What it feels like… to be stalked
The first anonymous text message came as I was watching TV alone in my Harrogate flat in 2000. It simply read: ‘I’m watching The Priory too’.
It freaked me out because not only was my flat on the top floor of a four-storey building, but the TV was positioned in a place that anyone looking from outside the window wouldn’t have been able to see what was on the screen.
So I texted back: ‘Sorry, who is this?’ No reply.
When my flatmate came home later that evening, I told her about it and we had a good look around the flat together. We couldn’t find anything so we just chalked it down to a ridiculous coincidence.
Later that night, we went out dancing and I left my phone at home. When I came home a few hours later, I had another message that read: ‘I watched you dancing tonight. I liked your blue dress.’
After reading this, I was in total freak out mode so my flatmate rang the number but it just went to the standard voicemail.
For the next three weeks, the messages continued daily – but there were no direct threats. It was little things like ‘I saw you on your lunch break today’ and ‘I like turkey sandwiches too’.
I messaged back a couple of times asking whoever it was to please stop because the texts were alarming me. They would randomly stop for a day or two and then start back up again.
It was awful. I started having trouble sleeping and I was panicking all the time so I decided to call the police after about three weeks – even though I felt a bit daft as there was nothing in them that made me feel in danger.
The police came over to my house and had a chat with me but they said there was nothing much that they could do because the messages weren’t explicitly threatening. They said it was probably someone I knew – perhaps an ex-boyfriend or someone I had inadvertently upset. The thought of that just really frightened me.
After the police left, I got a message almost immediately from the anonymous number, but the tone had completely changed. They must’ve seen the police car outside my house.
They called me a ‘f***ing bitch’ and warned that if I went to the police again, they’d kill me.
I immediately bursted into tears and decided to message them back – even though the police told me not to engage. I urged whoever it was to please just leave me alone.
Then I got nothing back from them for two days, until I was walking home from work and they messaged that they could see me. My heart was racing so I rang my flatmate because I was almost home.
But as I walked up the street towards my house, I thought I noticed a car trailing me – trucking along at my pace. I was trying to look at it but I also didn’t dare risk it.
I immediately called the police again and they asked if I got a number plate, but I couldn’t because I just froze in that moment. They asked for the person’s number instead and said they’d leave a message with their voicemail warning them about harassment being a crime and telling them to stop.
They also tried to assure me that if this person was going to kill me, they’d probably have done it by now. As you can imagine, this was little consolation.
The voice message from the police seemed to do the trick for about a week, until my stalker started messaging about what my friends were doing. ‘I saw your friend leave last night,’ one of the messages read. ‘I watched them walk home.’
That really upset me because not only did I feel like I was in danger, but now my friends were too. It truly felt like there was nothing I could do to make it stop.
At the same time, my flatmate and I were noticing strange things happening around the house. It started off with our shoes being neatly lined up by the door or DVDs being arranged vertically rather than horizontally, despite neither of us doing it.
One morning, I woke up to a fresh cup of tea next to my bed – even though my flatmate was already at work.
Soon after – again, when I was alone – I went downstairs, picked up the post and came back into the flat. I got ready for work and went to leave, but the flat was locked. Someone had stolen my keys and then locked me in so I couldn’t get out.
We even put the strange goings on in the flat to a ghost, as none of it made any sense. The landlord didn’t have keys and he was very clear we had the only sets, and when I called him after losing mine, he said we simply had to get news ones cut or change the locks.
About six months since the messages first started, I decided to move away and start my MA. Thankfully, as soon as I moved, the messages completely stopped.
To this day, I still don’t know who it was. Of course I have my suspicions – from exes, friends and colleagues. I even attempted to call the phone number when I was with certain groups of friends to see if their phones rang, but nothing.
For me, not knowing the identity of the stalker was much more frightening than the stalking itself. I think this is why the experience stayed with me for a long time after. I was constantly anxious and when I was trying to make friends with new people, I was always nervous about giving them my number.
Then when social media started to become a big thing, the incident made me really reluctant to give out my personal details online. Whoever was doing that to me, it wasn’t because I was updating my Facebook status, it was because they were two feet behind me. So why make it even easier for them?
I’ve since leant on my experiences and written a book called Paper Dolls – a fictional thriller about an ex journalist who was being watched. Writing it was incredibly cathartic and it made me realise just how much being stalked really affected me in the long run.
I want the person who did this to me to know how much it impacted me. They may have done it for a laugh. They may have had more sinister intentions and I hope to god they didn’t do it to somebody else or that they got it worse.
Over about six months, I received hundreds of messages from my stalker. But the fear has stayed with me for many years to come.
Lisa Bradley’s book Paper Dolls is now available on Amazon.
In this exciting new series from Metro.co.uk, What It Feels Like… not only shares one person’s moving story, but also the details and emotions entwined within it, to allow readers a true insight into their life changing experience.
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