Have you ever read a book with your eyes closed or have you ever pet a dinosaur?
You probably haven’t.
In fact - these tasks seem impossible!
But what if the impossible tasks weren’t these outrageous or impractical activities?
What if you faced impossible tasks every day?
Hi. It’s me. Shayne.
This time I want to share with you about the concept of the impossible task, where this struggle can come from, what my impossible tasks are and have been, and propose some ideas on what we can do to cope with this conundrum.
I first heard about the concept of “The Impossible Task” in 2020 in therapy. In retrospect, I had been experiencing the phenomenon since high school, but up until 2020 I had no way of explaining it.
On Twitter in 2018 a thread about the impossible task grew and grew. The idea was that depression isn’t just about sadness, but it also comes with the struggle to do everyday, mundane or even “simplistic” activities.
These impossible tasks could be things that someone had easily done before their depression developed. They could be things that someone had done many, many times before. They could be things that other people do without effort or thought.
For me, my impossible tasks can change and develop.
A few of my previous and current impossible tasks:
Making my bed
Brushing my teeth
Making or returning phone calls Opening mail
And there have been (and truthfully, will be) many more.
Let’s take my example of opening my mail and walk out this concept a little.
I get a few pieces of snail-mail every few days. Some is important mail like from my bank, my insurance, or my health clinic. Some are less important such as coupons, rewards reminders, advertisements, etc… Regardless of its relative importance they all come addressed to me.
Sometimes I open them as they come and sort - respond to what’s necessary and trash whatever is useless.
But when opening mail becomes the impossible task - it’s another story.
When opening mail is impossible, it piles up. I place it all in one pile or sometimes even the piles get spread about my room. Some days I ignore them. Some days I stare at them. The longer I let them sit, the more mail piles up, the more impossible the task feels.
It feels as though doing the task is too much. As if just starting is too hard. It’s constantly on my mind and my to-do list, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I feel ashamed because “it shouldn’t be this hard!”. I don’t have the energy. I don’t have the motivation. I know I should do it. Sometimes I even want to do it. But I can’t seem to “just do it already”.
I can’t explain why this one task or any other task becomes such hard things for me. Often they develop out of nowhere. Opening mail is something that I used to do without thinking, planning, or much effort.
Depression. A lot of the symptoms that I have experienced from depression can influence this scenario. Lack of motivation. Lack of energy. Lack of interest.
Anxiety. Fear of what will be in the mail. Anxiety over starting the task. Anxiety over not being able to finish the job.
Chronic pain and illness. When my body hurts or I physically don’t feel well it just makes sense that the “small” things would be harder to do.
It’s true that these all can play a role in how the struggle with impossible tasks develop. It doesn’t explain what chore or activities will become harder or even when this will happen, but it does offer me some comfort knowing that I’m not just being lazy or irresponsible.
As the twitter thread in 2018 made clear - I am not alone in this struggle. And neither are you!
Everyone - even those without diagnosed mental illness - can develop these impossible tasks.
The steps I’m trying to take to combat my impossible tasks?
First. Breaking it down. The impossible might be made possible if the steps are manageable right? Hopefully? So start by making a list.
Personally I love lists. So I might write down the steps or parts of a task that’s overwhelming me. Looking at what steps need to be done in what order. For me - gather the mail, sort the mail, open the mail.
After the first list - then look at it again, and if necessary make the steps even smaller. And that’s totally okay! For me - opening the mail becomes - open the envelopes with my letter opener - read mail - trash unimportant mail and save important mail - respond to mail.
Maybe making the list is the first step! Check that step off! Look at us making progress already! It might seem silly, but we need to be our own cheerleaders.
These tasks ARE hard.
I need to tell this to myself as much as I’m telling you - I DO NOT need to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or in any way bad about needing a little encouragement, praise or help getting this done. Some things are harder for some people. Some things are harder for a period of time. And that’s okay! It’s normal. It’s not wrong or weak.
Second. Starting Small. I made a list for a reason. There are steps. We don’t need to do everything all at once or complete the task in one sitting. It’s okay, even good, to take breaks. In my experience, if I do a little at a time and allow myself breaks, I accomplish more in the long run and can even keep the momentum going.
Third. Asking for support. Now this. This we might all balk at. It’s not easy to admit we are struggling. It’s not easy for me to tell someone that I am feeling like I can’t complete a possible-impossible task on my own. Sometimes I fear that the person I share with won’t understand or at worst they will judge and shame me.
I have heard things like
“it’s not that hard”
”just get it over with”
“don’t be so lazy”
“you’re just making excuses”.
It can be scary to open up, but it also can be so empowering, encouraging, and helpful. If you find the right person they will be willing and able and gentle in helping. Maybe share with a professional first? A therapist, a case worker.
I found it helpful when I did share about one of my impossible tasks to outline what I needed in response. Do you want someone to be your cheerleader? Do you want someone to offer suggestions? Do you want someone to practically and physically assist you? Do you want someone to keep you accountable?
Finally, it’s so so so so crucial for you and me to remember to be gentle with ourselves. It’s easy for me to be hard on myself. To think hateful, shaming, or punishing things about my worth as a person. This doesn’t help me at all. I still do it sometimes, but I am trying to get better at being as kind with myself as I am with others.
We are NOT lazy. We are NOT exaggerating. We are NOT irresponsible. We are NOT making excuses. We are NOT useless. We are NOT a failure. We are NOT weak.
We ARE struggling. We ARE worthy of help. We ARE trying.
A few takeaways:
Anyone can have an impossible task.
It’s okay to need help and ask for it.
You are still worthy of respect and kindness regardless of your struggle.
If today the task seems impossible, it won’t be that way forever.
Until next time.
Listen to the recording of this blog on the Coffee and Conversation Podcast here: https://www.recoveryadvocatenetwork.org/coffeeandconversationpodcast/episode/1e00686c/ep-024-the-impossible-task-by-shayne-a-between-the-lines-blog-club-series