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

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.


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 Bipolar Brain and Earworms

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 icepick 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.

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

  1. This is torturing me. Bloody Barry White for 4 days straight now. I feel like I notice it more as I get older. I wonder if I’m going insane, feeling like I’m trapped in my own brain.

  2. I experience it every night. Its like a radio in my head. I can change the song but i cant turn it down or off. It causes me to have trouble sleeping at nighr because of it and im looking for answers. Please someone help.

  3. With me it is always the last song I heard, but the way I am different is that I substitute lyrics about hatred or my ass or something obscene or vulgar. I sing constantly about hating Jesus because of my suffering and the suffering of others in the world. I cannot turn it off. It is worse when I am alone, because then I actually sing this crap out loud for hours (or however long I am alone). I don’t know what is wrong with me, but clearly I need help.

  4. I have the same problem but its always the last song I hear. I am careful to turn off certain commercials I hear or the stupid music will loop. It does turn off if I substitute something like watching something on Youtube.

  5. I’ve been trying brown noise to counter this but sometimes my mind will overcome it and I have to turn the volume up, the music usually lasts for a while, especially when I take a shower or do something menial. Thanks for writing this, I’m thinking of getting help for my (undiagnosed) borderline personality disorder and this just gives me another reason to stop delaying.

  6. I constantly have music playing in my head and not always the same song. It can switch from song to song in seconds. It is entirely frustrating. I have found that if I play the song slowly it may go away.

  7. I have bipolar type 2 and I just Googled the terms song stuck in your head and the second thing that came up was your article. Before I had medication the loop of song was in the foreground of my mind every second but always competed with every thought that I had. It was the first thing in my mind when I would start to wake up in the morning. Even in the middle of the night when I was sleeping and I would wake slightly in order to turn over in bed the song would be blasting away. Now that I take medication ( lamotrigine and escitalopram) the songs have seemed to become quieter and more in the background of my mind but when I listen to music I always notice that the next day they are still pretty intrusive. I think I will talk to my psychiatrist about this and see if increasing the dose of Lamotrigine might help. Thank you so much for this article. It’s good to know that I’m not alone!

  8. I’ve had the same exact song, (I don’t even like) play over & over for MONTHS & about at my wits end – I am literally being driven crazy! Anyone know how to stop this? Suffering!

    1. Linda, I have the same problem happening. No matter what’s going on around me, the same lyrics are replaying over and over and over again. I have headaches from it when it happens. It can go for days. It’s driving me crazy as well. I don’t know what to do about it either.

      1. I have this, and I love it because I am a dancer and always have music to move to. Always. If you want to stop what I call “feedback loop” you simply put the song on repeat until the song leaves your head. Longest run was 15 hours , but then it goes away. I enjoy this gift, but people who hear and sing non stop do not. Oh well!!

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