Achilles’ Heel: A Physical Weakness Beyond Our Control

We all know the story of Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War. His mother dipped him in the river Styx to make him immortal, but where she held him (his heel) was left vulnerable. He was later killed when Paris shot him in the heel with an arrow. Had Achilles been intelligent enough to wear a boot or some sort of protective gear over his heel, the legends might have been quite different!

Everyone has an Achilles’ Heel, some physical weakness they cannot control. Some people faint at the sight of blood. Some fall to pieces at the slightest pain. Some have panic attacks (which have a mental aspect but can be triggered by purely physical stimuli).

Me, it’s my stomach. Overall, I have a strong stomach. I never got stomach bugs as a kid. Threw up twice my entire life, and both were because of food poisoning. So when my stomach does act up, I shatter. I can’t concentrate and everything becomes a huge effort. I can handle pain or limited mobility (although gore makes me queasy) but when my stomach goes crazy, I just want to curl up and cry.

And my stomach goes haywire for no reason. What I assume is acid reflux blindsides me from time to time. No change in diet or exercise, just severe reflux of unknown origin. At those times, I feel like I can’t even force water down, the upward pressure is so bad. And the nausea and burning in the throat make me cry. When this idiopathic acid reflux strikes, it can take me weeks to get back to normal.

Which of course makes me think that my characters all should have an Achilles’ Heel. A food allergy. A fear of needles. Vertigo. The Achilles’ Heel should be picked with care—something that seems harmless at first, but eventually plays a major role in beating the overwhelming final obstacles.

When thinking of weaknesses in characters, I tend to think of mental or emotional wounds. But I can increase conflict by adding a physical weakness out of my character’s control—a betrayal of his own body.

What are some more Achilles’ Heels that would be fun to use in a story?

When A Bridge Phobia Isn’t A Bridge Phobia

My earlier post about my growing fear of heights, particularly bridges, resonated with a lot of people. While I have always believed that this disorientation has a biological cause (since it happened gradually and I didn’t experience it when I was young), I couldn’t be sure. Because when you battle anxiety disorder (or any other mental issue where your mind betrays you on a regular basis), you start to second guess yourself, and wonder if it really is “all in your head.” (I hate that phrase, because even if it is “all in your head” the effects are still devastating and the battle to overcome the demon just as hard if not harder than a physical issue.)

So. I have always thought my problems might be physical, and this past week I went to my eye doctor. Since one of the coping mechanisms that seems to help with the bridge phobia is using the sun visor to cut off a large part of my field of vision, I wondered if it could be eye-related. So I asked the eye doctor. Turns out, she knew all about it from personal experience.

She said there are several biological roots of what I am describing (and that it is surprisingly common). One is an eye condition (which she checked for and I do not have). The others are a brain condition that is basically a migraine that makes you dizzy rather than causing a migraine headache. She has this condition, which manifests as unpredictable episodes, and can be so bad that she will actually fall down while standing perfectly still.

The third biological cause is ear-related. Sometimes it is inner ear, sometimes it originates in the Eustachian tubes. I believe this to be my issue, as my disorientation is highly consistent (not sporadic like hers), altitude seems to play a role, and I know your inner ear changes as you age. My eye doctor told me to see an ENT, and he will do a whole battery of vertigo testing to see what stimuli makes me disoriented, and the results will let them know the cause and point to a treatment.

My eye doctor said treatment can be anything from learning more effective coping mechanisms to physical therapy to medication. It depends on the root cause and the severity of its impact on your life.

I was thrilled to hear that I was NOT imagining this issue, and that there may be a way to rectify it! While I talked mostly about my fear of bridges, I also have trouble driving the highway, especially at night and/or in the rain, when visibility is poor. Also, the disorientation tends to trigger panic attacks, which then intensifies the disorientation, which then magnifies the panic, and so on in a vicious cycle. Finally, if this is an inner ear/Eustachian tube issue, it might explain why I have been having issues while flying. I am not actively afraid of flying, and the first few times I flew I had no problems. Yet over the past few years, as this disorientation has been growing, I have suffered massive panic attacks on almost every flight I took. The only exception was one flight where they must have gotten the cabin pressure just right, because takeoff did not involve all the ear-popping pressure changes one normally feels. And on that one flight, where my ears were not disturbed, I had no panic issues, no disorientation, nothing. Interesting, isn’t it?

Come the New Year, I will be making an ENT appointment. To think that I could once again cross bridges without fear, or not worry about when and where I drive, and fly without shaking the entire flight is almost too much to hope for. But the New Year is all about fresh starts, and this may be a whole new beginning in my life.

For those of you who let me know that you suffer similarly, perhaps this information can be the start of a whole new beginning for you, too.

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