Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


Feel the Fear, But Don’t Be a Moron

posted by Beyond Blue

bridge%202.jpg
This is a favorite post from my archives on facing your fears (with a little common sense).
Speaking of irrational phobias and obsessions, I learned an important lesson the morning (last month) I was supposed to run the 22nd Annual Bay Bridge Run.
I signed up for the thing at 10 p.m. a few weeks earlier, right after tucking Katherine in with a preschool therapy session (a reading of “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper and Loren Long, and “I Like Myself” by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow) and with no caffeine in my system, thus blanking on my fear of heights, the queasy “I think I have to barf” thoughts that usually accompany a trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
The Bay Bridge Run is a 10K race across the eastbound span of the William Preston Lane Memorial Bridge (its official name), with a shore-to-shore length of 4.3 miles (among the world’s longest over-water structures), a horizontal navigation clearance of 1,500 feet (no structure holding you up for that long–the boxer shorts of bridges) and a vertical clearance of 186 feet (if you fall off, you’re toast … a comforting thought during my depression).
This is not a race for those who get squeamish at high altitudes.


I almost dropped out when I learned that, on a windy day, you can feel the bridge move under your feet. But I’m stubborn. Really, unreasonably stubborn. I hated the idea of running over that much water and at that height. But I despised even more the thought of being a quitter, and a pansy.
“If I lived through two psych ward experiences–where psychotic women accused female patients in group therapy of sleeping with their husbands (who they forgot were dead),” I told myself, “I certainly can do this.”
But it was windy that morning. Exceptionally windy, with gusts blowing from the northeast at 35 miles an hour. As I drove to Sandy Point State Park (where I would catch a shuttle over to the other side of the bridge, trying my best to keep my breakfast inside), I barely managed to keep the car in one lane on US 50. As the wind tossed around my Honda Accord like a pair of dice in the hands of a giant, I repeated to myself, “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can….” And every time I imagined God shaking the bridge as a sick joke on those of us with lots and lots of phobias, like Shrek did to Donkey right before they saved Princess Fiona, I thought back to the little blue engine who thought he could.
I looked down at my number, 221, pinned to my shirt. On the back was a label with my medical information. “That’s just great,” I thought. “If I have a total freak out at the top and can’t move my feet . . . or if I get a sudden urge to jump off the bridge, they’ll have my history and everything they need to send me back ASAP to a psych unit.”
Once I reached Sandy Point, it was literal chaos. People running everywhere (warming up?), cars driving in every direction–many leaving the park (drop off?). I didn’t see any policeman, so I headed straight for the set of cones and the sign that said, “Do not enter” (That’s usually where the good parking places are, I’ve learned).
I couldn’t believe my luck. I found a spot on the grass right between the buses and the porta-potties–surely a sign from the universe telling me that everything would be okay. As I proceeded to stretch, practically tossed into the porta-potty by the wind, I heard a policeman trying to summon the attention of a woman.
“Ma’am …. Ma’am ….,” he said.
I continued stretching.
“Ma’am,” he said again, tapping me on the shoulder. “You do realize that the race is cancelled, don’t you?”
I’ve never wanted to hug a state trooper more in all my life … more even than the ones who gave me warnings instead of speeding tickets. This civil servant was my angel from God telling me “Yes, it’s good to feel the fear, but you don’t have to be a moron,” or “Pick your battles, Darling, and this one is so not worth it.”
Because that philosophy–feeling the fear and doing it anyway (even on a windy day)–taken too far dead ends into Stupidity Lane, or, even worse, a Darwin Award (“Honoring those who improve the species … by accidentally removing themselves from it!”). In other words, God told me, “Pick your battles, darling. And this one ain’t worth it.”
To read more Beyond Blue, go to www.beliefnet.com/beyondblue, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.



  • Peg

    Therese, you had me on the edge of my seat wondering how things would turn out. Great writing!

  • Clarissa

    I love your story. Keep the courage.

  • Theresa Faford

    This made me realize I am not alone with this anxiety. There is another person who feels the same way I do.

