project of Kristina Chimbaraite
I'm Zachary, 25 years old now. I'm pretty open-minded and I love to read, write, draw and play video games.
I was/am in Bulgaria because I started volunteering with refugees and Roma children. I will be now staying and working here.
"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" - David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas.
What do you feel or imagine when you hear the word ‘loneliness’?
For me it’s basically… it hurts me, because I have this incredible terrifying fear of staying alone my entire life. Like I have certain type of loneliness – the loneliness, you know, with having people around, like no friends and things like that, but then there’s also the loneliness of not being in a relationship type of deal, which is my biggest fear honestly. I get really terrified of that type of loneliness, like staying alone forever.
I can be alone for certain period of time and I’m fine, but then I can also sort of divert that, you know, when I feel lonely I can also end up focusing on other things like gay video games and stuff like that. That works but only up until I finish a certain video game I’ve been playing for a while and was able not to feel lonely at that time. And after that’s finished and I don’t find fast enough something else that’s when it starts to crush. Like the entire feeling starts crushing down on me, when it’s like: ‘oh shit, I’m actually lonely’. So that’s kinda my situation most of the time.
For me personally there is a particular image of a real place when I think about loneliness. Do you have something like that?
Not really. I don’t really have a place like that. It just comes crushing usually before bad or moments when I just started here before I had friends. I just came to the apartment and I felt terrible. So it wasn’t even like I had a certain place where I would be in a safe space or something. It was there, it was permanent at that moment. Coming home after work in that sense into an empty apartment, it felt weird, because in that moment it’s permanent. I’ve realised that I’m coming home to loneliness.
And when I started to get friends… I think I had friends to stay other two or three times, and there are curtains in the apartment, and the first time I had friends over we opened curtains in the kitchen. It was dark already outside and we were looking like I’m showing my neighbours that I’m not lonely. That felt actually a little bit good.
"I’ve realised that I’m coming home to loneliness"
When was the first moment you realised that it’s more than just some alone-time but you are actually stuck in loneliness? Or maybe not the first but most remarkable moment?
For me it started basically I would say in junior high, in Germany after fourth grade we switch to secondary school. That’s when the bullying started and I think that’s when it kind of started as well, because I didn’t really have with whom I could hang out after school… I mean, I did have friends, I was friends with the other outcasts, the different ones compared to the rest of the kids. A lot also didn’t live closely and there weren’t a lot of things for us to do, so I think that’s when it really started. And I got addicted to the Internet, to chat rooms and having friends actually online.
The most prevalent friendships I actually made, they weren’t even in the same country necessarily. I had a best friend, we are still friends, he knew me, he still knows me since I was 14 years old. So I’m now 24 and he’s in his 30s right now. He’s basically one of the people whom I know the longest online. And for me growing up with borderline personality disorder (BPD), it was hard because it is a lot stigmatized that we can’t keep friendships or relationships for a long while. And for me it was like: ‘it can’t be that I can’t have friends or relationship for a long time’. That’s terrible if you think about it. And online friendships were easier for me, it felt easier, because of the bullying I developed a social anxiety, so it got even worse…
"and for me growing up with borderline personality disorder (BPD), it was hard because it is a lot stigmatized that we can’t keep friendships or relationships for a long while"
I got put one year back in school in like eighth grade, no, it was in ninth grade. At first I thought I’m gonna end up not being bullied. Well, the second round of ninth grade and I got bullied again. And it was even worse. And then I graduated, not the best grades or anything, because of the bullying I refused to go to school a lot. And then I switched to another school and I ended up in a classroom with 25 other women… it was one of worst times in my entire life. Like junior high to high school was already bad, but that year, that was the worst I could ever have gotten because in that time, in 2011, I also lost my best friend Alex to a suicide. So I felt even lonelier, because this entire time I had somebody, a friend that was there even if we didn’t live close. It kinda just ruined me. In that time it was terrible, it was awful.
For me the worst part is that I hardly ever actually talk openly with somebody face to face about this. This is kind of like… instead of a therapy… I don’t know how to say, because I tend not to break that fast (Zach actually started to cry). But yeah, for me it was a terrible time.
"for me the worst part is that I hardly ever actually talk openly with somebody face to face about this"
I struggled a lot with not having friends in actual real life. And then everything went over online, like the only relationships I basically had in that sense, friendships or people who were there for me.
How was your family reacting to these events that were happening in your life?
My mom tried everything with school. She was really like a driving force, she wanted them, you know, to do something about it. Well, there was also that one incident, it was in sixth grade I think, yeah… where I had even from the main two bullies, one of the girl’s mom legit followed me through the school building and she yelled to me: ‘If you were my kid, I would have slapped you already.’ So she was pissed off at me when it was her daughter and friend of hers who were bullying me, but it was my fault apparently, you know…
"I know I’ve always been different. I’m fucking trans. I am different, I am aware of it"
I know I’ve always been different. I’m fucking trans. I am different, I am aware of it. I was never normal in a sense for their type of society. But the school never did really anything. And whenever they did it was already too late because, you know, most changes happened maybe a month before the school ends. And that doesn’t help me at all, my grades are still shit, I can’t fix grades in a month. So yeah… that’s basically how it happened.
