Writer’s Block: Phobias

Do you have a remarkable phobia? Does your phobia have a large impact on your life?

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I had a huge fear of driving over bridges that were over large bodies of water. It wasn’t just any bridge that would scare me. It had to be over a large body of water. Bridges that were over roads or mountains didn’t really freak me out. I still get a little uneasy when I have to go over one, but it’s not as bad as it used to be.
I would be nervous for days or even weeks before I knew I had to go somewhere that would require driving over one of these bridges. I remember before Senior Week going to Ocean City in 2000. It was hard to sleep because I was thinking about the drive over the Bay Bridge. I almost backed out of the trip because of it.

I have taken the long ways to get to places to avoid bridges. If I could have just driven a few minutes to get someplace in the Baltimore area by crossing the Key Bridge, I would take the long way to avoid that bridge. It didn’t even have to be a major bridge. Now I can cross that bridge with just a little bit of anxiety as I’m driving over it and I typically don’t avoid the bridge (unless it’s a matter of just not wanting to pay the toll). But it used to be worse.

It didn’t even have to be a major bridge like that. I would have issues going over the bridge on I-95 that connects Maryland to Delaware.

If I was the passenger in the car, I would yell at the driver if he took his eyes off the road to look at the water for even just a second. I’m not usually the annoying passenger in a car because I can’t stand when others do this to me. But when it came to this fear of mine, I couldn’t help it!

People were puzzled by my fear. I felt like we’d fall off the bridge, go into the water and be trapped in the car and not be able to get out. But I didn’t have a problem driving on bridges that were not over water. Logically, you would think that would be worse than falling into water. If you hit the water, you have a chance to get out alive. If you hit splat onto the ground from many feet up, you would be badly injured or dead.

But that’s the thing about phobias. You can’t tell someone they’re silly or try to logically explain to someone that their phobia is wrong. Phobias don’t make sense – that’s why they’re phobias. Telling someone who is a little bit uneasy about going on their first airplane flight that statistically less people die from plane crashes than car crashes might make the person feel better. But a person with a strong fear or phobia of flying – this type of explanation will do little or nothing to help calm them down. And belittling someone for the phobia doesn’t help, either.

 

I found out a few years ago that there was probably a good reason for my fear.

When I was younger, I lived on Long Island, New York. Less than a month before my 4th birthday, Hurricane Gloria hit. My family decided to evacuate at the last minute. We were driving on a bridge to leave the island. The winds were so strong at this point. We had trouble getting over the bridge. The winds kept blowing the car and it made it hard to drive or steer. Basically, the police drove on the bridge to help and we were the last people to go over the bridge before they closed it because it was too dangerous to drive over.

I remember leaving Long Island when Hurricane Gloria hit. I remember being in the car and driving. I remember the sense of fear and urgency my parents had. But I don’t remember the bridge. I remember being on the island trying to get off. I remember being off the island. But I had no knowledge or memory of the bridge incident. I still don’t remember it.
My father told me about the bridge incident a few years ago and then it all made sense to me about my bridge/water phobia and being afraid of falling off. And it made sense to me about why it was the bridges over water that scared me but not the other kinds of bridges.

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The other interesting note about this phobia and when it happened is my father’s phobia. My dad has some strong phobias which are worse than mine. I’m not really sure of all of them. But I think that to a lesser extent I have inherited that trait from him. The drive out of Long Island, my dad freaked out. I cant really blame him, though! After we left Long Island, I remember we were driving on a highway or route. It was raining, the sky was dark grey. The trees were moving so hard that the leaves were falling off into the wind and hitting the window. Out of nowhere, he pulled over, immediately got out of the car and ran into the woods. My mother ran out to follow him. This isn’t something that my family does. My parents wouldn’t just leave me and my brother alone. It felt like they were gone for so long, but I’m not sure of the actual time. Basically, my dad’s face had turned white and he was panicking. My mom didn’t understand why he was this way but tried to calm him down and help.
My father got into an automobile accident in the late 80s and since then he avoids the highways. I remember he would take the long way to get places when we could have gotten there in just a few minutes if we just took the highway. Also, he always has to drive. He does not like others being the driver – in fact, he will not even let them. I have never been in any type of automobile with him where he wasn’t the driver. This is a reason why we never took an airplane to get anywhere.
A few years ago, I was like this for a couple of years as far as not liking being the passenger. I would get scared when anyone else drove. I had to drive. But this is pretty much gone, except for when I’m riding with bad drivers, but that is rational.

