Turning 25: A reflection on my journey with mental illness (Guest Blog)

PsoHoward illustration
Illustration by Lydia Chang

 As Father’s day approaches I can’t believe our oldest, Lydia, is turning 25. She shares her story from the heart here on her journey growing up with bipolar disorder.

For my perspective as a father on coming to better understand her bipolar condition see I Picked up My Daughter from the Psychiatric Hospital for the First Time on Father’s Day.


This year happens to be one of major milestones. I will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree after seven long years of undergraduate work that has been riddled with health setbacks. I will also be turning 25. It feels like a prime opportunity to reflect on my life journey and how it’s been shaped by living with bipolar disorder. While it certainly hasn’t been easy, I’ve grown in ways I likely never would have otherwise.

A developing diagnosis

When I began experiencing mood swings as a young teenager in high school, I would have never guessed their implications for the rest of my life. I was certainly moody in ways many teenagers experience, but it was when I began self harming and daydreaming about suicide that I knew something was very wrong.

I remember a fellow classmate pointing out the scabbed over cuts on my wrist and asking what happened. I quickly pulled my sleeve over the evidence of my tumultuous mind and blamed the cat. They didn’t seem convinced but didn’t push the issue further. That moment of fear, guilt, and shame at my actions was a clear sign to me that I was ill. However, it wasn’t until much later that I finally asked for help.

That moment was one of the scariest of my life. I knew once I told my parents about my cutting and suicidal thoughts that I couldn’t go back to normalcy. But at that point, normalcy was locking myself in my room anytime I wasn’t at school. It was sitting in the dark with sharp blades, crying for reasons unknown to me, trying to push out the intrusive thoughts that constantly berated me. Although I wasn’t fully conscious of it, I had reached the point where I couldn’t live that way any longer.

As I predicted, life changed drastically. I began seeing a therapist weekly and started medications. The initial diagnosis of depression didn’t seem to quite fit, but having a name for all of these unwelcome thoughts and feelings seemed to help. While this time of my life is extremely blurry, I know I struggled desperately to regain a foothold but the ground seemed to keep slipping out from under me.

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Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 7: May 4-10


On May 1st Yolo County extended the shelter-in-place order that started in on March 18th:

Some of the county is opening up, with certain outdoor activities such as golf and archery now permitted. Drive-in religious services are also open as of May 4th. 

Lori and I have been posting a weekly journal updated every day or two to mark thoughts, reflections, and news related to life sheltering-at-home.

This is week 7 of the lockdown.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Wonder Woman I Knew–A Mother’s Day Poem (Lori)

I will start with Beauty,
You always were that to me—
Green eyes, copper hair, and long flowing dresses,
The color of your lipstick and faint smell of hairspray,
Fill my early childhood memories with good things. 

Then there was the test of Strength, 
Mom, you got really sick. 
The doctors couldn’t figure it out, 
Some even believed you made it all up;
But we found a doctor who helped us understand 
As you lived with a chronic health condition for many years. 
You kept on going, living your life and in that resilience
Found a way to help others with similar conditions. 

Ohh my dear mother, you were the Love. 
I rarely had reason to doubt it. 
You were constantly by my side, 
Through every up and down I faced.
In my teen years you showed me that 
Love must sometimes be tough, 
But always believes and hopes for the best,
In me—your only child. 

The Grace and dignity you showed,
You extended it to many others. 
No one was excluded from your circle 
Of friendship and loyalty. 
You laughed with others in times of joy,
You held the hand of a friend suffering from terminal cancer. 
You taught me how to connect with people in meaningful ways. 

I speak the Truth,
I testify,
To these things that you were and still are, 
Even though you have left this earth. 
You never wore a cape or carried a lasso, 
But you were a wonderful woman,
A Wonder Woman to me.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Quarantine Nail Party (Lori)

Those who keep in touch with me on social media know I enjoy giving myself manicures. Manicures (and occasionally pedicures) are fulfilling to me in two ways: self-care and to show my creative side.  I am happy to share my most recent manicure in this entry. 

