Safe at Home

Plants sitting on a small bookshelf. There is also a lamp on here, and some boxes, but they are on the shelves and the plants are on the top. It is one of those bookcases with square shelves and only half height. The plants on the far left are in glasses. There is a spiky tree with curly leaves in a pot. There is a cardboard box on top. There is also an orchid but it is not blooming so it doesn't look very exciting right now.
This is my collection of plants that I own. They are very pretty and
 happy. I have to have plants at home or else it just doesn’t feel
like home. They are chilling out here enjoying the south-facing
window that they get to live by.


I talk a little bit about disordered eating habits in this post, as a heads-up. And also about guilt.

I am living alone now, and have been for a few weeks. I realized what I needed out of roommates and living alone was a better option for me at this time. (And I could afford it, although I have money-spending-issues*.) And also I want a furry friend, so I had to move into a pet-allowable apartment. I’ve been living alone with just me and my plants the last few weeks and I’ve had time to go through the different activities and parts of life and figure out why this is working and why my last roommate living together didn’t work, even though I have lived with people successfully and happily before.

The roommates that I lived with successfully
(1) understood the need for quiet/alone time, although we also would have the opportunity for parallel activities in the main room, like reading a book or watching tv together. An ability to be in the same room quietly is important.
(2) helped manage the effort of living together

Regarding point 1, my more recent roommate never bothered me when I was in my room. She was very respectful of that. If my door was closed, she would only knock if it was something relatively important. Or she would g-chat me. (An excellent way of initiating contact with me.) But I was never able to sit in the living room without conversation. I stopped eating at regular hours when I was stressed because I was too afraid to go to the kitchen during normal hours in case she would talk to me while I was there. And that’s just not a good thing to have happen at home. She was a very sweet girl, and we still are friends, actually (we were friends before, also), but living together just didn’t work out best for us.

Regarding the roommates I successfully lived with: we shared chores, so someone was always able to handle the something that needed to be done. But mostly it was making dinner together regularly. We didn’t always cook together, but we almost always (unless it was just eating leftovers) made enough for two. Often we cooked together, sometimes I made food, sometimes she made food. It added enough so that on bad days you could always find something to eat because chances were the other person was up to making food that day.

My last roommate didn’t cook at all. She mostly ate soup from cans. So that didn’t work. If she had, it is far more likely that I would still be living with her. If I had been able to share meals with her, I think the conversation would have been less of a barrier. But as it was, I was getting all the bad things about living with another person (a.k.a. there is always someone at your house) without any of the benefits I needed.

***As you can tell, food is very important to me. Both on a “I need food to survive and also get grumpy really quickly if I haven’t eaten” level and on a “I really enjoy eating and making delicious food” level. But I still have food struggles, mainly that when I get stressed I forget how to make the food or decide the food or eat the food. Also, when stressed, my foods-that-I-will-eat decreases dramatically.***

So it is ok for me that I moved out. Because being safe is ok. I don’t need to feel guilty about moving somewhere I feel safe. (I do feel guilty about it, but I know I don’t need to.) Because I feel safe at home here.**

Because now I can sit in my living room and work on things at my desk/table. I can work on my couch if it is something low-key like reading papers (which I have been doing so much of in these last few weeks of prelim-ing). I can go out of my room at any time of the day and it is ok. If I am sad or frustrated or mad, I don’t have to hide myself away if I start crying. (Which also means I can get things I left in the other room if I am upset.) Because the whole place is safe.

I can make myself dinner when I am hungry or at mealtimes, even when I am stressed. I can eat, even when I am stressed and tired. I can try to make new things, which I never ever ever could do in my old place unless I was sure my roommate wasn’t coming home. I can make snacks and baked goods. I can eat at the table, instead of in my room. I can take my time looking through the cabinets (although there isn’t much in them yet). I can cook things that require time spent in the kitchen, or time spent watching the pot, because I can stay in the room where they are, and it is safe.

I should feel safe where I live and I will feel safe where I live and I do feel safe where I live. (Except on windy nights when the broken screen on my window taps all night long but a maintenance request will fix that. And also that’s a different kind of safe.)

