I have to admit, I'm a little nervous as the rep from Janssen Pharmaceuticals steers me toward the Mindstorm "psychosis simulation" machine.
She says I should experience both available videos to get a better sense of what a severe schizophrenic hallucination feels like, then plops me down in front of a silver suitcase.
It doesn't look like much: a laptop, a pair of headphones and a hand-held video viewer. The Mindstorm machine is here, at Towson University, so the campus police from nine state schools taking a day-long course in mental-illness recognition can feel it first-hand, albeit virtually.
Mental illnesses usually show themselves for the first time between the ages of 16 and 24, according to the National Association of Mental Illness, which means campus personnel, including police, need to be prepared to recognize and react to them.
The rep asks if I'm ready, then selects the first simulation.
A video begins to play. It's shot from the point of view of the watcher -- me -- so I'm the protagonist. I get on a bus and say I'm headed to a pharmacy. Apparently, I'm out of meds. The driver is chatty as I move to my seat, surveying the other riders, mostly adults keeping to themselves.
But as we move forward, the players change. I look behind me, and there are kids all singing "99 Bottles of Pills on the Wall." A nosy nurse appears, people address me as "your highness," and the bus driver chastises me under his breath.
"What kind of a person" loses her medication?" he sneers.
The turns become sharper, the riders swap out again, and voices tell me I'm being taken to the FBI. A motorcyclist shouts at me from outside the bus, and a street sign reads "What's wrong with you?"
This goes on for about six minutes. I try to imagine what it would be like to answer questions from police while this is going on, and what police would make of me.
The second video is set in a home. I'm moving about the house, starting my day when the voices start. I'm "worthless," they say, a "waste of space." A TV newscaster tells me to "stop staring" and a newspaper headline screams "Don't leave the house."
The coffee smells funny. It's poisoned, the voices say. The doorbell rings, and a man delivers a pizza. I sign for it, then sweep it off a counter to the ground.
A woman comes home, all out of breath, talking about how she called and I didn't say anything. She ordered pizza she says, then sees it on the floor. She turns soft. I forgot my dose of medication, she says, and picks up the bottle.
Now I wonder what it would be like to be married to me. To try to teach me in class or befriend me or just to be me.
That's the point, the Janssen rep says.
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