Death By Bridge

by Sherry Riter in Health,Lessons of Life

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.

train across the Albemarle Sound

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 anxiety
    even 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

video of falling bridge

wreckage of fallen bridge

more wreckage of fallen bridge

rescue attempts in wreckage of fallen bridge

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:

Delaware Memorial Bridge

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.

“How far you go in life depends on
your being tender with the young,
compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving
tolerant of the weak and strong.
Because someday in life
you will have been all of these.
~ George Washington Carver ~

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.

This post was written by...

Sherry Riter is also known as The Redhead Riter. Sherry is witty, intelligent and addictive as she writes about cooking, family, marriage, failures, blogging tips, art, humor, inspiration, travel, PTSD and aging. Her goal is to inspire, motivate, educate and to make her audience laugh. Sherry embraces being a redhead and helps others to see the redhead point of view…"In some eras redheads were worshipped while others thought us witches. Personally, I like the former and think every day is 'Love a redhead day!'" She can also be found on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Linkedin, tweeting as @TheRedheadRiter and you can subscribe to her free blog feed.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tammy Howard September 4, 2009 at 10:30 am

I do not like bridges, and I definitely go white knuckle on them, but I do still cross them when I need to – I won't take an alternate route.

Use graded exposure? Like, just cross a LITTLE bit of the bridge? How exactly does THAT work? That's the whole thing – you're in or you're out.


But you use it to make a good point – not only with our little people, but with other adults as well. We need to be respectful. Period.


2 Jeanette September 4, 2009 at 11:29 am

Excellent post! I hate when I see parents berating their children's fears.


3 PropellerHeadMom September 4, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I think everyone has a phobia of some kind. I am afraid of spiders and seaweed. I live very close to the Delaware river so whenever I head east, I have to go over a bridge.


4 Amy September 4, 2009 at 2:12 pm

That is pretty scary. Have a great weekend.


5 Joan September 5, 2009 at 12:58 am

Wow, that was a really post. I had a phobia about flying, for 20 years. For some reason it has subsided. But I understand the fear you write about.

My kids have fears and thank you for reminding me to remember how real fear is and I need to encourage them, and not blow off their real fears.


6 Shawn September 5, 2009 at 2:22 am

Wow! I guess I don't even think about bridges—-I have so many other phobias—-like heights, and claustrophobia to name a few….


7 monica September 5, 2009 at 3:06 am

Thanks for visiting my blog! I like this post and I like you never like going over bridges!


8 Mary @ The Writer's Block September 5, 2009 at 3:06 am

Hey, there. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm following you now, too.

I love this post! I, too, do not like bridges. I don't even like little "overpass/balconies" in the mall or air duct/grate thingeys in the sidewalks. My hubby laughs at me, but, well, I like SOLID GROUND under my feet. 🙂


9 MelRoXx September 5, 2009 at 4:58 am

brides are quite cute, but not if the collape on me! I don't wannna die yet!


10 PictureGirl September 5, 2009 at 5:12 am

I'm with you! Bridges scare the **** out of me!
The thought of driving on one of those bridges that go over water for MILES and MILES! scares the **** out of me. And we're planning a trip to the Florida Keys soon.
What's a gephyrophobic to do?


11 Navyvet September 5, 2009 at 7:27 am

i thought about your fear many times, we went over that bridge and you could not wait to cross it. i think you have associalaited it with your dad and my divorce . some how our leaving did this. remember us going to mam maws, low it could of been my restrited driving,lol. mom


12 Oh Sew Good September 5, 2009 at 10:20 am

I never knew there was a name for it but I have the same white knuckles. One thing I do that seems to help me is to drive in the lane that is furthest away from the water. If there's a center lane, I'll take it every time. 🙂


13 Ashley Ladd September 5, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I didn't know there was a name for it. I don't exactly like bridges, either, but I'm not as bad as I used to be. I'm okay if the bridge is flat. But when they climb to the sky, I get really jittery. If I'm not the driver, I close my eyes and don't look. If I have to drive over one, I try to drive on the inside lane so I can't see the water and I keep my eyes straight ahead but my knuckles still turn white on the wheel.


14 Doreen Lombardo November 22, 2010 at 2:12 am

Red, more power to you. No way in hell would I have driven over that. The picture make me gasp. This is why I do not get behind a wheel except for locally. Anything else and I either fly, take the train or have a driver.


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