And the next person I live with will be boyfriend (who is now fiancé, who I really should give a proper name to) who makes me feel safer than any other person, except maybe my California family (but they have the benefit of added years of safety and familiar places on their side, while boyfriend can make me feel safe living 8 stories about the ground in the Midwest–I’ve never lived so far from the ground before.) Because I should feel safe where I live. And I will.

~~~
*AKA I get stressed spending any quantity of money because of some reason that I still struggle to articulate. I have never not had enough to meet my needs, so I am not sure where exactly this fear comes from. I think partially there is just something in the idea of spending money that I don’t understand. Where even though I know it translates into numbers, any values over $20 are bigger than I can really comprehend fully. So every few months I panic and get my accountant fiancé to explain all the numbers to me and check my finances and reassure me that I am financially safe.
**Even with the bad parts like going in elevators with other people and going through rotating circle doors daily, and scary things like those, I STILL feel safer here.


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hows and whys

I have to choose a lab and that is no fun because they don’t really tell
you the hows or the whats or the whys and whenever I go to try and talk to
people, they just ask be questions. When what I am asking for isn’t the
questions but the process. What is the process for choosing a rotation. For
choosing a lab to work in. I would like a protocol. I would like some
directions other than “find a lab”. How do we find one? Once we have
identified one that we think we would like to join, how do we go about it.

They say go and talk to the faculty, but they don’t say what to talk about.
So I go in and talk and end up just as confused at the end with no specific
progress.

When I ask how to choose a lab, how to join a lab, they do not tell me.
They ask me questions that lead down a different path. I want to know how
to contact people. I want to know the how about it.

Even if I get the strength and spend days and days making the words and
walking around outside the building to prep before going in with explictly
said words “I would like to join your lab” it does not work. It doesn’t
come out… the words don’t want to listen at all. So I just sort of go
there and nod and murmur along and agree to all the things and say
everything is doing great and run quickly quickly quickly through the
little bit of the script I can still remember. And we end up more confused.
Both of us.

Once I tried to write it down on a post-it note I brought in.

Sometimes they ask me questions I haven’t prepared for and I have no answer
for and I scramble for them in bits and pieces and try to make words out of
things that aren’t words.

I know it is because there are multiple of us trying for the same lab and
there is so much that depends on it on funding and who to choose and what
to do but I do not know how to do it. I do not know the how.

And I’m terrified I’m too slow. I sort of already had one person tell me no
because I didn’t express interest and I don’t know how to show I can
express interest in a clear and obvious way. I know how to do it in the
ways my interest and happiness works. Although the lab I want to join was
the first, when I was less skilled at digging into the problems and hiding
in the data and building a home out of it. I’m afraid the other person or
people trying for this lab will win. Because they know the words and the
procedures and don’t seem to have to prep with words on a post-it note or
walk around and lie down in the grass afterwards to process and figure out.
And they know the words and the ways of people and all I have is the
long-ago memories of the brownies and blondies and other treats I brought
into lab in October November December.

Processing is not my strong point.
People is not my strong point.
Choosing is not my strong point.
Fighting is not my strong point.

Processing processing processing.

Why do I want to join your lab?

I know in the patterns. I know from the part of my brain that doesn’t think
in words. With the following of patterns. Where all the things come from
patterns. I can tell somehow. I know I was happy. I know I liked the work.
I don’t know the how the why the reasons, at least not in words. The part
of me that knows things like this doesn’t know in words, not always, and
there aren’t words or translations leftover.

But that’s not an adequate answer. That’s not a coherent explanation.
That’s not a convincing reason to choose me over someone else. If I can’t
articulate *why* I know, just that I know, it isn’t particularly helpful.

The hows and the whys and the words and the work and the reasons.

Gateway friends

In high school, I had one best friend, L. We had all our classes together, except I took French and she took Spanish. We sat in the hallways studying together before school, we read books together at breaks and at lunch. When we hung out on weekends, we would hang out at her house (or sometimes at mine, but usually at hers). I had other friends, too, but I never hung out with them without L. It just wasn’t and interaction thing that I did.

