It comes out of nowhere. I think I’m okay, but then something hits me and I feel my heart ramp up and I start sweating uncontrollably. My hands grab the steering wheel so tightly that I worry I might never be able to let go. I’ve tried making sure that I’m in the middle lane, with no view over the edge, but it doesn’t seem to help. Just knowing I’m on a bridge is enough to give me in a full blown panic attack.
Years ago I had a little bout with Gephyrophobia and started to avoid routes that would take me over bridges. I even found out that you can arrange for a person to drive you over a bridge if you call the bridge authority in advance. I became rather obsessed with this option. Thank goodness my mother seemed to have the right approach to curing my fear, “You’re being ridiculous. Just get over this Jess. You can’t be one of THOSE people.”
I slammed down the phone that day, angry that my mother hadn’t been cozy and sweet, but the next week when I drove over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I got to the other side without so much as a jitter. And, I’ve gotten through the last twenty-five years, and a whole lot of bridge time, with no problems – until recently.
While driving over the Tappan Zee Bridge last week, I could’ve caused a major accident and I had my whole family in the car. I knew the bridge was coming, but there was no easy place to pull over to have someone else drive. I also didn’t want to be one of THOSE people. Instead, I stayed silent but, as soon as the bridge was in site, I suddenly lowered my speed dramatically and drove erratically straddling two lanes. Dan looked over at me and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t speak, but he could see as the color drained from my face and the sweat started dripping from my hairline. He tried to grab the wheel from the passenger side, but that made things worse. Anna was screaming from the back seat to stay in a lane and speed up, but I couldn’t manage either. I was having a panic attack. We did make it to the other side, but it was enough of a scare that I realized that it was time to do something about it.
I’m not sure what’s happened that has me revisiting this fear. I’ve digging deep trying to figure it out. Am I mis-directing anxiety? Am I just broken?
I spoke to my mother about it. and even reminded her of her harsh advice that cured me last time. She tried being firm, and then tried “full-blown cozy mom”, but nothing did the trick. Even talking to her about it made me start sweating. It’s like I have something stuck and I can’t quite figure out what it is.
The first time I dealt with this fear and learned the word Gephyrophobia, I was in my early twenties. I was finishing college and struggling to figure out my next move. I loved Baltimore, but my family was in NJ and I was dating a guy in Boston. And, I wasn’t just conflicted about where to move, but I had no idea what I was going to do for work post graduation. Being an Art Major was wonderful, but it didn’t exactly create a natural plan for my future. I’ve always assumed that my fear of bridges at that time was my body’s reaction to the underlying stress.
If that’s true, then maybe now I’m going through a similar period in my life (although I am a different dress size and my hair now requires a ton of attention to stay blonde). Maybe my body is once again reacting to the stress surrounding so much change. Anna is heading off to college soon, Jack is getting closer to graduation himself, and Dan and I are trying to figure out when/if/where to move. This might be more than my body can handle and it’s decided to – once again – freak out every time I’m driving over a bridge.
Maybe that’s it — the fear is a result of stress. Maybe if I confront the stress directly, my Gephyrophobia will disappear like it did in my twenties. I do feel a little better, but I am still nervous about the next time I’m faced with a bridge while I’m behind the wheel. Is just knowing the source of a fear enough to set it aside?
All I keep thinking is that there is one very long bridge on the drive to Johns Hopkins…