Jumping off the deep end

I recently started a water aerobics class at a local gym. I know that exercise is good for me and can help improve many health concerns, including migraine. Not being a strong swimmer, I’m not a huge fan of water. However, this new exercise plan does offer a low-impact cardio workout that is easy on my joints and won’t trigger an attack due to overheating. All this time spent around water has brought back memories of summers spent at my hometown public swimming pool. It was always full of kids, some excited to be there, and some not so much.

Have you ever watched kids at a swimming pool?

The reckless kids would take a running leap into the water. They didn’t spend time checking water temperature or depth. In fact, they didn’t look out for any potential hazards at all. They recklessly sped toward the water at all costs, often earning them a lifeguard’s whistle blow. In the pursuit of their goal, they sometimes put themselves and others in danger.

These kids haunted my summertime nightmares.

Anxious children clung tightly to their mothers. They would take hours to ease into the shallow end with a death grip on the side of the pool. Once finally in the water, getting caught between the boisterous splashing of the more reckless kids would trigger tears and a quick retreat to dry land. Their fear kept them from truly enjoying the pleasures of water.

Having flunked out of swimming lessons by nearly drowning, I was one of these kids.

Many kids were neither reckless nor anxious. They were confident in their swimming abilities without ignoring the risks. They could jump off the high dive without hesitation or dive into the deep end and swim all the way across the pool without coming up for a breath. Groups of happy kids would play “Marco Polo” or water basketball for hours. These kids truly knew how to enjoy the water.

I envied them and secretly wished a little of that skill and confidence would rub off on me.

I’m not as anxious as I used to be, but I still don’t have great confidence in my meager aquatics skills. So water and I have an agreement. As long as I can stand upright with my head and shoulders above the surface and see clearly to the bottom, I am okay. Put me in choppy waves, a murky lake, or deep water and I retreat into my childhood paranoia. There is no reasoning with me on this matter.

I have approached migraine treatment in the similar ways.

Fortunately, when it comes to migraine treatment, I have learned to be a little more rational. Getting to that point wasn’t a quick or easy process. Even now, I can be irrationally reckless or anxious sometimes.

Sometimes I can adopt a reckless attitude as if I were taking a running leap into the deep end with a cannonball splash. There have been desperate times when I was willing to try just about anything, regardless of the consequence. Reckless and desperate, I have rushed headlong into anything that remotely sounds like it might work. There have been times when I bounced from one fad to another without ever stopping to question the safety, effectiveness, cost, or wisdom of anything.

Getting burned by a bad reaction can just as easily send me crying back to the relative safety of what I can control. After a round of particularly nasty side effects, I have reversed course and become terrified of everything. At other times I have been overly cautious, questioning everything. Any and all potential side effects were unacceptable. I wanted guarantees. No treatment, no matter how well-studied, escaped scrutiny. Caution ruled the day.

On my better days, I take the time to examine the options, explore the risks, and weigh the potential benefits before making a choice. Once the choice is made, I take action and see it through. The appearance of side effects does not alarm me because I am prepared for a reasonable outcome.

More recently, I have settled in to a more steady approach of reasoned exploration. The longer I live with migraine and the more varied my experiences, the wiser I have become. I no longer feel compelled to try every off-the-wall Internet cure-all that hits my inbox. I’ve put together a good team of experts and supporters I trust. Together we make treatment decisions based on sound research and my unique needs. Sure, I’d like to have fewer migraine attacks. However, the risks of more aggressive treatment strategies outweigh the potential benefit. We are doing what makes logical and medical sense. I’m not about to rock this precarious boat by jumping overboard in pursuit of untested, irrational “cures”.

What is your approach?

Like me, you probably see yourself in more than one of these roles. Do you know your treatment style? Has your approach changed over the years? How do you respond to people who think you should be more cautious or daring?

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