Therapeutic Torture

For as long as I can remember, I have been having terrible nightmares about the Tappan Zee Bridge.

For my non-Tri-State Area readers (because believe it or not, WordPress says I have readers from places like Korea, Venezuela, and Brunei!), this Bridge crosses the Hudson River just a wee bit above New York City. It is the longest bridge in New York at about 3 miles. As a child, I had to cross it at least twice a month in my parents’ car to get back and forth to my grandmother’s house. As an adult, I used to have to cross it to get back and forth to work every day. Used to because I have added a few miles to my commute so that I can avoid that bridge. Not because of the horrible traffic that it comes with- there is traffic no matter what way you go in this little corner of NY- but because I hate that bridge with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

I’ve had basically the same dream, each and every time, but with tiny little variations here and there. Here is what the general idea of it is:

I’m driving along all happy happy. I get to the bridge and begin to cross. Then the half of the bridge that I have not yet gotten to crumbles into the murky Hudson. Occasionally, the part behind me falls away, as well. No matter the extent of the damage, I still have to get to the other side of the river. Sometimes I have to try to climb across random pieces of concrete or metal beams. Sometimes I need to jump in the river (from the highest portion of the span, of course) and swim across. Either way, it terrifies me. I panic at the edge of the bridge. I can’t jump and I can’t stay. Simple things like hopping from rock to rock become impossible. When I get into the water, I suddenly can’t swim. The Hudson transforms into a wider river or an ocean of high waves and sharks and jellyfish.

The nightmares are very real and very intense. My husband usually knows when I am having one because I cry and whimper in my sleep. I am petrified of bridges in real life because of this recurrent nightmare (Gephyrophobia – try to use it in a sentence today!) All bridges. Even tiny little foot bridges over little rivulets hiking trails. I can climb 75 feet straight up a Crevice (Lemon Squeeze) in the Shawangunk Mountains, only to totally freak out when I have to use a meter-long bridge to cross over the Crevice. WTF? Not cool.

When forced to use the actual bridge, I CANNOT drive in the far right lane. When I was little, I’d cry if my dad drove over there. Who am I kidding? I still get upset if I have to be over there. And let’s not even discuss what happens if I get stuck in traffic on that bridge. Full blown panic attacks. Heart racing. White knuckles on the steering wheel. Tears pouring from my face. I’ve been close to just jumping out of the car and running, but then if the bridge did fall I’d be a squishy little human amidst thousands of tons of cars, trucks, and debris.  No, safer to stay in my car. That stupid bridge is such a negative stimulus to my poor little amygdala, that I am typing extra fast right now just so that I can scroll away from that picture up there ^.

Oh, and do you want to hear (read) an extra bit of freakiness about my nightmare? I’ve probably been having it since I was in the womb. How do I know this? One day when I was all grown up, my mom told me I looked tired. I told her about the nightmare that I have all the time that disrupts my happy little REM sleepytime. I had never told her about it before. She told me that she has had the same exact dream since she was a teenager!

Queue Rod Serling

What the hell kind of crazy must a dream be that, that it can pass through the placenta! Sorry in advance, Xavier. I think I had the nightmare while carrying you.

So why I am I posting about this? Because I think that the Super Spartan Race that I did last month has helped me beat the fear that has gripped me for my entire life. As mentioned in a previous post, the Super made me jump off of an 18-foot cliff into an awaiting pool. It wasn’t easy. I was scared out of my brain. The drop felt like an eternity but it did end and I felt like Magellan must have when he kept sailing and sailing and didn’t fall off the edge of the world.

For the first time since the cliff jump, I had my nightmare again. Last week, actually. It was the same kind of situation. Bridge collapses. I’m left on top to get back over to the Rockland side. But I didn’t panic. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t cry. In my dream, I walked up to the mangled edge of the bridge, looked over and just jumped. I landed in the water and started swimming like a dolphin. I woke up from my dream calmly before reaching the other side. No whimpering. No pool of sweat.

I haven’t tried driving over the Tappan Zee since then. I don’t feel like paying the toll just to test my hypothesis. Also still don’t want to risk being stuck there, phobic breakthrough or not. Maybe one day when there shouldn’t be any traffic, I’ll go home over the TZ (no toll in that direction) and see what happens.

The bridge is being replaced soon. Governor Cuomo’s engineers say that the  bridge is unsafe. If they decide to destroy the original bridge, I will be there to watch. Maybe my mom and I will have a picnic on the banks of the Hudson and watch it all come down for real, with our feet firmly planted on solid ground.