Confronting fear

Nicoleandmaggie over at Grumpy Rumblings had a post yesterday titled Do something every day that scares you. It was very timely for me because I’ve been meaning to write about how my recent move to the Bay area puts me in that position frequently, although not every day.

For years I’ve had intense anxiety around driving over high bridges and along twisty roads with steep drop offs. I also get anxious walking over high bridges and hiking along trails that take me along steep ridges. There are lots of big bridges in this area, and many roads that twist and turn through the hills and mountains. Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, and Highway 1 are probably the ones that most people can identify but there are more.

I’m fine inside skyscrapers while behind sturdy glass, in elevators, or in airplanes. But while driving I have this fear that I will somehow lose control of the vehicle (by sneezing or something) at just the wrong moment and go plunging off to my death. While hiking I fear a misstep will tumble me down the cliff to my death. It doesn’t help my hiking confidence that I’ve injured myself more than once simply walking along a minor slope, either.

Growing up in the “flatlands” of the Midwest I had little exposure to navigating hilly territory by foot or car. We took road trips through eastern mountains when I was a kid (Ozarks and Blue Ridge mountains), but I wasn’t driving back then.

My first exposure to real mountains as a driver was during a road trip with a friend between Chicago and the Grand Canyon. We took interstate expressways all the way there, but on the way back we had a bit more time and decided to take a more scenic route through Colorado. As we set off from Durango and picked up the “Million Dollar Highway” towards Ouray, I found my palms sweating and my heart racing as I drove up and up and up along the switchbacks. Once we came to a wide shoulder/observation point I pulled over and told my friend she absolutely had to take over driving, despite her discomfort driving a manual transmission. I found the entire route terrifying, even as a passenger. As she exclaimed over the views, I squeezed my eyes shut and clutched the armrest.

That was probably my most extreme reaction, but I’ve had lesser (although no less debilitating) ones on the narrow bridge over the Mississippi between Cairo, IL and Missouri (I missed a turn and wasn’t supposed to drive over that bridge), my first time driving the Chicago Skyway, and along Highway 1 between Monterey and Big Sur.

I knew that moving to an area surrounded by mountains and with many long, high bridges was going to challenge me. But I also knew that it was one of those “price of admission” things I would have to learn to deal with. So I am.

Arriving in the Bay area that first day, I had to negotiate the Altamont Pass on I-580 through Livermore in a heavy fog. The fog likely helped as it hid visual cues of our height from me. (Also, the fact that the route had four or five lanes, so I could drive in a middle one helped, too). Sister drove the I-680 bridge across the Carquinez Strait to get us to our final destination, but once she left town I was on my own.

I managed a trip across the I-680 bridge both ways just a couple of weeks later without a lot of anxiety. I carefully trained my gaze to the road in front of me in each direction and sang to myself as a I returned across, just to make myself a little more at ease. (Something along the lines of “I’m crossing the bridge, I’m crossing the bridge. Look how well I’m doing!” in a chipper voice.)

My first trip across the Bay Bridge was as a passenger in a casual carpool. This is one of the reasons I was so excited to learn about the casual carpools, in fact. They allow me to build familiarity with the surroundings in a lower risk way since I’m not the driver. Being in a car with others who find the trip uneventful and routine is great. I’ve now taken five carpool rides across the Bay Bridge: four outbound from San Francisco, and one inbound to San Francisco. Now thinking about crossing the Bay Bridge as a driver gives me almost no anxiety.

Last weekend I drove with guests both ways on the Carquinez bridge as we went to and from Oakland. I had a momentary blip of anxiety as I saw the bridge risers, but was able to quickly shove it aside.

Seeing the bridges as a passenger on the ferry is also helping me become familiar with them, and reducing my anxieties. Every ferry ride brings me under the massive Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and gives me a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in a car as a passenger a few years ago, and made it partly across on foot back when I was married. (It took a LOT of convincing from the ex to get me to walk to the first upright from the San Francisco side. I emphatically refused to walk or stand anywhere near the railing, though, despite his desire to take a photo of me with the Bay in the background.)

Before I left Chicago a therapist recommended that I get a book called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. I’ve only read a bit of it, but it seems that this desensitizing that I’m doing is right on track with the professional advice. Next weekend I’m considering going on a hike that includes a small amount of “ledge walking.” I’m trying to decide if I’m ready for that yet and have some time to figure that out.

So that’s my answer to their question: Do you do things that scare you? What’s yours?


8 thoughts on “Confronting fear

  1. I don’t really seek them out, ever. When I do things that scare me it’s really about others doing them and me trying to keep up, ha. Most recently it was horse riding (only the 2nd time I’d been) but often it’s around hiking stuff.

    I hate hate hate driving and hate parking even more and got sweaty just reading this post!


    • Hate parking? As in parallel parking? I’m not sure I understand what there is to hate about parking other than the difficulties in finding a place to do so in most cities.


  2. Yay You!!! I guess I do things that scare me, but not really by choice – I’m somewhat claustrophobic, and if I can’t remove myself from that type of situation, I have some anchoring things I do and say that are very helpful. They help with PTSD, too.


    • I still haven’t driven over any of the big bridges on my own yet, the more I imagine it and process that the less threatening I’m finding it, which is a good thing.

      Last weekend I went hiking with the group that will doing the hike that includes “ledge walking” this weekend. Based on that experience, I’m going to pass on this weekend’s hike. The leader seems to have a different concept of what he considers “easy” than me. On our supposedly “easy” hike last weekend, we had to negotiate a section of a path that had us clinging to a boulder on a narrow ledge with a drop off below us. I froze and needed a helping hand to get through that part. He brushed off my concerns by saying it was “just that little section.” Uh, no bueno, dude! If that’s his attitude about “easy” stuff, then I wouldn’t be able to manage “some ledge walking.”


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  4. Doing something scary every day is THE way to get rid of a fear! I got rid of shyness that way, in my teens. When you expose yourself (gradually) to the source of your fear, your brain eventually gets used to it and does not make such a fuss about it. Good luck!


  5. I live in L.A., born & raised, and I have a dislike of driving over soaring bridges and freeway flyovers. Same feelings as you describe. As a passenger, I’m fine as long as my driver isn’t crazy. I understand it’s not rational. One year I made myself to drive over & over the Vincent St. Thomas bridge, the closest thing we have to the Golden Gate. I don’t really like it, but I can do it, telling myself I’m a good driver, I’ve done it before, I can do it again. I’ve actually enjoyed the views, but as driver I focus on the road.

    p.s. I left a message for you on Ravelry. Just curious what shoes you took with to Scotland.


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