Achilles was a Greek hero. When he was a baby, his mother was warned that he would die young. To protect him, she dipped him in the River Styx because it was said to provide strength and invulnerability. However, she held him by his heel, leaving him unprotected there.
As an adult, he became a great warrior. Despite his strength and power, the prophecy was fulfilled when he was struck in the vulnerable heel with a poison arrow.
In our time, we know this story through the phrase Achilles heel, which refers to a weak spot or vulnerability.
All of us have one. There’s some physical condition or circumstance in your life, that despite your best efforts, you can’t defeat it. All the prayer, affirmations, counseling, and meditation hasn’t changed it. What do you do?
I have two such circumstances in my life. One is an auto-immune disease called Addison’s Disease. It’s one of those 1 in a 100,000 diseases. JFK had it too, but it’s very rare. Even treating it, I often find myself short on energy or needing a nap in the middle of the day, particularly as I get older. I live with this every day. I’m fortunate that my condition is not as severe as some with the disease. Still, it takes a toll and gives me a mountain to climb each day.
My second Achilles Heel is a profound difficulty in swallowing many foods. This began when I was 15. I nearly choked to death and became very afraid of eating many foods. This led to massive and regular panic attacks throughout my teens and 20s. I had no life, no confidence. I was going nowhere fast.
Imagine having a fear like this that you have to face three times a day every day. Not only that, it’s a fear that the people around you don’t understand because eating is a source of joy and togetherness for them. It really isolated me from the experiences of other people.
These two issues came together when I was 25. I became extremely ill and weak. I was not able to eat or drink. I could not walk across a room. When I would receive change back at a store, I had to count it several times to make sure none of the coins had become lodged in my throat. That’s how bad it was.
I wound up spending two stints in the hospital totaling about three months. This is when the phobia and the Addison’s crossed paths. I was diagnosed with Addison’s and had to face my fear of eating. Early in my stay, I couldn’t even swallow a sip of apple juice.
Everything about my life changed during that time. I often say that my life started over. I emerged from that situation as a seeker of the meaning of life. That was a passion of mine at an early age, but the years of phobia had stolen it from me.
Today, I still struggle with this phobia, as do hundreds of thousands of others. A trip to a restaurant is always a balance of enjoyment and terror. I have managed to mitigate it and make peace with it over the years. The panic attacks are fewer and farther between than they used to be, and not as severe or long-lasting. I’ve learned techniques to get them under control or even hide them from others.
I’m proud of how far I’ve come. 30 years ago it looked like this would dominate my life. I thought I’d never have a career or a family. After years of hard struggle, I decided I didn’t want my life to be a constant battle over this issue. Defeating it might have been possible. It also might have consumed my life.
I didn’t want that and so I made peace with it. I learned to mitigate it and live with it. Even people close to me don’t always understand it. It’s just so foreign to their experience. I have learned to understand that and mitigate this discomfort in others. I often will fix my own food. I can do restaurants (some with this condition literally cannot), but it’s never easy.
There, I’ve laid myself bare. I have shared this issue with people close to me, but I’ve never written about it publicly. The affirmations, meditation, and prayer became tools of mitigation and co-existence.
I’ve accomplished and overcome much in my life. It’s not that I don’t know how to beat a challenge. However, some things are just our Achilles Heel in this life. The best we can do with it is to refuse to allow it to stop us from living our lives. That’s been my victory over this.
What’s your Achilles Heel? Have you defeated it, mitigated it, or are you still in battle with it? I’d love to hear your experiences below.
Power hack: Today’s power hack is that victory over your deepest challenges does not mean you have to completely banish them. That would be nice and I hope you will. Don’t beat yourself up if some things are just meant to be your challenges. You can still grow from them and most of all, while they cause you angst, you don’t have to let them bring your life to a halt. Find ways to live your life despite them.
Most of all, your Achilles Heel does not define you. You are a one-in-a-trillion miracle. Don’t let your challenges steal your light. Shine on!