Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Are You Spiritual Or Psychotic? The Fine Line Between Prophetic and Crazy

angels small.jpgIn his bestselling book, “Strong at the Broken Places,” Richard Cohen profiles, among five persons living with chronic illness, mental health advocate Larry Fricks. He writes:

Larry had been to hell and back and now his spirit soared. “Religion is for people who fear hell,” Larry told me. “Spirituality is for those who have been there.” Life to Larry is not about a church but belief in the human spirit. “Richard, that spirit is why I get up each day.” For him, doctors did not understand this dimension.


“Psychiatry tried to beat it out of me, to convince me this was just a symptom of my disease, a psychiatric disorder”

“And that was not the whole story?”

“No. Even in sickness, I see a spiritual realm that to me is real.”

Earlier Cohen writes, “Doctors force patients into non-psychotic behavior with such zealotry that they dismiss too many possibly positive and healthy dimensions of the patient’s mind and soul. They do not tolerate eccentricity or unconventional views. Sometimes a fine line separates psychosis and off-center belief.”

A very fine line, indeed.

Especially for a religious person like me who derives 85 percent of her will power and strength from a tight bond with the grandfatherly-type dude in the sky, aka God.


Am I psychotic or spiritual?

One of the first psychiatrists I saw would vote psychotic. As I rattled off a few of my thoughts–most of which pertained to God’s unique calling for me, and the ways he had revealed his message through signs and symbols throughout my day–she told me I was making connections where none existed and much of my spiritual jabber was a symptom of hypomania.

It may have been.

I mean, I recall thinking almost everything that happened to me in my day was a sign from God. The fortune cookie I got (Since when did those things turn negative??? I’m so not going to that Chinese place again) during this psychic phase read: “You are in over your head. It’s time to seek professional help.”


So I went a little give-me-a-sign-and-please-create-my-destiny-because-I-haven’t-a-clue-as-to-where-I’m-going crazy. But I’m not about to throw out Baby Jesus with the holy bath water, either, because I do believe, as loony as this sounds, that God has commissioned me with a purpose that He communicates through people, places, things, and randomly mean fortune cookies. I try to be as receptive as possible to picking up on those clues.

“It’s beyond conceited that you would think God would care about your small decisions throughout the day,” a friend argued the other day.

Fine. Call me arrogant. But how do I explain all the times everything happened in perfect synchronicity and I have felt an overwhelming sense of peace, tinged with a sacredness I couldn’t explain?


When blogger Kevin Williams asked his psychologist what the difference was between being mentally ill and being prophetic, the head expert said: “People who hear voices and see things that aren’t there can be classified into two groups. The first group are people who cannot cope with these voices and are called mentally ill. The second group are people who can cope with the voices and are called psychic. It is my personal belief that being psychic and being psychotic are the same thing depending upon how you cope with it. Society in general regards people who talk to God as holy. But society in general regards people whom God talks to as insane.”

Kevin goes on to explain the gift of our madness:

Manic depression has been called a brilliant madness because of the expansive ideas that psychosis can create. In days of old, people recognized how mental illness can even be a gift. Socrates once declared, “Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness, provided the madness is given us by divine gift.” Plato referred to insanity as: “a divine gift and the source of the chief blessings granted to men.” 


Native American Indians believed that their voice hearers revealed messages that had great spiritual significance. The idea of the mad scientist can probably be traced to the grandiose thoughts that intelligent mentally ill people can have. John Nash, a lifetime schizophrenic, received the Nobel Laureate in Economics and his life was portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind. Other famous mentally ill people are: Beethoven, Tolstoy, Van Gogh, Keats, Hemingway, Dickens, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Emerson, and Woolf, to name just a few.

Frankly, I’m for anything that gives a person hope. If a mentally-ill mom thinks the Creator is communicating with her through the shape of her daughter’s Girl Scout cookies, then I say, “Go for it. Stock up on the Thin Mints, Trefoils, Samoas, and Tagalongs and decode the sweet messages.”


Because, as Larry Frick tells Richard at the end of the interview: “Hope is to the soul what oxygen is to the body.”

Illustration by Anya Getter.

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  • Alan

    Either that, or you’re just plain nuts.