My mom was aware and my mom new… as kids we used to be outside a lot with my brother, so it’s not like I was always inside doing stuff, but when all the bullying happened, I just locked myself up basically. My mum new I had an addiction to the Internet, I think deep down she also understood because I didn’t have real life friends. So most of my friendships were online. I mean, they still are nowadays.
I want to ask, and if you don’t want to answer you don’t have to, about your mental health situation.
From what I understand what BPD is, you have a predisposition for it. My mom has bipolar and I’m pretty sure my dad has something too. And one of my aunts from dad’s side has a borderline personality disorder too, so it was kind of already predisposed that whatever happens in my life will probably trigger me having it. I think it existed already but all the things that followed made it prevalent, made it come up in a sense.
The thing is that usually they can’t diagnose before you turn 18, but at that time I was already self-harming and it was actually a doctor, a usual therapist who saw the cuts on my arms and he suspected that it could be BPD. So… my first psychologist actually said that I had an issue with fitting in which it wasn’t in the end. After all I did get diagnosed with BPD and due to the background and history of family mental illnesses it was obvious at some point.
Did it somehow make it more understandable for you what was going on when you were diagnosed?
For me I think the worst part is that it is a personality disorder. It’s not something like bipolar that can be fixed with chemicals. Basically my brain functions differently. With my disorder it’s also, I wouldn’t say everybody, we have a luck of sense of ourselves. If one reads about it – it’s like the luck of sense of self and chronic emptiness. And for me with BPD it’s especially I feel a lot. While somebody can feel sad or upset about something, for me it feels like I’m dying. I have literal breakdowns over it. It might not seem a lot for others, but for me it’s something that hurts really badly.
Is there something that people around you can do at this moment to help or support you?
For me it’s usually… when I have breakdowns, I will have breakdowns no matter what someone does. So if it does get triggered I will have a breakdown, but the thing is – I’ll have a breakdown, sleep or I might feel like shit for the next few weeks or something, but then suddenly at some point I will be ok. After that everything is kinda forgotten. I just need support. I do not like people trying to give me advice because the advice is often things I already thought about that aren’t really that helpful. I just need people to list, to just let me vent it out. I’m not much of a fan of people basically thinking ‘oh, I need to fix this person’ which is impossible, nobody can fix me in that sense.
"I just need people to list, to just let me vent it out"
Is there any pattern you notice that like ‘oh, we are getting there’?
Yeah… for me, especially because of social anxiety when I still think that people actually don’t want to hang out with me. So either I’m socially drained where I do not want to interact with people at all, which is fine, it’s just me trying to regenerate the energy to deal with people, and there’s a type where I actually isolate myself, where I’m like: ‘Oh, they actually don’t want to hang out with me. I’m just the obligation because they feel sorry for me or something.’ And that’s where the isolation starts and the thought like: ‘Yeah, I don’t think anybody actually likes me.’ Because of the past with the entire bullying, so that’s there I notice that I start to isolate myself because I’m getting these thoughts.
Did you figure out how to help yourself in these situations?
Oh… I meant, lately here in Bulgaria I have actually friends, I think. Like yesterday I spent the day at a friend’s place, we were gaming and basically we were talking, because we also talk a lot about personal stuff, about loneliness, and needs and stuff. And he was like: ‘If you feel that loneliness is coming up or if it’s a need that you don’t want to spend time with people, tell me that that’s a need not a want (like when I start to isolate myself).’ So I know I have people who are there, who want me to not isolate myself.
Can you tell a little bit more about moving to Bulgaria to do volunteering service?
I can never let my mum see this because it will break her heart. It was like for me basically way to get out of the whole town because I couldn’t get the job, everything was far away, I didn’t have money to move out or move to a bigger city. First of all, I always wanted to help people. Also it’s financed and everything, you know, so I didn’t have to worry about being able to get out. There was nothing for me there. I don’t particularly feel homesick either. The thought of me having to leave in February breaks me, because I know what I’m going back to. It’s not gonna be that great if don’t manage to come back.
I haven’t had a job in years, and I’ve got a lot of rejections. The job centres thought I was lazy, but I actually wanted to work, I just couldn’t find anything. I was very limited in what I could do. And it also doesn’t help that with live on the outskirts in Germany, there’s nothing. There’re no places for young people to go, and everything is far away. And I can’t stay out longer because I can’t pay a taxi to go back home and stuff.
Is there something you would like people to know about loneliness?
I don’t know what to tell them because I’m still working on trying to figure it out. I wouldn’t wish to ever feel it. I just wish it never happened. Especially with our generation, it’s not like the elderly people in that sense... for us it’s even worse because we can be in a room full of people and still be lonely. For me it feels worse in this sense.
"I’m still working on trying to figure it out. I wouldn’t wish to ever feel it. I just wish it never happened"
Genuine care is the only way to help those who are lonely. Not the friends I grew up with, we were not even friends in real life. I was just a tag-along type because I didn’t have anyone else either. And online I had people who actually cared for me. And whenever something happened it was me talking to people online.
It seems like the most important is to talk, just force yourself to start this conversation and then…