental health issues. And that one knows that there is such a day as ‘World Mental Health Day.’ At least that’s how I got to know about it.

It also struck me that this year marks ten years (not to the day, but approximately the same time period) since I suffered a pretty bad manic episode.

It started in Bombay in July of 2009 amidst extreme feelings of elation due to my application of re-admission to the University of Connecticut, in America, which I was dismissed from in June of 2007 due to poor academic performance.

It ended in September of 2009 when I was admitted to a psychiatric ward in upstate New York. It was there that I spent two weeks feeling like I was literally hollow with absolutely nothing left in the tank. All I had were flashes of all the people who I recall being taken aback and creeped out by the sudden change in my demeanour. And also feeling like I had lost an ability to see how everything was ‘connected,’ something that increased the feeling of elation and made the subsequent crash all that harder.

When I think about it, the episode had been three years in the making, when it was first suspected that I had bipolar disorder in 2006. Prior to which since late 2005, I had first started to experience what people would normally call ‘feeling low.’

It was never confirmed at the time for two reasons. The first was my unwillingness to accept that I had such an ailment due to feeling like it meant that my mind was defective. The second was not wanting to open up about these problems to a psychiatrist. I mean, I didn’t want to talk about these problems with my family let alone with a psychiatrist.

As it is, I felt like my family, teachers and former schoolmates had a low opinion of me both due to my unwillingness to talk to anyone in general and the academic troubles I faced in school. I had to repeat class ninth and did very badly in both 11th and 12th standard too, failing my 12th boards.

It took a while for me to agree to getting back to academics but when I finally went through the routine of appearing for the S.A.T., giving my high school equivalency exam and applying to colleges, I was ready to start my undergraduate studies in January of 2004. At an age when my contemporaries in school would have been done with it and either started work or their masters’ degree.

I only mention all of this background information to let you know of some of the things I kept to myself. Feelings of inadequacy, anger at myself for being a ‘screw up’ and also feelings of resentment towards some family members that stemmed from by inability to talk to them, let alone articulate my feelings.

Admitting anything to be wrong with me was tantamount to failure for me. It came to the point, however, that I felt there was nothing to look forward to. Staying in bed for up to 15 hours in a day, barely sleeping, imagining what I would say to certain members of my family if I ever worked up the guts to speak to them took up the vast majority of my time. And led to my grades slipping to the point that the university informed me that I would be dismissed.

That finally led me to tell my family members about the problem, causing a panic as I had never told them how my grades had been slipping over time. I only told them of the good grades I got in my first year, thereby making them feel that investing money in my education was justified. Telling the same people that I was yet again falling short academically, something they felt was behind me, was a terrifyingly shameful proposition.

It was bad enough to be an academic straggler in a country where high marks are expected and are the be all, end all. But being so in an education system that put a greater emphasis on students gaining practical knowledge over just bookish knowledge seemed even worse to me. I mention this because gaining practical knowledge relevant to my field of study (journalism) through work played a role in me securing re-admission.

An appeal was made to the university, which agreed to let me continue on academic probation but my unwillingness to regularly seek help from the department of mental health led to the same pattern continuing and my grades not improving enough. The dismissal became final and due to my student visa being revoked, the university’s suggestion to do non-degree coursework and then apply for re-admission was not possible.

At that point I decided to take up a job opportunity in Bombay while doing my best to be regular with a mental health professional. I felt there was a difference in how mental health issues were dealt among the medical communities in the respective countries. There was a much stronger desire by the psychiatrists I met with in both Delhi and Bombay to interject a lot more while I spoke and to tell me how to deal with the problems. Whereas the psychiatrists I met with in university were a lot more open to let me talk and ask more questions. The reasoning being, I am assuming, was to gather as much information as possible, before suggesting a way forward or – if they felt it necessary – to prescribe medication.

Beyond this, I was fully immersed in my work, hoping to build up enough of a CV that showed the university that since my work was directly related to my field of study, I would be up to handling academics again. And also that I was seeking help from mental health specialists. Pushing myself to try and impress the boss to get a favourable letter of recommendation led to extended working hours and constantly obsessing over getting the chance to go back and finally finish what I started.