  • Lisa

    Mania is a dangerous state and not to be trifled with. I suppose it is true that how you handle it makes all the difference. I did not handle it well…I was a danger to myself and my kids. I’d much rather be depressed than manic. when depressed, at least I know I’m ill, when manic, I think I’m fine, which makes all the difference. Maybe I’m wrong to have settled for a life of still sanity…I don’t know. But at least I’m still holding down a job for 17 years and have a promising career ahead of me and my kids are safe and my marriage stable. Is it wrong to trade a brilliant madness for peace? Not in my hunble opinion.

  • JLLB

    I am very blessed to see a Christian counselor who does not judge my faith as a part of my mental illness. She sees it as part of who I am and not a “symptom.”

  • Mary Anne Thompson

    I LOVED this topic/article! Being a recovering christian who walks a Pagan path now for 10 yrs I have to tell u that if it were not for my “spiritual” condition I would not be alive. Religion and organized religion has caused wars and is still misunderstood by the masses. I choose today to be Spiritual rather than religious.
    I was blessed when my old therapist who has since relocated asked me if I had ever read the book “The Celestine Prophecy” I had not. She instructed me to go to a half price book store and get it along with its sequel the 10th insight. I did and was moved! Not only that but later I happenned on the DVD movie and for those of you who have not seen it or read the book I HIGHLY suggest u doing so. Thank the GODS that not all therapists or head Dr’s chalk us up to being crazy because our beliefs are not mainstream.
    I was raised Lutheran, my Mother is Catholic and also Schizophrenic with Dementia at present. My Father was in 12 step programs and always taught me to have a “higher power”. I am very BLESSED in that today I choose who and what to call my higher power. I walk a Native American path and refer to him as Grandfather. We of the Native American lineage refer to Earth as Mother and Sky as Father. Call me a tree hugger, someone who respects all living things, the trees, the Earth, the stones, the herbs and plants….
    This path has worked for me for the past 10 yrs and I think I will keep walking it! Yesterday I went to a park near NASA that the NASA scientists/astronauts designed. It has columns in the 4 directions and on Summer Solstice (which was yesterday) the sun sets in between the columns in the West. It is awesome! With other people I had never met there was a group of people who gathered to admire the Season change, the Sun, Moon and Stars. We all prayed and communed together. Sort of a Texas Stone Henge, ha!
    Whatever diety/God u need to call on do so. There is something greater than us responsible for us being on this planet. I will keep walking the Red Road with the ancestors and be grateful to people like US who others may call mentally challenged, mentally ill but I personally think we are the enlightend ones! Blessed Be

  • Lonni

    In every instance, but one, all the therapists I’ve had were very accepting of the spiritual nature of mine. I’ve consistently had the nagging feeling, however, that it was support based on tolerance rather than a belief that it was “real”. Personally, I don’t believe that mental illness is “enlightenment” or “a door to the spiritual realm”. I think it is what it is….an illness with its source being a result of the fall of man and the Sin that was brought into the world at that fall. Having said that, I also believe that those who have a spiritual identity are more inclined to do much better in dealing with the illness than those who have nothing outside themselves to cling to on the worst of days. Or even the best of days. I believe our dependence on God is a necessity, not an option.

  • Bill White

    Interesting and thought-provoking piece. I suppose when it comes to “psychosis,” the most generic definition would a break with reality. But whose reality are we using as a measuring stick? Granted, religious and spiritual beliefs and behaviors may be “psychotic” in presentation. After all, at base, one is believing in powerful, communicative – and invisible – spiritual figures and forces. But even within the reality of an inflexible society, so what? I’m with you, Therese – bring on those girl scout cookies. Who am I to judge?

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  • Evan

    I think another element is contact with reality. Sometimes when manic people are not responding to what is outside of themselves (they are poor conversational companions).
    I love some of the things R D Laing had to say. Things like: people who regard their white skin as a cancer are diagnosed as schizophrenic; those who regard others’ black sking as making them inferior aren’t. Also: the mystic and schizophrenic are in the same sea – the mystics swim and the schizophrenics drown.
    This is a big discussion about the nature of reality – and how we come to know what reality is I guess. I think that we all need to listen to each other and what is real for us. And I think we can disagree – and do so respectfully while being hospitable.

