Sunday 29 July 2012

The Diary of an Epileptic Olympic Torchbearer

I was originally planning to write a post on the day I was due to carry the Olympic flame. But doing that, wouldn't have conveyed well enough my experience of what it was like to carry the most sacred symbol in sport, on it's destination to the London 2012 Olympic stadium, with my torch.

It's difficult to take in the enormity of what I had done on the 26th of July 2012, I was in autopilot. Only after I was able to sit alone, quietly with my torch and reflect on what I had done, am I able to explain how I felt. 

It was truly a day like no other in my life, it felt like 2 days in one. This was in part due to being required to be at my meeting point in Camden at 4:45am, so I had been up since 3:00am running on excitement, adrenaline and pride for the rest of the day. (I had a very early bed time, the night before!) But seeing the sun come up in the morning and people gradually begin to appear to see the flame go through London, was amazing.

One of the most amusing parts of the day was actually, after messing about going to the toilet, I ended up being the last on the bus that would drop us off where we would start our run. Seeing a seat toward the back of the bus, I sat down. As I sat down I turned to my right to chat to who I was sitting with, stunned as I realised it was Sir Clive Woodward!

After getting off the bus at the corner I would pick the flame up from, what hit me, I can't even begin to describe. It was 07:04am in the morning and there was a wall of people cheering, shouting my name.
Actually running with the flame was a bit of a blur. The way I describe it is a blur, but the most incredible blur I've ever experienced in my life.
One thing that caused some confusion amongst those of my friends who watched the coverage on the online BBC feed, was something that I had planned for a while - to dust down the painted bike on the bike lane in my leg. Not as anything meant to be particularly quirky, but just because I wanted to do something that symbolised how important cycling has been in my life.

Watching the ceremony the night after gave me context to the whole event. It was an incredible feeling of belonging to a hugely privileged group of people, who were able to be part of something, much bigger. The communities that supported the flame round the country, the symbolism of what it means, the enormity of being part of an Olympic Games in helping to deliver safely, the flame that would call on athletes around the world to compete in 2012.

People keep asking me if I would sell my torch - the one I know, I carried the Olympic flame with and no-one else.

My answer: Not for all the money on gods earth.

Having something which inspires you to do more, that's 3 sides represents aiming higher, faster, stronger and most importantly, something which I can give to others to hold and hope it inspires them to do the same is just something that money cannot buy.

There is only one way I can describe that day and having my Olympic Torch sitting next to me now. 
- Truly incredible beyond belief.

I did have one major objective however, which I mentioned before. 
- That I would thrust the torch up in the air showing my purple medical band, to make sure people with Epilepsy knew, that I was carrying the flame for them, more than anyone else.

All I can say is, 

- Mission accomplished.

Sunday 22 July 2012

7 days

It's amazing the difference a week, 7 days, or 168 hours can make.

Last week was a low point for a number of reasons.
I felt down, defeated, like I couldn't face things I had enjoyed as normal and in essence I felt like karma wasn't looking kindly on me, that things just weren't going for me.

Many of the things didn't and haven't changed, but none of them were in my control, so I also felt helpless. I believe sometimes you just have to go back to your default setting to pick yourself up again.
But I also realised something this week. Something I had never thought of before when I tried to cheer up others, who were down or upset.
When someone is trying to pick themselves up from what they are feeling and where they are, it doesn't work for people to tell the individual that everything will be okay, that they're doing a great job etc.

That individual has to find whatever it is that makes them believe in themselves.

Had it not been for one tiny thing, I think I would have completely written myself off that weekend and sometimes you just have to look back and laugh, otherwise you'd just end up in bits.
The one thing for me, it probably won't surprise you to know, that helps me believe in myself again is my bike. But I know I've had a really bad weekend, when I get attacked by a bus and end up tearing into my shin with the teeth on my crank-set, after flying onto the pavement.
- This was on the way back from a ride to clear my head!
I sat on a wall in Trafalgar Square with a British Cycling jersey on, re-hydrating myself and there was a little boy who couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 sat across from me. What he did not only made me smile inside and out, I was having a fair giggle to myself too. He beamed at me and gave me a thumb up. It was the sweetest, best timed thing I'd seen. But it was also very funny as, no sooner had he done it, than he promptly stuck said thumb up his nose!