The news of my re-admission application being accepted had me feeling like a pressure cooker letting off steam and quickly feeling almost invincible. When the manic episode hit a high gear I recall feeling hot (not feverish) all over and my heart rate going through the roof. I became constantly restless, feeling the need to be doing something or the other, being somewhere or the other and getting a feeling of heightened awareness about the world and everything in it.

And more than that, the need to tell as many people as possible about it. My colleagues were stunned at the change in my demeanour and even my family members, while happy at the news of the re-admission, were also mystified at the change in my behaviour. I was normally an extremely reserved individual so to see me being so outspoken was hard to process for them.

But this came at the cost of me being unable to focus clearly on anything for long. My preparations to head back to university kept getting delayed due to my inability to focus and I ended up going back to college two weeks late for the start of the semester. I was unable to concentrate during lectures, was barely eating and even recall some visual and audio hallucinations too.

This led to increased frustration and the previous feeling of elation being replaced with the realization that something was horribly wrong. At this point came the ‘crash’ that I mentioned earlier. Barely being able to speak, feeling completely spent.

I had to bail on the semester and went to my relatives who stayed close by and asked them if it was possible to see someone about what I was experiencing. But seeing a doctor didn’t help as I kept telling him over and over that I was getting irritated by his questions until I just got up and walked out of the office and headed back to my relative’s house on foot.

I wasn’t entirely aware of how much my behaviour must have disturbed people until I saw a police car pull up in front of me, with the officer calling me by my family nickname, indicating to me that by this point my relatives were aware of what had happened at the doctor’s office, which had contacted them.

Seeing the officer move his hands from his stun gun to his gun made me realize how bad things had really gotten. At which point I got into the back of the car, which drove to my relative’s house where an ambulance was waiting. The officer was still trying to make conversation with me and even turned on the radio. I recall Billy Joel’s Piano Man coming on as the car pulled up next to the ambulance, at which point I broke down and cried, feeling that this was it.

Sitting here and writing all this ten years later, I am happy to report that that was not the end of any hopes I had to get better, get a degree and just work and live like a regular person. An aunt of mine, also residing in America, who was a doctor who dealt with people with mental health issues and my sister had both been in touch with the university and had managed to defer my re-admission to the first half of 2010.

I cannot stress to anyone who has bothered to read this how much it helps to have rational family members who can back you to right the ship, so to speak. Talking more closely to my aunt finally allowed me to realize that the mind is as susceptible to problems as any other part of the body. And therefore, also can be treated. Knowing that and realizing that I now had two years of work experience behind me and re-admission to the university secured.

All things considered, it was not a bad situation to be in provided I could use the two and a half months I had till the new semester to accept that my problem was treatable and it wasn’t the end of the world. Not to mention being in the psychiatric ward, I saw people who were visibly worse off than me and dealing with problems that were exacerbated by drug use, physical self-harm among others.

Not making a big deal of the mental health issues and thinking of them as something as treatable as a physical ailment led to me going about my business at the university like clockwork. Wake up, get ready, take the medication prescribed to me, go to lectures and meet with the psychiatrist at the university’s mental health department as planned. It soon came to a point when I started to forget my medication but everything still proceeded as normal. At that point the psychiatrist took into account my improved grades, regularity of visits and better health in general and suggested that I need not take the medication any longer.

I also made it a point to talk to fellow students in my classes and to the people who lived around me without expecting them to like me or understand what I was going through. Interacting with people doesn’t have to be that complicated, and if you are not overbearing, it is just one of the many things that helps one stay on an even keel.

The first semester back led to being taken off academic probation due to my grades improving sufficiently. And then the final semester saw the grades sky rocket and exceed my expectations as I wrapped up my degree and looked forward to head back to India. I was eager to start working in time for the first ever Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix, which was held in 2011.

