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Depression: This is the main symptom outsiders often struggle to grasp

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Anna Brech
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Woman with depression

Speaking to friends and family about mental health issues is difficult at the best of times, especially when they struggle to understand what you’re experiencing.

More than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression. In the UK, around three in every 100 people live with the mental health condition. But despite this, there are still parts of the condition which both those who live with the disease – and those around them – struggle to understand.

One part of depression in particular often leads many “observers” of the condition – those who haven’t experienced it – to scratch their heads.

That particular conundrum is “The Impossible Task,” so termed by Chicago-based author M. Molly Backes in a viral Twitter thread.

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In a series of incisive and informative tweets, Backes managed to capture the essence of what “The Impossible Task” feels like and why it’s so hard to understand – and it was a series which resonated with other people living with depression, too.

“Depression commercials always talk about sadness but they never mention that sneaky symptom that everyone with depression knows all too well: the Impossible Task,” Backes begins. 

“The Impossible Task could be anything,” she continues. “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.

“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.”

Backes then went on to describe how it feels to face the Impossible Task – and shared some advice for others who experience this symptom of depression.

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. “

Want insider tips on happiness, health, relaxation and more? Sign up for the Stylist Loves Wellbeing email

For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or visit a local Samaritans branch.

Image: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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