Look Who’s Stalking: A Psychiatrists' Tale

Some days after appearing in the media to discuss a report, I was naturally expecting some people to do a ‘double take’ when walking past me. This did happen a few times over the next few days, but what was to follow in the months to come was indeed a tale of the unexpected.

I was standing in my usual place on the train platform on my way back from work, when I began to hear a woman’s voice speaking loudly (in different language) on her mobile telephone; she was pacing up and down behind me, occasionally looking up as if she recognised me.

I thought nothing more of it, until the next day and then every single day, the same person stood in the same place at the same time, occasionally trying to make eye contact, but saying nothing. Something peculiar then started to happen. Over the next few weeks, like the weeping angels in Doctor Who, this stranger started sitting nearer and nearer me on my way back from work. It was not long before she started to appear at the station as I boarded the morning train, merging into a more worrying trend of waiting at the bus stop on the other side of the road after I got off the train to work to catch my own bus. After six months, did I now have enough evidence of being stalked? Perhaps I did, but further unwelcome behaviour began to emerge over the next few months.

The stranger began waiting at the same bus stop after I had got off the train on my way back from work and after a few weeks, started getting on the same bus and off at the same stop as me, but then walking in a different direction. Not only that, I then started to find her waiting at the bus stop opposite my house as I walked towards the station in the morning.

Changing my route to work put a stop to this temporarily on two occasions, but the same pattern then emerged after resuming my normal commuting route. It was now nearly two years since first noticing that she might have more than a passing interest in me. Changing my commute to a slightly earlier or later train made little difference. She had become my shadow.

The ‘final straw’ came at the station on morning when I got on my usual train. She followed into the same carriage. I got off again. She followed me back onto the platform. I had become exasperated. What had started as coincidence had now become a major inconvenience. Would this never end? How much further would it escalate? I had to think of something. I came upon a novel approach, which was to ask my wife to collect me from the station in the evening and drive past the bus stop where the stranger waited, so that she noticed that I had had a more permanent relationship! After three such manoeuvres, something happened that was truly miraculous. As if by magic, the stranger disappeared overnight.

It has now been 2 years since I last saw my stalker and my life has regained some sort of stability. I still scratch my head, looking for answers. Was this stranger a local resident who had mistaken me for someone else? If not, she had certainly gone out of her way to follow me home daily. I didn’t recognise her as someone previously known to me. I suppose I will now never know.

Stalking is defined as a problem behaviour involving unwanted communications or approaches that cause fear or significant distress, and that are repeated over more than two weeks. About two in eight women and eight in a hundred men are affected at some point in their lives. One of the motives for stalking is to seek intimacy, but the reason for this happening to me remains an enigma. According to a study from the University of Leicester, a third of victims said that they had lost their job or relationship or had been forced to move because of stalking. Half of the victims reported they were regarded as ‘over-reacting’ when they confided in friends and colleagues about their stalker.

Employers have responsibilities if stalking extends to the workplace, but my situation fell short of this and I had no idea whom to inform. Nevertheless, it did affect my mental state in being apprehensive about what to expect when I next stepped out of the house and the fact that it went on for nearly two years.

The fact that this did not involve a direct threat did not detract from the fact that it could have easily escalated further and perhaps my rather unusual way of dealing with this may have not been needed had I approached the stalker earlier on, perhaps to ask her if she knew me. Equally, this may not have been the ideal intervention.

I have no doubt that even in its ‘mildest’ form, stalking can have a profound effect on the lives of those being stalked. In many cases, it is known to be associated with significant anxiety, depression or even suicidal ideation. It may also be associated with threats of violence from or even threats of suicide by the stalker. My situation was not typical of the usual scenarios, but there would still have been a wide range of help available. This includes advice for doctors from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and for the public from the National Stalking Helpline and the Network for Surviving Stalking, so that the impact of stalking can be minimised, and it can be managed in an appropriate way.

Looking back, I am now more certain that I should sought help earlier. It was always there if I needed it. You never know, you may need it too.