  • Sharon

    Girlfriend, you are so real. I just love this.
    Back when I used to sing, for days before the “happening,” I would practice with a hairbrush in front of the mirror (until I got my little Karaoke machine) very calmly, loving every minute of it. Howevery, the closer it would get to the day of singing my asthma would start kicking in.
    It literally took me years to put the two together. I haven’t sang since my heart attack in February of 2002, well, one time, but I think my singing days are over.
    Don’t give up your dreams girl!

  • Nancy

    Therese – I just read this post for the first time, and you had me laughing – Not at you, but with you. Your description of having survived the psych ward stay with accusations being flung around about dead husbands, reminded me of a short stint I had in one (the other was way longer. I survived (God bless her and forgive me, please!) “hanging out” with a woman who spoke her “own” language. I do not mean a legitimate foreign language. This was her own and just hers. I sat across from her for hours (self-imposed) just listening to her. She just needed someone to listen and acknowledge what she said. Isn’t it amazing how basic the needs become. I laugh now really at myself and not her, as at that time, she was actually one of the few people (well the only one) in my life that made any sense anyway. It was obviously a terrible time in my life – long story, and it was to actually keep me from more emotional abuse from my family until the psychiatrist got them to agree to discontinue the verbal abuse. She told them that would be the only conditions that she would let me be released. It was just for a 4 day stint (versus the 5 week “vacation” prior to that). They agreed – wow – to think back at that time sixteen years ago (yikes) – I was breaking the “perfect familiy” illusion by getting divorced. Anyway, the point is – thank you God, that today, reading this post can bring me to joy (I’m not where I’d like to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be)and find the humor and embrace it. The identification is the joy portion. I love the reframe of Jeffers book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” to “Feel the Fear But You Don’t Have To Be A Moron”. Classic. I’m going to share that line with my husband, as we both push ourselves (sometimes unreasonably), especially me, to keep forging ahead, regardless. I’m glad Beliefnet had this one included with their “How to be Fearless” post today.

  • Mitche Leigh Hunt

    Therese —
    I love the beat of your writing. It is always so up as well as having so much meaning. Too often things with “so much meaning” are just plain Jane or pious out the other end.
    However, in this sentence, did you not mean “over” where the word used is “under”?
    I hated the idea of running under that much water and at that height. But I despised even more the thought of being a quitter, and a pansy.
    I don’t know if this can be changed, but if it can . . .
    An old time editor and lover of your work.

  • Terri

    I have to laugh on this because I visited Ocean City for the first time this July and did try to stop at the Sandy Point Park (leaving after seeing it would cost a miserable $5 to get in).
    My brother, who was on the trip with me was terrified of being over the water on the Bay Bridge, telling me not to stop on the road.
    I told him that I wasn’t going to stop in the middle, or anywhere else on there because the speed limit is 50mph. Besides, they don’t have a pull off lane anyway.
    Phobias are just the reverse of thrills.
    I enjoy being able to cross over bridges, with the thrill of a man-made miracle enabling me to be be so far up without a admission ticket.
    My fear is drowning. That is a consequence of being on such a bridge at the wrong moment.
    Choices….this is really the point of your article. You are glad that someone else made the choice for you. The race was cancelled due to windy conditions? But what if not? To complete the race, all you needed to do is look ahead and not down. To look at the sky and not look down. To look at the other racers and not look down.
    On the other side, then you can look down.

  • SuzanneWA

    Oh, Therese! You have done done it AGAIN!!! If the cop hadn’t told you the race was canceled, well, I KNOW you would have run it anyway! “The Little Engine That Could.” Yes, that’s YOU. You have more courage in your little finger than I would have had in my whole BODY…’
    Yes, we have CHOICES; but sometimes the choice is out of our hands. We CAN choose our fears (and what we do with them), just as we choose NOT to engage them. I learned from one of my many shrinks that I DID have a choice when I picked an absolutely “partner from Hell” to drive me from VA to IL for my 30th class reunion. He said, “You could have flown,” “You could have gone by yourself,” “You could have picked another partner.” Yes, but at the time, I FELT I had no other choice. To make a long story short, I almost had a relapse traveling with this partner. Since then, I HAVE learned to make choices, particularly realizing the CONSEQUENCES of my actions/choice. This realization has been SO liberating. It’s been an epiphany on how to handle my bipolar disorder; my therapist says, “You’re ‘normal,’ except when you have an episode.” YES – I CAN respond in a normal way to circumstances, and accept my choices as being what they are – normal. Let the chips fall where they may – it’s MY decision, and no one can impose on me anything I don’t want/choose to do…
    Keep up the good work; this is by far one of the best posts I’ve read from you – funny and real. Love ya.

