Bed: who can get out of it? Not me this morning. Tasks stretch out before me. Trivial/ routine–take a shower, get dressed–daunting. Normal Sunday items: this blog, groceries, practice: overwhelming. One big one: clean the basement, where there be spiders: unthinkable.
Author M. Molly Backes calls it “the impossible task.” Something to be done that seems routine or inconsequential to others, often even to yourself. Something easily completed, at least in normal times. Opening the mail, making the bed, taking a shower. How many showers have I taken in my life? This morning it needs all my strength to throw off my bedsheet and get my feet on the floor. There’s guilt that comes along with the avoidance, throwing a long shadow that’s still not energizing enough. Backes notes that the impossible task often accompanies depression or anxiety. I reassure myself. Surely we’re all a bit depressed these days, given the pandemic and politics.
Today’s trigger is more likely to be anxiety. My birthday is six days away. In an attempt to face another year around the sun with a cleaner slate, I’ve filled up the final week of September with necessary and somewhat overdue appointments. Piano tuning, car inspection, chimney sweeping. One of our fireplaces is in the basement. It keeps the spiders and dust bunnies nice and toasty.
Internet tips for dealing with the impossible task abound. The recommendations are generally sensible and kind and include
- If you can’t do all of the task, do a little bit at a time and treat that as a victory. Don’t bundle up all of the work into one horrible block that takes up all the room in your head. Try making a list of steps (maybe something like my Dread List below) and setting a timer for a few minutes to see how much you get done.
- Ask for help from friends and family. Instead of any single one of us tackling the basement, the cleanup is today’s awful family project. While we may not be “happy” about it, we’re truly joyful that none of us bears responsibility for the entire chore.
- Give yourself rewards for making headway on the impossible task, even if it seems as though you’re treating yourself like a kindergartner winning a participation trophy. We’re going to have turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and some refreshing beverages this evening as a reward for tackling the grime. If I get through each item on my Dread List, I’m going to add an extra treat and order some music I’ve wanted.
- If you can pay someone to do the task for you, or trade someone’s impossible task for your own, try that. I take Capone the cat to the vet; Dave puts air in my tires; Sonny tackles the first wave of dishes when they pile up to the sky.
- Forgive yourself if you can’t get the task done. Calling yourself lazy will pile on the guilt, which is documented to increase the weight of bedsheets to 250 pounds each. Try again another day.
- Consult a doctor or a therapist when the impossible tasks start to multiply like basement dust bunnies.
The White Queen boasts to Alice: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Can I contemplate that many? In my journal, I write a title: “The Dread List.” The letters are big; I outline them in clashing shades of orange, purple, and green to make them look even more fearsome. I draw stick-figure illustrations and checkboxes. Six impossible tasks laid down onto the page, and then a couple more, because my competitive streak is strong. Eight items. I resolve to complete them before midnight…though maybe not this midnight.