We need to talk more about this very common symptom of depression

Young woman / sad

An author tweeted about a very frequently experienced symptom of depression, and her thread quickly went viral as relieved people chimed in to say “Oh my god, this is me, YES.”

Content warning: This post discusses depression.

The Impossible Task

While we know that depression can spark feelings of sadness and take the shine off life in all kinds of ways, M. Molly Backes put her finger on another way this condition can affect daily life.

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

The Impossible Task. It’s something insurmountable when you’re suffering from depression, but it also looks like no big deal to the naked non-depression-suffering eye. In fact, the Task can seem so easy that people who don’t have much insight into depression might think it’s being avoided due to laziness or attention-seeking or a lack of care. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“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,” Molly explained on Twitter.

“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.”

Gently does it

Molly highlights just how crippling and isolating it can feel when it’s YOU that’s experiencing this inability to move forward. The sense of shame, the fear of judgement, the SELF-judgment all conspire to stop the sufferer in their tracks and make the Task even more difficult to achieve.

“If you currently have one or more Impossible Tasks in your life, be gentle with yourself,” Molly writes. “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.”


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Molly suggests keeping an eye out for your buddies and looking for ways to help – even seemingly teeny tiny ways – without passing judgement on them. No need to patronise, focus too acutely on their lack of action or make things into a huge D and M. Just find out what they’re having trouble with and head along for the ride as they moral support.

“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.”

That said, Molly stressed that sometimes helping just means loving the person who is struggling, through thick and thin.

“People who are struggling with depression, anxiety, etc, may not allow you to help them with their impossible tasks because they’re so embarrassed about them. That’s ok! In those cases, you can always leave the door open for future help, and just love them fiercely in the meantime.”


If you – or someone you know – are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, Beyond Blue can help.  Call 1300 22 4636 (24 hours / 7 days a week) OR visit their website for further support, resources or to find someone to talk to.

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