project of Kristina Chimbaraite
28 years old, free spirit, traveller, music lover. I was in Bulgaria for a volunteering service and currently I am back in Bulgaria for an internship. I love connecting with people, being thoughtful and conscious and I believe that small, little steps from everyone of us could make the difference. Change starts within ourselves.
What do you feel or imagine when you hear the word ‘loneliness’?
In Italian loneliness is solitudine. It’s interesting: when you think in English you don’t have this emotional charge that you have in your own language. So I have to think in Italian. Well, when I hear the word 'solitudine' I don't feel something nice.
Anyway, I have to think about it. Give me some input. What do you feel when you hear the word loneliness, Kristina?
For me, I immediately remember these times when I felt the most down. It would be these days when I come home and couldn't handle it myself. Like I would go to a shower, and I would cry and no one would see and hear it. For me, it's that image of the shower in my Riga apartment, because it was a place I tried to hide in and wash it off.
Ok, so for me… ok, I have to go back to my childhood. Now I think about two things. One is coming back from one summer holiday at the seaside that I had when I was around 7 years old. I had a great time and I made a lot of friends. And then I was home alone back to my normal life, and I was crying to my father that I wanted to go back to the summer holidays again. I still remember that I experienced - maybe for the first time - this feeling when you cannot breathe because you miss something or someone. Maybe that feeling was not related to loneliness but it is the first thing that came to my mind during this interview, and the second thing is: when I was younger, most of the time I was uncomfortable to ask people if could join them, so I preferred to stay at home or go out alone. And very often this led me to feel not accepted, somehow excluded.
Basically, loneliness for me now is something like ‘I’m not in the right place with people’. It's when I am going out with people, and even if I am with them, I’m not in the right place. So I prefer staying home and being in my comfort zone, in my own bubble. I guess this feeling is common to everyone.
"I still remember that I experienced - maybe for the first time - this feeling when you cannot breathe because you miss something or someone"
You already started talking about this… when was the first time you realised that it was loneliness?
I realised this when I was very young when I was in the primary school because I always felt different. I think everyone feels different in its own way, but I always felt different in an awkward way. Yeah, even before primary school when I was in kindergarten, already there, because I always felt like I was not part of the group. And I felt this when I was young, so it was influencing me of course because you try to find your place and you can't because you feel like not accepted. I mean, it was my feeling of course, but if you have this feeling the others feel this feeling of yours, so it's like a circle.
I guess I’m more conscious and more aware of this now. I don't want to say I overcame this, because I don't know. Maybe I have this in my subconscious, but now I don't really mind this feeling. Let's say until I was 20-23 years old it was influencing me, but now I don't feel like this. At the same time, it's still inside of me because it had affected me so much in the past.
In kindergarten I didn't understand that I was lonely, because you don't have this word in your mind. You don't know what is loneliness. But I had this clear feeling when I was coming back from summer holiday every year because I felt joy and happiness and then I came back to my normal life having that feeling in my chest that I can't breathe because I missed so much being connected with people. I mean, why do you need the word if you have a feeling? You don’t need to know what loneliness is to experience it.
"...why do you need the word if you have a feeling? You don’t need to know what loneliness is to experience it"
So that's why I told how loneliness felt to me. I was trying to hide from people. I was isolated in general at this point and I was trying to isolate myself even more, so people who were still around me wouldn't notice it. It was kind of like isolating from isolation. How it was for you? Was there a pattern? Because for me there was a pattern. At some point I started to recognise that I’m getting into this loop again. When I’m getting into this hole of loneliness I start doing the same things, I start excluding myself.
Yeah, yeah. I guess this is the kind of pattern. Like I told you until I was at university I felt this. When I was a child, people thought that I was very shy, and actually, I was – something that people today can't believe because I look totally the opposite. So, I was always shy to ask the other kids 'Hey, can I play with you?’, to ask my friends 'Can I go out with you this evening?’ or to propose a plan, for the fear of being rejected. This was happening until the end of high school. Then, when I was at University, it slightly changed. I mean, during that period, from the outside you could have thought ‘ah, this girl is very sociable, she loves to hang out’, but I always felt this distance. I was with people, but I didn’t have a group. So now I clearly remember when I moved after university to Spain and I had… let’s say, I totally changed it. Now I can say that I don’t have this pattern anymore. So starting from my childhood until my early twenties I was feeling this, I couldn't find a group of friends, because… I don't know why, actually. I've never felt that I belong to a group, part of something exciting. So for me, it also relates to loneliness.
"...when I was at University, it slightly changed. I mean, during that period, from the outside you could have thought ‘ah, this girl is very sociable, she loves to hang out’, but I always felt this distance"
But when I moved to Spain I started to feel like I was the one who was bringing people together. I felt like without me things couldn’t happen. I think that I totally changed, so I was very happy about it.
Still, now I feel like this, in this positive mood. I guess I became more aware of the thing that you can’t keep people forever in your life. Let’s say… particular example. At university you go out with people, you have some experience, it finishes and the old I would say: ‘Ah, now I’m not going to hang out with these people again, so it all was just an illusion. These people didn't care about me, I suck.' Now what happens? With my friends from Spain we had so many nice memories together. For example, we had a very good weekend, we went to a lake together and really connected. Now, even if we don’t talk for several months, we still feel this connection. Why? Because now I feel more connection with people than before, so I don’t think that they don’t want to hang out with me. It’s normal not to talk for a while because they have their own life. And now in Bulgaria, I still have this kind of experience when we travel together. And now everyone is somewhere around the world, but when we remember our adventures we feel like part of something.