Being hooked on to motorsport since around the age of five or six thanks to repeat viewings of ‘The Love Bug’ and then getting hooked on to the real thing, my anticipation and excitement for the first ever Indian GP were extremely hight. Even more so when I was assigned to cover it for Hindustan Times as an accredited journalist. The fact that it was happening barely 55km away from my hometown of New Delhi and that my F1 hero Michael Schumacher would be racing did get particularly overwhelming at one point. Even more so when I got to interview Schumacher in person.

And so it came to pass that on October 29, 2011 in the paddock of the Buddh International Circuit, I started to feel the same symptoms of the manic episode that I recall feeling around two years earlier in Bombay. Hot all over, jacked heart rate, but rather than get carried away with the elation, I put my head down and told myself…’oh no you don’t, not again.’

I don’t say this to make light of mental health issues, but (if anyone finds this helpful) to say that one can be self-aware of these problems and not let them run amok. Especially if one has previously faced them.

Mental health is indeed a serious issue but it need not define you as a person, regardless of what movies that deal with the subject would have you believe.

You are not going to get these problems overnight and neither will they get better that quickly either. But then, what is life but – to quote Superman’s famous tagline – a never ending battle? It’s better to go into it and give yourself a chance to come out of it on the other side.

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Screw you Guys, I’m going home

The Buxton Blog

Is Formula 1 in crisis? No. But you’d never know it given the hullabaloo in the press. Red Bull saying this isn’t Formula 1. Ferrari saying this isn’t Formula 1. Bernie saying this isn’t Formula 1. Well I’m sorry guys, but you’ve only yourselves to blame.

This new engine formula came about as a direct result of Renault holding the sport hostage. Formula 1 was living in the past said Carlos Ghosn, and Renault would not be hanging around unless it changed its regulations to move in line with more road relevant technology. If they’d had their way, we’d currently have flat fours. As it is, they backtracked slightly to the 1.6 litre V6s which have so divided the sport’s fanbase.

That Renault has arguably done the poorest job in preparing for this new formula is nobody’s fault but their own. They pushed for this technology. They made their bed…

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The background to Bahrain…

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A couple of Sepang ‘surprises’

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It shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been watching F1 over the past decade that Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are tough as nails.

Controversial characters of course who have had their share of foot in mouth moments and have not been particularly fair towards their teammates at times. Heck, the Spaniard profited from his teammate allegedly crashing on purpose during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

But these two have been involved in two genuinely thrilling championship showdowns in 2010 and 2012. The odd numbered years since the former have seen Vettel fly off into the distance with a clear car advantage while Alonso struggled.

This year, both have new teammates. And both have been sidelined in the VERY early stages of the 2014 season by the dominance of the Mercedes AMG team.

Alonso has the tougher task of the two, of course, with a former world champion in the Ferrari pits who has a habit of driving pretty damn fast. And based on reports of Ferrari’s overweight power unit that is not yet up to the mark of Mercedes in terms of driveability, there’s a serious technical challenge ahead too.

Kimi Raikkonen (the aforementioned teammate of Alonso) has shown that there is pace to be unlocked from the Ferrari package as he hovered in the top three over the course of the three practice sessions prior to qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Although it must have been worrying for Ferrari that on a relatively greener track in FP3 (due to heavy rain on Friday) and with the Silver Arrows getting ready to use full power for qualifying his best effort was around a second slower than Rosberg and Hamilton’s best efforts.

Coming back to Vettel and Alonso, however, the two managed to beat the odds to look pretty rapid in wet qualifying that would have negated some of the grunt advantage of the Mercedes power unit.

Wet qualifying sessions are quite often a lottery especially when – like at Sepang – the rain eases up and picks up intermittently.

Through it all though, Vettel was just 0.055 seconds off Hamilton’s pole time and Alonso was just 0.125 seconds slower than Rosberg’s third placed effort.

There’s a one lap advantage for Mercedes for sure as of now but they would do well to be wary of the rear tyre wear problem from last year that led to so many pole positions leading to a disappointing points haul.

Rain is expected on raceday and that could present an opportunity for Vettel and Alonso to apply some pressure.