On days that L. did not come to school (which was very rare, but happened a few times), I was completely lost. The times I knew she wasn’t going to be there (like college visits) were fine; I could plan ahead and bring books to read or work on math or read for class during breaks. I could find places to sit by myself instead of wandering to find her. When she was unexpectedly not there, I struggled. I would wander around and around, trying to find her. Even if it was after a class that I had that she was usually in, so I knew she wasn’t at school today, I still would look for her. I wouldn’t be sure what to do.

Then we graduated high school, and L. went to the Naval Academy, and then went to (is in) med school and got married (last week!). She’s always been bad at non-in-person-communication, so we see each other a few times a year, and I send lots of emails, but that’s all. It’s great to see her, but she isn’t the friend that I center my life around anymore, because our lives are so different.

In college, I had another friend. We actually were acquaintances in high school, in the small group of girls that took all the same AP classes. C and I both majored in the same thing. Almost all of the friends I met in college (with boyfriend being a notable exception), I met through her. Including two other girls that I became almost as close of friends with. They answered my questions and were in many of my classes with me. They were lab partners and fellow TAs. I always had one of them to rely on in pretty much any social situation I was in. They were the friends I went on the Disneyworld trip which was my first big traveling-without-adults-trip and were safe when I melted down in Walmart. C. was my friend with whom I travelled through Europe for 6 weeks.

C. is much better at internetting than L, so we do talk really frequently. There is pretty much a constant thread of communication going. (I talk to the other girls frequently, too, but not quite as much.) But she isn’t physically here, she is no longer participating in basically all my interactions ever. I don’t have the same person (and set of persons) in all parts of my life.

I have always had one (or a small group of) close friend(s) who I did everything with. Social and school. I’m lost right now, without my gateway friend. I don’t have one to be safe. For me to follow around as I get used to the new social environment. To have in all my classes (I don’t really have anymore classes). To eat with and sit with and talk with. To be my buffer from the world.

Boyfriend does a lot of this, when he is able to. But he lives a 40 minute drive away right now. He has his own work and isn’t really integrated into this social group. They are friendly with him, just like C. and co were friendly to him. But he is usually not here.

I have to remember a few things. That I have only been here a year, and it took me a year to meet L. It took me a year before I was really close friends with C. That it isn’t fair to rely on one person to be a buffer between me and the world, to help me feel safe and facilitate social interactions. I find grad school weird because it is a combination of school and a job, it seems, where you sort of still have your main social circle being other students, though.

But I miss having one close friend who shared every part or almost every part of my day-to-day life. I miss having someone safe who is reliably around at school and at social activities.

HAPPY

This weekend

boyfriend and I went back to our college
we walked around the lake
and I was distracted and happy
dashing around at daffodils and ducks
and the small purple flowers
and hidden spiderwebs

and stopped at our spot
the spot where we would go to sit out and watch the stars
the spot where we had our first kiss
the spot where he told me I was beautiful for the first time
(the first time anyone not-my-parents had ever told me that)

and we stopped and looked at the lake
and the ducks and the flowers
and then he got down on one knee
and asked me to marry him

And of course I said yes. And now it is the spot where we got engaged. Where we officially are going to tell people and start planning forevers. It’s full of overwhelming happiness, of bounces and bubbly feelings and everything amazing.

This weekend I learned that it is not only despair that makes me lose my words. Overwhelming happiness can also do it. But I don’t need words to express my happiness. There’s happy-flappy, jumping, spinning. There’s happiness everywhere. For maybe 10 minutes, I jumped up and down and flapped and hugged and spun. We couldn’t put the ring on for the longest time because it would have flown right off my flapping hands. There’s been days and days of “we’re getting married” scripting and he always responds back with the right words.

And now I can spend forever with the one person who always is safe. Who watched me flap and spin happily all day and smiled. Who talked to people for me when I was too happy for words.  Who makes the world make sense. Who never stops watching out for me and making sure that I am alright. Who scheduled quiet breaks into the day so that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. Who made sure when I got home that I slept and ate. Who drove home while I slept the whole drive because even overwhelming happy is exhausting. Who planned everything so amazingly wonderful. Who picked out a beautiful ring that I can wear underneath my gloves at work. With nothing poky, but with plenty of sparkly.