Why nail polish? Isn’t it sticky, smelly, time-consuming, and troublesome? If I am being completely honest, it is all of those things. If you can pull off the perfect at-home manicure, it seems to start chipping or peeling off as soon as you get it done.

Why bother? 

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Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 6: April 27–May 3

On March 19, 2020 California Governor Newsom announced a statewide stay-at-home order. Here is a screenshot from my phone:

Currently the lockdown continues until May 1st, although the Yolo County site says that an extension is forthcoming. With the president and some states now opening up the economy, there is a glimmer of hope the lockdown will let up even more so in California and Yolo County in the coming weeks. 

Until then, Lori and I continue to post a weekly journal updated every day or two to mark thoughts, reflections, and news related to life sheltering-at-home.

This is week 6 of the lockdown.


Saturday, May 2, 2020

When Plans Change

“’Cause I told you my level of concern, 

But you walked by like you never heard, 

And you could bring down my level of concern,

Just need you to tell me we’re alright, tell me we’re okay.”

-twenty one pilots

I love Hawaii. And what’s not to love? Beaches, mountains carved from volcanoes, weather that changes from rain to sunshine in a moment, pineapple fields, the Aloha spirit of those who live there.

We are supposed to be in Hawaii right now. Celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary that was actually LAST August. We went to Honolulu for our honeymoon and have never been back.

A photo on my desk of Howard from our Honeymoon in Hawaii, August 1994

Our destination this time was supposed to be Maui. We’ve heard wonderful things about Maui from friends who have visited. I can remember how excited I felt when Howard booked the plane tickets. I thought, “Wow. This will be a time to really celebrate all we’ve been through together the past 25 years—to reminisce and enjoy time together in a blissful tropical location. Just the two of us.”

Now I am writing from shelter-in-place at home. After plane tickets and hotel reservations were cancelled. After the return home I thought I would be enthusiastically showing off my tropical tan, telling tales of snorkeling with fish, and boring friends and family with pictures. Lots of pictures. Proudly on display on my Facebook account.

Instead I’m rolling out of bed close to noon these days and wondering what to make for lunch. I’ve made so many lunches at home now—I don’t know anymore. Where is the lunch menu at the local Hawaiian barbeque place where I can just order from? 

The main thing I know during this time is that it’s okay to mourn the loss of this trip. It’s okay to realize flying off to Hawaii and basking in the sunshine would have been really good for my physical, emotional and mental health. It’s also okay to know that I had pumped up this trip in my mind as a “trip of a lifetime,” and none of those expectations were met. At all. 

The main thing I know during this time is that it’s okay to mourn the loss of this trip.

But my life in quarantine? It’s really good, actually. I have my husband at my side for most of the time. We pray together, we talk together, we roast and drink coffee together. I tend to my garden—it is probably the best Spring I’ve had in my garden. Ever.  

We have our son at home with us for now, and just knowing he is here doing his own thing and feeling healthy is a big deal. Seeing our daughters on FaceTime at least once a week and their smiling faces is huge. We have our dog and our kitten to look after and enjoy their company.

And really—when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t want to be in Hawaii by myself. I know that wherever I am with Howard is truly home.


Friday, May 1, 2020

Read the Bible in a Year (Howard)

Each year I attempt to read through the Bible in a year. This year, with a four-month break from work, and now shelter-at-home orders, I feel more confident I can accomplish it.

Here is a scan of the Bible reading plan I adopted some years ago with this year’s progress so far:

I know there are some great online/electronic Bible reading plans out there, but I like the simplicity and variety of this plan. Each day of the week focuses on a part of the Bible such as New Testament letters, prophets, and Gospels/Acts. I still need to catch up on the second half of Isaiah, but decided to keep going.

The best part of following a reading plan is staying in the Word each day. Over the weeks I’ve struggled with various moods and feelings related to the lockdown. Whether it is feeling sad, anxious, lethargic, fearful, or restless it seems like something I read each day helps me face the challenges of that time.