It’s a bit of a letdown that the weekend was not completely dry as the 5.543 kilometer circuit is a venue that gives one a far better idea of what the F1 pecking order is than Albert Park in Melbourne.

With, as yet, unfamiliar power delivery characteristics visibly – much to the delight of those watching on TV and, I am sure, in person – putting off many drivers, races have been fun to watch in the dry too. And dry weather is more likely to expose any tyre wear issues that Mercedes may have.

Either way, there is potential for a fantastic race. Provided, of course, that we are not forced into a red flagged event due to rain further truncated by failing light. As is a high possibility at this time of year in Malaysia.

Having lived there – many moons ago when I was too young to remember many details but was told of the weather in late March and early April – and attended the 2009 event I keep wondering what the point of making the TV broadcast palatable to European viewers is if there is no racing for them to see!

A 3 pm local time start would give them a greater chance of seeing Vettel and Alonso strut their stuff against pretty stiff odds, right?

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Sepang squeezing the best (and worst) out of new look F1

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I would rather not wade into the storm that Red Bull Racing are stirring with the FIA at the moment over fuel flow sensors that caught them off guard in the Australian Grand Prix, aside from the added complexity of the new regulations that led to Seb Vettel retiring.

To sum up it seems as if the Bull boys weren’t particularly prepared for having to tackle the increased performance differentiators this year rather than just dominate with Adrian ‘his aeroness’ Newey. If you want to go more into detail about that head over to Auto Motor und Sport’s website who go explore this in detail along with the other specialized publications that cover F1.

I would much rather talk about how a track like Sepang seems to be playing up these performance differentiators to brilliant effect by the looks of the pecking order in the two opening practice sessions.

Vettel seems to have bounced back and is looking strong around the Sepang International Circuit where his RB10 seems as strong as previous Red Bull Racing machines were in medium and high speed corners. It allowed him to set a time in second practice that was less than a tenth of a second slower than Nico Rosberg’s fastest time despite the German’s Mercedes being the car to beat in terms of grunt and overall driveability of its power unit.

Updates for Kimi Raikkonen by Ferrari suited to his set up requirements and his own natural driving ability shining through on a track with a lot of corners (of all kinds) led to the Finn posting the second fastest time in both sessions with teammate Alonso looking not too shabby in terms of race pace.

Mercedes have not yet stopped looking over their shoulder and are wary of the rear tyre degradation issue that hit them hard last year. It was hidden a fair bit due to low temperatures in Australia along with a track that is not very hard on tyres.

Should the expected thunderstorm stay away from the circuit on raceday it could be a factor. However, at the moment, with the race scheduled to start at 4pm local time the rain is expected to start pouring about an hour into the race.

The 2009 race had to be stopped prematurely of course due to a massive downpour when the race started at 5pm. As it was the first Grand Prix event I had been to (had attended a test session prior to that) the change in start time to cater to the needs of the European TV audience annoyed me a fair bit, but let’s not dwell on that now.

Although there is still a chance of  something similar happening this year, I personally would be hoping for a dry race in order to see just how competitive Williams are and if they have a chance of beating McLaren outright and establish themselves as the second best team on the grid.

Unfortunately this damn issue with Red Bull and the FIA fuel flow sensors looks like it will turn out to be a talking point yet again.

The really puzzling thing about it all is that other teams who were warned about exceeding the fuel flow rate – including Mercedes and the car of Rosberg – complied with the FIA despite their own readings not matching the data being logged by the governing body.

It sounds like it would be a non-issue, one of teams trying (as they always do) to push the envelope while the governing body tries to curb their enthusiasm.

Red Bull, however, emboldened by their current status in F1 – one that seems to include being the de facto promoters for the championship in association with the real promoter, Bernie Ecclestone – and probably due to being spooked as they have more to lose than anybody seem to be taking on the FIA and challenging the accuracy of their fuel flow measuring sensors.

One will recall a similar incident following the 1999 Malaysian GP when the Ferraris of Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher were found to have illegal turning vanes (aka bargeboards) and disqualified but then were reinstated when the FIA admitted that there was an error with their own measuring equipment.