The weird thing is that the bridge over water phobia didn’t happen until my teenage years. When I was younger, it wasn’t like that as much. Sure, I’d think about it a little bit while we were driving over one, but it wasn’t so bad and I didn’t stress out over it before a trip. Then it grew worse and worse over time.

So how did I lessen my fear? For one thing, knowing why I had the phobia helped me to understand it better and to improve myself on that. The other was understanding my anxiety issues in general and working through those. I’ve had an anxiety disorder for years but was unaware of it until a couple years ago. It has gotten much better since I learned what I had because once you know what’s wrong, you can take the steps to deal with it better.
There were some trips over the bridges that were made with trusted friends to force me to face my fear. It was scary, but after each time, it became easier and easier.

I still am uneasy when crossing the bridges. But it’s nowhere near as bad as it was before and that’s good to me.

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4 Comments to “Writer’s Block: Phobias”

  1. I think the I-95 bridge you are thinking of is the one that crosses from Harford to Cecil County. I don’t like that bridge either but even worse is the one right near it that crosses the Susquehanna via Rt. 40. The Hatem toll bridge is a mile and a half long and about 90 ft above the water, and right now half of it is closed for repair, so one side of the bridge is shut down, the other side has one-lane, two-way traffic. I’ve always been phobic of this bridge but it is much worse now! (If you happen to travel toward Delaware anytime in the next few years make sure you are on I-95 and NOT rt. 40!!)

  2. Phobia
    There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the cause of a phobia. The reason some call it “irrational” is that they have no understanding of the cause, and less idea how to fix it.
    Phobia is caused by insufficient ability to regulate feelings when facing uncertainty or conflicted.
    Research since the advent of the functional MRI just eight years ago has helps us understand how the brain works. We now recognize that the ability to regulate feelings is learned and that the part of the brain that does this regulation requires stimulation of the right kind during the first two years of life. The right kind of stimulation requires a caregiver who is empathically attuned to the infant and responds to the infants signals, rather than simply providing for the infant according to an agenda set by the caregiver.
    Many of us, obviously, didn’t get such optimal early development. Thus, when facing uncertainty, we control our anxiety by being in control of the situation, or by having a way to out of it.
    That works fairly well on the ground — except for annoying those who regard us as control freaks. But in some situations, we can’t get enough control. In some cases, it is ones own body that seems out of control, which may help explain why panic disorder often starts at puberty when the body starts doing its own thing without consulting us.
    My specialty is flight phobia. When flying, there is uncertainty, of course. And, not being in control and not having a way out, there is no way to regulate the feelings.
    Trouble with bridges, amazingly enough, is the same as with flying; if you start to have a panic attack, you are STUCK. You can’t get out of there to get relief. And knowing that you can’t get out causes anxiety, or worse!
    I have tried to give a good understanding of the cause and cure of fear of flying in a video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zcx6ZsvKHSA&feature

  3. Re: Phobia
    Wow, how insightful. You are obviously very knowledgeable on this subject. I watched your video and I think there are some people I know who could be helped by your video when it comes to flying phobia.
    You’re right about my fear with bridges – once I’m on that bridge, I’m stuck! I can’t leave until crossing that bridge has finished. And that’s part of why it’s scary.
    The first two years of life – when I was a teenager I was really into psychology and I read up on it. And so I am convinced that the early years of life are extremely important in a person’s development. The trouble is, when I would try to tell this to people, such as parents with young children, they wouldn’t believe me. For example, a friend of mine had a child who was one year old and this parent was engaged in some “bad” behavior. In a polite, concerned way I suggested that maybe since she’s a mom now, she should quit doing that. Her response was that the child was too young to know what was going on and that the child wouldn’t remember this. I tried to explain that when a child is young, that’s when it’s important and they’re still developing but she didn’t understand.
    Anyway, I’m getting off topic here. Thanks for your input!

  4. Yes, that’s the I-95 bridge. EEeeeeeek!
    I think I’ve been on the Susquehanna one. Is that the bridge that has one toll booth?
    Thanks for the heads up!

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