  • Debra Rincon Lopez

    I am very spiritual and I am also Native American. They have diagnosed me and psychotic and with bipolar & depression. I have been spiritual and religious all of my life, so I can so relate with all the things that you posted here. It sounded exactly like the way I feel sometimes. Is it wrong to think this way, and I have been in Mental health therapy for the past 2 yrs. I don’t think they have helped me in any way shape or form? What they did is confuse me on what I believe is the correct way to feel and with God’s help maybe I will find a way out of this mess??? I love this posting and I cannot wait to read the book. Thanks for everything now I know I’m not a nutcase.

  • Fran

    Unless a person believes they are some diety, like Jesus Christ, or unless they believe that God is telling them to hurt themselves and/or hurt others (for instance, believing that God is telling them to max out their credit cards and/or blow up The Empire State Building — in other words, obvious minor or major psychosis), I would think that no one can judge another person’s beliefs and religious/spiritual experiences.
    I sometimes wonder just how ‘sick’ some ill people are. Just because they aren’t the ‘norm’ doesn’t necessarily mean they are ‘sick’.

  • Phyllis

    Amen, Therese, AMEN! There is certainly a fine line, but if a line indicates a broken place and God works in the broken places most of all, then guess where He is working and how we interpret it … “For in Him, we live and move and have our being.” He cares about our “every little thing” because He told us so . . . “Cast your cares upon him for he LOVES you so!” And the only rest I get through ANY given day, depressed, manic or otherwise is by going to him – heavy-laden. He gives me rest. Even if I’m bouncing off the walls, I have that quiet peaceful Person of strength waiting for me in a place of quiet and calm. Sometimes just breathing deep repeatedly and singing in my head “I’ve got peace like a river” get me through very tough times. And so, THANKS for discussing the spiritual vs. madness – a fine line, indeed.

  • Gini

    As a spiritual Manic-Depressive, who sometimes get away from her Spirituality, I can relate highly to this post. My spirituality is often questioned and a lot of people believe I should be more “religous”. As my spirituality keeps me in touch with who I really am, I wish I could stay there more often….however the real world seems to get in my way. I am really looking forward to getting and reading this book, as maybe it will help me be ME! Thanks so much for this post, it put and affirmation into my life!

  • Bernadette Barrett

    I believe we need to surrender our will to a higher power which I choose to call God. On a daily basis I believe we are lead by this higher power. I prayer for wisdom ,guidance and the courage to act on theses gifts of the holy spirit. I believe when a decision needs to be made or we need some insight we should pause and ask for direction. This direction could be considered a sign. I also believe in mindful thinking for direction. Also, remember there are no coincidences.

  • Raine West

    Thanks, Therese, for this post. I don’t know how many times I’ve been called crazy, in fun or otherwise, for being an out of the box, unconventional thinker. I think society has a standard for normal and those of us who live outside that MUST be crazy. How else can they explain how we actually think for ourselves? But how crazy is it to restrict ourselves to conventional thinking and never explore new phases and ideas. Most of what we would call progress in the world has started with a crazy idea.

  • ed

    Anyone who believes something without objective, scientific proof is superstitious. Faith is an irrational belief and all who claim an irrational belif are mentally ill. I don’t even know what one means by spirituality, but if what the author describes is the definition, one who is spiritual is mentally ill. There are no signs in life. There is no god, devil, angels, vampires, witches, gobblins, Jesus, Moses, Heaven or hell. Just matter and energy without beginning or end. There is no good or evil, just actions with no meaning. When you die you simply cease to exist and will never exist again. The end. No deep meaning. No afterlife. Just death with no meaning. Grow up and face reality. Living a delusion is for cowards.

