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A man asking for change gave a woman a rare glimmer at a dark period of her life

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. And today's story comes from Laura Eshelman. In 2012, Eshelman was in the middle of a mental health spiral. The love of her life had just dumped her and she was struggling with an eating disorder. To top it all off, she was having trouble finding work. One day, after being rejected for yet another job, she encountered an unexpected unsung hero.

LAURA ESHELMAN: I was feeling pretty down and decided to go to the Whole Foods across the street. As I was crossing the street, I noticed a man on the street corner. He was actually in the middle of asking a passerby for change who didn't so much as acknowledge his existence. And as I approached, he turned his attention to me and, again, asked if he could have a little bit of money. I don't remember what my response was to him, and I'm glad that I don't remember because what I do recall is whatever I said was very unkind and harsh, something to the tune of leave me the hell alone. I don't have anything to give you. Just bug off. With that, I sauntered into the grocery store and began perusing the aisles. But the interaction had left me a little distracted and rattled for reasons I couldn't quite put my finger on until the realization of how rude and awful I had been to this person hit me like an anvil. I remember thinking, what the hell have you become? Who are you?

I dropped everything I was doing and left the store quickly, in the hopes that the man was still on the corner, which he was. And I hustled over to him, began apologizing profusely and dug out some change that had, of course, been at the bottom of my pocket the whole time. And as I was handing him the change, he took my hand in both of his hands. I remember they were very large and rough, and it took me by surprise, actually. And he said, hey. It's going to be OK. And for the first time in a long time, I felt like somebody was seeing my own pain, and I started to cry. We just stood there for a few more moments, and I thanked him and we parted ways. That moment on the street was one of few glimmers in that extremely dark period of my life.

CHANG: That was Laura Eshelman of Asheville, N.C. Laura says she eventually checked herself into a program to treat her eating disorder and started rebuilding her life. She wishes that she could thank her unsung hero for being so kind. You can find more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. And to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to send a voice memo. And if you are in psychological distress, whether from an eating disorder or for any other reason, you can dial 988 to speak with counselors at the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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