Cathy McMahon was in her early 40s when she had a panic assault whereas driving throughout the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The Maryland bridge has a status for being scary. However McMahon had been driving over it commonly since she was 17 and had by no means skilled even a second of tension regardless of that it may be discovered on various “scariest bridges” lists. At 4.3 miles, with slim lanes, no shoulders, and low guardrails, it connects the Washington, DC, space with the Delaware and Maryland seashores on the Jap Shore. At its highest level, the bridge spans rise to greater than 200 toes over the bay beneath. As you drive, a mild curve makes it appears just like the street forward simply disappears—that there’s no finish in sight.

Along with her nine-year-old daughter and five-year-old niece buckled within the again seat, McMahon, now 56, says, her “face went numb, my limbs went numb, and I assumed I used to be going to have a coronary heart assault . . . in the midst of the bridge, on the high. I did not look over; it simply occurred.” As her imaginative and prescient performed methods on her and daylight turned to darkness, McMahon, who lives within the DC suburb of Gaithersburg, Maryland, thought, “‘I’ve to get throughout with out dying and killing them.’ So, what I did was I targeted on the license plate in entrance of me, and that is all I checked out. I simply learn that license plate as a mantra the entire time.” As soon as the steep grade eased onto the flat of Kent Island on the opposite aspect, she says, she burst into tears.

A worry of bridges is named gephyrophobia. In keeping with Erin Berman, a medical psychologist within the Part on Improvement and Affective Neuroscience on the Nationwide Institute of Psychological Well being (NIMH), “phobias are comparatively frequent, with 9.1 p.c of adults assembly standards for a phobia within the span of a yr in america,” although she identified that “the information for every particular phobia are much less dependable.” So it’s not particularly recognized how many individuals have gephyrophobia.

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Every day, between 80,000 and 100,000 folks drive throughout the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, with visitors hovering on summer season and vacation weekends. 1000’s of these drivers are so petrified, they depend on pals or household do the driving for them. Others fork over money to have a fearless driver take their place behind the wheel and assist them recover from it—the bridge, that’s. McMahon began utilizing this service after her panic assault.

Whereas the businesses liable for some intimidating bridges will drive the fearful totally free, the Maryland Bridge Authority put an finish to its service greater than 15 years in the past. Now Steven Eskew runs Kent Island Categorical, a personal firm that shuttles drivers over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and says that pre-COVID-19, it was typical to serve 12 to 18 prospects a day. “The bridge doesn’t discriminate,” says Eskew, who’s been driving women and men, younger and outdated, truck drivers and motorcyclists as a part of his service for 5 years. “I’ve two grown males who will sit on the ground within the again seat of their automobile, simply get on the ground and sit,” says Eskew. He costs $40 money, a technique, for automobiles, as much as $75 for bikes, and $125 for tractor-trailers. He has two common truckers who say the Bay Bridge, as locals seek advice from it, is the one bridge they’ll’t drive. “One man really will get into his sleeper and simply sort of hides. And the opposite man can sit within the passenger seat, within the cab of the truck, along with his head down.”

In Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge Authority drives automobiles totally free over a bridge that connects the state’s Higher and Decrease Peninsulas and rises 199 toes above the strait beneath. Previously referred to as the Timid Driver Program, it’s now known as the Driver Help Program. Bridge employees, who’re additionally liable for escorting hazardous-materials vehicles and upkeep chores, drive as much as 10 folks throughout the bridge every day. On windy days, the quantity can double, the bridge authority’s Kim Nowack says, particularly in winter, when winds can exceed 30 mph. “Typically folks will get beneath the blanket and conceal within the again seat. They’re that afraid to go throughout.” Nowak sees the free service as a proactive coverage that stops hazards. Cameras on the bridge may alert employees to an incident or a driver in the midst of a panic assault.

strait of mackinac bridge in northern michigan

The Mackinac Bridge in Northern Michigan.
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Within the San Fransisco Bay Space, there’s no specific program for bridge-phobic drivers. In keeping with Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Golden Gate Bridge, Freeway and Transportation District, there simply isn’t a number of demand. The long-lasting Golden Gate rises 220 toes above the strait that connects with the Pacific Ocean, however, not like the Mackinac and Chesapeake Bay bridges, it’s straight and only one.7 miles lengthy. Cosulich-Schwartz says, “If somebody is on the bridge, simply in entrance of the bridge, and they’re having a panic assault, there may be an emergency quantity listed on each ends of the bridge and other people can name [us] . . . We’ll reply if they’re in disaster they usually don’t know easy methods to get throughout.”

Those that deal with phobias say a worry of bridges shouldn’t be solely a few worry of heights. Some worry the bridge will collapse, some worry drowning, and a few worry they’ll unintentionally drive off. For McMahon, it’s a sense of claustrophobia: “I can’t get off; I’ve no strategy to pull over. I’m up there, sure, but it surely’s like there’s no means out.” And as soon as a person has had a panic assault on a bridge, the worry of the panic assault turns into the larger concern.

The shortcoming to tug over is one thing that Jean Ratner hears lots. A licensed medical social employee, Ratner is the founder and co-director of the Heart for Journey Nervousness, positioned within the DC space. “And that turns into an actual hurdle for individuals who really feel like, if I had been driving some place else and I had a panic assault, a minimum of I might pull over,” she says. “However the thought they must come to an entire cease as a result of they’d really feel that they can not management my automotive and what if I’m stopping visitors behind me and all people is livid and inconvenienced due to me? These are people who find themselves not solely very accountable, they’re fairly public-spirited folks. I’ve by no means had a narcissist come to me.”

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The excellent news is, “phobias are very treatable,” says the NIMH’s Berman. What’s been proven to be handiest, she says, is cognitive-behavioral remedy, which teaches folks methods to settle down and refocus whereas pushing them to face their fears step-by-step. “Studying methods to calm your physique down after which trying to face your fears are the 2 most necessary parts to engaged on managing your phobia,” Berman says.

“It’s a step-by-step course of which begins with going through your fears,” says Ken Goodman, a licensed medical social employee within the Los Angeles space, a board member of the Nervousness and Despair Affiliation of America, and creator and producer of The Nervousness Resolution Collection. “The technique shouldn’t be sophisticated, it’s difficult, however folks can do it in the event that they’re actually decided.”

McMahon nonetheless has a Bay Bridge phobia, although she has efficiently pushed over it just a few occasions by herself since trying shorter bridges first. “I’ve realized the significance of respiration . . . I’ve realized the significance of stepping again and realizing that fears aren’t details.” And if she’s feeling a bit of too overwhelmed, she is aware of she has a backup plan—she will pull over simply earlier than the bridge and request a driver.

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