Make that Bridge your Bitch

Is there a difference between the brain and the mind? A cursory web search yields countless words written on this topic by individuals far more learned than myself but for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll say yes, there’s a huge difference.

The brain is a big lump of organic tissue residing in your cranium and sometimes it makes your life hell when you’ve mistreated it, like after hammering into submission with too many shots of Malort. Your mind is that intangible thing filled with thoughts, memories and ideas that makes you, you.

We learn from countless self-help websites that the human mind showers it’s host with an average of 5 to 80-bazillion negative thoughts a day. I swear, the Mind acts like a belligerent tantrum-riddled toddler that it’s landlord, the Brain, cannot control.

How many times have you wanted to scream, “Yo, Brain, get a grip on Mind, I don’t need it’s bullshit today, after all I do for ya’ll why the constant horse shit thoughts? Ya want me to evict the both of you?”

There are countless great quotes and proverbs about the awesome properties of the mind, how it creates your reality and what not. Phobias are fears created by your mind. Another minor web search yielded no answer to how many phobias exist so I assume there are too many to count, that anything your mind can think of may be listed as a phobia.

I have acrophobia, whether it’s a mild or severe case I don’t know but I’m amazed at how real my mind creates that irrational fear.

I can walk across a narrow beam that can be anywhere from 12 to 72 inches off the ground with no problem. Why would my mind fill me with dread if that beam is higher? The beam hasn’t changed, just its position in space. At lower heights, my body knows how to walk across with every bit of confidence and competence. At loftier heights, all of a sudden my body is incompetent, incapable of accomplishing such a task without first collapsing in a quivering, questioning shitbag of goo.

At one point in time I painted houses for an occupation. Being on a ladder up in the air painting an overhang is not my idea of fun but I was able to do it. I also worked as a theatrical lighting electrician and most lights are hung in the air over a stage and to work on them one needs to be in the air on a ladder or some elevating contraption. Again, not my idea of fun but I was able to do it, to talk my cantankerous mind down from it’s panicky ledge and get on with the task at hand.

“The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste” is a record released by the band Ministry in 1989. I can’t imagine the flavor of a human brain but I do know cow and pork brains are delicious.

I remember the first panic attack. I was driving east on a tollway toward a huge sky high bridge that rises and falls severely, or as severely as a tollway can be. I’d been over this bridge a bunch of times in the past with no problem and I had never experienced any issue with driving over any bridge up until this point in my life.

My uneventful drive immediately turned into a hyperventilating exercise in torture as I waited for my car to go all Christine on me and drive off the bridge. My vision blurred, my legs shook, my hands trembled and the 45 seconds or so it takes to cross the bridge at freeway speeds now turned into an eternity.

Inserting an over-used expression:




How in the hell did my own mind turn me into a hazard on the roadway? I pulled off at the next exit to confirm that I didn’t need to wash my pants, to calm down and take mental inventory of the next big bridge on my intended route.

Along with rationalizing behavior and addictions, the mind will also employ some tricks to take it’s attention off of some phobias. (What I’m implying here is the mind may be real stupid at times.)  Dealing with this bridge phobia, as I mentioned above, that on the  ascent into skyward hell I’ve learned to not look too far ahead at the bridge, to make it very cold in my car, to open some windows for some obnoxious noise and I’d find something really stupid on the radio to listen to.

I would drive miles out of my way to avoid certain bridges and I would joke about this phobia at my own lame expense, using the tragedy of the Minnesota I-35 bridge collapse as justification.

I don’t really have any issue with the river bridges I need to cross on frequent travels. Well, that’s not true, the damn I-55 bridge into St. Louis is in a constant state of dilapidation with constant heavy traffic and I know it’ll collapse into Big Muddy right when I’m at it’s apex.

In 2006 I sent myself to the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area for some elective eduction. I’d never been to Florida so I booked a room at an Atlantic Ocean beach front hotel and rented a Ford Mustang convertible for the week as my schooling was in a suburb about 30 miles from my hotel. Might as well make the week fun, right?

Upon landing and retrieving my rental convertible I immediately put the top down and was enjoying the Florida sun and following the directions to my hotel and HOLY FUCKING SHIT I GOTTA DRIVE OVER THAT!

There is a causeway for cruise ships that separates the beaches from the mainland and because cruise ships are so damn big that means the causeway bridges rise spectacularly fast up to thousands of feet in the air, supported by toothpicks of steel that I know will immediately crumple when the weight of my car rolls over (never mind the amount of other car/truck/motorcycle traffic; I am special and my car will collapse this and every bridge).

Imagine this scene. An otherwise marginally competent looking individual in a convertible makes an emergency turn into a Starbucks and emerges from this car a sweating shaking mass and this is before driving over this causeway bridge looming thousands of feet high ahead.

I rarely drink Starbucks swill but how wonderful that cup of coffee was as I sat there, scouring maps to find a non-bridgey route to my hotel which wasn’t even a mile from where I currently was, not even 5 minutes away.

Irrational? Completely.

I did find a route that I drove later in the week for sight seeing purposes but it was about 20 miles out of my way.

With routine comes familiarity.

I had to drive over that causeway bridge several times a day for a week and because I was in southern Florida, where I’d never been, with a convertible, I always drove with the top down which created an extra element of disaster. I’d recognize the mild hyperventilating, the sweaty malaise accumulating like a cancer on my back, the buzzing in my brain as my demonized car would make the bridge ascent and I’d know it would be over soon, replaced by normalcy on the bridge descent.

The causeway bridge to my schooling was not the only hazard my mind created for me; at one point on the freeway there’s a loooooong, curving, sweeping, very high transition to the next freeway that was also painful and necessary to endure.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe…..

Not long ago I had a job and the best and most direct line of travel included the bridge that initially spawned this insipid fear of bridges. For weeks I wasted energy on thinking about that bridge, how I’d get over it, how I’d go around it, maybe I could cancel this job. For weeks I plotted alternative routes and the morning of the job I took an alternative route that cost me an extra 45 minutes due to a crap-ton of snow that had been dumped on us a day earlier. Even without the snow it would have cost a substantial amount of time wasted due to my irrational fear of a bridge.

It was an awful drive.

At quitting time, I had a choice; I could take the same stupid long route home and waste an incredible amount of time and fuel or I could just face this fear and drive over the damn bridge.

There was painfully cold beer in my refrigerator that wanted an after-work date with me so I pointed my car at that stupid bridge. More elements in my favor; it was dark and it was a bit rainy. I found a motorhome to tuck behind and concentrated on the back of it and while it wasn’t exactly quick, I made it over that damn bridge.

Nothing happened.

My car didn’t take me over the edge, the bridge didn’t disintegrate, all was fine. I crossed that bridge several more times for this job with no disasters, no collapses, no panic attacks.

I still feel some qualms of anxiety when I know there’s a bridge to cross but for the most part, I cross them with no self-imposed problems.

Learning to cross over and out of one’s comfort zone, we are told, is what helps us grow. Okay, that’s probably true but all I know is the fear one’s mind creates is almost insurmountable.

The keyword in that sentence is “almost.” There are other bridges in my daily life that I’m still learning how to cross.

If you have a bridge to cross, open a can of whup-ass on your mind and make that bridge your bitch.

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