project of Kristina Chimbaraite
My name is Kristina. I am a volunteer, photographer, and storyteller from Latvia. In May 2019 I came up with the idea of making this project, in August 2019 I started this project, in March 2020 it came to live.
What do you feel or imagine when you hear the word ‘loneliness’?
I feel sorry for the way I treated myself because that's how I got stuck in a state of loneliness. I isolated myself from the world and for quite a while was blaming others for that - that it was them, they didn’t understand me, they didn't want to hang out with me and stuff like that. But in fact, it was I who isolated and hurt myself.
So, that would be the first feeling and the second one is more visual and more tactile. I have a clear vision of this shower in my last apartment in Riga which was the loneliest place in the world for about a year or so, and I would hide there.
You switch on the water and no one cares about you, no one hears you, so you can talk to yourself out loud, you can cry, you can sing and the whole world doesn’t even know that you exist at this moment.
How did loneliness appear to you? Is it a specific physical feeling or a particular action or not action? Is there a pattern?
For me, it is definitely a pattern. It is still there in my life, I do notice it. And actually, just recently I noticed that I got into this pattern again. So, it starts with some external event or moment where I interact with people and someone makes me feel uncomfortable or makes me feel not appreciated, not heard… something that causes negative emotions. And my initial reaction is to close up. For me it’s easier not to speak, not to interact, not to communicate with these people again and even to cut this relationship forever and don’t go back. That’s what I used to do in my life and that’s how I lost a lot of people, like almost all the connections I had throughout my teenage years. This is the pattern I now notice.
"but there is a healthy amount of time you can spend by yourself and then it starts to expand and at some point you don’t even know how to interact with people anymore"
And if it’s a physical feeling I usually feel it on my shoulders and in my back because it gets very tense. But now it is just a feeling which I can control and work with. Now it is like: ‘aha, I know who you are and I know what to do with you.’ And then I have to step out and go to these people because most probably they didn’t even know that something has happened.
Yeah, I think that would be the pattern. And of course, I start sleeping a lot because I don't want to communicate and interact with the world. So I just spend time on my own, because that’s the most comfortable for me. But there is a healthy amount of time you can spend by yourself and then it starts to expand and at some point you don’t even know how to interact with people anymore. It happened with me before, it was not even months, it was years when I preferred my own company and at some point I didn’t even know how to introduce myself to new people. So, I would spend even more time on my own, more time in front of the computer and then sleep a lot… like not getting social at all, preferring to go to sleep early rather than staying late with friends. I hate being in a public space when I feel this lonely feeling crawling on me because then I feel it even more. When you are home alone you don’t really know what is going on, but when you are in a crowd and you don’t feel connected to anyone, you feel so miserable.
When was the first moment you realised that it’s more than just some alone-time but you are actually stuck in loneliness?
I think it happened when I was very young but I don’t remember it properly. The point that really messed me up was in my late teenage years. Before that I was very outgoing, always laughed, and was in the centre of attention making jokes. I was always somewhere with a big group of friends but then something changed. Our interests and values were changing and little by little the group started separating and at some point, I don’t really know what happened but it was bad, nearly all of us were fighting.
"I guess, at some point it was just too much and I stopped talking to everyone I knew"
Well, I was kind of a drama queen, so I needed to be in the centre of attention and if we had a fight, everybody had to know that it is a big deal. I guess, at some point it was just too much and I stopped talking to everyone I knew. For three months I was just sitting in my room in front of my computer. Of course, my family was worried but they didn’t really know what was going on. And I didn’t tell them because when you are stuck in this situation, you feel like the whole world is against you. So for almost three months I was totally emerging in this state.
And in the beginning it was even quite fun because I felt so rebellious, and I decided to fight for myself, speak up and not be in this crowd. But after some time I realised: “Okay, so now what? I am not in this crowd anymore and no one cares about it.” I am lucky to have siblings who are much smarter than me and at some point my brother just came and said: “Let’s go.”
And that’s the most painful part. Let me explain, he is two years younger than me, back then I was kinda avoiding him. I was one of the cool kids and didn’t want to have him around. And when no one was around, he was the one who took me into his group of friends.
"...at this point I wasn’t even a human being anymore, I was just a shadow"
So, if it wasn’t for him, I have no idea what would happen next because I was already in this loop. I didn’t understand back then that it was this state of loneliness which was completely unhealthy and I didn’t know what to do with it. But I already unconsciously understood that I need help and that I can't do it by myself. And of course, I accepted his help immediately. It wasn't like a conscious decision; it was something that I just felt like I need to do. And I guess my brother understood it too, I mean I don’t know what he saw, at this point I wasn’t even a human being anymore, I was just a shadow.
I was this seventeen/eighteen years old girl who used to be so cheerful and has all this attention and stuff… and I lost trust. At all. Completely. I didn’t believe in friendship anymore. It would be okay if this fight and the situation just affected me and it would just be this teenage drama thing. But it affected our families. It had consequences and some of them I can feel until today, because some of the friends I had, they were not just friends - they were part of the family. So our parents were friends as well and the rumours that were spread about me affected the whole family’s attitude towards me and my family.
There were a lot of lies, lies about my mental health which spread even to university… so that started the chain. And I believe I finally ended it only recently because now I know what I am dealing with. I am not scared to talk about it anymore.