The best part of following a reading Whether it is feeling sad, anxious, lethargic, fearful, or restless it seems like something I read each day helps me face the challenges of that time.

I also enjoy sharing about what I read with Lori. Every day we spend a few moments reading Scriptures, singing praise songs, and praying. I like to reflect on highlights from my daily reading during that time.

I hope I can keep up my reading and meditation time after the lockdown ends and I’m back at work. For now it’s a needed and welcome activity that helps me through this scary and uncertain time.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Day at the Zoo (Lori)

There’s a lot of attention around “Tiger King,” which is arguably a very popular coronavirus pandemic viewing experience. Meanwhile, we’ve been managing our own small menagerie at home. 

When our kids were growing up and living at home with us, our youngest always wanted to try owning new pets. She would visit her friends’ houses and then want a similar pet to what she saw there; and, yes, some of them were definitely exotic.

Geckos, chameleons, turtles, snakes, fish, etc. were all requests that were presented to us with the pleading, “Please, Mom!”, “Please Dad!” I honestly didn’t know the first thing about caring for a chameleon, so we deftly talked her into fish and hamsters.

We’ve had hamsters rolling across the living room floor in their balls and knocking into furniture. Fish had their water changed from their tanks at the sink in the laundry room.


Follow the Coronavirus Journal Series!

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 3: April 6-12

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 4: April 13-19

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 5: April 20-26


Teddy the Terrier 

These days, we have only our dog, Teddy, and our kitten, Pippin. It’s been fairly quiet until this last week. To be honest, I was so preoccupied with meal planning and preparation I didn’t even really notice they were in the house.

Then we observed Teddy getting really tired on short walks to the park and shaking his head from side to side.

Teddy wears a cone to prevent him from chewing his paws

So, I asked Howard to check his left ear and it seems his previously diagnosed condition at the vet office flared up again. Thankfully we still have the ointment we purchased.

Then I suddenly noticed Teddy was chewing his paws again until they were red and sore. I don’t know if this is from stress about his ear condition or plain boredom, but I made him wear a cone until his feet and ear started to heal. 

Pippin the Little Tiger

Pippin is a wild one. She came to our yard about a year ago as a feral kitten. We have domesticated her somewhat but she still climbs trees, onto the roof, and hunts all kinds of creatures—from pigeons to lizards to insects.

Pippin favors her right paw after an apparent bee sting

One day I noticed she pounced on—and killed—a bee that was buzzing near my budding lemon tree. I was momentarily concerned but then relieved that she didn’t get stung by the bee. 

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Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 5: April 20-26

On March 19, 2020 California Governor Newsom announced a statewide stay-at-home order. Here is a screenshot from my phone:

Recently both the county and state extended the lockdown to May 1st. With the president and governors talking about opening up the economy again, there is hope this lockdown will end soon. 

Until then, Lori and I plan to post a weekly journal updated every day or two to mark thoughts, reflections, and news related to life sheltering-at-home.

This is week 5 of the lockdown.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Resting and Sabbath

My sabbatical from church ends in about a month. Something I desperately looked forward to was a break from the grind of church ministry. After fifteen years of pastoral ministry without a longer break, together with the challenges and crises the family faced, I desperately wanted some time to rest.

Before I started my sabbatical an acquaintance asked me about my plans. I briefly mentioned travel, writing, and sleeping in whenever I wanted to. He told me those activities would no doubt be life giving. He also stressed the importance of mentally gaining distance and perspective from my daily work.

As I hit third base and turn toward home (excuse the baseball analogy), I can see the past three months have not turned out anything like I expected. I did travel a bit in February, but had to cancel the rest of my trips. I’ve blogged more, but haven’t come around to working on my book or study guide.

As I hit third base and turn toward home (excuse the baseball analogy), I can see the past three months have not turned out anything like I expected.

