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The Bipolar Brain – A Radio Station You Can’t Turn Off

Earworms are songs you can't get out of your head and they seem to affect my bipolar brain in a big way. More at Breaking Bipolar blog.

Ah, the human brain. It’s a wondrous thing. It calculates, it categorizes, it makes connections and it remembers the square root of 144. I’m constantly awed by its power.

But one of the annoying things that can happen to a brain is that somehow, a song gets stuck in it. Somehow, even through its great power and ability, the catchy hook of the latest pop tart gets stuck inside some errant neurons and plays over and over.

And this causes a lot more trouble in my bipolar brain than it does for others.

I Have Justin Bieber Stuck in My Head; I’m Thinking of Cutting it Off

I find myself with songs stuck in my head all the time. Like, every day, all the time. And they aren’t songs that I like or even songs I have heard that day they are just random songs that somehow fight their way into my consciousness long enough to create a groove there. And once they’re there? Good luck getting them out.

My Bipolar Brain and Earworms

According to Wikipedia, this phenomenon is known as an “earworm,” “musical imagery repetition” or “involuntary music imagery.” In Germany, they have a special word for it – Ohrwurn – “a type of song that typically has a high, upbeat melody and repetitive lyrics that verge between catchy and annoying.”

Earworms are completely natural, of course, and apparently, 98% of people experience them. Women seem to experience earworms for longer and are more irritated by them. Songs with lyrics account for about three-quarters of earworms.

My Earworm Moved In

Unlike the experience that most people have, I have earworms much of the time. Sometimes it’s one song that repeats for days and sometimes it’s many songs in a day, but predominantly they are there.

I have found no research suggesting people with bipolar disorder have more incidence of earworms than others but there is research that says people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) do and as I’ve remarked previously, OCD and bipolar disorder may be linked. And earworms on hypomania? That is your brain on extra-crispy-crazy.

Admittedly, it is a very obsessive thing my brain does. It feels like an obsession with the invisible. I can never see it so it never goes away. And I find this highly troubling.

Like, highly troubling. Like I could see someone wanting to ice pick his or herself just to make the blooming song in his or her head shut the heck up. It’s that much of an anxious obsession. It’s crazy-driving obsession. Sometimes I feel like I’m begging my brain to think of anything else but it laughs and carries on with the 30-second loop.

Holy macaroni is it ever frustrating.

So, my question to you is this: How often do you experience earworm? Is it troubling to you?

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

180 thoughts on “The Bipolar Brain – A Radio Station You Can’t Turn Off”

  1. I know what it’s like.
    I’ve been hearing music play constantly in my head for the past two weeks and I’m exhausted. I can’t sleep for more than four of five hours every night. My heart is racing most of the day because of my anxiety. I’m in pain. It all started while I was away on a Vipassana ten day meditation retreat. I was supossed to have come back more alert and calm but now I’m a nervous wreck. ¿Does anybody know of any treatment? I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

  2. Nice to know I’m not the only one! Sometimes I like the fact that I can hear music in my head. It’s amazing to me how I can remember all of the parts to the song, down to each instrument and change in vocals! I just wish there was a way to change the song on command. Hearing the same damn song on repeat drives me absolutely crazy. Especially when it’s a song I don’t like or don’t know very well so that the only part that plays is the damn chorus.

  3. Oh, how I can relate. My kids are amazed that I know all the words to every song from 70’s to present. I’ve found some audio that I find soothing, so when I’m super manic (which has been the case for going on 5 months now) I play it to calm myself.

  4. I count my benign earworms as a blessing since I recently lost my son and thinking about him will keep me from sleeping any given night!!! Pat Metheny /fusion jazz lulls me back to sleep from those wakeful moments when I dangle between sleep and impending doom /no sleep. Im not OCD, bipolar, or ill!

  5. I have this problem all the time. It has gotten so bad I can’t sleep. Finally I had to stop listening to music completely because I was so exhausted all the time.

    1. I have the same problem. I don’t want to stop listening to music but I find it is always going on in my head. I find I can think of something else (eg. my son is taking a trip in 2 weeks) but the song is playing in the background for no reason at all. I don’t even know when the last time that I even heard the song

  6. Everyday and night. I find I can sometimes change to radio station, so to speak. I found a CD called Gama Meditation II (or very similar name). I haven’t tried it yet for earworms but it works effectively when my brain is in hamster mode, for lack of a scientific or layman’s term. It’s provided immense relief. At other times, the same CD is highly annoying; when I am not experiencing “hamster brain”. It might work. I do not have the CD on my person now, or I would try it out.

  7. I have music in my head all the time. It can be annoying but I sometimes use it as a way to stay focused. I do have severe depression and have quite a few OCD tendencies so that’s probably where it’s from. After a while of a song going through my head, and most of the time it’s a few lines, I have finally worked out what the lyrics to the whole song are.

  8. Ever since I could remember, I have had music constantly stuck in my head 24/7. I’ve been researching and trying to find a name for it everywhere. Every single day without fail, there’s a song stuck in my head, and it changes every once in a while. I’ve actually been woken up from a certain song in my head in the middle of the night, or I would wake up and remember a song playing in my dream, the same song that would be stuck in my head when I woke up in the morning! I may have some form of OCD but I’m not diagnosed. Do you (or anyone reading this) have any idea what it could be?

    1. I don’t think anyone really knows but, as far as I can tell, it’s some weird form of OCD/bipolar disorder condition

    2. I wish I did, I understand your pain! Especially being woken up in the middle of the night, sometimes it’s only a single line on a song but I can’t stop from saying it over and over. Just want to turn it off

    1. No offence but if you think this is a blessing then, believe me, you have no concept of the torture this condition can inflict. There are no words to decribe this mental agony…

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