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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 though its great power and ability, the catchy hook of the latest pop song 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.

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

  1. OMG!!! So glad to know it has a name to it.
    I have Bipolar 1, and one of my triggers is repetitive noises. Everyday, I have a song, sometimes several, I can’t get my brain to stop playing. And its worse when I cant stand the song. Thank you for the blog. Glad to know Im not alone.

  2. I have had a circus type theme song, only a few notes, running through my head for some years. I really notice it when I’m driving but lately all the time. I just found out that I grind my teeth and actually what I do is move them slightly in rhythm to the music. It’s really incessant and bothering me. I have never had any kind of mental health issues or diagnosis. I just want it to stop. Wondering if serious meditation practices might help but can’t seem to slow down enough to get into it. Thanks to a previous post I now have the 12 notes from “Smoke on the Water” running through my brain.Would like to find out how to make it stop. It didn’t bother me in the past. It’s definitely become worse or I’m just noticing it more. NOt sure

  3. Even though I take prescription medication every night and have for years earworms keep me awake for hours on end. Rarely do I ever sleep for more than an hour or two straight. I don’t know what to do. I’m 64. It’s been a problem for many years.

  4. I, too,have Musical Ear Syndrome. There is a difference between this and earworms. MES is a condition which you are all describing where you actually hear the music. This is what is difficult to control or stop. I would suggest you read any of Neil Bauman’s articles on line. He has done a great deal of research on this.

  5. Over 5 years – the same 4 lines repeat in my head 24/7. I’d be grateful to anyone/thing that can help stop this constant torture.

    Here they are for all you Blues Traveler or Sister Hazel fans:

    Hard to say what it is I see in you
    Wonder if I’ll always be with you
    Words can’t say but I can do
    Enough to prove, it’s all for you

    (one more time – or about 6 million in my case)

    Hard to say what it is I see in you
    Wonder if I’ll always be with you
    Words can’t say but I can do
    Enough to prove, it’s all for you

  6. I don’t know the difference between earworms and actual auditory hallucinations. I HAD earworms but it has grown – to VERY LOUD music – I have to cover my ears getting out of bed in the morning. My wife freaked out seeing me run out on the street in my pajamas at 3am looking for where the noise was coming from. Sometimes it’s just screetching or machinery that I hear. I wonder if an antipsychotic would help? I am also Bipolar 2 with dysphoric hypomania.

  7. Hi Natasha.

    I’ve been dealing with odd feelings my whole life. Hearing a pencil tapping during a test in high school would make me want to take it from them and stab them in the hand with it. I get wildly irrationally angry and act out and then as soon as I’m calm I’m embarrassed because I don’t know why I did it. I suddenly stopped enjoying billiards and going out every night like I used to but then I will go right back to wanting to constantly be in motion. I can’t sleep some days not because of insomnia but because I am literally not tired.

    It scares my girlfriend. I don’t feel like I can trust medication because I’m afraid of being changed. I like things about me but I hate this feeling that I don’t always know what’s really going on and that I’m going to hurt someone or myself. Self harm and these very odd thoughts like jumping off my balcony just because (I don’t feel sad or worthless it just….seems like a good idea…)

    I don’t know what to do…I guess I’m just posting this because I need to say it in some way. Matt isn’t my real name but if you have anything to say I’d appreciate it. Thank you.

    1. Hi Matt,

      Well, there’s really only one thing you can do – talk to a professional. There is nothing I can write that’s going to fix anything you’re thinking or feeling. If you feel like you don’t want to try medication, then how about talking to a therapist? A psychotherapist might be able to help you understand your own thoughts and feelings better.

      Now, personally, I think if it’s gotten to a point where you’re scaring your girlfriend then it’s time to give medication and therapy a try. But that’s up to you. Either way, talk to someone who can help you. Many people are out there.

      – Natasha

  8. I have sang White Christmas everyday for almost 5 years. I must be nuts. Not a day goes by where I don’t sing or hum the song.

  9. So, I thought I was the only one with this annoying problem. I can’t get songs out of my head and while I’m at work it intensifies when I’m trying to read procedures or other materials. My question is, is there a damned solution for this? I can’t focus anymore at work due to this and this problem has grown to make me forget things quickly. My short term memory is deteriorating. Am I going crazy?

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