A couple of weekends ago I travelled to Ocean City, MD for a bachelorette party. Fourteen women, one beach house, middle of the summer in OC – yes, it was as crazy as you think. Thankfully it was all tasteful fun and I came home to Matt in one piece.
There were many interesting parts of the trip, as I’m sure you can imagine, however the most interesting part that happened to me was my first solo journey across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The Bay Bridge connects the Eastern Shore of Maryland with the Western Shore. The bridge is almost five miles long and carries 5 lanes of traffic. It’s the fastest and easiest way to get from the Washington, D.C. area to the Delaware beaches and to Ocean City, MD. At the time the bridge was built (1952) it was the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure. It’s been listed in many travel books and websites as one of the scariest bridges in the world due to it’s lack of shoulder and low guardrails.
I’ve had two panic attacks in my life. My first was on a date with Matt, early in our relationship. He took me rock climbing – aware of my fear of heights but not quite understanding how intense the fear was – and I managed to climb about 20 feet into the air before my body shut down and I glued myself to the rock wall. I stayed there for so long, frozen in fear, that other climbers simply decided I was a new fixture on the route and they climbed around me!
The second was on my way to the aforementioned bachelorette party in Ocean City. I completely forgot that I had to drive across the Bay Bridge and when I started seeing the signs I thought, “Hm. This could be interesting.” I honestly wasn’t that worried, though. I had been across the bridge a few times, albeit in the passenger seat, and although it was scary I never had a panic attack and was able to stay relatively calm. I spent the next hour pumping myself up and remembering all the tricks and tips I had read online about conquering your fears. I got this!
I so did NOT have this.
I managed to stay fairly calm for the first 5 minutes. I focused on the car in front of me, sat up straight, kept my hands at a steady ten-and-two placement and spoke encouraging mantras aloud to myself. “You’re doing great! It’s really not that high. Thousands of people do this every day! You’re doing SO well. I’m so proud of you! Just focus on the car in front of you. You’re almost there!”
Apparently I need to get better at lying to myself. I came over the first section of the bridge and all of a sudden the reassuring tall steel beams that were towering on either side disappeared and I was now driving at the highest point of the bridge with seemingly no railings or support aaand…I lost it. I mean, completely lost it.
I quickly lost all feeling in my legs. My encouraging mantras disappeared and practical reminders took their place such as, “Keep your foot on the gas. Do not move your foot. You have to keep driving”. My peripheral vision turned to white and I spent the next 10 minutes hysterically shaking, contemplating how I could get my mom on the bridge as quickly as possible (she lives 500 miles away, by the way) to talk me down. Since that obviously wasn’t an option I wondered how angry the other drivers would be if I just stopped and called 911 and had a rescue crew come get me. I decided they would get very angry so I dismissed that option. My only feasible and clear option was to keep going! Duh.
I’ve always been afraid of heights but the fear seems to be more pronounced the older I get. Since coming to this realization I have tried to be proactive about conquering my fear by not shying away from activities that I know would scare me.
I have been zip lining:
I have crawled to the edge of the world in Ireland…and even dared to look over:
And since that first fateful day of rock climbing, I have gotten back on the horse and conquered my fear in the rock climbing gym:
It took every fiber of my being to get across that bridge. By the time I landed on the other side my shirt was completely sweated through, I had beads of sweat dripping down my chin and my ponytail was plastered to the back of my neck. I pulled off as soon as I could and, once the shaking stopped, I grabbed all the napkins from the glove compartment to dry off, called my husband to recount the terrifying tale and made a beeline to the closest Dairy Queen for a chocolate ice cream cone with sprinkles.
Have you noticed any of your fears becoming more pronounced as you’ve gotten older or have you outgrown yours? Maybe you don’t even have any fears?! I would love to hear about ways you combat the panic once it starts to rise up.
The bachelorette party was a huge success and we all had a wonderful time together. When I told the ladies about my experience on the bridge they were all incredibly supportive and offered up their own tricks and advice. On my way home I cranked up one of my favorite songs, assumed a casual and laid back posture and effortlessly glided across the bridge. Or at least that’s how I like to remember it 🙂