  • Cindy

    Dear Mary Ann,
    Thank you for your post. It seems that we have similar, although opposite experiences.
    I walked the Pagan Path for 12 years. At one point I was asked by a native American reader why I didn’t follow the “red road.” I told him it was because I didn’t have enough blood (only 1/16). He said that I had more than enough spirit, so I walked it in spirit.
    While I was worshipping creation I was happy. However, it wasn’t until I gave my life to the Creator that I found fullness of joy and peace that passes understanding. Once I stopped trying to create my own reality and let Him fix my broken reality, joy and peace became sustainable.
    I had fought bi-polar disorder all of my life. When I gave my life to Jesus Christ, He healed me. I have never fought it again (10 years later).
    If I may ask a question in love: If you are right and I am wrong, what will be my outcome? At worst, I will have to live this life again. If Christians are right, what will be your outcome? Are you prepared for that possibility?
    I’m truly not trying to be ugly. I am quite sincere. I have simply found something so monumentally awesome that I want to share it with everyone! It’s like if I found the secret to winning the lottery. I’d want to share it with everyone.
    May I ask one last question? In your post you say that you are a recovering Christian. Is it possible that for you to be able to say that, perhaps maybe you never were? There is a difference between going to church and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It’s possible you were, I don’t know you. I’m just saying it’s a possibility. I’ve just never known anyone who did have a genuine personal relationship with Jesus Christ to then turn away.
    Love to you and all here,

  • Lisa

    Your blog has so mirrored my own realizations about myself in the last few weeks. Thank you.
    And who does your artwork. It really is stupendous.

  • Kathy

    I am a practicing Roman catholic and have always believed in a kind and loving God….When I was in the depths of my first bi polar depression I could not feel God’s love and caring and was terrified. Only after I received treatment was I able to reconnect to my beliefs and once again feel God’s presence. I also believe that I have a gardian angel and in fact many angels that I communicate to daily to assist me in my daily life….It is not crazy to be spiritual and for me it is a support that gives my life meaning and purpose…don’t misunderstand me I do not accept all of the Church’s teachings but I do believe in the trinity and God’s angels and his love…..In my work as a mental health nurse I understood the fear of the voices and delusions that my patients experienced and this helped me to connect with them and assist them to deal with their illness…I was successful and helped many patients deal with their illness and learn tools to deal with their symptoms…

  • Joe

    There is ONLY one way…..He IS the way, the truth, and the Life”…once you surrender and accept the reality and the urgency of the reality in accepting Him as your Savior life (and death) gets MUCH easier…I am still human with all the human worries…but in the end there is only one way…

  • Lisa

    To Ed,
    Unless you have a full explanation of our creation and existence and you can explain miracles it would seem an impossibility to say there is no God and we do not exist anymore when we die. Until you have proof and not just an explantion of “anyone intelligent can figure that one out you” are putting yourself at risk of two things. 1. If you are wrong and you die you will forever live in a tormented state as God will say go away from me for I never knew you. 2. Should and when you are faced with a burden in your life that is more than your psyche can bear you will cry out for help when the pain gets too great and you will find no peace and no hope as humans more often than not will disappoint. On the other hand The word of God (The bible) is the most highly read and has been on the top selling list for thousands of years which according to you would billlions of people (beleivers) mentally ill according to your view point. The Old Testament has come to pass. In many books of the bible the demonstrations of Jesus’works were witnessed by hundereds of people. The writers include the names of many of them to attest to the fact that what is writtenw as not false but could be checked on by many others for credibility. May God Bless you so that you will have the desire to research all possibilities befroe ruling out our Creator. You just may be missing some of the joys offered to those who do have a relationship with the Lord.

  • Magdalena Blackchurch

    To Lisa:
    We do have a much fuller and fact based disbelief for superstitions. Your proseletyzing to Ed is so backward and primitive that I am sure he’s heard it before and doesn’t need my help. But let me sum up for you anyway.
    You are speaking about the xian god when you say that he said “I never knew you”. What if YOU are wrong and Allah sends YOU to an Islamic hell? See? Choose your myth, but the fact is, extraordinary claims (a peek-a-boo god who doesn’t show any signs of his “loving self” to his “beloved children”) is not just ridiculous, but places the burden of proof upon you. Otherwise it is just as Ed said. It is you faith only. And the definition of faith is “Believing in that for which there is no evidence”. i.e. Superstition. So, unless you can proove your god then maybe you should start fearing YHWH or Allah. According to the Talmud written in the first century, you’re going to burn in hot excrement for all eternity. According to the Qur’aan, you’re going to have your skin boiled off and then replaced just to have it burned off again..for all eternity this will take place. Are you willing to take that chance?
    Choose your myth. Islam kills and dies for theirs. That doesn’t make it right. In the same way, the Bible being a top-seller (by a bunch of puritanical hypocrites who repeatedly re-translate and alter it’s meaning) does not make it the word of your god, either. The FACT is, the Bible was written by 40 men over many thousands of years. It’s got more holes in it than a porcupines underpants. The same cannnot be said for scientific proofs. Do we have all the facts? No. But we have far more than a primitive book from the bronze ages that touts stoning your child for misdeeds and worse. It’s barbaric and backward. Grow up. There is no need for gods in the 3rd millenia. Hasn’t the belief in these deities done enough war and killing for you yet?