So right now my life is full of overwhelming happy.

Living

I need to be able to live somewhere that I am not afraid of leaving my room. I need to live somewhere that I feel safe in the whole living area. That I can go in the kitchen whenever I want to. I am paying rent for half an apartment, but I’m afraid to use most of it. It’s an irrational fear, and afraid might not be the absolute best word for it, but it is the best word I can find right now.

Often, I won’t leave my room if I know my roommate is in the kitchen/living/dining room. This has negative effects on my eating habits. I can’t schedule my meals because I never know if she will be outside her room that day and I will need to make something quick so that I don’t have to stay in the kitchen long if she is out there. Even though I know this is irrational and there is no reason why I can’t use the kitchen if she is in the living room, it is just something that cannot happen, except on the best of days. Even if it isn’t a physical barrier, it is still something that prevents me from eating. It is still a real barrier for me.

I want to state clearly that this is in no way my roommate’s fault. She is a good roommate. She respects my space and doesn’t come into my room ever unless she has something important to tell me (like the oven is still on, or the timer is going off, or I got mail here it is). She doesn’t eat the food that is specifically mine, and splits the bills on the food we share, like bread and milk. She pays the internet bill on time so that we have internet always, which is important. Admittedly, sometimes she doesn’t do the dishes, but that is something I also do. When I told her that I do better with initiating conversations written, she started asking me over g-chat or facebook chat about things like paying my half of the internet bill.

The things that bother me are things she can’t really help. For instance, she had a really bad cough for months. I recognized that was not something she was doing consciously to annoy me, and it probably was worse for her than it was for me. But that still didn’t stop it from hurting my head every time I heard a cough, from distracting me so that I couldn’t concentrate on anything.

But mainly, it is her presence.

And I feel absolutely, positively horrible for saying this, because she is a nice girl. She’s one of my friends from undergrad and she’s also doing a Ph.D here. And her program doesn’t seem to be full of nearly as many lovely, friendly people as my program and I know she is having a hard time with it. My time at school/work is full of friendly interactions with fun people and hers is not.

But I need to move out.
I need to live somewhere I feel safe.
Somewhere where I am in control of the whole living area.
Somewhere that allows pets so that I can have a cuddly, snuggly friend.

But I feel horrible about abandoning her. Even though I’m not leaving until the lease is up (or at least close to it. I can’t pay two leases on a grad student stipend.) Even though we lease through student housing so she can stay here and still pay the same rent and they will probably put someone new in this apartment so that will be good because she will not be alone and generally gets along well with people. And also just that we won’t live together doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends.

And sometimes I talk to her and it is nice and fun and good. And happy even. And then I think that maybe I could handle this, that maybe I am being selfish and antisocial and lazy and if I just started spending more time not in my room I would feel safe in those parts. That it is just me being a horrible, lazy, selfish person.

But it isn’t selfish to want to be safe. It isn’t selfish to want to be able to make myself food on bad or tired days.

Probably not.

Correlation, Causation, Happiness and Imperfect Metaphors

I’ve been analyzing patterns of happiness, and trying to identify ways to stay happy (well, non-depressed, more precisely. I am fine with being unhappy, or not-happy, or bored, or things such as that because those are part of a range of human emotions, so they happen). 

All I have is correlative data, and so I cannot conclude any causation. But I’m going to hash out a couple things, and maybe make unfounded extrapolations, and use a bunch of probably-unclear-if-you-aren’t-me metaphors and say the same thing multiple ways until it makes sense to me.

The first thing

I know that when I am happy, I tend to spend time with people. When I am sad, I tend to hide in my room and stay away from people, except a very special few (boyfriend). The tricky thing to tease out, though, is if being around other people makes me happy, or if when I am happy, I have enough energy to spend time with other people.

So if we look at a simple correlation, we would see this.

So hey, you might say, this seems like a pretty good correlation. Maybe even causation, eh? When you are happy, you spend time with people. Maybe then, to be happier, you should spend more time with people.

But wait… the plot thickens.

This is not actually the complete graph. Anyone who knows me should know that I have an upper limit for time I can spend with people. The first graph I showed you was incomplete! It actually only included a small part of the scale! When you look at a larger range, you actually see this!

