- For many, “home” is a place that allows us to feel safe to be our most real and authentic self.
- Vocalist Elena Katarga shares how "home" was a frightening and unsafe place for her as she was growing up.
- Katarga explains how she now sees "home" as a mental state where she is accepted and can express her true self.
For some people, the term “home” simply refers to where they currently live or where they are from. But, for many, “home” is a place that allows us to feel safe to be our most real and authentic selves. We may build our home by choosing a place where we want to live. Then we pick furniture and décor that we like and that we feel most represent us. And if we are lucky, our home includes having people around us who understand who we really are and support us. Thus, our home can help us express who we are, feel more connected to ourselves and others, and feel less lonely.
From an early age, Elena Cartaraga —otherwise known as the vocalist Lena Scissorhands of the heavy metal band Infected Rain—grew up in a “home” that was not always the cure for loneliness. On their new album Ecdysis (2022), Infected Rain confronts a range of concepts including coping with loss, loneliness, and depression. For Lena, these struggles trace back to her family of origin, where she learned as a young child that “home” could be a frightening and unsafe place. As the oldest of three sisters living in Moldova, Lena describes her parents’ relationship as conflictual and abusive. “All that time was just constant fight[ing], constant abuse towards my mother,” Lena told me. “And we lived in a super-small, one-room apartment. And, so, everything was happening in front of my eyes—all the beating, all the physical abuse, the verbal abuse....And I can't forget that.”
Lena’s parents soon split up. At the age of nine, she was taken to live in Armenia by her father who was Armenian. She was disconnected from her mother and sisters and did not feel a strong connection to her father. It was at this point that Lena recognized that she could feel lonely when she was home. “I was taken to live in with my father, against my will....And this was my very first time in my life changing to a new country, which I wasn't familiar with. So, new country with new language, new culture, new people, new...rules….I wasn't ready for it. And it was really, really difficult for me at the time, especially because I was alone. I had my father, but I didn't have a very good connection with him. Because I was there against my will,” Lena recalled.
Lena soon fell into a depression, which only exacerbated her feeling of disconnection. “It was very brutal on me. In fact, that's when I had my very first big scary depression,” she said. “Sitting in the room all day, not even turning on the light, not really going down to eat.…And nobody really cared.”
Eventually, at the age of 13, Lena returned to Moldova to be with her mother and sisters. But, soon after Lena returned, her mother, who was a nurse, got a job in Italy. And this left Lena to take care of herself and her sisters. While this was difficult, by the age of 17, Lena had acclimated to her new life in Moldova. She had met her first boyfriend and was working as a hairdresser. But just as Lena was getting settled, her mother moved her and her sisters to a town in Italy near Rome. Once again, her sense of a home was disrupted. “We had to start over. And again, it's a new country with a new language, new culture,” Lena described. “Honestly, I was obviously very sad…the depression was kind of there already…which wasn't new to me.”
After years of living in Italy, at the age of 21, Lena moved back to Moldova. And while Moldova could perhaps be considered her country of origin, she still did not feel like she was “home.” Her mother and sisters were not there. Furthermore, as Lena developed an interest in becoming a heavy metal vocalist, she realized that Moldova was not an optimal location for her to grow her art.
In 2015, Lena came to live in the United States. On the one hand, she felt established as an artist and eventually got married. But, once again, she was in a foreign country. She often felt disconnected from others because of the language and cultural differences that created interpersonal misunderstandings. “It is hard because you do feel lonely.…Feeling lonely is a little bit different than being alone,” Lena described. “There are moments where you feel maybe misunderstood or because it's still not your country, not your culture. No matter how hard you try…sometimes I feel like I have to explain myself a couple of times, just because I don't want to be misunderstood. And even if I was understood perfectly on the first time, subconsciously, I have that fear of what if I'm being misunderstood.”
In 2019, Lena was divorced. Lena felt that even though she had created a home with her husband, she often felt lonely because she was not able to be her authentic self. In particular, she felt that it was difficult to pursue her career as a performing vocalist and maintain a connection in her marriage. “There is another scary part, when you feel lonely with company—when you feel lonely, still having your loved ones next to you, which is so possible. And that's when you are either not accepted or misunderstood,” she explained.
Making matters worse, Lena felt that in order to try and keep the marriage going, she had to suppress who she was and what she wanted. She felt like this led to a cycle in which she was trying to make her husband happy, but continued to lose sight of her own needs. “I just got lost into trying to please him too much...I forgot what I wanted for my own self with everything—with my diet choice, with my lifestyle choice, with my fitness choice, with my career choice,” Lena described. “You have to be very nice, always, and respectful. But never forget about your own needs.…And that's when you feel extremely lonely. Even if you sleep in the same bed and you smile and you do a lot of things together, you still feel so disconnected and so lonely.”
Committing to Self-Care and Finding Connection
Over the past two years, Lena has committed herself to a range of self-care practices, including daily reading and meditation. She also describes how getting a dog has helped her cope and feel less alone during the pandemic.
But one of the ways that Lena has always felt most connected is during live performances. Infected Rain is touring Europe this year, and Lena is thrilled to feel that connection. “It makes me feel the closest to the me I know, to the me I want to be, to the me that I feel the most comfortable with,” Lena exclaimed. “There's nothing that can be compared with that feeling of, you know, screaming and singing about your emotion and being understood.…And other people that can relate to what you're talking about are there. They're looking at you and, even if the only connection you have is energy, it’s still a connection. And that's when—I have goosebumps right now, by the way—oh, man, it's a strong feeling. It really is.”
Ultimately, Lena will continue to struggle with what “home” means to her. But after all of her struggles, she feels that she has a much better idea at this point in her life. “You can sometimes feel like you don't belong. You're lonely, even when you have the best company,” Lena said. “A lot of people ask me, where is home? And I don't know. But I can tell you that home is not a place. Home is a state of mind. And that could be thanks to people that are around you…things you do that make you feel fulfilled. But it's a feeling and you will know it when you feel it. When you're like, ‘Yes, I'm doing what I like, what I love. I am myself. I'm accepted by my friends by my significant other the way I am. I don't have to be afraid … I don't feel suppressed. I feel good.' It's a mental state.
“That's what home is.”