The one symptom of depression no one talks about: What is the ‘Impossible Task’?

By Prudence Wade. Published 2020-09-27
BOLD-Wellbeing
A Twitter user has shared what happens when mundane tasks become utterly overwhelming.

For us boldies, the over 50s, conversations around mental health are opening up, and positive steps are being taken to smash the taboo around it.

However, there’s still a way to go, and frustratingly we often see one-note representations of incredibly complex illnesses.

This is something Twitter user and author M. Molly Backes would like to remedy, and she’s tackled it head-on with a Twitter thread on what she’s dubbed the ‘Impossible Task’.

So what is the Impossible Task? According to Backes, it’s when a seemingly easy job suddenly becomes overwhelmingly difficult to do. She explains: “The Impossible Task could be anything: going to the bank, refilling a prescription, making your bed, checking your email, paying a bill. From the outside, its sudden impossibility makes ZERO sense.”

Stephen Buckley, who heads up information at mental health charity Mind, notes that everyone experiences depression differently, “so tasks or activities which may at times be difficult for some, may not be a problem for others”. However: “It’s common for someone experiencing depression to feel hopeless, withdrawn and numb when they’re unwell. They’re also likely to lack self-confidence and find little or no pleasure in the things they usually enjoy. ”

This feeds into the Impossible Task that Backes describes. She points out how the sufferer tends to have a keen awareness of the fact that the task they’re struggling with is not actually difficult, but that doesn’t make it any easier to carry out.

This is far from uncommon, and Buckley explains: “Some people who are experiencing symptoms of depression can see seemingly straightforward tasks as impossible to complete. Activities which may seem simple to people who’ve never experienced depression – like doing housework, opening the post, going shopping or meeting with friends – can feel pointless or beyond our capabilities. Leaving the house or socialising can be particularly difficult if your self-esteem is low.”

Making matters worse, with depression, the triggers, worries and symptoms tend to keep on shifting – something Backes notes happens all too often.

Her advice for anyone who is struggling with their own Impossible Task, or knows someone who is, is to “be gentle with yourself” and offer support “without judgement”:

Buckley agrees with this analysis, advising: “The most important thing to remember when you’re feeling like this is to be kind to yourself in the same way you would be to a friend. Feelings of guilt can make our mental health worse, so try not to beat yourself up if you don’t do something you planned to, and remember that none of us achieve all our goals.”

Backes’ thoughts have really hit a chord with people on Twitter, many of whom are thankful to her for articulating a very familiar feeling:

Some have been sharing their own Impossible Tasks as a result of the thread. Cameron Ishee comments: “Dishes and the mail. I can take the mail inside, but I can’t sort through it. I have skipped meals so as not to create dishes that will become Impossible,” and Courtenay Soper adds: “Mine is anything that requires a phone call, even really important things like booking the doctors or therapist. Even calling my mum.”

There are many different presentations – and representations – of mental health that we don’t always consider or discuss, but doing so might just help sufferers realise they’re not alone.

For more information about depression, visit mind here