Was the first graph even necessary? Well, I do like drawing these graphs, so I am going to go with ABSOLUTELY YES.  But (shhh) these graphs are actually not assembled using any “real” data, just general observations I have gathered from my life. Don’t tell anyone!

Being with people all the time is not a good thing for me. I need alone-time-breaks, where I can just chill out quietly and read some books or watch Netflix or spin in circles or look at leaves or swim or other things. There is an ideal ratio of time that I can spend with people that will result in maximum happiness ability. It is also more complicated because the amount of time varies depending on who it is.

Also, there are other factors that do affect this. It is a self-perpetuating cycle, a positive feedback loop, in many ways.

When I am sad, I do not have enough energy to do daily things (like eat or brush my hair or things like that). Because being sad seems to use up energy by itself, somehow. When I am happy, I do have enough energy to do daily things AND I have a surplus of energy. I can then spend that extra energy on fun things that make me happy.

What I think the answer is…

(1) Spending time with other people makes me happy
(2) But it also uses up a lot of energy
(3) Running out of energy results in meltdown, results in sad me
(4) Being sad also means lack of energy (possibly caused by lack of energy, is tricky to determine the cause of that)
(5) When I am sad, I do not have enough energy to make myself happy.

And now for some Terry Pratchett

It is sort of like this. (But with happiness instead of money. And the spending money is instead effort. OK, well, it is a complicated metaphor, and I’m not sure I can completely explain it, but they are the same colors and flavors and feelings of arguments, and I can’t really explain better why they are the same, but they just are.)

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. 

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. 

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.  

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

(I have maybe possibly been on a Terry Pratchett spree recently… But this is from Men at Arms and it is wonderful just like all the other books.)

Happy people seem to have more energy to be happy.

Comparing happiness and showering and enzymatic reactions

It’s sort of like taking showers. I actually really love taking showers. I love water. I love the sound of it and the feel of it. Taking a shower will result in me feeling better, almost invariably. Because water is just that amazing. But the amount of effort it takes to initiate a shower is just not always there. So even though in the end I know I will feel better, I am not able to do it.
Thinking about it in another way, it is like I am lacking the activation energy. I am missing an enzyme to lower the activation energy. But somehow other people are able to do the thing. And because they have the enzyme, it works. It is easy, maybe. But it just doesn’t work for me.
It’s not perfect, I know. Like there is the increased energy of the state of the molecule/intermediates that is supposed to correspond to the level of energy I have. And then the lower-energy end-product (although that will vary depending on the reaction). People who are good at chemistry, I am sorry if there are other problems in this that make your head hurt.

Another warning about correlations and causation

And so this is the problem I face when I am going through a bad streak, when I am trying to regain lost happiness. I know what I do when I am happy. I tend to blog more. I hang out with people more. I bake. I sing to myself a lot. I’ll explore and take walks. I exercise. But this is all correlation. Are these things that make me happy? Will they lead me back to happiness when I have lost it? Sometimes they do. Sometimes I don’t have enough energy to try.
I only have correlational data available on my life, when I am looking for causations.

So I will muddle through the correlations. Run some experiments (try some new coping mechanisms). And honestly, the correlational data is important. Because not only does it give me some hints about what might be causal, it also helps me identify emotions. Because that’s also not something I’m the best at. It helps to be able to recognize that I’m not doing great before I am doing awful, because it’s a lot easier to stop things before I’m headed at high speed down to the land of sad-and-confused-and-upset-me. Because when I am doing not-great, I still have the energy to fix things.

Panic Season

Boyfriend is an accountant in public accounting. In his first year. When I get back from Christmas, it will be busy season. This means I have to avoid having a crisis until the end of busy season. Because there will be several weeks with just me. Months. Where I will have to solve my problems by myself. Because maybe I will get conversations time or a phone call or two when he is on his train home. But it is seeming more and more unlikely that I will be able to. No physical interaction. No in-person interaction.

