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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. I have ASD and lately I’ve had “There will be applause” stuck in my head. To counter it I play Daft Punk’s Around The World on repeat. It’s more repetitive but non-annoying to me.

  2. I’ve had two songs that seem as if they constantly play in my head. Perhaps they are not constant and only play when I think about them. Maybe they are constant and I have somehow managed to push them to the background. They are “Evacuate the Dancefloor” by Cascada [I absolutely hate this song] and “Toes” by LIGHTS [which I love]. When I have a moment of silence around me, I start humming either of these songs. I do get other songs stuck in my head from time to time. I even dream about them. But they eventually disappear. These two however, never seem to go away.

  3. Good Lord yes! It’s been something I’ve lived with since I was 14 (46 now). It only got worse during and after military service. It can get so bad that I even get a DJ in it. It’s usually unintelligible compared to the songs but its there. Sometimes the DJ is breaks back to military radio comms. Then the “music” starts up again. It can get so bad that it triggers other things in PTSD and bi-polar. Sometimes I can counter it by a quick meditation but it can interrupt that. But if I go over Korean vocabulary said aloud over and over that tends to force it out. (Korean terms used in martial arts). I second the person that said classical/instrumental music can help.

  4. I have that problem. Incessant loud music, all types. I have bipolar and ocd. I m on antiosychotics. They don t really help the music bit. Music and TV detox does work. No more charts or electronic music and NO commercials with jingles likely to stay in my head for days. This earworm phenomenon is massive. I ve been checking online for years now and there are more and more entries dealong with this. With the bipolar i have issues of self harm and wanting to commit suicidd but I can say honestly this ear worm problem is the worst of all the aspects of my condition and if there is one thing that will push me to harm myself it s incessant music that won t stop. I hit my head against the wall or furniture on and on but it s doesn t go

  5. If you want to stop it then do a music cleanse. You have to listen to music for 2 – 4 weeks with no lyrics. Mostly classical music and then it will stop. Probably way before then. I’ve had the same problem and it got so bad I was waking up in the middle of the night with songs in my head as well. I also stopped watching TV and I read. I did this as a 30 day cleanse. I strongly suggest this. Music and TV heighten negative thoughts and puts all kinds of negative, submissive @ repetitive thoughts in ones head. All the luck to you guys. BLESS

    1. Hi whilst this will probably help some to a certain degree it is just one of dozens (if not hundreds) of ‘strategies’
      that people develop to try and alleviate the symptoms of this horrendous condition.
      Personally I have suffered with this for over 50 years, so there is little I have not tried during that time:
      pyschiatrists, pyschologists, hypnotherapy, medication, spiritual healing, and anything else you can think of
      (including most, if not all, of the suggestions within this section).
      I have no real idea why this happens to people; I can only surmise that it is some form of OCD/bipolar disorder
      (very little else seems to fit the bill).
      One thing, however, is certain: despite all the amazing advances in the medical sciences over the last 50 years or more,
      there is still no real ‘cure’ for this problem. Hopefully, at some future point, we may know enough to help those who suffer;
      in the meantime I guess we have to try and cope as best we can.
      I wish I could be more positive about this but it’s very difficult – especially after 50 years!
      Anyway I truly hope that everyone here will eventually enjoy the peace of mind that is so often taken for granted by the
      millions of ‘normal’ people out there.

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