Sisyphus and the Seed

MAY. 16, 2016

By Marcella Allison

sisyphus-(1).JPGThere are so many times in the last five years when I’ve felt like Sisyphus in the ancient myth, condemned to roll a giant boulder uphill over and over again. Anyone who has a loved one with mental illness knows how it feels. Our son goes on and off his medications and in and out of mania, psychosis and psychiatric hospitals and treatment centers. Every time we think we’ve finally reached the summit, the boulder comes rolling back down the hill to crush us.

We want so much to believe that if we just keep pushing that boulder up the hill—if we hire the best doctors, chase down the latest drugs and enroll in the right programs—eventually we will reach some glorious summit and all our hard work will be worth it.

But what I am realizing after five years of trying to push this boulder uphill is that helping my son and healing our family doesn’t have to become some endless Sisyphean task. It doesn’t have to become a seemingly futile effort to reach the summit. Instead of fighting my son, the health care system and the disease itself, I can be like this clever tree.

That tiny seed didn’t try to push the boulder uphill. It simply settled on a small patch of dirt on top of the boulder and rooted itself. Slowly, day by day, its roots crept over and around the boulder in a gentle embrace until the boulder became the foundation upon which a mighty tree could grow.

Some days it is enough to share a cup of coffee and a short conversation with my son. To simply be together as best we can. To find some moment of light and joy. To have just one good day. Maybe it’s taking him to the grocery store and rocking out to a song on the radio, going to a movie together or getting a short text message at the end of the day saying, “I love you, Mom.”

Every moment, every glimpse of grace roots us here together. We may never get to the summit, but we can grow into a rich and beautiful family tree. We can embrace the boulder and make it part of our strength instead of something that crushes us.

This is the gift of NAMI. To take an often difficult and painful struggle with mental illness and transform it into something beautiful. NAMI helps us to find hope, to see the beauty in our loved ones and to find meaning in this journey. Without NAMI, dealing with mental illness truly would become an endless and futile task. Please join us in donating to NAMI today and help keep this burden from crushing the 1 in 5 Americans and their families who live with mental illness.


Marcella Allison is a writer and NAMI Family-to-Family participant in Cincinnati, Ohio. She finds strength and hope in writing about her family’s journey with mental illness and addiction.


MAY, 31, 2016 12:31:51 AM
Brett Wilson
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MAY, 27, 2016 01:29:19 PM
Wonderfully put. I think we sometimes lose sight of what's really important in our relationships with our loved ones and try to push our own expectations onto them of where we think they should be. Enjoy the special moments and know that sometimes all you can do is be there for your loved one and support them as best you can. We as caregivers are the roots of their tree!

MAY, 27, 2016 01:30:11 AM
Thank you for writing this article. I like the image of parents as wise trees, rooted deep into rocks and able to weather life's storms while giving shade and shelter to those we love.

MAY, 26, 2016 08:02:38 AM
I am a person who suffers from mental illness. Because of NAMI I have meet many amazing people. Life has not been easy for them but they manage to persevere. I love your image of the tree lovingly embracing the bolder. The tree is not pushing against the bolder trying to force it to roll away. Rather it tries to coexist with the bolder so that it can continue to trive. Life experiences can be seen not as success or failure but a cycle of ups and downs and the possibility of personal growth. Wonderfully written.

MAY, 25, 2016 11:04:24 PM
Mary Frances
Thank you for your sharing. This past weekend was a huge boulder with Gods presence we made through. It is so true to take one day at a time. I try hard to respect my sons thoughts and most important not to take it personal . Their insight is part of their illness so we apply the LEAP method. Listening empathetic , come to some kind of agreement and partnership. I had to change my behavior to understand how my son thinks. He has a beautiful mind and I love him forever

MAY, 25, 2016 09:28:01 PM
sue gibbs
Janet, I am so sorry that your daughter has lost her job . My son has had many jobs, usually for just a few weeks at a time . It is so frustrating for him but he perseveres . He is 27 .

MAY, 25, 2016 08:49:33 PM
I am a mother with two bi polar grown adults. They both stay on meds, eat properly, have jobs, or are in school, and are happy. They see their illness as a gift. They are both extremely smart and gifted and doing what they want with their lives. It was a 5 year struggle to find right *****tail and push bolder up hill to find the best attitude to deal with life and it's roller coaster challenges. Hope you all work with doctors who listen.

MAY, 21, 2016 08:01:26 AM
How awesome your description is! I really like how you describe the tree growing around the boulder or stone. I picture the mental illness or the mentally ill person as the stone, and the family as the tree. Stones are very strong and I think it's important to build on the strengths of the mentally ill person. And what is built upon that, is the tree! Thank you

MAY, 20, 2016 07:22:39 AM
Beautiffuly written analogy and. Inspirational. As a grandmother of. 20 year old bright beautiful man I can empathize
Today I am taking him back to live with his mother who is not well either. Sad day indeed. Because I am fairly certain he will have problems with her as before. This is about the fifth time in three years he has insisted on moving to or from her life.
My thirty year marriage ended and I haven't been able to have a social life due to the bipolar disorder he struggles with overlapping into my activities. Choices are slim, but I will be in as long as I am living, my grand baby he will be.
Thank you for your wisdom.

MAY, 19, 2016 04:22:26 PM
Desiree Woodland
My son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but died by suicide nine months after the diagnosis. I often recall feeling like Sisyphus as I tried to provide the help he needed, but I didn't know enough. Your story brought tears to my eyes and I remember reeling between frustration at my inability to understand what was happening to him, and the giant love for him that I held in my heart and would overflow with gratitude because I got to spend time with him over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Maybe no words were spoken, just being together. Those memories are what I have left... that and the advocacy work I do to teach youth about symptoms of mental illness without shame so they can get treatment early enough before mental illness becomes chronic or ends in suicide.

MAY, 19, 2016 02:26:06 PM
Nancy Ashman
Your blog has inspired me to get out of bed today and face another trying day

MAY, 19, 2016 10:46:56 AM
Nancy J. VanTwistern
My Grandson, Matthew, could bring smiles even when he was being 'naughty'. He had a way about him that kept you from being angry with him. Right now I'm smiling thinking about times we spent together and his Mother, my daughter, who lost her son. If you are a 'believer' you know he has gone to a better place and isn't suffering anymore.

MAY, 19, 2016 10:41:19 AM
Nancy J. VanTwistern
Brought back memories of my Grandson, Matt. He was such an imp and with his smile I could not stay annoyed with him. Oft' times, when he comes into my mind, I smile and remember!

MAY, 18, 2016 07:05:42 PM
Susan Kagan
This is very beautifully written and an uplifting way to think about dealing with mental illness. I think it will be a great resource to bring to the family to family classes that I help facilitate. Thank you.

MAY, 17, 2016 06:25:31 PM
Thank you for this article. Our 37 year old daughter just got knocked down by another boulder and this is a good reminder that we've been here before and things will work out again, eventually.

MAY, 17, 2016 06:16:11 PM
Jean Rummelhoff
Thank you. I'm feeling the same way.

MAY, 17, 2016 02:31:49 PM
Thank you for this insightful article. Our daughter has just been pushed back down the mountain. She is 37 years old and was diagnosed bipolar during law school. She has never been able to practice, but did have a job. She was fired two weeks ago.

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