  • Veronika

    Jeez…Therese, ROFLMAO! You are too funny. You have a gift for descriptive writing.
    I have had several experiences like yours, but failed to find the humor in it until YEARS later. I believe I have had the best luck with dealing with my fear/phobic/OCD behavior by learning how to not take myself so seriously. That has helped me lighten up on taking others so seriously…and being more compassionate. Life is so much more fun now at midlife (age 47).
    “Fighting” with the fear didn’t work for me…it just escalated things.
    I nearly put myself in a psych ward.
    It is intriguing how you were rescued from that whole experience. Wow! What a gift! But the important thing is that you faced it courageously. For that, feel proud. Psych ward? I don’t think so! You’re more grounded than you think ;)

  • Margaret Balyeat

    Therese,I can’t even drive (or ride) over Michigan’s Mackinaw Bridge if there’s a wind of any kind and can barely do it when the wind is nonexistant. Somehow i always used to visualize the kind of tragedy we witnessed not long ago in Minnesota when the bridge over the Mississippi truly DID collapse. and just knew I was hoing to end up in the lake. I’m not sure about your bridge, but every year there really ARE cars blown of our bridge when the winds gust, so they’ve taken to closing it down if the gusts reach a certain speed and dirvers must use one of the alternate routes to the upper penninsula. Strangely enough, i’ve seen irate drivers throw tantrums at not being allowed to enter the on ramp even though it’s for their own safety! Here in my town we have two drawbridges which open up to allow boats with tall masts to enter the inner harbor. I don’t really like traveling them either, although it’s not as bad. The worst one is a problem because the surface is grated and in spite of my size, I fear slipping through one of those grates and dropping into the river! I also used to fear that somehow I would be in the middle of one of those bridges when it began to open despite the knowledge that thisis exactly why there is a red light which engages whenever the mechanism to raise the bridge is turned on. (Unreasonable? You bet! Still terrifying? Absolutely! It’s only been in recent years that I can manage to drive the “chicago Skyway portion of the interstate that gets us to Chicago from MI and/ or Indiana! I’d go the other route despite the added twenty minutes it took to complete the drive. It’s not over water, but it’s WAY up there with the birds! So what if I’m late;my panties will still be dry when i arrive! (This from a woman who truly values punctuality!) Last October when I visited New York City we stayed in N.J. and had to take either a bridge or tunnel whenever entering or leaving the city. The tunnels were scary enough, but the bridges were petrifying! Had I not been so determined to take the audition test for “Who wants To Be A millionaire?”, I’d have stayed on the Jersey side the entire duration! (No, I didn’t pass!) If I go back to try again, I’m going to fly. (Yes it’s even higher, but somehow I feel safer.

  • Larry Parker

    But Therese, I just realized:
    THAT’S NOT A PICTURE OF THE BAY BRIDGE ;-P

  • Valerie

    YOU GO GIRL!!! Pushing yourself through the fear is a huge accomplishment and then at the end (or actually what is going to be the beginning–of the race), God lets you off the hook. Really, quite an accomplishment in and of itself!
    Love VAlerie

  • CLeo

    Therese, I’ve ran the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco, but won’t this year again. I will not pick this as my battle.

  • V

    Therese, you were heaven-sent with this post. Sometimes with my bipolar disorder when the grandiose notions set in I feel I am invincible. I almost made an embarassing mistake today which would have cost me a lot. Thank you for reminding me to plant my feet on the ground. God bless you.

