Bridges are his nightmare. The collapse of Baltimore made that a reality.

On Tuesday, as the country was gripped by the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude learned from two of his clients in California that they each suffer from acrophobia. the fear of heights. They told the Stanford Clinical Professor of Medicine that they were trying to find out if they had crossed the bridge on previous trips to the East Coast.

This adds to their anxiety because it’s showing them that their fear of bridges and their fear of heights is unreasonable that this could have happened to them when they were on that bridge, Aboujaoude said.

The horrifying scene of an out-of-control cargo ship collapsing a 185-foot-high bridge has caused anxiety in people who struggle with various fears, including claustrophobia, amaxophobia (driving) and gefirophobia (crossing bridges ). It’s not a far leap to watch the video of the collapse and imagine yourself falling into the Patapsco River. For some, it seems like a bad dream come true.

Retired sales executive Dave Scarangella, 67, wrote in X on Tuesday that the Key Bridge collapse was his recurring nightmare in real life. She has panic attacks on high bridges, she wrote, and more than a dozen people responded to share their own fears.

“I don’t know if it’s an innate fear of control, that somehow the car is going to turn right and dive into the water or something,” Scarangella said in an interview Wednesday, noting that the fear really take to the top It doesn’t make any sense.

Take lengths to avoid bridges

Bridges are part of everyday life for many. They take into account our holidays and vacations. People like Scarangella, of Ashburn, Va., can chart an elaborate course to avoid an anxiety-inducing crossing.

Aboujaoude said the commute for a patient is three hours instead of the 30 minutes it would take using a bridge. Scarangella said he has delegated bridge driving to colleagues and family members for years. It has avoided the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the Bay Bridge in Maryland. Family getaways are carefully planned.

Where we choose to vacation will not have a high bridge, he said. And if we happened upon one, we’d look at a map and drive by it.

On several bridges around the country, nervous drivers can hand over their car keys to a professional driver. Escort programs are run by a mix of bridge operators and private transportation companies.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in Virginia has been helping nervous drivers since at least the 1990s. In 2006, authorities formalized the free program, which is available year-round.

We get as many calls in the middle of the night as we do in the middle of the day, Corporal Spencer Parks said.

Tourists must book in advance, preferably 24 hours before arrival time. They will meet an emergency crew worker at either end of the bridge and pay the toll ($16 or $21, depending on the season). If a crew member is not available, their other responsibilities include driving destroyers and assisting at the toll booth, a police officer could take the wheel.

Edward Spencer, the director of operations and police chief for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District, said 500 to 600 people request an escort each year. Spencer, who answered the phone Tuesday night, said he highly doubts the Key Bridge collapse will cause an increase in calls.

Drivers can help you cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge into Maryland from the Kent Island Express, allowing you to relax and enjoy the ride and view. The service, which is not affiliated with the Maryland Transportation Authority, costs $40 cash and $50 by credit card during regular business hours, according to the website. Drivers must give at least one hour’s notice.

Patty MacEwan, 60, used the Kent Island Express a couple of years ago when she needed to attend a work meeting on the east coast. She said it was worth the cost. Although short concrete bridges don’t bother her much, she has trouble driving on bridges with grates where the water is visible and long bridges.

It was a windy day when he used the service, and I thought to myself, God, I’m so glad you did this, he said. Because I have passed this bridge before and it is an experience for me.

MacEwan, now retired from nonprofit fundraising, called the company and scheduled a meeting, then followed up when she was nearby. A young woman entered the Chevrolet Spark at a point near the bridge; another employee followed, and the driver stopped near a business on the other side, where MacEwan again took over.

Very efficient, said MacEwan, who was living in Alexandria, Va., at the time and now lives in upstate New York. He remembers complimenting the driver on how well he was doing, even if he wasn’t technically watching what was happening. I probably closed my eyes, he said.

The 440-foot-tall Delaware Memorial Bridge, which spans the Delaware River, offers a similar program. Travelers, who should call 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time, will be directed to a safe location where they can wait for an officer. Dispatcher Dionna Glasglow said they typically get a bump in calls during the holidays and on extreme weather days with excessive wind or rain or spectacularly sunny days.

Summer is a big time for us, he said.

The service is free, but the car owner must pay a $5 toll.

The roughly five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, has offered an assistance program for nervous drivers since the 1980s. Partly to blame for those nerves: high winds, which can trigger warnings and closures and cause the bridge to move.

Anytime, any day of the week, drivers can request that a bridge employee drive their car over the Mighty Mac.

The service was suspended in the early days of the pandemic, but returned in late 2021. At the time, officials had reviewed the cost of the previously free program and decided that users would have to pay. The cost now: $10 plus tolls per trip, rising to $15 in 2025. The average cost to provide the service is about $33 per trip, according to the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

Overcoming fears through exposure

Fear of bridges can be a singular phobia or a bundle of anxieties, such as driving, heights, loss of control, confined spaces or mistrust of infrastructure. The type of bridge could also trigger a panic attack.

For some people, it’s how high the bridges are. For other people, it’s the structure of the bridge, or the length, or whether it’s over water, said Martin Antony, a professor of psychology at Toronto Metropolitan University. Of course, there are people who are afraid of all bridges.

Robert Dupont, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University, said he did not encounter patients who feared a bridge collapse. They were afraid of their own behavior while driving across a bridge like jumping off it.

It’s a common phobia, he said, adding that it’s one of the phobias that people keep secret. Driving over a bridge becomes something they won’t do. this [collapse] it can make people face each other again.

Antony, who wrote a book about overcoming fears, said the most effective and evidence-based therapy involves exposure. He takes his clients to bridges, where the patient or a friend of the individual will repeatedly drive over the structure. The idea is to exorcise the fear by normalizing the experience.

We will go back and forth long enough for people to know that what is predicted will not happen, he said. Their fear usually subsides over time.

The only treatment is to do it, DuPont said. You have to get on the bridge and do it often. Peace is on the other side of fear.

For the cognitive segment of therapy, Aboujaoude uses rationalization techniques, such as pointing out how her clients’ worst fears rarely materialize. For the behavioral part of the treatment, you will safely and gradually expose them to their fears using virtual reality and other technologies.

He said the bridge escort programs are a Band-Aid, but not a long-term solution. The traveler will not always have this service or the time or the logistics to avoid the bridges. To banish their fears, they must face them head-on.

A small minority of acrophobia patients actually seek treatment, he said. Most of them deal with it through avoidance.

Scarangella, the retired Virginia executive, said he has watched videos of bridge rides with an interest in trying to heal himself and found his heart rate increased after watching it. He is skeptical that more treatment will help.

The only thing a therapist could do for me is drive me across the bridge, he said.

Marlene Cimons contributed to this report.

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