Sunday 27 June 2010

Story 8

Cartographies of Constraint

My parents always criticised me for my fear of bridges, which I now know is called ‘gephyrophobia’. We lived so close to Waterloo Bridge my parents were exasperated by the limitations my phobia created, by what they characterised as my ‘scenes’ and ‘tantrums’ every time we crossed to the North. I didn’t want to be criticised for my fear of bridges. I wanted them to accommodate it, but this was not possible. My father would carry me across the bridge screaming. My mother would stride across it, leaving me to choose between the twin horrors of bridge crossing or maternal abandonment. At about the age of five I began to devise strategies that would nowadays be characterised as tantamount to a neurotic compulsion, but which at the time I found absorbing and satisfactorily distracting.

Tunnels have never disturbed me. I could cycle to Greenwich and cross under the Thames, or, if I had the money take the underground from Waterloo to Embankment. It fascinated me to learn that London has not always been resplendent with bridges, until relatively late in its history I would have been able to traverse north and South via myriad ferries, and thence drawn no attention to my phobia. But, as the London of my youth was, as far as I was concerned, over accommodated with bridges, I began necessarily to impose a range of restrictions and complex procedures upon myself, like an inverted version of the Bridges of Göttingen problem. I challenged myself to move through London with the maximum amount of riverine proximity without actually crossing any bridges. Though I have no liking for railway or motorway bridges, it is particularly bridges over bodies of water that terrify me. But my permutations and schedules of algorithms somehow mitigated my fear. In this way I gradually also eroded my desire for parental praise. My parents had no appreciation for my search algorithms so instead I sought praise from myself and lived in fear of my own disapprobation. I was like a rat who had built a maze for himself from which I desperately needed to escape, by exhausting all sets of combinations. A problem I am still trying to solve.

Lesson: What seems like a solution to one problem can cause even more inconvenience than the originating predicament.


The New York Thruway Authority will lead gephyrophobiacs over the Tappan Zee Bridge. A driver can call the authority in advance and arrange for someone to drive the car over the bridge for them. The authority performs the service about six times a year.[
^ a b c Foderaro, Lisa W. (January 8, 2008). "To Gephyrophobiacs, Bridges Are a Terror.". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-08. "Mrs. Steers, 47, suffered from a little-known disorder called gephyrophobia, a fear of bridges. And she had the misfortune of living in a region with 26 major bridges, whose heights and spans could turn an afternoon car ride into a rolling trip through a haunted house."
^ "Gephyrophobia: A Fear Of Crossing Bridges. Even Before The Minnesota Collapse, Many Have Severe Phobia About Bridges.". CBS News. August 10, 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-08. "The monster she fears is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland. At four miles (6 km) long and 185 feet (56 m) high, Ayers says the thought of driving the bridge - with the way it rises straight in the air - raises a sense of panic in her."
^ "Reasonable fear or bridge phobia?". USA Today. August 8, 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-08. "Jerilyn Ross, a psychotherapist and president of the Anxiety Disorder Association of America, notes that phobias are more than just being afraid of a certain object; they are marked by panic. Someone with gephyrophobia is afraid of panicking on a bridge, not necessarily the bridge itself, she says."

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