When You Don’t Know How to Live in the Present

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PART I: Waiting

I’m different. I’ve always been different.

The whispers started at a young age: “What’s wrong with her?” “Why doesn’t she talk?”

One after another…after another…a full assault, the whispers descended on me like a swarm of bees, ready to fight off the unwelcome intruder among them. Seeing the opportunity to burrow into the very depth of my being, they pervaded the space between my ears, swirling endlessly as each sting left a permanent scar.

The years passed, and with increasing frequency, the whispers continued to target me. Manifesting and becoming louder with each subsequent day, they always BUZZED beneath the seemingly serene surface.

Buzz. “You’ll always be silent.”
BUZZ. “You’re never going to lead a normal life.”

I tried waiting for the day when they would finally stop, when the active hive in my mind would turn dormant. But despite my prayers, waiting proved ineffective, and I began to lose hope that things would ever be different…that the WHISPERS would stop…that I would be normal. So after years of waiting, I decided to try something new: to forget.


PART II: Forgetting

I tried to forget the world from which the whispers came…the world that I occupied on a daily basis—my present reality. In order to make sense of this world, I began to organize…to compartmentalize…to retreat into a tidy world of my own making.

In my world, the WHISPERS were just that—whispers…whispers that soon became wordless breaths, and eventually, silence.

High school. Each day around noon, I willingly entered the line of fire—the cafeteria (I’m too much of a rule-follower to have skipped lunch). My destination: a long, grey table at the very back of the room, in front of the trashcans. It would be easy to fade away into the silence there, leaving the world of the whispers behind. Once seated, I quickly inhaled my poppy seed bagel à la Dunkin Donuts, and began to unpack and organize my baggage (both the physical, as well as the emotional suitcase that weighed me down).

The first order of business in my new world was consulting the list…the list I had been compiling throughout the year in which I daily documented my clothing choices (shoes included). My goal? To never repeat an outfit during the school year. Having a mother who enjoyed to shop (who by the way, also ran an online retail clothing business) helped me almost reach my goal, only repeating a few items through the course of the year (shoes excluded).

Each day at lunch, I was a slave to the same routine—my only escape from the incessant buzzing that threatened to overpower me if given the opportunity. Rather than get ahead on homework or read for pleasure, I spent my precious 20 minutes of free time creating, checking, and revising my lists…not only written lists about my outfits and due dates for assignments, but also mental lists…for example, the “proper” way to eat my lunch (yes, I did this everyday):

  •      Remove bagel from bag
  •      Set poppy seed-side down
  •      Rip off top half, beginning in the center
  •      Set aside top half
  •      Remove doughy center from poppy seed half and roll into a ball
  •      Set ball aside
  •      Consume non-poppy half just set aside
  •      Eat remaining poppy half
  •      Return dough ball to bag and blot up fallen poppy seeds
  •      Savor every bite of dough ball, now with added poppy seeds

List-making (i.e. forgetting) became a necessity to maintain my sanity at school and keep the buzzing at bay. I didn’t know how to exist in the real world…I didn’t know how to be. It was as if I suddenly had forgotten how to function aside from these organization games I played all alone.

I had inadvertently become a prisoner in the one thing I was trying to escape—my mind. Trapped in an open cage, I failed to realize the instant the whispers stopped coming from outsiders. My classmates had already accepted me as “the silent one” (which of course was also a problem); it was me. It was all me. I was my own worst enemy.

Scratch that, I am my own worst enemy.



Since those high school years, while I’ve gotten better at discerning the origins of the whispers and differentiating the lies from Truth, for the most part, I’ve remained a prisoner. My captor? Call it habit, comfort, complacency…or call it by it’s proper name: “fear.”

Yes, I’ve answered to the call of fear time and time again. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of always being the outsider. Fear of missing out. And the biggest fear: fear of freedom…fear of being.

No, not “Being” in the Heideggerian, “Dasein” sense (see Being and Time). Rather, being in the simplest sense. You know—living in the eternal now as if it were the only moment in time.


Being the dish I wash. Being the apple I eat. Being the book I read.

I want to stop feeling shame when I reflect on my past existence as a “mute.” I want to stop feeling paralyzed when I examine my too-wide (yes, it’s a thing) open future.

I want to stop obsessing with becoming. Because truly, as I write this, I am becoming. I am continuously becoming (as to what, I’m not quite sure).

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), life is not simply another list to organize. It is not subject to my never-ending rules—in fact, it’s in direct violation of them. Questions remain unanswered—the “whys” and “hows” that I’m so keen on are sometimes left unpaired, replaced by subjective variables such as “trust” and “faith”…variables that, despite their risk, make life worth living.

And that’s all part of being—part of responding to life’s dare to remain…the dare to embrace. I’m learning to accept that dare. I’m learning to let go of the past. I’m learning to stop chasing my future through a house of mirrors. Most of all, I’m learning to not cling so tightly to my lists, because I’m missing out unless I let go. That overused Lennon quote captures my sentiments exactly (if you don’t already know it: “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans”).

Yes, I have a long way to go before I allow myself to fully accept the future as it unfolds. And yes, learning to be sounds a whole lot simpler than it is. But that’s ok. Baby steps are welcome here.

Each day…each hour…each minute…I remind myself: Breathe in. Breathe out.

4 Comments on “When You Don’t Know How to Live in the Present

  1. Danica, This is amazing. That you for sharing your struggles. I am also proud of you for looking at the camera for the picture. I have seen on your journeys that it is difficult for you to do that.

  2. I am so glad to find you here. I have been missing your posts! I LOVE that you are telling your story, and from one who adds things to my list just so that I can check the off, I appreciate your take on order as a coping mechanism for fear. A bird in an open cage indeed. Keep going… 🙂

    • Michelle, your repeated encouragement means so much to me! Thank you for continuing to follow my journey.

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