  • Francie

    To Magdalena:
    Thank you for your intelligent post.

  • Bill

    There is no doubt that people with delusions and positive s/s of psychosis can successfully function in society. It is a conscious choice to wrap them in religious or spiritual meaning. It is not fortunate to say the Bible, Koran, etc. are the answers over all other perspectives, or to raise Pasqual’s Argument about accepting religion as the answer. The imperative is to live an honest, non violent, respectful loving life in peace and harmony with all and you will be fulfilling all the requiements of being a progressive Christian, Mulsim, Jew, secular humanist, etc … We all need to get beyong the I am a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, etc. if we are ever going to advance civilization.

  • Silvana

    Thanks. This helped my day. Those of us with certain gifts are often seen as odd, which adds hurt to the already heightened sensitivity we possess which comes with the territory.

  • karen

    i don’t think we are capable as humans of understanding what the “next life” is all about….we are human and we are here to experience what being human is…

  • A firm believer God is me

    Wow! I really needed this today. Thank you Mgdalena and Bill for your wonderful reminders. We are all in this together and God (however you want to label God) is within all of us. I have faith that Jesus Christ saved my soul by his deeds. That might not work for someone else, and that is ok!!
    Lisa, the best thing you can do is pray for yourself. Believe what you want to and accept others for what they believe. You didn’t ask for my advice, but your thinking is limiting you. What would Jesus do?

  • Fred

    Some call it the work of the devil, some say I’m looney. some say I lost my mind but, That doesn’t bother me unless they don’t listen. Yes, I’m a person who listens to the passed ones since 1955. My wonderful wife (who passed 1/10/10) of 53 1/2 yrs, our two daughters, my sister in law, and my family knew of this special gift I have–from GOD– No, I cam’t predict what is going to happen to me or any event for profit to anyone. This gift comes and goes. I don’t know when or where it will happen–it just does.
    BELIEVE — I did and, thank GOD I did

  • Patrice Tate-Saintsurin

    I just want to thank the author of this article. At last I can see there is a person who thiks the way that I do. I do believe that some people who has been diagnosed as Schizopherinia are really being visited by the spirit world and could not take it. I also agree with religion being for people who fear Hell and spirituality is for those of us who have been there.
    I keep my inner thoughts and visitation from the spirit world to myself mostly because if I shared them with some others they would probably have me baker acted.
    Thanks for sharing this article.

  • Leanne

    Thank you for confirming what I think and feel. And, yes, I’ve been called crazy and out of my mind, but I’m sticking to what calls to me through my heart. It’s a personal connection as they say….

  • Freida

    For only a short time,I have been reading and enjoying your writings. I have been a survivor of Bipolar Disorder for around 10 years. God and I have come a long way. I was in hell and God was there with me. Speaking to me and loving me. Like David said in,
    “Psalm 139:8 If I make my bed in hell, thou art there”. God never left me or forsook me. What got me through that hell was my faith. Which to me, faith is choosing to believe that God is real even though every thing about life looks like He is not. When it looks like every promise God made is a lie true faith chooses to believe that God’s promises are real and true. When I was in this state of mind God kept telling me, over and over, I have a work for you to do. Those words helped me to survive. Thank you for your writings and keep up the good work.

  • Adrienne

    Great article, VERY controversial topic! Maybe the most important topic we’ll ever take on. Thanks for tackling it.
    ‘Nuff said!