Sleeping in has been restorative physically, but it has been the distance from work that has renewed me in ways I didn’t anticipate. I have time to think, meditate, and process life. Lori and I can spend (relatively) stress-free afternoons together.

The mental, emotional, and spiritual renewal from this break is exactly what I needed. Although the coronavirus crisis ruined my plans (and of course it is much bigger than me and what I wanted to do), I’m glad the time turned out the way it has.


Finally, on this Sunday, I’m praying for those on the front lines of the Covid-19 response and those personally impacted by the illness. May God be merciful and bring healing to this devastation.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Coronavirus and Psoriasis (Howard)

UPDATE: I mentioned on Monday that I messaged my dermatologist, Dr. Carroll, about taking Skyrizi before Tuesday. In her reply she surmised why my psoriasis flared recently: skin damage from phototherapy burn and possibly needing Skyrizi more frequently.

Since she said I could inject the medication anytime, I decided to go ahead last night. One dose comes in two syringes, so I injected one on the left and one on the right of my belly button (at least two inches out).

I experienced the normal lightheadedness and fatigue just after the injection. Still some after effects today, but definitely nothing to horrible.


With the lockdown I’ve had more time to write for my column on Everyday Health, The Itch to Beat Psoriasis. In particular, I’ve published three articles about psoriasis and the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ll finish today’s entry with links to each of them.

How I’m Managing My Psoriasis in the Shadow of the Coronavirus (3/31/20)

man in front of window at home

Preventing Coronavirus Exposure When You Have Psoriasis and Eczema (4/6/20)

Preventing-Coronavirus-Psoriasis-and-Eczema Moisturize After Cleaning Hands

Facing My Anxieties During the Coronavirus Crisis (4/21/20)

illustration man stressed with papers virus bacteria

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Cooking Together (Lori)

I have been longing for Howard and I to cook together for many years. His work as a minister is very demanding—both early morning and evening meetings in a given week that would require him to be away from home.

When would come home from work, I would want him to either take some personal time or just spend time with the children. I would figure out the dinner menu. Some days were full for me as a minister’s wife so I would skip cooking dinner completely—get some takeout from a restaurant or fast food.

It was “kid food” anyways, I reasoned, so the kids and I would all feast on fried chicken, hamburgers and fries, chicken nuggets, etc. Especially if Howard attended a small group church meeting, there were often potlucks where he could eat dinner and sample church members’ home cooking.

It was a win-win. Except I felt like something was missing. Long gone were the days when I was at my grandmother’s house helping her fix a homemade meal and then talk with her over washing the dishes afterwards—she would wash, I would dry. 

Fast-forward to today.

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Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 4: April 13-19

On March 19, 2020 California Governor Newsom announced a statewide stay-at-home order. Here is a screenshot from my phone:

Recently both the county and state extended the lockdown to May 1st. With the president and governors talking about opening up the economy again, there is hope this lockdown will end soon.

Until then, Lori and I plan to post a weekly journal updated every day or two to mark thoughts, reflections, and news related to life sheltering-at-home.

This is week 4 of the lockdown.


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Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 3: April 6-12

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 5: April 20-26


Saturday, April 18, 2020

Family Connections During the Lockdown

I’m amazed at how well the family is able to stick together during the lockdown despite the distance between us. With children in two different places, and grandparents also in two different locations, it takes effort and persistence to connect. But we do in so many valuable ways.

I especially felt blessed by last week’s Easter Service over FaceTime. The girls led songs while I guided us through readings from John 20 and Matthew 28. During the discussion on fear and faith over Mark 8 everyone participated in sharing their thoughts and personal application.

Today’s interactions showed me just how dynamic and fun family chats and calls can be.

This afternoon Lydia forwarded to the family photos of my parents wearing the masks she made for them. Of course Ye Ye and Nai Nai are thrilled at their granddaughter’s ingenuity and love.

The photo of my parents inspired me to call them. I talked to my dad, George, for almost forty-five minutes. Somehow we started talking about the tenth anniversary of his retirement this month and memories from his time working. We also discussed the recent lockdown protests in his town, Huntington Beach, and how we’re managing staying at home.