I guess you take the good with the bad and it was a day of ups and downs, but very much like life really. Karma only exists if you look for it, life is never perfect, it wasn't meant to be.

To those who said to me: "Saying it will all be okay - doesn't help!". I understand why now. It doesn't mean we shouldn't say it, give support and any insight we can to comfort people.
But I would just say one thing to anyone who has a patch it their life that is rough or if they feel down in any way.

When everything becomes locked up inside you - tension, anger, frustration, fear, upset... the best way to release it and get back to who you are is sometimes just to scream.

But it doesn't involve going out into the street and yelling at the top of your voice. I was incredibly lucky that I found, my way to get back to normal, was for my legs to scream at my bike pedals and keep going until my legs went numb. That feeling of racing along a road freed me inside enormously.
For someone else who is a dancer, their 'scream' might be to put every inch of feeling into the movement in a routine, for an artist it could be to let out all their emotions on a canvas in paint, for a singer it could be to hit the highest note they can possibly do, for an academic, it could be to lock themselves away and write, for a musician, it could be to play their instrument like they've never played it before.

I think if you can find the way you best express yourself, however that is, going back to that and driving all your feelings in that direction, can give you back your strength, even give you strength you did know you ever had.

I think when you get that strength back and can give your head space to think, you get perspective.

I look back on last week and laugh at what happened in hindsight. It did work out okay, so I look forward and I'm sure I'll have more periods where I feel I haven't the strength to do something and need to go back to my bike.

As for the bus...
Well I held onto my bike for dear life so as not to damage it and ended up taking the lump out of my shin instead.

But the scars healed quickly and I got back on the bike and rode it the day after...
... and every other day since.

Sunday 8 July 2012

The Hurt Locker

I think people lock things up and suffer because they feel the alternative is worse.

I think sometimes sufferers are afraid of what people will say, that they'll talk behind their backs, that they are made to feel they need to keep some things in the family or not explain the way they are.

I'm ashamed to say it took a number of very brave people to talk about what I'm about to talk about, before I had the strength to do it now too.

For years I had suffered from mild depression as a result of a history of school bullying and bullying from my own step-mother. Whist on an Anti-Epileptic Drug (AED) for a period of months, I went through severe depression where I didn't even recognise the person I was looking back. I nearly failed my second year of university because of the side effects. Lethargic, uninspired, angry, with no real insight in to my behaviour, I demanded to be taken off the drug only after I also suffered nausea as a result of it. It's the only time I can honestly say I was glad to have the latter side effect as it was that, that made me want to change my medication, not realising my personality was self destructive on it.

The only silver lining is I became more self aware as a result. I began to analyse the way I behaved more, I realised that something wasn't right and knew I needed to get help to fix it.

The other thing that came out of the episode was I began to help myself too. I became an amateur behavioural psychologist in a way, understanding why I had grown up as a target for bullies and what legacy that left on me.

There was a change in my life. I sought treatment and examined more how I could help myself too.

But it was a lesson I learnt, that made me worry. It made me worry because I know severe depression is a serious danger for people with Epilepsy. It's something that does cause tragic deaths in people who experience it. It's the double whammy of the condition and the side effects on top of it.

I strongly believe people with Epilepsy need to be honest with those around them if they feel they may be experiencing depression because of their AED's... and to those around them - make sure you check they're okay too.

The old expression "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger" is so true. You learn about yourself, you change to live a more fulfilling life and you hopefully go on to make sure those you recognise having the same feeling you had, know about the light at the end of the tunnel.

It's not an easy jump to make to seek treatment, but it's one so very worth taking and grabbing with both hands. It could be from a Doctor, it could even be something like CBT, self administered with some help from a friend or family member.

To those that 'came out' about their condition, thank-you for inspiring me to write this and talk about my own experience with depression.

To those that may think they could have depression - make the jump.

- There's a huge safety net for you to dive into. People rally, provide support, don't judge and when you do and when you get back on dry land from the net, you'll realise it's a much better place than it was before.