On the railways we see quite a few people with mental health issues one way or another. Anyone who does customer service with the public is bound to. When I’m cooking BBQ for the other staff at the show, I get a chance to catch up on the news from round our region and this year we somehow got to talking about mental health issues. In particular three women – B—A — and H — who regularly appear at railway stations and threaten self harm (code word for jumping under a train) Everyone has a story of dragging these ladies off the tracks, restraining them, or handcuffing them to a rail until the police and social workers come.
The most famous of these is B. I never met her, but I suspect she was the subject of the regular weekly SMS you used to see on the system. <<Train delays. Female threatening self harm at S– .>>
One of my current workmates knew her as a child and says she was a nice kid but that the family was seriously dysfunctional.
For a long time the rumor has been floating round that B finally went under a train and is dead, but at the show one of the ticket inspectors said he’d seen her all cleaned up and with a little girl on some kind of access visit. I hoped this was true but on the last night of the show another ticket inspector told me he’d seen the report. B was dead. She’d slipped and fallen while standing on a bridge parapet threatening to jump. Sad and particularly so for the daughter.
I’ve described A– in a previous post. She’s an overweight woman in her late twenties who sometimes visits the junction when I was at the barriers. She is often wearing a wrist band and usually she has a bandage on some injury or other.
She sits and smokes and tells you hair raising stories of how she took 7 sleeping pills on a country train and had to be put off and how she gets scary voices and how she likes to torment the security guards who all hate her and are out to get her anyway. She tells all these stories in a jolly voice as one would tell a joke. At first her weird narcissistic need to impress scared me. 4 hours of it can be pretty overwhelming. Then a workmate told me that whenever it gets too much, say “the boss is getting angry with me for chatting and I have to stop now.” Oddly enough A respects this and takes herself off.
Now I have an escape hatch I find I can talk to A– ok, especially since one of the security guards told me she loves cats. So I do my best to get her onto the subject of cats. But what I really want to ask her is “why??” Why do this? Surely there must be more satisfying ways to spend the short life you have. Maybe the right words at the right time might put her back on track.
But it doesn’t work like that. Her eyes gleam with mania as she tells her stories. I suspect she has little else in her life. Logic doesn’t apply here.
The third self harmer H– I know quite well. For a while she was attending the youth mental health service near my station and one day I found and held her wallet for her until she came back.
She’s a solid sort of girl in her early teens, the sort of fierce gallant girl who would be good at rugby or roller derby, someone who might be a bully or a protector against bullies. I’ve seen her acting like an idiot on the train surrounded by a handful of slightly sneering school fellows going “Oh that’s just H–”. She used to sit sometimes on the edge of the platform with her legs over the edge and I’d tell her she was worrying me but leave it at that. One time she’d clearly had a bad day because she stood on the side of the platform with her toes sticking out over the edge just staring fiercely down onto the tracks. When the train came she just kept standing there. It managed to stop about three metres from her and the driver sat there looking worried. Stalemate!
So I went over and put my arm round her and coaxed her away from the edge and stood between her and the train until it came in. She got on and was taken away and I didn’t think anything more of it. Just adolescent hijinks. Getting a thrill out of stopping a train.
Last time I saw her she told me she’d moved away and wasn’t travelling on that line anymore, which I took to be a good result.
But was it? While working at the show, a ticket inspector tells me he’s seen three security guards try to stop H– jumping on the tracks and that she’s just as bad as the other two. He talks of mace. I so hope he’s got the wrong person or that his information is out of date. She’d seemed so much quieter and more confident the last time I’d seen her.
Everything I’ve seen H– do seems like just adolescent attention seeking behavior. But has it gone toxic – turned into as mental health issue – as it has in A– and B–? Will it take over and maybe take her life?