In a viral Twitter thread, author M. Molly Backes gives a name to something most people with depression know well: the Impossible Task.
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.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
The Impossible Task is usually a small thing, simple by other people's standards. "The Impossible Task is rarely actually difficult," Backes writes. "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."
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.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
The Impossible Task could be going to the bank or making a phone call, sending an email or finishing a work project. But it lingers, the stress of it and the weight of it growing the longer it's left undone until it becomes impossible, just the thought of it weighing you down.
If you’re grappling with an Impossible Task, you already have these conversations happening in your brain. 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.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
New parents, those living with postpartum depression (PPD), have Impossible Tasks, as well. On top of navigating uncharted territory in caring for a completely helpless and dependent new person, on top of all the new chores and responsibilities that go along with bringing home a baby, the Impossible Tasks can pile up. Washing bottles, emptying the diaper pail, picking up dozens of baby toys, tackling a mountain of tiny laundry—PPD's Impossible Tasks make can easily pile up, leaving a new parent breathless with the responsibility of it all.
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Everything falls away except the immediate needs of the little soul who depends on you. The bottles sit in the sink, the laundry mounds in the corner, and the parent with PPD does what they can to care for their baby. Asking a friend to come help seems ridiculous. You might think, "Of course, no one is going to come over to wash the bottles for me." Or, for those new parents who are isolated by parenthood, those who don't have a nearby system of support, there aren't any friends to call, no mothers or sisters to come help with laundry. And when people do visit, it's to see the baby, not to do the housework.
Another cool thing about the Impossible Task is that it changes on you. One time it might involve calling someone, but maybe you can work around it by emailing. Another time it’s an email issue. Then when you think you have it pinned down, you suddenly can’t do the dishes.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
Living with PPD and its myriad Impossible Tasks adds to the already difficult task of adjusting to life with a new baby, piling on the weight of the things you know need to be done. And the kicker is that your Impossible Task can change from day to day, week to week. One week bottles are no big deal but the next they seem to taunt you from the sink.
- RELATED: What Is Postpartum Depression?
The Impossible Tasks of PPD don't look like a lot of people's Impossible Tasks and accomplishing them may seem completely out of reach because what energy you do have is spent taking care of your baby.
The one good thing about struggling with Impossible Tasks is that they help you to be gentler & more empathetic with other people in your life, because you know what it’s like. You know. The trick is to turn that gentleness & empathy toward yourself.— M. Molly Backes (@mollybackes) August 28, 2018
But here's the thing, the Impossible Task requires that you be gentle with yourself, it makes you understand your limits within your new responsibilities—what's reasonable and what's not, what's ok to put off and what needs your immediate attention. Be gentle with yourself, take care of your baby, and just wash those bottles one at a time. Take a break between each one and congratulate yourself for chipping away at the Impossible.