By Marcella Allison
There 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.
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741
Find Your Local NAMI