Monday, March 28, 2011

Just tell me when I can open my eyes...

The scene was terrifying, much worse than what had been playing in my mind for two days prior.  As we headed down the interstate toward our destination, I tried to erase the fear in my head with happy thoughts.  "The ocean is here!"  or "Someone will be making my bed and cooking my meals all weekend!" or "I don't have to see those damn dogs for three whole days!"   I couldn't fool myself though, as my throat began to tighten like the Grim Reaper himself had his cold hands wrapped firmly around my neck.  I could barely swallow as we drew closer to It.

I locked eyes with the beast.  My breathing became shallow and staccato-like as we rose up into the air, hurtling across the spine of this monster masterpiece of architecture.  I literally contorted my body (thanks, yoga!) and plunged my head into the backseat floorboard, (still buckled in the front seat) landing with my nose mere inches from the well-worn sneakers of an eleven-year-old boy. Oh, yes, such was my desperation.  "Just tell me when it's over," I managed to choke out of my nearly frozen mouth, and I tried with all of my might not to scream like a little girl.    It was nearly three miles of terror, one of my biggest phobias playing out for my family to witness (and later mock).  My debilitating and totally paralyzing fear of bridges had slapped me across the face this time like a drunken bar fly, and I had just booked a three-day weekend in city completely littered with them.  What was I thinking?

A couple of weeks ago I planned an impromptu trip to Charleston with my family.  The weather man promised me perfect weather, plus I was utterly sick with Spring Fever.  After a cold and snowy (for the South) winter, we all needed to be some place sunny, colorful, and ocean-y, with a pub every ten feet or so.  I quickly searched online for a hotel room, and I landed on a good deal in Mount Pleasant, across the Cooper River from the historic downtown area.  While visions of shrimp and grits danced in my head, I couldn't shake a bad feeling lurking down deep inside me: How in the world would I make it across that very scary well-constructed bridge...over and over and over?

I get it.  Bridges don't kill people, bad drivers on bridges do.  Believe me, I have tried for years to discover the root of this phobia because it has completely changed how I live my life.  How can I drive to unfamiliar destinations?  What if I encounter a body of water or a highway overpass taller than my house?  As with all phobias, my fear of what will happen is totally possible irrational. I'm afraid that forces stronger than me will send my car off the bridge and into the murky water below or concrete highway, which ever the case may be.  What if I faint and careen over the rails?  What if there is an earthquake at the exact moment I'm in the middle, and the bridge crumbles into a million pieces?  It could happen.  I tried anxiety medication to overcome this ridiculous fear, but instead of curing my phobia, it just made me want to eat Doritos and stare.

Here's the kicker that should have been the cure:  I have to cross a river everyday to get to my office.  This is definite proof that I'm crazy exposure therapy doesn't work.  It's the same every morning and every afternoon - stomach churning, heart racing, sitting stick-straight in my seat, gripping the wheel tighter than Lindsay Lohan and her vodka bottle.  It's thirty seconds each way of pure, unbridled panic that leaves me sweaty and cursing myself for not buying a lottery ticket.

I crossed the bridge in Charleston three times that weekend, each time a little easier than the last.  On our way home, we took a different route to visit a friend which meant I didn't have to face it again that Sunday morning.  I felt more relaxed thinking that maybe the new route would mean a smaller, less heart-palpitation-inducing bridge, and that I would even be able to open my eyes and not stop breathing during the ride.  But that wouldn't be my luck, would it?  The alternative bridge was old, not so shiny, and came with a cage at the top (because people have OBVIOUSLY careened over the edge).  This time?  I screamed like a little girl.

2 comments:

  1. Yeah, phobias can be extremely unsettling…or even take over someone’s life. Just keep reminding yourself that it’s an irrational fear and you’re really in very little danger. You can control the fear, and not let it completely take over.

    I have a phobia – I’m afraid of running backwards at full speed into a doorknob.

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  2. Dave...you are bad, bad, bad. :-) Thanks for the laugh this morning...

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