Wednesday 13 February 2013

A Purple Heart

St. Valentine is a name familiar the world over, especially on the 14th of February. However, in the same way there is actually more than one St. Valentine, the saint has more than one major patronage apart from that associated with love.
For those of you who started reading this blog last year, you'll know that he is also the patron saint of epilepsy. So a purple rose or heart, would be very appropriate to celebrate the 14th of February with, except the human heart is in fact, red. So it seems to make better commercial sense for gifts to be that colour.

It's somewhat ironic that a condition, that in many cases has the potential to cause issues in the romance department, would have the same patron saint as love. But then irony probably never really occurred to those in religious circles, when they chose patrons.

Why St. Valentine and other saints became associated with epilepsy, is more logical to an extent, but exactly the reasons for this being the case, gives a massive insight into just how much further forward with medical knowledge we are today.

Along with other patron saints of epilepsy, the reason's for St. Valentine being associated with the condition is because he is seen as a healer. In particular, he was one of the many saints associated with healing epilepsy. Since it was thought the condition was caused by an individual being 'possessed' by an evil spirit, it was the saint's job to pray for and heal these individuals. Since saints were generally judged on their success, it's likely the law of averages played in Valentine's favour, thus explaining the first reason for his connection with epilepsy.
The second, came from the phonetic similarity in the German language between the words "fallen" and "Valentine" and since in certain types of epilepsy, particularly tonic-clonic seizures, cause the sufferer to fall in many cases, the condition even came to be known as 'Saint Valentine's Illness, or Affliction'.

Perhaps though, a more appropriate patron saint of epilepsy, would be one of the most famous Christian missionaries in religious history, St. Paul.
This is because it is extremely likely that Paul the Apostle had the condition of epilepsy himself. It's reported in parts of the bible and by the man himself, symptoms that are identical to those experienced in epileptic seizures. In fact the connection between the saint and epilepsy was so strong, that in old Ireland, the condition was known as 'Saint Paul's Disease'.

Today however, despite beliefs that existed hundreds of years ago, we know now that it is extraordinarily unlikely that any saint had the affect of actually curing epilepsy.
What the connection with our patron saint does bring however, is a link to an extremely high profile day within western calendars. Whereas Valentine's day may be seen as over commercialised, epilepsy could do with some of it's publicity.

If that is the case, then it's only to the benefit of people who live with epilepsy today and maybe even our patron saint would help make it easier to find love, by curing the stigma of the condition.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Good Drugs / Bad Drugs

There are obviously good drugs and bad drugs, this much we know. But what's the difference in the people who take them?

With all the talk recently about Lance Armstrong and his performance enhancing drugs program and then more recently the tragic news, that London Marathon runner Claire Squires had unwittingly taken a now banned substance, what makes them different? More importantly what makes the likes of Lance Armstrong's drug use different from the drugs I take twice a day and unexpectedly, what makes us the same?

Well the answer to how we're the same comes where we both take drugs to make us better and to allow us to use cycling to raise awareness of a common medical condition. But that's where the similarities stop.

What makes me angry is that, far from the medication I take making me a better rider, it actually makes me a worse rider. What my medication does is make me a safer rider and quite frankly allow me to have the confidence to ride my bike at all. The Oxcarbazepine I take is, if anything, performance de-hancing and so I just have to train harder than I would if I wasn't on my medication.

What Lance Armstrong would class as his daily drugs, not only made him a better rider, but it also made him a more dangerous rider. After recovering from Cancer, it's incredible to think someone would so willingly put themselves and others in danger. The kind of danger which all too tragically showed it's face when Claire Squires died in last year's London Marathon after unwittingly taking a now banned substance.

The more important question here though is not necessarily if these drugs make us better or worse riders, but does our choice in taking them make other people like me better 'cyclists' than the likes of Lance? Here I'm defining a good cyclist as someone who is respectful, responsible and has a love for the sport.

I whole heartedly agree with Lance Armstrong's life-time ban from sanctioned sport. As a RAAM rider, past and future, I know that many Ironman athletes take on the race. Not only do I not agree with RAAM's lack of dope testing during the race, for safety reasons more than anything else, but if Mr. Armstrong were to take a fancy to riding it, I would be absolutely furious.

The reason I say that is two fold.
Firstly I hate people who cheat. I always have far more respect for someone who tried their heart out to achieve something and failed, than someone who cheated to achieve anything.
Secondly and potentially more importantly, science has shown that dopers have a long term advantage from their drug taking activities even after they've stopped taking performance enhancing drugs. So it's simply not fair to allow athletes who have so comprehensively doped, to compete against individuals who, like myself, probably wouldn't know the first thing about how to do it properly, never mind actually try it.

I believe honesty gets you far further in life.
The reason I feel like I didn't deserve to carry the Olympic Flame yet, is because I don't feel I've achieved my goals in relation to making a point about my epilepsy. It's a conscience thing with myself that pushes me and motivates me to achieve my goals with Team Epilepsy Forward.

At the end of the day, there's one person you can never truly lie to.