Uneasy Driving Over Massachusetts Bridges
Just recently, I was driving over the Braga Bridge in Fall River when a mild panic attack started without warning. My wife wanted to know why I slowed down to 45 miles per hour. I didn't let on that my heart was racing and I was feeling a little light-headed with my palms sweating because I was holding the steering wheel so strenuously.
This happened to me once before, years ago, crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay. Like a bolt out of the blue, I started tightening up, like a bundle of nerves. It didn't do me any good to read the sign that read it is the longest cable stayed concrete bridge in the world, at four miles long and a height of 430 feet.
It is common knowledge in our family that my sister-in-law, Jeanine Sassaville, would re-route if there were any tall bridges to cross.
"I mean, I used to hold (her husband) Gene's hand so tight, that I'd stop circulation," she said.
Her other real fears include claustrophobia, preventing her from going through tunnels, and the most recent, looking down from heights – and all very treatable conditions. However, her fear of bridges has lessened somewhat, something she attributes to leaning on her faith.
Cathy McMahon, a New Bedford native up from Maryland, was in her early 40s when she had a panic attack while driving across a span that has a reputation for being scary: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
"I've been driving over it regularly since I was 18, and never had experienced even a moment of anxiety," she said.
That bridge is also over four miles long, at its highest point rises to more than 200 feet, with squeezed lanes, low guardrails and no shoulders to pull over.
"As you drive, a gentle curve makes it look like the road ahead just vanishes ahead of you, and that's freaky," she said.
Kasey Silvia of WBSM and Fun 107 became high-spirited, describing the fear she has going over the Bourne Bridge.
"The lanes are so narrow, there's hardly any space between you and the oncoming traffic," she said. "I just don't look off to the side where the Cape Cod Canal is in clear sight."
The fear of crossing bridges is called gephrophobia (Jeff-roe-foe-bee-ah), and all three women offered different variations of their heebie-jeebies: afraid they'd drive off the bridge into the water, fear of strong wind gusts blowing one head on into oncoming traffic, or fear that the bridge will collapse when crossing it.
The are no exact numbers of how many people suffer from the treatable disorder. However, there's a silver lining, called "acrophobia programs," where police or state officials meet the panicked motorist at the head of the bridge, then drive their cars across across for them.
It's better than having a motorist, paralyzed by terror and rendered incapable of driving, stopped in one of the bridge lanes, causing snarl-ups and gridlock.