In this week’s podcast I talk about my fear of driving over bridges. Let me clarify: It’s not all bridges. Most bridges I can drive over without so much as a second thought. However, high, ascending bridges make me anxious. My heart races, I feel disoriented and nervous.
This was not always so. When I first got my driver’s license, like most teenage drivers, I was ecstatic. I felt so independent and grown up. I could go places all by myself! After getting my license, my mother took great pride in making sure that her daughters could parallel park like a pro. Now, when you earned the Berthiner Brown seal of approval for parallel parking, then you knew you were ready to drive with the best of them! And drive I did. Everywhere. All the time; with abandon. Some would say maybe with too much abandon: Years ago, I was late for a wedding and actually changed clothes while driving over one of the state’s highest bridges. I safely arrived at the wedding on time and appropriately attired for the festive occasion!
When my mom died I started panicking when I would have to drive over high bridges. I was silently wondering was I starting to loose it? I knew what I was feeling was not normal for me. It took me a while, but I finally told my husband and two friends (who are licensed mental health professionals) about my fear. My friends said that my mother’s death had made me fearful. I was now afraid of dying. My husband and friends supported me as best they could, but I still wouldn’t drive over bridges. I stopped trying. I avoided them and reluctantly accepted this fear as part of my life.
As I shared in the podcast, I went to therapy when I finally acknowledged how much this fear was negatively impacting my life. I was afraid to take unfamiliar routes out of fear that I might have to cross a high bridge. The therapist told me that should I not conquer this phobia, I might well have others develop, making my activities and ultimately my life even more restricted. I really had visions of me in my house, with the draperies drawn and cats all around me because I wouldn’t be able to face the lurking dangers beyond the walls of my home. Those thoughts made me incredibly sad.
The therapist told me to start with small ascending bridges that I had been avoiding and slowly work my way up to higher ones. This was during a counseling session about three or four years ago.
I just followed her advice three weeks ago. I drove over a bridge that I have avoided like the plaque. I drove over it and back three times! Before, when I would try to drive over similar bridges, I would plan the drive in advance, pray about it and recite a mantra about overcoming fear over and over. Once I began the actual drive, before approaching the bridge, I would follow my routine: Eyes on the road, listen to a specific gospel song selected just for the drive and recite the mantra over and over. I followed this protocol for years, only to immediately take another route when I caught the first glimpse of the bridge. I would turn around or take another exit, even if it meant adding miles to my trip or not being able to reach the planned destination. I felt defeated.
Three weeks ago, I decided I was driving over a bridge which was on my personal list of bridges to avoid. Only this time, I didn’t make a production of it, I just told myself, “I am driving over that bridge today. Other people drive over it. I can drive over it too. Just do it.” As I approached the bridge I glanced at other drivers who seemed to be driving with no regard for the coming bridge. This time, I didn’t turn back. I kept my foot on the gas and kept driving. No sooner than I started over the bridge I was heading off. I did it!! A feeling of relief washed over me. I didn’t call anyone to share what I had done. I purposefully didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. I wanted it to feel normal, like it’s something I do every day. Lately though I have started thinking “Golden Gate Bridge, I’m coming for you!”