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.”