I shared the room during the first year of university with a girl from my town and one evening she said that her grandma works with my former classmates’ mother and this mother told her to be very careful around me. And you have to imagine, we were already 20 years old, in university, in Kaliningrad, in a whole different country. This mother told my roommate that I am not mentally stable and therefore, I could be dangerous. And my roommate was so uncomfortable hearing this information, so she wanted to share it with me and I am very thankful that she did, but at the same time that’s when I realised the whole scale of the situation which is going on behind my back. And the trust that I rebuild during these years - it was gone again.
This also led to unhealthy romantic relationships, because I felt like I am not normal, not worthy, that I have to struggle first. And I didn't feel a connection with people because I never felt enough, I always needed to be better and of course no one understood me because I wouldn’t speak about how I feel. So people would assume that I was arrogant or bossy and then they naturally turned away from me because I didn’t seem like a nice person. I wanted to get out of this desperate state so badly that it pulled me even deeper into it because I didn't use the correct mechanisms to fight this.
Okay, so as I understood you used loneliness to get an advantage but actually it was a self-destructive habit.
Yes, exactly. I was thinking that I am actually a strong person because of that and that I can deal with it and live a regular life. But what is the point of that? I don’t even know where this idea came from that I have to suffer before I can get something. And that was the worst thing when it came to relationships with people. With friends, family, at school, work or whatever… I always thought I am not good enough.
Even if they would compliment me, for example, saying that I am smart, I would be like 'Okay, but I have to be smarter, because there is probably someone better than me’. I had this idea that I have to be better otherwise these people won’t value me. I always felt that I have to be able to give something to receive just a normal attitude or interaction. And that is why I didn't have a proper connection because I didn’t believe that people can be friendly with me just because of me. That they didn’t need anything else, they didn’t need to be impressed by my degree or some achievements. And it took me quite a while to understand this. I guess it just got messed up in my late teenage years with these “friendships” and rumours behind my back. Somehow, I got to know everything… or okay, maybe not everything, I hope there is not more and if there is, I don’t want to know it, but somehow, I got to know all these lies.
And there is this little demon that is always hungry and in my case this demon is loneliness which is like: “Oh, actually, they don’t like you, they don’t need you, no one needs you. In your family you have three children, why would your parents care particularly about you?” And I understand it’s not true but inside you have this feeling of being completely alone in this world. There is this whole world and then there is you.
How did you get out of this state?
Well, I had several loops… For the first one, I was lucky to have a very supportive family, especially my brother and sister. I feel like they really understood me better than I did and they were also braver than me. We had quite a complicated relationship with my brother for a very long time and I just was blinded by these other people around me and I didn’t see that these are actually the people I need to focus on. I understood that I have my family and I have this close group of people who I consider to be my family as well.
"the way I was seeing the world and how the world reacted to me was completely wrong"
So, when I realised that I have these people in my life I had to work on myself. The way I was seeing the world and how the world reacted to me was completely wrong. So, after I came back from Russia (I studied in Russia, then came back to Latvia, to Riga) I felt like a complete foreigner in my own country, I didn’t feel like I belong at all, so after a year and a half I decided to go back to my hometown. It was a very risky decision because everyone was like “Oh it’s a step back, it’s a small town, there is nothing to do, you will start drinking and become one of those typical miserable people who live there.” There actually is a part of the population who are quite miserable but that’s not the case. I didn’t become one of those…
I spent a lot of time by myself but I didn’t feel lonely anymore. I was physically alone and that way started to reconnect with myself, hearing myself, listening to my needs and healing the pain I suffered from for so many years. I started to make little steps, I realised that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to say that today I feel bad or I feel stressed, that most of the time people react in a normal and supportive way.
I don’t know, maybe I got it from movies or books that you have to hide your tears and struggles. I wouldn’t show how I feel even in front of my close friends, I would hold it back. Now I know that it doesn’t make you less strong or independent if you show your real emotions. You need to say what you feel. However, sometimes I still get into those little things which destroy relationships. I know that I destroyed most of the relationships in my life just because I started feeling this disconnection, and started to punch people in their soft spots until they were done with me. So yeah, now I understand that I was not just doing it to other people but to myself as well.
What would you like people to know about being in a state of loneliness?
I want people to know that a comment ‘oh, just go and talk to somebody’ does not work. If you are already in this state most probably you are also already uncomfortable doing it. I mean it works differently for everyone, but something already triggered this feeling which makes you uncomfortable around people. You want it though, the connection.
I think that lonely people are the ones who seek this connection the most. Well, it’s one of the human’s basic needs. Maybe there are few exceptions but in general, as a species, we do need it. And lonely people, who are in this state, it means that they haven't had a meaningful connection for quite a while.
"the most meaningful conversation with my brother happened without any words"
And this connection doesn’t need to be based on words; it can be through little things, for example, surprising the person with his/her favourite type of tea to show that you care. The most meaningful conversation with my brother happened without any words. We just sat on the couch crying but we understood everything we wanted to say to each other. After that experience our relationship finally started to recover. It is not easy to put feelings into words. So yeah, sometimes the best conversations are made without words. It’s just about paying attention to the person.
And to those who are in this process... it is okay to feel lonely. I think that most people have felt like this at some point in their life and most probably will feel it again. It is not like you decide against it today and tomorrow you are not going to be lonely anymore. But if you start by taking little steps, if you start by reconnecting with yourself, then you can re-establish this connection little by little with other people. It doesn’t even have to start with people you know very well like your family or friends; it could start with a stranger. If you feel like that, it is going to happen at some point, because being in this state that’s what you really crave for – connection.