During many of his childhood years, Rafael Rozenblad (19 years old), felt lonely. Now he shares his story.
To me, loneliness is a mix of emotions. It feels like being sad, useless and invisible. I was 5 years old when I ended up at a crisis centre for women. My parents went through a difficult divorce, and we had to move to a women's shelter in Heerlen from our home in Rotterdam. My father was schizophrenic and abused my mother. I have witnessed him hitting my mother with a baby carriage while standing next to them. I was a small child who couldn't intervene. I isolated myself from my family and became increasingly lonely and depressed. The loneliness I felt back then was rooted in fear, sadness and the feeling of powerlessness.
My mother received psychological help and treatment at the women’s shelter, while my sister, brother and myself were waiting for help. But nobody came to help us; we were told to play with our peers. The feelings of loneliness turned into confusion and insecurity about our situation. And jealousy. My mother received help, but nobody helped me. I did not understand why I did not get attention.
After having been at the shelter for nine months, we finally got a rental house. Suddenly my mother had the full responsibility of three children, and she decided to place me out of the home. I was 8 years old, in between the age of my brother and sister. My brother was more independent than I, and my sister was still very young. I think she wanted me out of the house to focus fully on raising her.
Photo: Ties Gijzel
I could not understand her decision at the time. I felt angry, sad and scared. To make it easier for me, she told me that I would live at a childcare orphanage at a beautiful farm. When I arrived, the farm had burned down and it turned out the other children had severe developmental disorders. They threw toys at me and I was confronted with aggressive behaviour on a daily basis. I avoided the communal areas and was always alone in my room.
While most of the children stayed a year or so, I ended up living there for 4 years. Although my mother had promised me that it would be temporary. I felt betrayed. I remember seeing other children and childcarers come and go, while I just stayed.
At the age of 10, I became seriously depressed. Then the orphanage gave me the antidepressant Prozac. This had the opposite effect on me. I started getting hallucinations and became suicidal. I stopped going to school. In the end, I tried to poison myself by drinking a cocktail of different types of soaps. They had to pump my stomach in the hospital.
To me, it went really wrong before it got better. I decided that I could not live like this. I had to do something about my state of mind. I had to find my own solutions for my loneliness and social isolation. I had been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, in combination with ADHD, autism, mood swings and a personality disorder.
When I turned 16, I was able to request a revision of my diagnosis, and all of the earlier diagnoses were overturned. The new diagnosis was that I had developed a mild social-emotional disorder, which was caused by the loneliness and unwanted social isolation during my youth.
Since that time, I have taken many steps to improve my situation. After having missed a lot of school, I was able to complete three school years in one year. This made me feel stronger and more positive about the future.
If I could go back in time, I would make sure that people listened to me. The people I had around me did not ask about my feelings. The experiences of my childhood also taught me to be there for others.
Loneliness means feeling alone, even if you have others around you. It’s an emotion, a feeling, that you can not help. A child can feel lonely, but does not necessarily understand why he or she feels this way. A child cannot yet take care of him or herself, and especially not when feeling lonely.
Whether a child can talk about this depends on his or her surroundings. If somebody had taken the time to talk to me, it would have lessened my isolation. At the orphanage, my mentors should have taken the time to ask me if I wanted to join activities and then talked with me. Instead, they had very serious and professional conversations with me. During a game of soccer, they could have given me attention and asked how I’m doing. In a relaxed environment, it would have felt much easier to share feelings and emotions.
Photo: Ties Gijzel
This is the reason I'm involved in several projects that tackle loneliness amongst children. As a member of the youth organisation ‘Unforgettables’ or Het Vergeten Kind, I hope to give children the feeling that I’m there for them and that they can trust me.
I have also written a rap song about my difficult period, with the title ‘The road to success’. I have performed at several care institutions and organisations, and I am involved in a talent hunt for the youth organisation ‘CliC’, to find children like myself and make a CD with them so they can share their stories.
Today, I have friends and a girlfriend. I have regained contact with my mother, brother and sister. At this point, I feel strong and I no longer fear to feel lonely again. But something can always happen, and one day I might be tested again.
Written by: Ties Gijzel