2 Aug

Fear of bridges: An abnormal and persistent fear of bridges, especially crossing bridges. Sufferers of this phobia experience undue anxiety even though they realize their fear is irrational. Their fear may result partly from the fear of enclosure (claustrophobia) or the fear of heights (acrophobia). Phobic drivers may worry about being in an accident in busy traffic or losing control of their vehicles. High bridges over waterways and gorges can be especially intimidating, as can be very long or very narrow bridges.

From’s Medical Terms Dictionary


For most of my life, I have experienced gephyrophobia (although, to be honest, this is the first time I’ve looked up what it is called).  Fear of bridges.  I remember the first time I felt it.  The bridge is question is impressive and deserving of respect.  It is the bridge that crosses the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis.   My grandmother was driving and — well, she was never a good driver.  She tended to press and release the gas repeatedly as if she were keeping the beat with a rock band.  At the same time, she constantly adjusted the steering wheel so the car would rock back and forth a little bit.  She planted us in the slow lane which meant that we were right above one of those expansion joints and I could see over the edge the whole time.  The expansion joint made a weird noise for the entire trip.  At the end of the long trip over the bridge, I was in a state of quiet terror!

Since then, on and off through my life, I have had a very difficult time driving over bridges either as a passenger or a driver.  For the most part, I can control it — after all, I live in an area with a lot of bridges.  There are five bridges over the San Francisco Bay and at various times, I have commuted over at least two of them.  But it’s never been easy.  I white-knuckle my way through it, force myself to have tunnel vision and just focus on the car in front of me and keep going.  I hate being in traffic on bridges because what if it stops.  Feeling that sway that bridges must have . . . no thank you.

And, of course, there is an inherent lack of safety in bridges that makes it hard to argue with the phobia.  You are, in fact, quite high above the ground or the water.  Should something happen . . . well, that’s going to make it worse.  A road that fails is still on the ground . . . not so much with a bridges — as history has shown us.


Tacoma Narrows Bridge famously giving the world a lesson in physics

San Francisco Bay Bridge collapsing during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake

Having children was the best thing for me to learn to control my phobia.  I did not want to pass along this fear as some sort of a genetic imperative but knew that if I showed my fear around them, they would pick up on it and think that bridges were scary, scary things.  So, I sucked it up and dealt with it — forced logic to prevail.  And, it worked.  The kids don’t even know that I’m afraid on bridges.  I even conquered the Annapolis Bay Bridge — driving across it when Ruth was around 11 months without any incident — although I was close to hyperventilating by the time I was done!  So, yay for me.  Yay for logic.  Yay for being mentally strong and not letting primeval fears control one.

Yesterday’s Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

 And yet, when a bridge does collapse, a part of my mind thinks, “I knew it!  I knew bridges weren’t safe!”  Justification for my fear.  Confirmation that a bridge is not a safe place to hang out.  Bad things happen and I know they can happen anywhere at anytime and they just aren’t likely to but still I’m not afraid of anywhere and anytime, I’m afraid of bridges and what can happen to them.

My heart goes out to the victims of this nightmare.  I hope the missing are found safely.  I hope they find answers as to why this bridge collapsed so catastrophically.  I hope the answers help to make other bridges safer in the future.  And, I hope I can forget these images as I drive over bridges in the future.


21 Responses to “gephyrophobia”

  1. Lynne at Hasty Brook 2 August, 2007 at 9:05 am #

    You’re not alone in your fears.

  2. mon@rch 2 August, 2007 at 6:26 pm #

    So sad for sure and such a wonderful post you did! It is very scary that such a thing can happen without any warning! I had forgotten about the SF Bay Bridge!!

  3. Susan Gets Native 2 August, 2007 at 8:45 pm #

    I’m right with you about bridges. You could have been reading my mind when you wrote that. My kids unfortunately know that bridges make “Mommy nervous”, but they also know that they need to be quiet when we are on one.
    The scariest bridge I have ever been on: The Mackinac Bridge. It’s 26,372 feet long. About 4 miles.

  4. jayne 3 August, 2007 at 2:44 am #

    What makes me crazy is that we build these pieces of architecture and expect them to last forever without proper maintenance. “There’s just not enough money in the budget.” How’s that for discounting the safety of those who cross them every day? Then things like this happen and we all wonder how it could be that so many bridges are in need of repair and nothing is being done to fix them.

  5. Miz S 3 August, 2007 at 4:20 am #

    The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is one that I drive over at least twice a year. I love the view from that bridge. I’m fine if I am driving, but I’m not happy if someone else is driving.

  6. Pam 3 August, 2007 at 3:01 pm #

    I’m not good with bridges, either, they make me very nervous. Great post on bridges, for sure.

