What Have You Done?
English is a fascinating language. Of course by that I mean it is stupidly inconsistent. Just look at that old “I before E” nonsense or poll your friends and family about the proper use of “lie, lay, lain” versus “lay, laid, laid”. If anyone gets it right, give them a Hawaiian lei. Despite this unfathomable logic or lack thereof, the English language’s very inconsistencies also make it immensely enjoyable or at least entertaining. The quirks of English have been exploited by authors and playwrights since the tongue came into existence. Fathers everywhere utilize these oddities to create the pinnacle of humor: the Dad Joke. As infuriating as it must be for foreigners to learn, it can be an instrument for cleverness when wielded properly.
Not only are the rules of grammar, spelling, and syntax completely insane, the spoken language itself can also be sly and wily. Just the way we speak a sentence can completely change its meaning. Consider the sentence: “What have you done?” So many diverse questions can be asked just by which word gets emphasis. Observe:
1) “WHAT have you done??!!” - Imagine a dog owner returning home to find the couch completely destroyed by a large 80 pound mutt with abandonment issues and possibly A.D.D.
2) “What HAVE you done?” - Usually preceded by a “Hmmmmm…”, this one is more incredulous. Like a parent calculating a child’s allowance for the week, now trying to remember if the child actually did any of those chores to earn his pay.
3) “What have YOU done?” - Like #2, only now much more confrontational, often combined with sarcasm. I envision someone feeling unappreciated for doing XYZ, where XYZ is a significant feat. The person plays coy, but says, “Oh, I only did XYZ, you know, not much. Why? What have YOU done?”
4) “What have you DONE?” Similar to #1, only now on a more profound level, and less of the surprised shock that #1 conveys. Often used in the first person as in: “What have I done??” Also often used in the collective as in: “Oh shit what have we done?”
5) Finally there is “What have you done?” - Spoken without specific emphasis on any of the words. This is much more existential, perhaps uttered towards the end of one’s life. Like a reckoning when being judged at the Pearly Gates.
I have recently experienced all of these forms of the question “What have you done?”, using all five emphasis patterns as I speak to myself. Now it’s important to note that yes, I have full conversations with myself. I referenced the voice with whom I have these conversations in my post, “Choose Survival First”. Specifically I mentioned that the voice speaking to me is, in fact, an asshole. That being said, the questions (all five patterns) I believe are still valid. I can hear the voice now:
“WHAT have you done??” This is usually a day to day occurrence for me as my inner voice is highly critical of pretty much anything I do. So if I actually do have any mishap my inner me is pretty unrelenting. If this sounds just like a frivolous thing, you should try to live with this type of self-criticism all your life. It stops being a quirk and starts being pretty damned harmful, I’ve slowly learned (with the help of a therapist). It is NOT repeat NOT helpful to talk to one’s self as an owner scolding a very bad dog.
“What HAVE you done?” I hear this one fairly often too. It’s the daily tally, the daily reckoning. It’s the point where I try to find if I’ve done anything at all productive. As you might guess, my calculations usually point to a shortfall in the Daily Worthwhile Activities column.
“What have YOU done?” Now this one is a bit complex. You see, the whole reason for this blogpost is an exchange between my wife and me. Of course the use of the word “exchange” here is a bit generous. I’ll not go into detail here as you all don’t want to see all of my dirty laundry. But again if you’ll refer to my previous posts, you’ll know I’m currently not employed. Well, not gainfully employed. Turns out “Blogger” does not provide a living wage except in the case of a few successful bloggers. To go from the yearly income of a surgeon to that of a brand new blogger, well let’s just say that can have a jarring impact on a household’s finances. So while we had this “heated discussion” my inner voice was agreeing with my wife’s unspoken words: “What have YOU done” for this household?”
It’s funny (not haha funny) after I wrote “Choose Survival First” I got a great deal of positive feedback. I had people reaching out to even congratulate me. Some have told me that it has even helped them. But the only thing I could hear was “Whatever. What have YOU done?” Man I really hate that voice, sometimes.
I wrote in “Choose Survival First” that the key is to (duh) survive first, figure out everything else later. Well, later has now come, and although I’m surviving, the figuring out process hasn’t fulfilled its end of the bargain. So I often think back on my decision to quit medicine, hearing in the back of my mind, “What have you DONE?” Fun story, this was also the exact phrase I uttered when I hit “Send” on the email to my partners announcing my resignation. That was neither fun nor was it much of a story. Sorry I digress.
It is so easy to try to boil my entire life down to figures on a ledger, some positive some negative. Sadly I do it all the time, re-hashing in my head the question “What have I done”, said without emphasis, without emotion, without sympathy. Just a straightforward question. And in moments of weakness, any positive can get easily forgotten. When confronted with the question in a real life marital spat, (i.e. what have I contributed in the past 6 months) my mind now wanders back to my tally sheet. Pluses and minuses. Only with depression I see purely the minuses. Only the debit column.
I have no take on failure here. This isn’t some post where I find insight in imperfection. It’s basically live journalling, and if you’ve read this far hoping for some kernel of profundity, you’re in for a disappointment. If there is any lesson, it’s realizing that the struggle against the ultimate failure, the ultimate ending, that struggle is never ending.
One of the kindest comments I got for my blog was from someone I’ve never met telling me that my writing helped her with her own depression. That it was so important to read someone else give voice to the struggle she and so many others have. Ah-ha! I should take that and put it in my “Positives” column. Instead I have trouble acknowledging that I might have done some good. Self-hatred is a helluva drug. But if I do take anything positive from her kind words, it’s that I will occasionally use my blog as a pulpit from which to describe depression. If it devolves into the self-pitying and bitching about the world, I apologize. But hopefully it’s more than that. Hopefully you can see a bit of how the gears on the inside of a depressed mind turn.
I have no idea if I’m still making sense. It’s 5 a.m. and I’ve not yet gone to bed, but finished writing this instead. So tell me, do you like it? If not, fine. But tell me:
What have YOU done?