So this post is unrelated to veganism and surfing I suppose but I feel that it’s important to share it with as many people as possible…

Yesterday I was in Edinburgh. I caught the train into the city and upon arrival I stopped at a coffee shop for a drink and to orientate myself. I sat down with my coffee, stirred in some sugar, put the spoon down on the table and then slowly looked up to observe my surroundings. The coffee shop was small and cosy (or cramped depending on which way you’d look at it).

In the centre of the cluster of tables sat a woman who looked to be distressed – nearly crying – and was shaking slightly as if shivering in the cold. She made eye contact and I looked away – in fear that she might not want to be noticed (though now I reflect back, she could have just got up and left if that was the case). A few moments later, out of both concern and curiosity, I looked up a second time. Again, the woman and I made eye contact for a brief moment, before i decided to look away a second time. I knew that I should ask if she was okay – and I wanted to. It just seemed like a bit of a stupid question – as she clearly wasn’t okay – but there was also a strange fear that, in the event that she wanted to be left alone, I ended up looking stupid – or maybe even get snapped at. Perhaps I was overthinking.

Luckily a lady on her way out of the coffee shop noticed the distress and approached the woman, asking if she was okay. The woman managed to respond and it turned out that she was actually in the middle of a bad panic attack – practically unable to do anything. At this point I actually felt really bad. Bad that I hadn’t followed my instinct to offer help, and that I’d witnessed this individual going through pain – probably in order to avoid embarrassment. At the same time, I felt a sense of relief though. The lady who stepped in managed to get some rescue remedy drops from the victim’s bag and calm her down with her warming comforting arms. I experienced both guilt and fear and, I suppose, a sense of powerlessness – and the whole event actually affected me somewhat.

What I am glad of is that the woman came out of the panic attack okay, and that I was lucky enough to witness a genuine act of care and humanity from one stranger towards another. The whole situation was a very powerful reminder for me… If in doubt, always check that somebody is okay. (Despite my basic first aid training, I failed to recognise the symptoms of a panic attack (though this was the first time I’d actually witnessed one)). Also, remember that there are incredible and caring people amongst us everywhere – even in these times of perceived alienation, inhumanity and disconnectedness.

I left, reflecting on what had happened, knowing how I’d respond to a similar situation in the future.

I ended up thinking about the event on several occasions throughout the rest of my day. Later in the night whilst I was sat in a cafe with my friend, and much to my disbelief, the lady who helped the panic attack victim walked in. We ended up at the bar together but she didn’t recognise me – so I asked her if she was the lady who helped the panic attack victim in the coffee shop earlier in the day. This was indeed the same lady and so I thanked her for stepping in when I didn’t (and before anybody else did) and for being an inspiration.

She tells me she’s a social worker. To me, she is a good human – and a teacher.


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