'The Impossible Task': The common, "sneaky" symptom of depression we all need to recognise.


Most people associate depression with a feeling of sadness, with tears and melancholy. But for many of the one million Australian adults living with the condition, it actually spells a complete absence of feeling. A complete and crippling apathy.

It’s what author M. Molly Backes calls “The Impossible Task”.

In a viral Twitter thread, the American writer pinned down what it’s like to live with this “sneaky symptom”, one she says is often overlooked in the media.

“The Impossible Task is rarely actually difficult. It’s something you’ve done a thousand times,” she explained.

“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.”

Even should you complete it, another with fill the void; “One time it might involve calling someone, but maybe you can work around it by emailing. Another time it’s an email issue,” Backes wrote. “Then when you think you have it pinned down, you suddenly can’t do the dishes.”


Backes’ concept resonated with thousands of Twitter users – more than 16,000 have liked her message and more than 7000 have re-tweeted it.

“I never felt sad,” one responded. “I felt pointless. Useless. And heavy. So heavy.”

“‘Aggressively apathetic’ is how I remember describing it to my shrink,” another wrote. “Not only do I not care, I can’t even bring myself to worry that I don’t care.”

“Reminds me of this description I once heard, ‘the cure for depression could be on the other side of the room but you aren’t able to get up to get it,'” added another.

Video by Mamamia

This concept can be hard for outsiders to understand. People around you will question why you can’t do this small thing, why it wouldn’t make you feel better to complete it.

But as Backes notes, the person grappling with The Impossible Task is already asking themselves the same questions: “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.”

That’s why support is crucial.

To loved ones of people with depression she wrote, “ask them what their Impossible Tasks are and figure out ways to help—without judgement. A friend once picked me up, drove me the two blocks to the pharmacy, and came in to help me refill a prescription. TWO BLOCKS. It was an amazing gift.”

For those struggling with an Impossible Task, Backes urges them to be gentle with themselves and to ask for that help from loved ones.

“The one good thing about struggling with Impossible Tasks is that they help you to be gentler and more empathetic with other people in your life, because you know what it’s like. You know,” she wrote. “The trick is to turn that gentleness and empathy toward yourself.

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