April 14 is the date when this will all come to a head in the International Court of Appeals. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t get messy.

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Rob Wilson Picks Eight!

IMG_1817 Regular readers of this site will be familiar with the GP Tours logo to your right.  It’s there because I’ve been a GP Tours fan for many years.  I like the people who run the business from Newport, California, and I like the tours they generate. They’re about race fans travelling with other race fans to some of the greatest circuits in the world – Monaco, Spa, Silverstone, Austin and many more.

What I’m particularly excited about this year is a new free-to-enter competition they’ve put together, the prize for which is a fully-catered trip for two to the 2015 Monaco GP. How to win? Choose your top eight finishers for each of the 2014 F1 races; points will be awarded when you select the right driver for the right finishing position, with bonus points if you make your choice prior to FP1 or Q1. Go to for more…

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Transformers + F1 rule changes = cool video

Like or dislike reigning Formula 1 world champions Red Bull Racing but you can’t help but deny their expertise in winning races and titles.

Not to mention the expertise of their vast and well connected media house that has been a boon in not only promoting the F1 team, but in many cases, the sport itself.

From taking their F1 car up to the highest motorable road in the world (in India) to scaring the local livestock on a Texas ranch and doing donuts on a yet-to-be-built Circuit of the Americas, the team has almost become the de-facto promoter for F1.

They seem to have pulled out the stops even more than usual as far as enlightening hardcore fans and some curious onlookers about the technical intricacies with regards to the new-for-2014 technical regulations.

Here is their new video. Enjoy.

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Interesting initiative from Getty Images

Just trying out what Getty Images claims to be the ability to embed more than 35 million of its images for use on the Web by bloggers and independent websites.

I don’t know at the moment if it will allow me to use this blog a lot more frequently but a reaction from veteran F1 photographer Darren Heath suggests that the move – largely driven to stop bloggers etc from just copy pasting from news sites without attribution – will be detrimental to photographers.

Heath’s argument suggests that the ability of anyone to just embed an image without paying for it will lead to lost revenue for photographers who are constantly in the hunt to be creative and use the latest cutting edge equipment while travelling the world over on assignments.

It seems as if giving credit won’t be enough of a an incentive for photographers to back the move and as of now it doesn’t seem like there is a way to prevent someone from simply copy pasting the embeded image from the blog or site.

All in all it seems like a losing battle for photographers unless they manage to get their work into print, however there doesn’t yet seem to be a solution to stop the work from spreading over the World Wide Web once the image makes it to the publication’s website.

But at least when I embed the image of one of the oddest looking F1 cars in the history of the sport, people will know that Mark Thompson of Getty Images Sport was responsible for clicking it.

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F1’s movie ‘history’ inches forward

Good movies about motor sports are something of a rarity. Especially when you consider the downright cringeworthy ‘Driven’. The 2001 film came about after Sylvester Stallone’s efforts to do an F1 themed movie. It can be said that the sport dodged a bullet considering how all the racing movie cliches of soap-opera style storylines involving a hot-shot rookie, a ruthless champion and pensive looking women were applied to the world of the popular Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) Indycar series.

To this day, 1966’s ‘Grand Prix’ and 1971’s ‘Le Mans’ stand out as the example of diluting those usual racing movie cliches with dialogue that not only educated about the respective racing disciplines but also entertained.

Of course, there is little in F1 today that resembles the way it was portrayed in John Frankenheimer’s three hour labour of love that was loosely based on the three-way fight for the drivers’ world championship of 1964.

The danger, for one, is not as high and the sport is a lot more closed off to regular racing fans too due to the increased influence of sponsors and in how it is increasingly managed by the commercial rights managers.

In light of that, it is a bit of a disappointment that F1’s first big-budget Hollywood treatment since ‘Grand Prix’ has only moved forward by 10 years. However, it is a good start, as by 1976 (the year in which the film is set) the influence of sponsors – and aerodynamics, on the technical side – had made F1 a little closer to the way it is now.

