During many of his childhood years, Rafael Rozenblad (19 years old), felt lonely. Here he shares his story.
To me, loneliness is a mix of emotions. It feels like being sad, useless, and invisible. I was five years old when I ended up at a crisis centre for women. My parents went through a painful 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 once witnessed him hitting my mother with a baby carriage while I was 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 me were waiting for help. But nobody came to help us; we were just told to play with our peers. The feelings of loneliness turned into confusion and insecurity about our situation. There was jealousy too. My mother received help, but nobody helped me. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting any attention.
After being at the shelter for nine months, we finally moved into a rental house. Suddenly, my mother had the full responsibility of three children, and so she decided that it was best for me to live elsewhere. I was eight years old, and the middle child. Being older, my brother was more independent than I was, and my sister was still very young, so I think my mother wanted me out of the house to focus entirely on raising her.
I couldn’t 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 on a beautiful farm. When I arrived, the farm had burned down, and it turned out that the other children had severe developmental disorders. They threw toys at me, and I was confronted with aggressive behaviour daily. I, therefore, tended to avoid the communal areas and mostly remained alone in my room.
While most of the children stayed a year or so, I ended up living there for four years, even though my mother had promised me it would be a temporary arrangement. I felt betrayed. I remember seeing other children and childcarers come and go, while I just stayed.
At the age of 10, I became severely depressed. The orphanage decided to give me the antidepressant Prozac, but it, unfortunately, had an adverse effect on me. I started getting hallucinations and became suicidal. I then stopped going to school. In the end, I tried to poison myself by drinking a cocktail of different types of soap. They had to pump my stomach in the hospital.
To me, it got worse 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, as well as 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 of my youth.
Since that time, I have taken many steps to improve my situation. 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 my future.
If I could go back in time, I would make sure that people had listened to me. The people I had around never asked me about my situation. The experiences of my childhood also taught me to be there for others.
Loneliness is not necessarily being on your own, it’s the feeling that you are alone, even when there may be others around you. It’s an emotion that you cannot 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 in with group activities, and then talk with me to ask me how I was doing. Instead, they had very serious and professional conversations with me. During a game of soccer, for example, they could have given me some attention and used this time to ask how I was doing. In a relaxed environment, it would have felt much easier to share my emotions.
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 the children feel that I am there for them and that they can trust me.
I have also written a rap song about my difficult period, entitled ‘The road to success’. I have performed the song at several care institutions and organisations, and I am involved in a talent hunt for the youth organisation ‘CliC’, to find children like myself, in the hope of recording a CD with them, enabling them to share their stories too.
Today, I have friends and a girlfriend, and I am back in contact with my mother, brother, and sister. At this point, I feel strong, and I no longer fear to feel lonely again. That said, something can always happen, and one day I might find my strength tested again.
Written by: Ties Gijzel