Later, Lydia and I exchanged blogs for each other to edit. She worked faster than I, although her writing carried much more depth than mine. I edited my blog before posting the draft in the WordPress account.

Lori and I spent some time in the backyard during a perfect afternoon. We first roasted coffee together (which I summarily dumped on the concrete while cooling them), and placed garden lights around the pathway. In the early evening we cooked dinner together–a new pasta recipe.

Before eating Tim and I played some Pokémon Go (well I played and he coached me in battle league). He then turned on the Nintendo Switch to play Animal Crossing. Our dinner music included songs from K.K. Slider (it’s Saturday Tim reminded me when K.K. takes requests). He asked me if I had any songs for K.K. to play, and I just stared blankly at him.

I don’t always take note of these interactions among family members, but today it struck me how we can still be a close family despite the staying-at-home in different places.

Of course, I still prefer times we can all be in the same location. Hopefully one day soon (Memorial Day? Earlier?) we’ll be able to gather together for dinner around the table partaking a meal and catching each other up on the latest.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Fleeting Nature of Life–Psalm 39 (Howard)

I chatted about dying from Covid-19 with a friend during an interaction I had early in the coronavirus lockdown. I had delayed processing the possibility of dying from the virus. They, however, could say with confidence that their life is in God’s hands.

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Good Friday: A Kernel of Wheat (John 12:20-26)

I shared this message on Good Friday a couple of years ago at Davis Chinese Christian Church. On this Good Friday the message is still relevant: true life is ultimately borne from death.

I still marvel at what that might mean for me to bring life to others and this world through the process of dying to self during these challenging times. I desperately want to live, and not die, from Covid-19. But if I live, what will I live for?

I’m grappling with this question every day we are sheltering at home. When I can get back out in the world, even before from home, how I can I be a messenger of hope and renewal? How can I be like a kernel of wheat?


During spring time Lori likes to spend time in her garden. This year she is very proud of the pansies she planted from seeds.

Lori’s garden is blooming in springtime, an apt image for Easter weekend

I never wanted much of a yard—I did a lot of yard work as a teenager for my dad. But when I see those pansies I understand why my father received so much joy from his fruit trees, rose bushes, and vegetable garden.

It’s amazing what can grow out of the ground from such a small, humble beginning. Gardens and seeds tell us a lot about life—and about God’s Kingdom. This is a marvel of nature that Jesus used often in His teaching.

  • He talked about having faith as small as a mustard seed. (Matt 17:20)
  • He challenges the disciples to receive God’s Word with openness in a story about a farmer who went out to sow seed that fell on different types of soil and ground. (Mark 4:1-20)
  • He then told a parable about the hidden nature of how God’s Kingdom grows where a man scatters seed on the ground even though he doesn’t know how it grows (Mark 4:26-29).
  • In Mark 4, he teaches about a mustard seed to illustrate the Kingdom of God another way—how the smallest seed grows to be the largest of plants. (Mark 4:30-32)

And in John 12 he taught about another Kingdom principle: How Life comes from death.


Seeking Jesus (20-22)

Our passage starts in John 12:20-22, where Greeks wanted to talk to Jesus at the Passover Festival:

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 

These Greeks, foreigners who appreciated Israel’s God and Jewish culture, made a simple request to see Jesus. We might be able to relate to those Greeks—curious, seeking, open to spiritual truth. You might have a different religious background, or already believe in God.

You’ve heard about Jesus, and you want to see more of what He’s about. You want to benefit from what Jesus offers/teaches—to gain insight/guidance to life. Jesus just might be the one who has the answers you’ve been seeking in this world.

That’s possibly what the Greeks thought when they approached Jesus.


Life from Death: Jesus (23-24)

Jesus’ disciples Andrew and Philip do let Jesus know about the Greeks. What He says is unexpected in John 12:23-24: 

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

What is Jesus’ hour? 

