project of Kristina Chimbaraite
I'm back home in Bulgaria after living for a long time in France. I'm a social worker, a cat lover and my dream is to live on wheels.
What do you feel or imagine when you hear the word ‘loneliness’?
I imagine a person suffering…usually, loneliness has a bad connotation. When I feel lonely, for example, I feel like I’m isolated from the others, even if I’m in a big group of people. I imagine also anxiety, insecurity, inner demons.
Does it have any association with something or do you have an image of something specific when you think about it?
It can be associated with a lot of feelings for me. It could be connected to love if you love somebody who doesn't love you back. Or if you lose a person who is very important for you. It can be an expression of a lot of feelings mixed together. The times when I felt lonely it was related to love or loss, or when others wouldn’t understand my point of view or my beliefs. A lack of communication also easily leads to loneliness.
If we go back in time. Could you share the first moment or the most memorable experience of loneliness?
Yes, I can remember it very clearly. My first encounter with loneliness was when I was a teenager. I was at a party, I was in love with a guy, one of my closest friends. And my best friend was his girlfriend. And I knew that she doesn’t really love him. It was very difficult for me, it was a big dilemma. I didn’t want to do anything about it. So we were at a big party with a lot of people, but I couldn’t find my place there. The conversations weren’t interesting for me or maybe I was feeling out of place because I was unhappy. I was thinking ‘what am I doing here?’ These people are supposed to be my friends, but they don’t get me and I cannot share with them what is torturing me. So I just ran away. Some of them came to find me. I followed this pattern a couple of times. I was feeling a huge disharmony with myself. I also felt misunderstood. I was running away because I didn’t know what else to do.
"my first encounter with loneliness was when I was a teenager. I was at a party, I was in love with a guy"
When you ran away did you want to be found?
Yes. At first, I was hiding but I wanted them to find me.
What did you feel when they found you?
I understood they cared about me. I didn't even have to give them explanations. They just hugged me. It meant the world to me, I didn’t feel lonely anymore. One of them was the boy I was in love with.
Do you have this feeling that in public places you experience loneliness even more intense?
Yes, exactly. I enjoy spending time with myself, I even love travelling alone. I’m never bored, I always find something to do or to dream about. Sometimes I just need this time in silence to reconnect with myself. But this is solitude. For me, the worst feeling is to experience loneliness when you are among others, especially among your close ones. You see them so near, yet they are miles away. There is a whole world separating you.
I know that you lived abroad. When did you decide to go away and when you went away, did you face loneliness? Was it somehow related or it wasn't connected completely to this feeling? Did you find yourself lonely when you were there?
I think I did. I was thinking a lot about this lately… in the beginning – not so much. I had my life, I had a boyfriend, I was going to university. Even if I couldn’t speak French yet, I had friends who were foreigners like me. But when we were visiting friends of my boyfriend and nobody spoke English I felt like a chair. I couldn’t blame my boyfriend because he couldn't translate all of the conversations, but I was feeling quite lonely. I was thinking that nobody is making any effort to get to know me. I needed to find my own friends.
Did you manage to find a group of people there?
Yes, I did, but I met most of them after I left my ex-husband. I lived with him for 9 years. I felt I lost myself somewhere along the way, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was really feeling like I didn’t exist anymore. Everything was related to him and I have forgotten about myself. After our separation, I enjoyed finding myself again and reconnecting with my inner self.
And how did you decide to come back? Was it because of the divorce or you had some other reasons?
10 years in France were enough. I didn’t see myself staying and working there, although now I really miss my friends there, friends who are very dear to me. But my past was in France, not my future. I missed home, here I feel so light. I thought of this decision as a part of 'finding harmony with myself' project.
"but my past was in France, not my future. I missed home, here I feel so light"
I studied to be a social worker in France and after I graduated, I decided to move back to Bulgaria. But first I had planned to go for 3-4 months to Nepal, India and Vietnam. The purpose of this trip was to reconnect with myself and to push myself to take action. It was the perfect time to make this dream come true. I was sick of this consumerist society and being a part of it. I was curious to learn more about the Asian culture and traditions by living with the locals and doing some volunteering for them. Going to India was a big dream of mine. Before that I was also traveling alone and I enjoyed it. But I just stayed for one week in India because I didn't feel safe. And I'm really glad that I'm back.
