In a recent exchange between an advice-seeker and an Elder, the advice seeker wrote in, distraught over unrequited love. But not only was the love unrequited, the advice-seeker, Carmen, said that an attraction had developed between her crush and her best friend. Despite being aware of Carmen’s feelings, the friend pursued Carmen’s crush, and Carmen was left feeling terrible. Carmen had a history of depression, self-harm, and bulimia, and the experience brought on the return of her depression and threatened to stir up her other past issues. She said she believed that she was broken and would never find someone to love her.
First and foremost, our Elder advised that self-harm would not alleviate Carmen’s anger and hurt feelings. Kenti, the Elder, encouraged her to seek help or someone to speak to. As Kenti explained later in our interview with her, she pondered her response deeply before sending it. Emphasizing her carefully chosen words, Kenti commented, Carmen was clearly a strong person who had overcome significant adversity in her past. Kenti gently encouraged Carmen to write about her feelings, sharing the C. Day-Lewis quote that one ‘writes not to be understood, but to understand,’ or to express herself through art—something Kenti knew from her own experience would help. Finally, Kenti recommended that Carmen write affirmations, along the lines of “I love myself and respect myself,” somewhere where she would see them often.
Kenti’s advice really hit home for Carmen. “I still go back and read the response when I feel upset or worthless. It was probably the best thing anyone has ever said to me,” she said. She shared that it truly helped with her depression: Kenti had wisely given her practical tools that she could use to help herself feel better when she was feeling down. Plus, the lovingly written letter reassured Carmen that someone out there cared about her well-being, which in turn encouraged her to direct that care towards herself. She had, before speaking with Elder Wisdom Circle, looked to friends for advice, but it only left her feeling guilty that she was asking too much of them. Carmen was also afraid that outside of her friends and Elder Wisdom Circle, speaking about her problems would make her look weak or stupid. But the kindness that Elder Kenti expressed in their exchange, Carmen said moved her to tears, reminding her that she had come so far from who she used to be.
I interviewed Elder Kenti about offering advice to Carmen, and she told me that there wasn’t any one moment in her life that inspired the advice, but that she instead drew from a lifetime of experience—that which qualifies her as an Elder. A retired psychotherapist, Elder Kenti has had plenty of practice counseling individuals dealing with depression, self-harm, and bulimia, as well as a variety of other mental health issues. But regardless of her professional wisdom, Kenti said that she always asks for “Guidance” before offering elder wisdom advice, and reviews her letters several times before hitting “Send.” She expressed a sincere wish that Carmen would not relapse in her mental health issues. And, if she could offer one more piece of advice to her, she said that “Each of us has value and Inner Personal Wisdom that we can tap into.”
Elder Kenti was able to draw upon her reservoir of “life” to uncover just the right words to guide Carmen. As we journey through this thing we call life each interaction, thought and experience adds just a few drops to that reservoir. When a EWC Elder is able to reflect and draw upon that wisdom reservoir to help a younger person with lesser drops in their reservoir, the Elder assumes their role as a guide in this journey of life, just as the universe intended.