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Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 3: April 6-12

On Thursday, March 18, Yolo County, CA instituted a shelter-in-place order to begin the next day until April 7th. Here’s a tweet where I marked the event.

On that same day the Governor Newsom announced a statewide stay-at-home order. Here is a screenshot from my phone:

Recently both the county and state extended the lockdown to May 1st, and it could be even longer. I plan to post a weekly journal updated every day or two to mark thoughts, reflections, and news related to life sheltering-at-home.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Happy Good Friday. Here’s a tweet with a link to a message I shared in 2017 at Davis Chinese Christian Church:


Dr. Francis Collins Prayers from Science and Faith in Pandemic Times

Dr. Francis Collins, the current NIH Director, gave an interview on a webcast Monday. In Science and Faith in Pandemic Times, Collins provided timely information on the coronavirus pandemic. About half way in he begins to address matters of faith.

Near the end, he shared what he is praying for. Lori and I have used his thoughts for our own prayer times, which I share here.

  1. Healthcare providers who are putting themselves in harms way and many quarantined from their families.
  2. Families who have lost jobs and are in severe economic distress.
  3. Researchers working night and day to come up with a treatment and vaccine to save lives.
  4. Church, that this would be a time where church fellowship can provide spiritual nurture.
  5. Myself, that I would understand something about myself and learn from it. Joshua 1:9 to be strong and courageous, and not to grow weary.

How are you praying during the pandemic? Is it difficult to pray in the face of so much tragedy?


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Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 4: April 13-19

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Week 5: April 20-26


Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Creative Art During the Covid-19 Outbreak (Lori)


Recently, I recalled a creative exercise I did with a small group last summer. I was looking for a way to incorporate an artistic element into reading an excerpt from the Bible.

Although I’m not the best at drawing or painting, I modified the exercise for myself so that I could enjoy it and remember what part of the reading impacted me. I repeated the exercise during this pandemic—it’s the same reading from the Bible: Psalms 1. Using leftover scrapbook pages, I created the background and banner that I wanted.

In the future, I feel depicting Spring in full bloom will remind me when the coronavirus outbreak happened. I have confidence that I will look back on this unusual time in my life and remember how my faith in God sustained me like a tree planted by streams of water.


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Treating My Lungs While Not Worsening My Skin (Howard)

One of my biggest concerns during the lockdown is needing to go to the medical clinic or hospital. I want to avoid exposure to the novel coronavirus if at all possible. That even means having groceries from Costco delivered to our house where we disinfect before putting them away in the kitchen.

It especially means avoiding medical facilities.

Two weeks ago my breathing became quite labored. As the tree pollen counts elevated, my asthma flared. I needed the rescue inhaler two to three times a day. The steroid inhaler couldn’t control my asthma any longer. With Covid-19 attacking the lungs, I desperately wanted my breathing to improve just in case.

I then remembered asking my primary care doctor for a stronger asthma inhaler last June. Fortunately, I stored the filled prescription in my drawer for the combination steroid powder inhaler. It took about five days after starting treatment before I could breathe easily without the rescue inhaler.

In the back of my mind I wondered if the inhaler photosensitizes my skin. I still use ultraviolet light treatments at home to mainly control my atopic dermatitis. I didn’t want to create a new problem when solving another.

My skin slightly burned from the first phototherapy treatment after starting the new inhaler. I backed down the dose about a third for the next treatment. Again my skin burned. And again the next time. I concluded that the asthma medication photosensitizes my skin.

In the back of my mind I wondered if the inhaler photosensitizes my skin. I didn’t want to create a new problem when solving another.

I’m taking a break from phototherapy for a few days to let my skin recover. I don’t want to stop my asthma medication since it’s working so well. I’ll try to step down my dose even more to see if I can still control the rashes on my skin on half or less of the dose I used before.

I’ve missed my dermatology check-up appointment already due to the pandemic. Good thing my doctors are quick to reply to messages. Hopefully, I can control my asthma and eczema without the need to see them in person.


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