Tuesday, February 07, 2012

a question from "bridgetown"

I have this overwhelming fear of going over bridges and have avoided certain bridges (The Fremont, the Marquam) for years. I often have nightmares in which I take a wrong exit ramp and end up on one these bridges. It is horrible. As I type this just thinking about it makes my hands sweat. I have an opportunity to do a walk in which I will have to WALK over the Fremont bridge! I have not signed up for this walk yet as I am uncertain if I should confront my fear and walk across. I would not be alone, as a friend would go with me. My question is, do we always have to confront our fears?

Thank you for your time,

Good Lord, NO! We don't always have to face our fears. After all--we do have free choice.

[For those of you who don't know, Portland--where this question originates--is known as Bridgetown because we have more than a dozen bridges crossing the Columbia and Willamette rivers.]

Phobias like yours can have different causes. What seems an "irrational" fear often makes sense once we figure out what is behind it. And if it makes sense...it's no longer irrational. Sometimes they are a result of trauma...or a scrambled nervous system...or even allergies. (Any of those can be resolved.)

Fears and phobias are not exactly the same thing, either. For example, I am "afraid of heights." I don't like being on high places without having a security device of some kind--a railing between me and the edge, something to hold onto, something to lean on, etc. For me, that is not an irrational fear because if I get too close to the edge of a high place, sometimes I experience vertigo. I have been told that the vertigo is because of how my eyes work in that situation.

Now, if I lose my balance in a high place, is it irrational to be afraid of heights without railings? I think not. On the other hand, I can climb a ladder to hang Christmas lights or clean gutters. I can climb the Astoria Column and look at the sights (while I lean against the column and don't hang over the railing). Get my drift?

Living with a phobia is no fun. It is limiting and requires a lot of planning to avoid the areas (or items) that trigger the difficult experience. So, while we do have free choice not to face our fears, they can--in turn--prevent us from having free choice. Fortunately, many phobias can be treated effectively in a short period of time if you find a treater who knows what she is doing.

The way I look at it, if you treat the phobia and get a handle on it, you may still choose not to cross bridges--but then it is a true choice. Or, once the phobia is taken care of, bridges may become a non-issue and you might not think twice about crossing.

Do we have to face our fears? No. We have free choice. But if we have fears or phobias that keep us stuck do we truly have the ability to choose freely?

I think there is hope for your situation, if you choose to pursue a resolution.

Good luck. Let me know if I can be of help.


Kathryn Grace said...

What a wonderful answer. So clear. I hope your reader lets us know whether s/he took that walk across the bridge, and if she did, how it turned out for her, either way. One thing is certain, whatever decision she makes, it will be the right one for her at that time.

Deb Shucka said...

This was so cool to read! I forget how wise and insightful you are, and this brought all that right to the front. Because of my fear of heights, I climbed Angel's Landing in Zion (very high, very scary), and since then that fear has much less power over me.