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Gephyrophobia Is Common In Maryland Thanks To The Bay Bridge

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Thousands of drivers cross the Bay Bridge every day but for some people, that trip means high anxiety. A bridge phobia can turn a drive over the Chesapeake Bay into a nightmare.

Jessica Kartalija investigates their fears and whether anything can help.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is one of the longest, highest bridges. It's also one of the most feared.

"I have this dream about a bridge that goes up and never comes down," said one driver. "My fear is when I start to feel dizzy that I will pass out. My legs were shaking. Everything about it makes me nervous."

Travel and Leisure magazine just ranked it one of the scariest in the world.  Up there with bridges in Michigan and Colorado, even a shaky footbridge in Japan.

"The Bay Bridge is one of the longest, most oddly constructed bridges," said Dr. Una McCann, Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. McCann, director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins hospital says gephyrophobia, or fear of bridges, is very common, especially here in Maryland because of the Bay Bridge.

"There's a sharp turn. It's really long. It's very open. It can sway if it's windy," McCann said.

Is it a fear of falling? Is it a fear that something is going to happen to them?

"Usually people are afraid that they will pass out or have a heart attack or become incapacitated while crossing the bridge and get in a crash," McCann said.

What about when people say this is really no big deal?

"It's certainly not minor to the individual because when you're having a panic attack the general feeling is that you're about to die," McCann said.

A Baltimore County woman who wants to remain anonymous grew up without a fear of driving across the Bay Bridge.

But after having children, those routine trips took a dramatic turn.

"I started having panic attacks when I drove across the bridge," she said.

Kartalija: "What would happen to you?  What do you mean panic attacks?"

Woman: "Just feeling dizzy, light-headed, anxious."

"I don't just have to worry about myself," she continued. "I have these lives that I have to make sure they're safe."

Like hundreds of others each year, she's turned to a shuttle service.

For $25, a driver hops behind the wheel of your car to take you across the Bay Bridge.

Kartalija: "You've had some crazy requests in the past."

"I had a guy who wanted me to put him in the trunk, which of course we denied. I've had ladies who have to lay down and put blankets over their heads," said Alex Robinson, Kent Island Express.

But it's a serious problem. If people want to get over their fear of bridges, they have to face it.

"Basically you learn. You re-learn that no, this isn't a terrifying, horrible situation that I can't handle. This is something I can handle," McCann said.

The Maryland Transportation Authority used to drive people across the Bay Bridge who were afraid to drive themselves but it no longer provides that service.

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