After coming back to Bulgaria did you feel reconnected with your home immediately or did you feel lonely when you just came?
It was quite a shock, I guess. In the first couple of weeks I thought I have to leave. Sometimes it's still difficult to cope with it, you go to the store and people are rude. You are in the tram, and suddenly people start yelling at each other. I had to readapt to this environment. Of course, my family is here and I 'm happy to see them more often. Sofia felt like a strange new place and I felt like a foreigner. Plovdiv always felt like home.
Does this feeling still come back to you?
So you got rid of loneliness?
Yes, I think I did
Then maybe you could share what helped you to cope with these periods and what helped you to get rid of it and to become a person who is not experiencing this emotion now?
I don't know if there are some techniques. I just feel that I accept myself now. I'm eager to learn more every day, to become someone better. I'm curious and I want to travel, to discover, to be amazed by life. What has changed in me is that I don't worry about other people's opinions anymore. I don't have time to waste thinking about my mistakes or my flaws and to over analyse them. These actions are not constructive. Everybody has an interesting story to tell and every human being deserves to be loved. At least for me that’s the key. I think we need to learn to love ourselves.
The reason I asked about your current state is that for myself, I recognized a pattern that led me to this isolation and loneliness. I would spend much more time in my room, sleeping a lot because I did not have energy and I did not want to communicate with people, so to keep myself busy I was just sleeping and hiding from the world. When I noticed that for several days in a row I was just staying in a bed, that was a clear sign that firstly I had to find the reason why I was doing that and solve it. Did you have something like that? If yes could you please share?
Yes, this sounds very familiar. I was experiencing this at the end of my marriage. I was doing the same. I was sleeping and hiding from life. My mind was so occupied by negative thoughts and emotions that it was making me physically sick. I was not realising that I was unhappy. Like you, I didn't know why it was happening. It took me a while to understand the reason behind it. Then I decided to give myself a chance to be happy again. I have not felt like this since. I think now I know how to prevent it. At least I hope I do.
Could you share some little things that you do that keeps you uplifted, motivated or just happy?
Traveling (laughing)! You should just go somewhere, even if it’s a village nearby, change place. It could be seen as running away again, but I don't care, it helps me. I need a change. The routine is also killing me and I have to break it. That’s why I love traveling, there are so many things happening, every moment is different than the previous one. What makes me happy are little things like going for a walk, feeling the sun, listening to my favourite song, reading, caressing a cat, seeing a bird. Having a furry friend always makes me feel better. I also learned to do things by myself - going to the movies, to a play, to a trip. Also, leave the past where it is and try to enjoy the present. And, most important for me is accepting yourself. And if there's something that makes you unhappy, change it.
"the routine is also killing me and I have to break it. That’s why I love traveling, there are so many things happening, every moment is different than the previous one"
How important it is to speak about your feelings while you are in this state? From your experience how would you like someone to act towards you when you felt lonely?
It depends on the person, I guess. In the lonely period at the end of my marriage I had a very close friend whom I was confiding in. But it was only her whom I let so close. And she was the one who encouraged me to get my life together and take action to stop suffering. She helped me realise that it was important to listen to your feelings and trust them. I was afraid of course, all of my life was about to change and I was lost. Her approach was very direct and radical. And it was perfect for my situation because I needed to be shaken, to wake up and act. But I don’t know if I would have the same approach. In my opinion, you have to let the person come to you. But if they don't have the strength to do, like in my case, then it's better to be direct. I think it depends on the person and how close you are.
Is there something else you would other people to know about loneliness?
Oh, I don’t know. Probably we could decode this feeling and understand the reasons behind it when it happens. It makes us suffer, but it also shows us that we are unhappy. And there's nothing wrong with feeling lonely. I think it’s part of life and it’s also part of getting to know ourselves. Sometimes loneliness can be a good thing, it could lead to creative ideas for example. It can help us grow, change for the better. Or not (laughing). It depends on us.