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  • Writer's picturesarahfishburnrober

The Story of Achilles

We all have our own Achilles’ heel, by which I mean our own specific point of weakness, that spot that when pressed, hurts more than any other. In Greek myth, Achilles’ weakness was literal. His mother, holding him by one of his heels, dipped him in the river Styx when he was a baby because she believed its waters would render him invulnerable. Indeed, he was undefeatable until Paris, at the end of the Trojan war, shot him with an arrow - in the heel - and killed him.

Nowadays, our idea of an Achilles’ heel is metaphorical. The notion conveys anything that makes us feel vulnerable and exposed, and which could lead to our downfall, or in more psychological terms, our collapse and disintegration, or less alarmingly but no less significant, our discomfort or unhappiness.

The Corona virus crisis is forcing many of us to recognise our Achilles’ heel. If we were lonely in our pre-Corona worlds, we will be awakened again to our terrible fear of being alone. If our relationships were unsatisfactory, or our identity was built on professional status alone, or we worshipped at the modern altars of money or leisure or even of our own children, then now, more than ever, we are being forced to recognise our weak spots.

There is an alternative path, of course, which involves distracting ourselves by online parties, workouts, theatre shows and so on, all of which are proliferating at astonishing speed. Like most things, there is nothing wrong with these in moderation.

An existential counsellor will contend, though, that at some point, life is going to force us to confront the reality of our existence and the things we so desperately want to avoid. It’s what therapy’s for; we must find our “project,” as Sartre called it, to propel us forwards into a life of greater authenticity and freedom. If you are lonely or afraid or suicidal in these unprecedented times, the antidote is the comfort, communion and compassion of another human being, one who is prepared to roll up their sleeves and dive deep, and who is well acquainted with her own Achilles’ heel, and therefore well placed to accept, explore and help you come to terms with yours.

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