I hate that. I hate accounting. I hate him being busy. I hate his long commute the opposite direction that means there is no way what so ever to be able to drop by. I hate that he lives at home with his parents who won’t let anyone visit. I hate that we can’t live together unless we are married because of  family, people, etc reasons. And I work myself into a panic where the only possible outcome is that I will never see him again ever. And at the end of it I hate everything and everyone.

And eventually I remember to talk to him when I work myself into this panic. He reminds me gently that I will still be able to see him. And he reminds me that I am near the top of his priority list. And that he will be able to see me less frequently, but not never.

And things become better for a while.

I put myself near the bottom of my priority list unless I actively, consciously think about it and remind myself about it. So I assume that is where I go on other people’s lists. That my job is to stay quiet. To help people live their lives. To inconvenience myself in order to make their lives run smoother. To fit my activities around their lives. To not make a fuss. To fit myself into whatever spaces I need to fit in other people’s lives. To be a brilliant conversationalist when needed. To know when to sit quietly.

I need to be perfect (whatever that means) so that I can fit into other people’s lives perfectly. Because I assume they only have very precise spaces where there is room for me. I can’t expect them to drastically change to fit me. It has to be a perfect fit.  But then there are all the other multiple people whose lives I need to fit into perfectly and somehow it all has to happen.



















And yes, I know these look a lot like enzyme-substrate diagrams, where I am the substrate. And then other people act on me, alter me in some way, and then spit me out and go along their way, with their full enzymatic activity still intact, because while I am expected to change, and they need me, they are catalytic. And they retain their activity perfectly once separated from me. And there are so many more substrates present than enzymes usually. Even though I feel like a substrate and everyone else is an enzyme. They all have inherent biological activity. And I just sort of lurk until they change me.
 And… I’m starting to dig too deeply into this metaphor right now so I shall stop for several minutes. AND THEN there are so many people whose lives I need to fit into and I DON’T KNOW HOW TO!

And to do all that is overwhelming. And impossible.

There is not a perfectly fitting space for me in everyone else’s life. I don’t even know how to find what shape I need to be to fit into one person’s life. Because I don’t know what roles they need me to play. I don’t know how to how to start figuring that out. And then when you start considering that I want to interact with more than one person. How do I make myself the shape to fit into multiple people’s lies simultaneously?

I cannot be perfect for everyone.

If they are worth it, then they will rearrange their life a little bit, so that I fit in their life. And I can rearrange my life a little bit, too. But it doesn’t need to be all on one side. Both people can work on it.

I shouldn’t have to be a perfect fit.

No one is expecting me to be perfect.

I don’t need to be perfect.

People will still want me in their life if I am not perfect.

Boyfriend has specifically stated this. Other people have specifically stated this. I still don’t really believe it.

So the next couple months might be trickier than normal. It will be a new semester with a new lab and new classes. New and I don’t get along. And even though boyfriend will be around, it will be less than normal. And he will be tired and maybe a little more sleep deprived. And I will feel bad every time I tell him about anything wrong because he will be stressed from work.

And I tend to panic more when I know boyfriend won’t be available to help. It was pretty consistent throughout the last four years of school. When I know he’s busy or tired or at work, I don’t tell him about all the little things. But the problem for me is that everything is little things. When I don’t tell him about the little things, I start worrying about them. And then I’m having full fledged panic attacks about the possibility that he might die of a heart attack in 30 years because he doesn’t sleep enough. Or I have a meltdown over being unable to completely weigh the potential benefits of what size or type of pet I should have when my lease runs out and I can move to a pet-friendly apartment.

I will need to remember this. And remember to say small things before they get to big things. Because everyone prefers the question that takes 30 seconds or less to answer over the panic attack that takes an hour to diffuse and still ruins the day. That’s what text messaging is for. Small messages that can be answered at someone else’s leisure or on breaks. Text messages I’ve been told do not interrupt at work. Text messages are ok.

So after Christmas (break), we are on to busy season for him and panic season (hopefully not) for me.

But I think there are things I might postpone until after busy season, like the end of my antidepressants. Except I will run out of them during this time period and to renew them, I would have to make some sort of appointment and talk to people somewhere probably, and that is also stressful. So that will perhaps be a decision I discuss and figure out later at some point. (So decisive, me.)

So onto new adventures and stuff like that.