  7. amarkonmywall 4 August, 2007 at 12:47 pm #

    And then there’s the Mackinaw Island Bridge- the longest open over water bridge in the world at just over five miles. And my friend, whose Native American uncle is buried inside a cement piling on said bridge. Mostly Native Americans worked on the bridge and he was one of 3 high iron workers who plunged to their deaths during construction…oh,wait! This isn’t helping you with your phobia, is it? But I know what you mean- we crossed that bridge every time we went to the U.P. from Ann Arbor- and I never liked it.

  8. amarkonmywall 4 August, 2007 at 12:48 pm #

    oh- look! it’s me, Vicki. But it showed up with the new blog name. hmmmm. I need to fix that.

  9. KGMom 4 August, 2007 at 6:04 pm #

    You have articulated well what it is like to have a phobia–you can reason all you want; if something is frightening to you, it is frightening.
    And of course reality doesn’t help alleviate our fears.

  10. robin andrea 5 August, 2007 at 12:45 pm #

    I’ve never really been afraid of bridges, but I must say the fallen one in Minneapolis certainly gave me pause. Then to read that many bridges are considered unsafe, well, it’ll be hard to cross a bridge now without thinking about that. I have a slight phobia about elevators, so I always take the stairs. Often there’s no alternative to a bridge.

  11. colleen 5 August, 2007 at 3:05 pm #

    I have been over that bridge in Annapolis a few times. I was driving with my parents to St. Michaels during the summertime 3 years ago and because of heavy traffic they opened up the right lane on the opposite side of the bridge… you know the one where the traffic is headed in the other direction. Try driving over that nerve wracking bridge going the wrong way with oncoming traffic right in the next lane. I was white-knuckled the whole way. I broke out is a sweat just thinking about it.

  12. Mary 6 August, 2007 at 6:25 am #

    Liza Lee – excellent post!

    My fear of heights never affected my driving over bridges. Weird. I don’t really fear them but I would rather be the driver than a passenger.

    I’ve traveled the Chesapeake Bay Bridge hundreds of times and a lot of other bridges in MD/PA/DE and sometimes wondered “what if”. But like you, I focus on the car in front of my and just do it.

    Good for you being strong for your kids. I feel bad for those who need police escourts to cross a bridge.

    I especially feel sad for those people in Minnesota who experienced a living nightmare.

  13. logan 16 February, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    sometimes I “have it” and sometimes I don’t. sometimes its the really big bridges and sometimes something as small as the overpass from the southbound freeway into the Ft. Lauderdale airport can bring on the panic. just checking out a bridge I may have to cross by “walking” across it on GoogleEarth can bring on the panic. wish I knew what the trigger(s) is (are)!

    • Liza Lee Miller 16 February, 2009 at 5:22 pm #

      I hear you, Logan. I definitely feel panic in all those situations you mention. Even walking across a small foot bridge can do it. I do know that figuring out what the trigger is doesn’t always help. I realized a number of years ago that I was particularly afraid about the little holes where the side of the bridges meet the road deck. Knowing that was causing me fear and knowing that it really wasn’t dangerous didn’t help me get past it. Phobias suck! 🙂

  14. Kay 1 November, 2009 at 10:36 am #

    Well, I have to admit there’s a strange comfort in knowing others share this fear. Mine isn’t so much the act of driving over the bridge; but being a passenger is difficult because I can “see” over it. Also, looking at pictures of large bridges over water makes me uneasy! With that accompanies nightmares I’ve had about driving and walking over a bridge to NYC and having to stay perfectly straight or I’d fall into the water. Ugh. It’s horrible!

    • Liza Lee Miller 1 November, 2009 at 11:41 am #

      You are so not alone, Kay. This has been a week for it with the Bay Bridge in San Francisco being closed for safety concerns. Shudder. Hang in there. The good news is that you can mind-over-matter it but it’s not easy.

  15. Prairie Dog 4 March, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    I was encouraged by your post when bridges started interfering with my job as a Semi driver two years ago. Unfortunately, I ultimately lost the battle and have changed careers. I don’t know what brought on the panic attacks after 30 years of crossing them, 5 as a truck driver, but I can attest to the debilitating effects, Thanks again for your post.

    • Liza Lee Miller 4 March, 2010 at 6:26 pm #

      Glad it helped — Sorry you ultimately didn’t have success at controlling the panic. Hope you’re happy in your new job! Thanks for writing in!

  16. Lawrence 14 May, 2010 at 4:15 am #

    ME TOO !

    I thought I was probably the only person in the world with this condition. I have mostly conquered the fear, but I still feel my heart racing whenever I have to drive across a bridge though. ( closing my eyes helps ! . . . JOKE)
    I live in Liverpool UK and have to cross a bridge or an aquaduct to go anywhere south of the city.

    • Liza Lee Miller 6 June, 2010 at 9:00 am #

      Phobia is a strange thing. I can get freaked when a character in a movie drives over a bridge. I generally white-knuckle it across the bridge and focus on the license plate of the car in front of me. Shudder. It has gotten better though. Thanks for visiting!


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