The Albemarle Sound is a large body of water on the coast of North Carolina located where a group of rivers diverge. The only land that separates it from the Atlantic Ocean is the Outer Banks which is a long barrier peninsula at the eastern edge of the sound. The water in the Albemarle Sound is brackish or fresh as a result of river water constantly pouring into the sound. The coast is the site of the first English settlements which later became North Carolina.
Across the Albemarle Sound is the Albemarle Sound Bridge (first bridge built in 1938) which is more than 3 miles in length and was rebuilt in 1990. Before 1938 ferries were the only way to get across the sound, unless you were hiding on the train.
Some people go miles out of their way to avoid crossing a bridge because of a great fear. They have “gephyrophobia” and I am one of those people. When I have to go across a bridge, like many others, I become dizzy, light-headed, begin to sweat, my heart races and the grip on the steering wheel makes the muscles in my hands and arms ache. I am afraid that I will crash, plummet into the water and die. To prevent these feelings and side effects, gephyrophobics go to great lengths to avoid crossing a bridge.
I often hear people echo this thought found at Science Buzz (obviously written but someone who doesn’t know what he is talking about):
- “Sufferers of this phobia experience undue anxietyeven though they realize their fear is irrational.”
My fear is “irrational?” If it is so irrational, please explain the following:
Mississippi River Bridge I-35W in Minneapolis, Minnesota
I’m sure that the occupants of the 100 vehicles that plummeted 115 feet down into the river or onto the banks of the Mississippi River at 6:05 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, August 1, 2007, did not KNOW for a fact that this catastrophe was going to happen to them and if they feared it, well, it wasn’t irrational! I could cite many other bridge collapses or cars that were thrown off of bridges taking them far below to a watery death, but I believe that this one example suffices.
The “proclaimed” methods to conquer this phobia are as follows:
- Understand the source of the fear (i.e. fear of heights, past traumatic experience)
- Understand how a bridge is built and what type of safety measures are in place.
- Recognize the symptoms of the fear
- Use graded exposure (a little more bridge each time)
- Seek counseling from a therapist
Shall I shred them one by one?
- Understand the source of the fear (i.e. fear of heights, past traumatic experience) – I think I have this one down pat pretty good. I don’t want to die. Pretty simple.
- Understand how a bridge is built and what type of safety measures are in place. – A picture is worth a thousand words…the crack that made the Mississippi Bridge fall. Knowing what this part is and the role in plays is going to help me? How?
- Recognize the symptoms of the fear – Wow, whatever is happening to our medical profession. How could I NOT recognize the symptoms of my fear?!
- Use graded exposure (a little more bridge each time) – I’m sure I want to make myself sick on a daily basis…yahoo!
- Seek counseling from a therapist. – I have nothing negative to say about this one unless the therapist tells me to do the first four methods.
On one occasion I had to drive to New Jersey on a business trip. I didn’t know that the road I had chosen would take me anywhere near a bridge. I was happily driving along amongst quite a bit of traffic with the music on in a very nice rented car. I can not begin to tell you the gut wrenching agony I immediately felt when I rounded the curve and saw this:
The Delaware Memorial Bridge is a set of twin suspension bridges crossing the Delaware River and is 3,291 m (10,797 ft) and 175 feet (53 m) high span with towers reaching 440 feet (134 m) above water level. This bridge is intimidating. It was the monster in the closet that actually came out of the closet. The sight of it actually made me catch my breath!
What did I do?I called my mother, of course, who gave me a pep talk! Then I swallowed hard, gripped my steering wheel, cried, started driving, and followed right behind another car never letting my eyes leave his license plate until we reached the other side. At that point, I pulled over exhausted, blew my nose, repaired my make-up (yes, I’m vain) and started dreading the ride back home in a few days back over the same bridge.
My point in sharing this information is to help you understand this phobia (which most people make fun of me for having it), but most of all, to give you a different perspective on other people (including the little people we call our children.) As parents, we should avoid taking a child’s fear lightly – forcing children to go into a dark room when they are scared, sing all alone in front of a bunch of people when they don’t want to, or any of a million other things that can be horrible experiences for them, should be approached with a compassionate and understanding attitude. So often I have seen parents simply blow off their child’s fear and I can’t help but relate to how the child might be feeling. Just try to step back and think, “Am I encouraging my child or am I forcing my child.” There is a huge difference between the two and fear is simply an awful feeling.
P.S. I have conquered this fear for a long span of years three times, but it always seems to wiggle its way back in when I’m not looking.