That time I heard voices

As the title of this post suggests, I heard voices in my head once before.

October 20, to be exact.

Police officials had invited me to sit in on a crisis intervention training session at the Police Academy to gain a little insight into a larger story I was researching on how the training impacts cops who volunteer for the program. (Read that story in today's Daily News, or here.)

"Wednesday is the best day to go," Lt. Francis Healy, who oversees the training, told me. "That's the day everyone gets to hear voices." 

Mind-altering drugs weren't included in the session, so the voices came from small MP3 players and ear buds that were handed out to the 35 cops and one reporter who attended the Wednesday afternoon session. Instructors from the city's Department of Behavioral Health & Mental Retardation Services explained that we would all have to perform tasks while we listened to a barrage of voices. (The tasks included filling out psychiatric evaluations, playing an odd form of bingo, answering questions from a pretend doctor and trying to match cars in the academy's parking lot to license plate numbers that were written down on index cards.)

I turned on and tuned in, and within seconds, my ears were filled with  the sound of rhythmic yet indecipherable chanting. It was annoying, and distracting, but not terribly disturbing. Next came a voice -- a woman's voice, to be exact. She was nice. She kept telling me that I was "The One," and a lot of other people knew that I was "The One," and, well, I didn't mind hearing that, truth be told. 

The third voice was a man. He was all venom. He mocked. He yelled. He assured me that I was disgusting, and that someone was coming for me. Trying to complete a simple task -- like counting backwards by seven, or reciting a list of words that were spoken to me -- proved to be damn near impossible with him shouting and cursing in my head.

And then, just like that, it was over. The sound file reached its end, and the crisis training session dismissed for the day.

Friends asked me afterwards what it was like to, you know, hear voices. After all, TV shows and movies have showed us time and again that such a thing is either intriguingly supernatural or hysterically funny. My reaction was that it's neither, not by a long shot.

I spent the better part of an hour with a little device playing voices for me. There are countless people out there who hear voices in their heads all the time, but they can't hit a stop button or turn the volume down when it gets to be too much.

Their lives, I thought, must be pure torture.