Gephyrophobia, again

Since the I-35W bridge crossing the Mississippi collapsed here in Minneapolis last Wednesday, with (at this writing) five dead and eight missing, my gephyrophobia is back, going strong.

That’s JEFF-i-ro-FO-bee-uh. Or fear of bridges.

I never got gephyrophobic on the 1900-foot-long I-35W bridge. (Turns out I should have been, but I wasn’t.) I’d get nervous on the bridge across Lake Ponchartrain into New Orleans, which is 28,145 feet long, as my four-cylinder Toyota got buffeted but the highway wind, and I’d see the choppy surf waaaay below me.

In the wake of the disaster, ABC news dusted out the psychiatric dictionary and talked to an expert about more people suffering from gephyrophobia:

“Their fear is not that the bridge is going to collapse; their fear is that they will get halfway across and freeze or drive off the bridge,” says Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorder Association of America.

Their fear used to be that they would freeze up on the bridge; now, I think, people are going right ahead and being frightened of a bridge collapse itself.

Jerilyn went on: “A true phobia is fear of fear itself — a threat of danger that’s not really dangerous.”

Since, according to the Federal Highway Administration last year, nearly 1 out of every 8 bridges in the United States is (like the former I-35W bridge) “structurally deficient,” I guess gephyrophobia isn’t a phobia after all anymore; it’s just common sense.

What’s the treatment for gephyrophobia?

For those who have an intense fear of crossing a bridge, for example, treatment may begin with them sitting in the passenger seat of a car while crossing a very short bridge. Gradually, the intensity of the experience would be increased until the person has learned to deal with their fearful impulses.

. . . Or until one of the 73,533 of the nation’s structurally deficient bridges they are driving over collapses; whichever comes first.

4 Responses to Gephyrophobia, again

  1. Pulao says:

    Actually, what you have, in very technical, medical terms is a “Rational Response.”

    I was thinking that I should actually feel safer crossing bridges in the Twin Cities now because, statistically, what are the chances of something like that happening again? If the engineer was the same, the construction materials were similar, and the stress was comparable, the chances are probably pretty high…

  2. Jayashree says:

    I have mild gephyrophobia, I think. (Thanks for the word of the day, btw). I used to be okay about bridges, but over the years, I have experienced that feeling of freezing up or thinking I might veer off one–but on foot or on my bike. I walked over that little foot bridge by 10th so I could see the collapsed 35 last weekend–bad idea. If it wasn’t fenced by wire that’s about 5 ft high…

  3. Kirsten says:

    On the way to Granny’s house we had to cross two bridges on a very rural Mississippi dirt road, one right after the other. It was like an carnival ride- wooden planks, some rotting away, some missing, no guard rails- the sound effects were great- creaking and gravel splashing into the water below, and especially Mom’s high pitched shreiking, “DeLane! Slow down!”
    If that didn’t give me gephyrophobia nothing will. My heart rate is rapid just remembering it.

  4. Kris says:

    Ah . . . good times. Either they fixed the bridges up by the time I was going to Granny’s, or this is just another childhood trauma by mind has chosen not to remember. But it sounds scary as hell . . .

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