Sisyphus Syndrome

Have you ever felt like Sisyphus?  In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the incorrigible king of Corinth who was condemned to hard labor for all eternity.  His task was to roll a stone up a hill only to have it roll back down once he reached the summit and his energy was spent.  

Not that I am calling you incorrigible. Rather I wonder if you feel like Sisyphus as you go about your life. Like Sisyphus and his ever-needing-to-be-carried boulder, do you feel the heaviness of the burdens of responsibility coupled with the futility of repeating the same thing time and time again?  Do you feel like Sisyphus as your life repeats itself with worry, lack of sleep, too much to do in too short amount of time and with life situations and decisions spinning out of control?

Sisyphus  by Titan, 1549.  Museo Nacional del Prado. This is a photograph of a faithful production of a 2-D work of art. 

Sisyphus by Titan, 1549.  Museo Nacional del Prado. This is a photograph of a faithful production of a 2-D work of art. 

There are many people whom I know and love who suffer from the Sisyphus syndrome.  The syndrome begins mildly by agreeing to carry a small responsibility such as a few volunteer days, a couple of social outings, membership in a group or class, a change in work schedule, an increase of job responsibilities, a commitment to assist friends or family.  Before one realizes it, one has come down with a full case of the Sisyphus syndrome;  extreme tiredness, exhaustion and feelings of futility due to the repeated carrying of boulders of responsibility which never seem to get placed or resolved.

I think all of us at one time feel the pressures of a heavy boulder/burden.  We carry it all by ourselves, up a steep hill only to watch it roll back down. Try and try as we might we can never get the boulder to stay in place.  Our burdens never seem to be lifted, if anything there appears to be more burdens to carry.  If we are not careful the boulder can smother us on its descent. 

What to do about it?  Is life a Sisyphus situation?  Can we ever break the cycle? Can we ever feel that we have shouldered our burdens and have now earned a place of reprieve or rest from that particular one?

I think it takes some soul searching and some answering of tough questions:

Do you want to continue life as you know it?  Just like the pattern of Sisyphus, life will continue as it always does.  That is one of the universal laws of motion: a body in motion stays in motion.  We will continue the path we have chosen unless we choose differently.  Do you want to stay on your current path?  For how long?  For this week?  For this month?  For this year?   For the next five or ten years?

How do you want things to be? We may truly want to be busy, to volunteer, to work, to have an active social life.  We may want to carry the boulders of responsibility. The question becomes what would be the ideal?  How many boulders can we carry?  When can we lay them down? What type of balance do you want in your life? 

How will you go about changing?   How will you go about moving towards the way you would like life to be?  Can you make some small changes in your life, e.g. only participate in one weekly group, that move you toward your ideal? 

  • Perhaps ridding yourself of the Sisyphus syndrome means that you have to make bigger changes.  If it is your job that is making you feel that life is futile, can you prepare for changing jobs?  Updating your resume? Finding out what other types of jobs are available? Taking classes or training that prepares you for a new position?
  • Perhaps it means you have to ask others to share the boulder/burden.  Delegate tasks. Ask for help. 
  • Perhaps it is saying no.  "No, I cannot volunteer on the PTA membership committee at this time."
  • Perhaps it is prioritizing for the next three months.  "I need to concentrate solely on x,y,z and cannot take on any other responsibilities."  Or it might be that there are things that you have to do but in order to do them, something else has to be let go.
  • Perhaps it is not taking on any new tasks until the latest project is complete. 

There is a quote that is misattributed to Einstein:  "Insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result."  Whether Einstein said it or something like it, it doesn't take a genius to know that repetitive worry, stress and feelings of futility will only lead to a life of misery.  I would encourage you to stop the madness and break free of Sisyphus syndrome.