One of the major frustrations of suffering a mental illness - beyond the obvious trauma - is how difficult it is to describe to other people.
Because they are a product of the mind, symptoms tend to be elusive and unpredictable.
Seen from the outside, they defy all rational logic, and it’s not clear whether they’re a cause or an effect of the condition.
Which is why one woman’s attempt to spotlight an illogical quirk of depression went viral recently.
Chicago-based author M. Molly Backes took to Twitter last week to describe what she calls “The Impossible Task”; a very real but often overlooked struggle for those who live with depression.
In a series of incisive tweets, Backes captures the essence of what The Impossible Task feels like, and why it’s so hard to understand:
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.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
The Impossible Task is rarely actually difficult. It’s something you’ve done a thousand times. For this reason, it’s hard for outsiders to have sympathy. “Why don’t you just do it & get it over with?” “It would take you like 20 minutes & then it would be done.” OH, WE KNOW.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
If you’re grappling with an Impossible Task, you already have these conversations happening in your brain. Plus, there’s probably an even more helpful voice in your brain reminding you of what a screw up you are for not being able to do this seemingly very simple thing.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
Another cool thing about the Impossible Task is that it changes on you. One time it might involve calling someone, but maybe you can work around it by emailing. Another time it’s an email issue. Then when you think you have it pinned down, you suddenly can’t do the dishes.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
If you currently have one or more Impossible Tasks in your life, be gentle with yourself. You’re not a screw up; depression is just an asshole. Impossible Tasks are usually so dumb that it’s embarrassing to ask for help, but the people who love you should be glad to lend a hand.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
If you have a depressed person in your life, ask them what their Impossible Tasks are & figure out ways to help—without judgment. A friend once picked me up, drove me the two blocks to the pharmacy, & came in to help me refill a prescription. TWO BLOCKS. It was an amazing gift.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
The one good thing about struggling with Impossible Tasks is that they help you to be gentler & more empathetic with other people in your life, because you know what it’s like. You know. The trick is to turn that gentleness & empathy toward yourself.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
Backes’ simple, compassionate thread struck an immediate chord on Twitter, with thousands clamouring to join the discussion and share their own experiences of The Impossible Task.
The writer said she was “overwhelmed and deeply gratified” by the outpouring of support and stories she’d received, adding “it has been beautiful to see you lifting each other up.”
The symptom Backes describes is known in medical terms as Executive Dysfunction and it’s not always a side-effect of depression; it can be associated with many different conditions.
For those suffering from it, she recommends being gentle with yourself, breaking tasks down and seeking professional help such as CBT therapy.
And she warns people supporting their loved ones that those who grapple with The Impossible Task may be too embarrassed to ask for help: “That’s OK! In those cases, you can always leave the door open to future help and just love them fiercely in the meantime. “
Last thing: whenever you're tempted to beat yourself up for being "lazy," remember that you fought harder to get out of bed & get yourself dressed today than the average person could even imagine. You're not lazy. Your mountains are just that much steeper. Keep going. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/W2WaDqR0QC— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) September 2, 2018