Directed by Ron Howard (‘A Beautiful Mind’ and ‘Apollo 13’), ‘Rush’ follows the real-life rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt during their fight for the drivers’ title in 1976.

Howard’s previous involvement with films based on true events bodes well for racing freaks who would like to see as detailed a depiction as possible. However, Howard’s embellishments of John Nash’s experience with paranoid schizophrenia in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ also suggests that F1’s history buffs could end up being irked by ‘Rush’ if similar liberties are taken for dramatic purposes.

Nevertheless, it’s definitely a good thing that F1 is moving forward in the movie department. Admittedly, however, it would be far cooler if we could move forward by another 30 odd years. A film depiction of the 2007 and/or 2008 season is something that would, personally get me very excited.

Until such a movie ever happens, however, check out the first trailer for ‘Rush’.

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Motor sport and the importance of ‘natural succession’

Depending on where you were in the world during MotoGP’s season opening Grand Prix of Qatar, you were either a little bleary-eyed or super fresh. Either way, you would have caught Valentino Rossi’s storming return to the Yamaha factory team after two miserable seasons at Ducati.

During his stint with the Italian team in 2011 and 2012, Rossi scored as many podiums in 36 races as he did in his first three races of the 2010 season for Yamaha. Prior, of course, to a horrid crash at Mugello that put him out of action from four rounds and took him out of championship contention against the ‘intruder’ at Yamaha; Jorge Lorenzo.

Not only did those ‘character building’ (isn’t that what a bad experience is supposed to do to us?) years at Ducati somewhat bust the theory of a rider’s contribution to a race result being as much as 80 percent, but they also hit the popularity of the world’s premier motorcycle racing category.

It wasn’t as if MotoGP was full of only Rossi fanatics. Fans of the championship had been used to the arrival, domination and departure of numerous riding legends.

From the time I recall the sport taking off in India, Mick Doohan drew as ardent fans as Rossi has until his time in MotoGP came to a natural conclusion and the torch was ‘handed over’ to Rossi.

It’s a fine metaphor; handing over the torch. Few people actually do it with a smile on their face in any walk of life. Especially not sportspersons.

Pete Sampras suffered a brief dip in form before leaving the tennis world for the likes of Roger Federer to take control of. Michael Schumacher fought tooth and nail to deny Fernando Alonso taking over his mantle of the most complete Formula 1 driver.

Both eventually faded and their respective audiences accepted the theory of ‘natural succession’ at work because there was someone to fill the void they left.

In the case of F1, it was filled and then some by an entire generation of hungry young chargers. To the point that Schumacher’s problematic comeback did little to distract from the fight for supremacy between the likes of Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.

MotoGP fans were, however, denied a similar natural succession when Rossi left the Yamaha team he had become synonymous with. As far as they were concerned, the most successful and charismatic rider had taken himself out of the game in his attempt to find his ‘own team’ after Lorenzo’s arrival at Yamaha.

It mattered little to them that Rossi was regularly being beaten by the rider he famously overcame at Laguna Seca’s iconic Corkscrew in 2008 (Casey Stoner). Or that Lorenzo won his second title in the premier MotoGP class last year.

Rossi’s 2010 campaign had been compromised severely by his crash and the Ducati was no match for the Honda and Yamaha machines in ’11 and ’12.

A natural succession had not occurred and so MotoGP with Rossi struggling to finish sixth or seventh was not worth their time. Apparently not worth ’07 and ’11 champion Stoner’s either who retired at the end of last year! On a serious note, that’s an entirely different story.

But Rossi back on a Yamaha and slicing his way past Cal Crutchlow, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez with only Lorenzo to beat? Now that’s more like it.

If Rossi hasn’t lost any of his speed and skill, then he deserves to be back at the head of the field dominating the proceedings or truly getting beaten by a rider on equal (or close to it) machinery.

Should ‘The Doctor’ decide to hang up his stethoscope while being as competitive as he possibly can, fans will accept the void that needs to be filled rather than a hastily filled up pothole.

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