Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sympathy For Phobics

Like most people, I have some phobias. I'm not a big fan of heights, although I was able to overcome much of that by brute force of will. I still can't handle cliffs and two-lane roads next to cliffs are a real issue for me.

My big phobia, however, turns out to be bridges over water. Gephyrophobia is the fear of bridges, but for it to affect me, it's got to be over water and narrow. I can handle 4-lane bridges and larger as I can drive on the inside lane, but 2-lane bridges over long stretches, such as US 301 where it crosses the Potomac, are completely intolerable.

Coming into Virginia from Maryland, it looks like this. It sounds like some nut screaming.

I have no idea what it is, either. It's primal, like my internal cave man is having a total breakdown. This bridge is about a mile long.  When I went over it this week, there was light traffic, we were doing 50 MPH, there was minimal wind, it was sunny and there were almost no waves. It was idyllic and I was having to yell at myself to calm down. All in all, it took about 75 seconds to cross the thing and by the end, I was wondering if I was going to black out from the stress. My whole body wanted to shut down and slip into unconsciousness to make the horror go away.

Internally, I was able to watch the psycho-spasm unfold and wonder just what was wrong. I tried reason, but the fear was way beyond that. When I got to the other side, it went away completely.

I've always had compassion for the mentally ill, but as I was going through this, I felt tremendous sorrow and pity for them. I knew that if I made it just another 20 seconds, I'd be completely normal again. What must it be like to have these terrors for hours on end or to have voices in your head that don't go away when you reach some waypoint?

The experience was mentally disjointed and it allowed me a small amount of reflection at the time. Had I been working on a quadratic equation when I got onto the bridge, I might have been able to solve it while 90% of my brain turned into liquid wax and ran out my ears.

I don't know if I can fully describe the raw power of that fear. I think that if I'd been a passenger, I'd have been fine. Maybe that means it was the stress of controlling a car while driving over water.

I know one thing for sure. I'm not going to vacation in the Florida Keys any time soon.


Ilíon said...

In college, I knew a woman who was reduced to tears crossing bridges if she couldn't see the other side.

K T Cat said...

I could understand that. There's no end or maybe it ends by dumping you into the abyss. Horrible.

Poor thing. Whatever it was, she didn't choose it.

Ohioan@Heart said...

You have described perfectly my experience on such bridges. For me it is more about height than water, but otherwise the same. The way I handle it is by literally not taking my eyes off the centerline on the road.

tom said...

Turn around and go a few hours south. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel features two-lane bridges that periodically dive under the water.

I grew up with narrow two-lane bridges that you could see through the roadway to the water below.

K T Cat said...

Tom - I've done that one. That was the only other time where the near blackout happened. I remember loving the tunnel parts because they gave me a chance to recover briefly. That day was blustery and the Chesapeake had big waves and whitecaps. Yikes!

Mostly Nothing said...

We went to Mackinac many years ago. My wife was driving on US 2 in the UP, when we where able to see the bridge, she pulled over at a scenic overlook. From there I drove.

I think it is an amazing thing, never bothered me. Years later, Mike Rowe did a segment on Dirty Jobs on the constant maintnenance going on there. I'm not sure I would climb it.

2012 I also went to the Florida Keys. My brother was driving then though. Also amazing engineering.

tom said...

Oh yeah, maybe you remember the old Cooper River bridge. The 1930s two-lane side used to have drivers posted at either end for people who just couldn't handle it themselves.

I was comfortable with two lanes going the same direction in modern cars, but I can imagine the "excitement" of full-size cars and trucks coming at each other with barely a railing...

Jedi Master Ivyan said...

I have more than a touch of clautrophobia, but it comes out at odd times. I've been spelunking at Moaning Caverns. Being six hundred feet under the ground crawling through a tunnel in earthquake-prone California didn't phase me a bit. But stick me in a crowded elevator and I hyperventilate. It also comes out when I'm driving in tight quarters (which happens a lot here in Europe) and snorkeling of all things. I'm terrified of touching the reef.