  • Donna

    Oh bless God!! This is an anointed day…I’m writing about a group of people just like you and me…I even mentioned the fortune cookies today just before I looked at this email…to tell you supernatural God works in my life…they call me crazy because I talk to God and he talks to me….I told my daughter just a few minutes ago that I wore my candidates shirt to my English class and had to blindly choose between two topics for an impromptu speech…just like the fortune cookies that are on point, I chose between “sell the shirt you have on” and “get the class to vote for you to be President”.. how about them cookies I chose “sell the shirt you have on”…the shirt sold its self I just talked about my candidate….Bless God!!! My teacher said ” that’s not should choose another topic ” then she laughed and I said “THAT’S JUST LIKE GOD” Selah…and I also was led by the Holy Spirit to read Psalms 139 early this morning!!! He’s an ontime God.

  • Ronald

    I do not Belive in What Your Saying, I’m a Christian and I read My Bible and Talk with My Lord and Savior Often, For Jesus said That He Was the Truth, The Way, and The Life. I know this to be as Jesus Said It. I’ve Personally had several Experiences with My Lord and Savior, Even Saw Him and He Spoke to Me , I could tell You some of My True Experences but, You Most Probably would not Comprehend any of them. Especially since Youv’e never really ever Known Him with a Personal Relationship Such as I have but don’t feel Bad because there’s Many who have not really Had a Real Personal Realtionship , Nor have Quiet a Few so Called Ministers and Evangelist All I can say is I don’t know Why I Had Such A Miraculos Intervention and I Told it to Many other Christians . Do I think I’m Special I Suppose So since since Jesus Appeard to Me and Actually Taught Me So Munch. God Bless, Ronald V. Griffing sr.

  • Lorna

    Loved the column-yes, some people can hear God’s voice-some do not
    listen-some won’t listen. And for those who do hear, verifications
    that it’s really Him is very comforting indeed-and overwhelming and
    humbling. Oh, yes and there are the Elite Professionals (because they
    are “too intelligent” or either too arrogant, because they haven’t heard) how could the rest of us who profess to have heard, be possibly sane? Oh well, I have my own verifications–and look at all
    those in the Bible who have heard and listened. God is no respector of persons-We all should keep our spiritual ears open-and request-“Please send me a sign if it’s really YOU!”-Don’t pass out when He

  • janice spiak

    Jesus said, in Jn.10v27,”my sheep hear my voice,I know them and they follow me”. so, If your a child of God, through ,the New birth,recieveing jesus as your personal Lord and savior, then you can expect jesus to speak to you since he promised he would speak to his sheep(children). However, whatever the Lord speaks to his children should agree with the word of God(Bible),if it contradicts the Bible , it is not God’s voice speaking.also circumstances and provisions should follow, the voice of God speaking , when God guides, he provides. Good topic!

  • Brooke

    Thank you Therese. Although something I want to add is that although many people define spirituality in terms of a higher power or a spiritual realm of sorts, many don’t. I am more agnostic in that I really have no idea if there is a higher power or not and I don’t particularly want to waste time arguing either way. However I do consider myself more spiritual in a way that is more akin to what Larry describes as feeling the “human spirit”. I think of it in terms of consciousness, awareness, empathy, intuition, and so on. It’s more about being connected to yourself and the world around you in a meaningful way, if that makes sense. I really enjoyed this post and examining how diffcult it can be to define that “line”.

  • Lindsey

    I don’t know what the truth is, but truth is everlasting.
    I can only HOPE that all of the rest of this confusion will one day be gone by believing in a being bigger than my own.
    I am sick of being trapped in this personal hell of what is this, but we all have to take turns getting here because that is the way it has to be to be balanced and to keep going. One day, slowly but surley the good will over take the absence of good. I would like to HOPE we are close, but maybe that is just me planting life into myself and feeding this never ending cycle, or maybe it is my way to cope with this trap I am living.

  • katherine bartley

    well, some might say freud was strong enough to destroy religion, but not strong enough to replace it.
    my old psychiatrist said that to be a psychiatrist you have to decide that God does not exist, and that was what she was told by her instructors at Cornell.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Donna

    This was not only a great read but filled me with hope and memory. I have been hearing and seeing things so to speak all my life since childhood. It hasnt been easy w/o a teacher I had to figure things out myself. Hopefully in the future a school or classes for the soulful sane will exist!!! I can give much insight after all 50 years of experience can definately help those searching for knowledge and understanding!!! Thank you for your article.
    “GOD” Bless U!!!! Courage to come out

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  • Jo Bruno

    Loved this blog/article! I found it exactly when I was supposed to find it … call me crazy! =)

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