Last week, leading into a huge Labor Day Sales weekend (and I’m currently in sales, so I had some trepidation going into that weekend) I came across this post about a “never-discussed symptom of depression” called The Impossible Task. This started when Twitter user Molly Backes (@mollybackes) posted some tweets talking about the fact that depression commercials never talk about this. From the article:
The Impossible Task, as outlined by Backes, cannot be defined by a specific. It varies from person to person and hour to hour. What to others seems mundane and simple appears insurmountable to many who suffer from depression.
The Impossible Task could be anything: going to the bank, refilling your prescription, making your bed, checking your email, paying a bill. From the outside, its sudden impossibility makes ZERO sense.
YES. THIS ALL DAY YES.
For me, it’s not just depression but also a symptom of my anxiety disorder. I freeze with certain things. For instance, if my anxiety is really bad, it’s not uncommon for me to get a full blown anxiety attack in the frozen food section of Shoprite, feeling like the biggest weirdo in the world because I’m staring at frozen pizza, crying, feeling like the world has crashed in on me. This can happen in any large store or venue, actually. It’s happened in Walmart, IKEA, other large grocery stores, malls, large Goodwill shops, events, concerts, festivals. Any place that has a lot of people, a lot of choices, and nowhere for me to quickly retreat to feel safe and reset my brain will freak me the fuck out. And it makes little sense to most other people. I was once left in a record store on my birthday by a former partner because I couldn’t stop an anxiety attack. Them telling me to “stop it” (and getting angry at me when I couldn’t) didn’t work, so they left.
Thankfully I now have people in my life who understand anxiety and depression a little bit better and know that telling someone to stop is not a helpful solution. I’ve learned (and tried to teach those closest to me who want to help) what things might could help when I’m in the throes anxiety and depression. But to people who don’t understand or have never had to deal with it, it makes NO SENSE.
Another Impossible Task I used to have a lot of consistent trouble with was making phone calls. I had what I would almost consider a phobia of phone calls. It didn’t matter how simple the call was, or how much I liked or loved the person on the other end, phone calls used to terrify me. Every once in a while, I could use fewer spoons to make or take a phone call, but generally, it took MANY if not all of my spoons. And many times, I just couldn’t do it. This one has improved a lot in the past few years, and I’m grateful to the person who magically helped with it. And while it’s come back a bit, it’s no where near where it used to be.
What fucks me up most, though, is when the Impossible Task is driving. This has only happened a few times in my life and it’s been brutal. Driving is my freedom. It’s how I cope with stress, depression, and anxiety. My car is the safest place I know and to not be able to get in my car and go…fucks with my head and makes everything else feel impossible.
Last week, right before I found the article I linked above, my best friend had invited me to join them for Vietnamese dinner as their treat. I’d been battling anxiety and depression for days at that point and this was an incredibly welcome invitation…except dinner was 45 minutes away where my best friend lived. And at that moment, I could not get in my car and and make that drive. A drive I’ve done countless times. Because I love to drive. I’ve happily driven four hours to see a partner, three hours to go to events, over an hour to see friends and visit the ocean. But on this day, even though it was to see my best friend for one of my favorite types of food, I could not make that drive. It was Impossible. I contemplated trying to mentally strong arm through it, and that almost threw me into a full blown panic attack, so I sent my regrets and asked for a rain check. Thankfully, my best friend is someone I can tell directly that I couldn’t do the drive. They were wonderful and gracious and supportive.
It’s incredibly frustrating for me, though, because I can usually multitask like a mofo, I’ve worked hard to become good at emotional labor for myself and creating a safe space for others, and pride myself on being competent and reliable and able to do complicated things quickly (well…depending on the things. I’m not an astrophysicist). My last job was all about that. Someone would be asking me a question, while my radio was going off, while I was on my way to do something else. And I would get into a zone, a flow state, working with synchronicity and trusting the Universe to guide me. The things got done. The questions got answered. Granted, I also had an amazing team helping me, but I was also confident and most comfortable (it only took about three years to get there…).
When anxiety or depression hit, though, or when they both hit at the same fucking time, it fucks me up royally. Because if my productivity gets hit, then I start to feel worthless. Like….what the fuck is wrong with me that I can’t make this ONE phone call? That I can’t complete a fucking grocery shopping excursion without weeping on my frozen green beans? Or why the hell can’t I put away that laundry? Why am I feeling a seizing panic when I think of sleeping anywhere but home? Why can’t I can’t just get in my car, crank up the music, and drive it all away?
And if I can’t do these things that I always am able to do, will people still care about me? Like, what good am I if I can’t perform basic human functions? And how will I ever see people I care about if I can’t fucking get to them? Also, how will I eat if I can’t even buy groceries? I tend to be really hard on myself and then I get locked in this loop of yelling at myself “what’s wrong with you; just stop it!” and trying to remind myself that it’s just anxiety, it’s just depression, they both lie, the world isn’t ending and I’m not losing everything and everyone. And yet, all people see is a weird person staring at a frozen food case or who just bolted out of a room.
Molly Backes says that we should try to apply the gentleness and empathy that most of us with depression (and anxiety) generally have towards others to ourselves. Which is waaaaay easier said than done. Especially in the middle of a full blown anxiety attack or depressive episode. But I’m working on it. And I’ve got wonderful people around me to remind me and help me with it.
Here’s to anyone else who also has to tackle the Impossible Tasks. You are not alone.