  • Great Post

    My fear are bridges and I survived that bridge one time and I will never go over it again. I thought I was for sure going to die! It just wouldn’t end, end when you’re affraid of them, they’re even longer! Never Again, You took me right back there with this post. Not pretty.

  • kate

    Therese – best thing you’ve written in a long time! (and it’s all good from where I stand)
    Thanks for the belly laugh.
    Kate

  • Your Name

    T.
    I don’t like heights and I don’t like water but I can normally handle them in short burst. Your story reminded me of a bridge which I really don’t like, and that is in a car. The Astoria-Megler bridge sits near the mouth of the Columbia river, dividing Oregon and Washington. Starting from the Oregon side, you have the longest span of 1,232′ and clearance, at high tide, of 196′. If that were all, it wouldn’t be that bad. I can drive a two-lane bridge that far. Alas, there is more for the overall length of the bridge is 21,474′ and the rest of that length is just above the river. It doesn’t take long for the imagination to “see” the water creeping higher, up to the thin ribbon of a road you are on. The few times I have driven across there was this continuous urge to press down on the gas pedal.
    But good news for you T., there are no races across this bridge.

  • Your Name

    This couldn’t have came at a better time for me!
    I have been putting off driving to my daughters house the next state over…to see her new place and to take some items that I purchased and acquired for her new place. I wanted to drive there during the week so that the traffic wouldn’t be so bad but also wanting to have someone ride with me, incase I freak driving across a bridge. But everyone seems to work weekdays except me.
    I keep telling myself “That I can do this!!” and “That through GOD All things are possible!!” but I’m not leaving for another 12 days and the butterflies of anxiety have already started!! So, I will be dealing with alot of prayer….
    That I truely can do this!! My biggest fear is once I drive there I’ll have to drive back to get home, too!!!!
    If everyone could pray on Marcch 7, 2009 I would appreciate it in advance!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks and God Bless!!!

  • mgs

    To the mother who needs prayers,to cross the bridge to her daughters houseynuc I’ll start today and continue up to and beyond March 7th (for the ride back )

  • mgs

    just quick correction, it seems my keyboard has a mind of it’s own it should just be “house” no ynuc that came from the spam prevention box
    And by the way God Bless….

  • Your Name

    I drive this bridge twice a day, every day, for the last 22 years to work. Over the last 3 years, I am having incredible fears and panic attacks which can be down right horrible. Not sure what is triggering them, but some days it is the worse fear in the world getting on that bridge to drive to work. It is the longest 4 miles of my life. I get in the car, on the bridge, and drive in the middle lane and pray..I hope these panic attacks will soon leave as quickly as they arrived. God Bless!

  • Your Name

    Therese,
    You are absolutely hysterically funny. I was laughing so hard my husband said, “Are you OK? Is that that bipolar lady again?”
    You are so real and so generous with your sharing. You are a blessing for all of us. References to children’s stories always grab my heart. Kids level is, in my mind, often the most clear and reasonable… also the most fun and playful. Thanks for connecting us with the power of kids and stories.
    I agree; the universe was ready for your rescue and came through.
    By the way, where do you live? I live in DC area/No. VA but split my time on the Eastern Shore.
    Keep goin’ with your struggles and humor!

  • michelle

    Two scriptures come to mind:
    1. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
    2. Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
    In July of 08, I was severely burned (2nd and 3rd degree)while trying to fry chicken. The grease overheated and caught fire. Out of panic my husband and I tried to take the burning pan of grease outside when it ignited in my face. My face caught fire and the hot grease landed on my arms, hands,legs, and feet. Long story short, after spending a month in the burn center, lots of occupational and physical therapy, I was very afraid to cook when I came home. In fact I would get anxiety just going into the kitchen. When the doctor suggested psychiatric help for the “post traumatic stress”, I immediately sought God. It was through and by him and reading Joshua over and over again that I was not only able to begin cooking again, but fry chicken as well. I imagine Joshua was terrified of the task in front of him, when Moses “dropped the ball”. That is why God kept reassuring him that he would not leave him. He insisted that fear was not an option. In closing, TRUST GOD!!! He is our source for EVERYTHING!

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