So I saw a pattern in my loneliness, but now I don’t feel it because I changed my perception, became more aware of myself.
Could you share a little bit more about this experience of being lonely?
There were different periods. One was when I was a teenager and I started isolating myself. Not isolate… or maybe yes. I don't know. I can't share everything, because it's, you know, a bit painful. It was a difficult period because we stopped hanging out with my best friend and I also couldn't find my place with my classmates. So I started doing a lot of sports and had long walks alone, deeply immersed in my thoughts. I felt like I didn’t have my place in my hometown, and I feel this every time I go there. I felt powerless because I wanted to do things and emancipate from my parents… I mean, I don't want to say everything. It's a long story. Basically, I was emotionally hurting myself. Instead of reacting to a situation I was just keeping everything inside. It was very painful and then it took a lot to recover. And it left some consequences on me of course, being for two years in this kind of state. I didn't feel a connection with anyone, I always felt different and awkward. I wanted to find a friend to talk with and I didn’t; I wanted to find a boyfriend and I didn’t; I wanted to find a group to hang out and I didn’t. And I was going out with people, but I was feeling alone amongst them.
"instead of reacting to a situation I was just keeping everything inside. It was very painful and then it took a lot to recover"
I was full of negative feelings. And what I was doing to overcome these feelings? I was isolating myself. And I also was not talking to my sister for three months, which was weird because we shared the room.
Yes, that is also a problem. This is the topic you don’t really speak about. You realize that you are lonely and what do you do next?
I guess you just find the motivation inside yourself. It's difficult but think about something that lifts you up. If I feel lonely there’s some kind of music that helps me. When I was very-very down I was just lying in bed not willing to do anything. But then I was like, c’mon but I really love that movie, I really love that song, I want to listen to it once more. So it was the motivation for me to not be down. But I guess at one point you simply accept that you don’t want to be in that state anymore. I mean, I was tired of it. And the thing that helped me actually was moving to another city. And I felt new. And I found things I was looking for. Not everything, but my younger self was satisfied. I found a boyfriend and I found the group of people to hang out with, and this helped me to start that long path to overcome that sense of feeling not accepted.
It just came to my mind. How do you communicate that you need help? Now I know that my mom didn’t really know what is going on with me, because for almost two years I was not really interacting with people. Of course, my family did worry, but they didn't talk to me. My brother called me and told that mom was worried. And I was like, why didn't she talk to me?
I know, because they don’t know how to do it. I feel the same. It was evident that I was sick.
And it feels like they are almost scared to talk to you.
Yeah. My mom told me once that my sister came to her and asked: “Why don’t you do something for Claudia to help her?” So she was worried but she was not talking to me for three months.
But would you like them to talk to you?
I’m not comfortable talking with them about it. This is my problem. Why should I talk with them about this? And I was also very introverted and shy, and everything.
I guess my parents tried to fix this. When I was 6-8 years old they forced me to go to a psychologist because they wanted me to feel better. But this thing was actually not helping me because I started to think: "do I have some mental problems?" Because when you're young and you go to a psychologist you think you're crazy. Now I really want to go, but when I was 8 years old I was like "ok, why the other kids don't go and I go?" So that's why I guess I'm not comfortable to talk with my family because this was like a betrayal to me. It's not that I can't forgive them, they are my parents and they wanted to help me. But I still feel like it was damaging me. So I started a rebellion, I started keeping everything inside. And when I was with them, I was not eating, I was always angry with them and I was screaming at them. Typical things teenagers do, I guess.
Now it’s like a puzzle, I get it.
For me, it's clear enough that I was feeling this and then at one point something triggered me to change. And now I feel ok. I was always the one who felt awkward at school; I was always the one who felt like not having friends; I was the one who never felt like a part of the group. But it changed when I moved to another city and started living alone.
I was always struggling to find a friendship that would last forever, but then I realised that it doesn't have to last forever. So I started to enjoy the moment. To maintain a relationship with someone I have to let this person be free.
"I was always struggling to find a friendship that would last forever, but then I realised that it doesn't have to last forever. So I started to enjoy the moment"
Let's make a concrete example of how I overcame this: a year ago I was very sad because I was about to leave my job and this implied leaving my previous home in Spain. I had so many memories and friends there, and I really enjoyed the lifestyle there. But I couldn't afford to live there without a job. The people tried to comfort me, they were very nice to me and they said that they would be very sad if I leave because I succeeded in what other foreigners usually don't: being accepted as a local, let's say. I mean, I learnt Spanish, I was behaving like a local, I was involved in many activities in town that I almost felt like I had always lived there. And one night that I was talking to some friends of mine about my decision to leave, they realized that my decision was actually real, and did the best thing friends could ever do: they encouraged me to leave and find my own path, and at the same time expressed how proud of me they were because I made the most of my experience there, I brought people together, I created a “group”, and I made everyone feel a bit happier. That made me feel part of a community, and I cried a lot. Tears of relief and joy: I realised that I made it. I realized that something had changed inside of me, finally.
What would you like other people to know about loneliness?
We don’t have to feel like victims. I also felt like the world was against me and I felt like a victim. And if you change this vision of the world, you can change yourself. I was always fighting against something, but when I accepted that you are not the victim of the events, you are creating them; I got the power to change it. And remember that you have to accept people; they are also weak like you.