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 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?
Tracy, N. (2012, November 23). The Bipolar Brain – A Radio Station You Can’t Turn Off, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/11/bipolar-brain-radio-cant-turn-off
Author: Natasha Tracy
Hi, first of all you have my every sympathy because I have had this problem for 50 years. I wish I could offer a simple solution like medications or certain therapies or some sort of healing; unfortunately, so far anyway, nothing has worked for me - and believe me there is little I have not tried over the course of the last 5 decades.
I will continue to look for something that may help whilst I'm still breathing; if I fail then so be it. Fortunately I am an eternal optimist and I always believe that tomorrow may be better than today.
Anyway one of the reasons I'm posting is because of a general misconception that many people have about this strange condition. Everywhere I look - blogs, forums, social media, articles, and so on - there seems to be the idea that having this problem is like having a permanent radio station playing in your mind.
NOTHING could be further from the reality. Of course I'm speaking here from my own perspective and, of course, I accept that everyone's experience is unique; however from the years of research I have carried out, and my own experience having INMI (involuntary musical imagery) it rarely, if ever, is like having a radio station in your mind.
What actually happens is this: a 'trigger' of some sort brings a tune, song or melody to the mind of the sufferer. Once this occurs then that person is COMPELLED to repeat the tune/melody to themselves in a never ending loop. This could continue for minutes, hours, even weeks or months without relief, and this is mental torture of the worst possible kind. For those who suggest that sufferers simply embrace or ignore this compulsion have absolutely no concept (or experience) of how this terrible condition works.
Having this problem is a very individual experience: it can range from mildly irritating in most people to being suicidally disruptive for an unfortunate minority. Although I have never condoned the act of taking one's own life I can state with total certainty this: when I am having a really bad day I pray for the release that only death can bring. All I want to do is to fall asleep and never have to wake again. If I'm having a really good day (a rare event unfortunately) then I am full of optimism and a zest for life and living and I feel as if I could achieve anything.
For those who still think that this is a relatively trivial condition then I hope that they never have to endure the relentless mental torture that some have to suffer with this. I would not wish it on my worst enemy.
I wish you all the peace and quiet of mind that so many seem to take for granted.
You may or may not be a believer of prayer, but I wanted you to know I prayed for you just now. That you will begin experiencing quietness, rest, healing and that you will even be used to help others in this area. I too hear music most of the time. I'm sure you are doing this, but stay connected close to others....let those close to you know what's going on. We are here for each other. Rest and peace upon you. May the love of God breathe upon you and give you peace.
Thank you for your
Prayers. I read the comments... prayers are the answer. Thank you!
I too have music consistently playing in my head. What's helped me is playing a song of my choosing out loud on my phone or laptop, sort of like having at least one hand on the wheel and deciding what I listen to instead of having my brain repeat something I don't want to listen to. But about mentioning those weird moments and radio waves, this one moment where a song had been p laying in my head and then when I turned on the radio in my car that same song was playing and even weirder, it continued exactly where my brain left off. Like if my brain was singing "momma, just killed a man" and then I flipped the radio on, it picked up at "put a gun against his head, pulled the trigger now he's dead". (Referenced Queen, Bohemian Rapsody)
This has happened to me many times also.
Wow. This was everything i needed to see and made everything click in my brain. God bless you and i hope your spirit comes to know God the most high holy spirit.
There is a biologic basis for all feelings, thoughts, emotions, OCD, etc. Medical doctors don't know this and could care less. Look for a nutritional imbalance. Supplement with all essential vitamins, minerals, probiotics, fatty-acids, and amino acids. Use multi pills so that is only 5 pills. Your welcome.
Hi, I am from Germany and I am 50 years old. Almost 4 years ago, I got a depression with anxiety. Since then I have been suffering from chronic earworms.
They accompany me the whole day from the moment I get up until I go to bed.
My depression and anxiety is getting better and better, but the earworms remain.
I have also tried a lot of medication, but nothing helps. At the moment I go to psychotherapy and I think it helps a bit. But I still have many days where I think a can no longer stand this. My two children help me to forget the earworm sometimes...
Hi, I'm really sorry to hear about your suffering with this awful condition (involuntary musical imagery). I have exactly the same problem: every day I go to bed with this and, if I'm lucky, I manage maybe 4 or 5 hours sleep. As soon as I am conscious it starts all over again; my only comfort is that I don't dream about it anymore (I did for many years).
I have tried everything I can think of over many, many years but nothing really helps. I tried hypnotherapy for a while; after that I tried psychotherapy but, again, a waste of my time and money. In total desperation I turned to spiritual healing as I had heard a lot of good things about this. Over many years I think I had sessions with 3 different healers but it didn't help at all. In between all of this going on I also tried various medications (mostly anti-depressants). Although these helped a little the side effects were always really bad and I had to stop taking them.
At the moment I am having acupuncture as I was told by quite a few people that this can help with conditions such as OCD and bipolar. After about 2 or 3 sessions I noticed a slight improvement (at least where I felt I could get through a day without feeling completely suicidal) but,unfortunately, I started to get worse again a few weeks ago. I have one more session of acupuncture but I don't think it will make any difference now.
I am 68 now and going through a really bad period with this. It just dominates every waking moment so that I can think of nothing else. I retired about 5 years ago and hoped my condition would improve because I was in a fairly stressful job at the time. For a few years I did feel somewhat better, by which I mean I felt that my problem didn't completely control my life. Anyway, for some reason or other, I started to deteriorate about a year ago; ever since then I seem to be going downhill on a weekly basis.
I don't usually bother with doctors because they don't have a clue about things like this and all they can think to do is to throw pills at you. Anyway, despite that, I recently went to see my GP to explain that I just can't cope with this anymore. She was sympathetic but, as expected, offered no useful help or advice. She did give me a self referral form so that I could apply for psychiatric counselling - you have to wait at least a month in the UK for this sort of help. I don't believe this will help anyway because I have tried before and it was a complete waste of time. Even when I told the doctor I felt suicidal every single day it made no difference. But, to be fair, they are just GENERAL PRACTITIONERS and stretched to the limits.
The only thing I can think to try now is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Again I'm not really optimistic but I'm running out of ideas so I will probably try that in the new year. I have lost count of the money I have spent trying to help alleviate this strange problem. In the end money doesn't really matter - if someone could genuinely help me I would pay a King's ransom to be 'normal' again.
I don't believe in ending your own life but never a day goes by where I don't feel completely suicidal. I would give anything for the peace of mind that most people appear to enjoy. I understand that this is a problem that plagues at least 2% of the population (at least in Western countries) but it doesn't really help.
Anyway I'm sorry if this comes across as negative but, after 50 years with this affliction, it's difficult to be anything else. Hopefully one day science will have a better understanding of problems like this and be better able to help people like us.......
I am just having a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, it's the so called Accenptance and Commitment-Therapy.
The goal of this is to accept the earworm and no longer try to control it, because you cannot control it ! I have given my earworm a name (I call him Spencer) and I am talking to him many times. Every morning I get up I say: Good morning Spencer, how are you ? It sounds crazy, but you should try to treat the earworm like a good friend.... I like cycling, and when I go cycling, I ask Spencer if he comes with me ? It takes time, but after a while you will recognize and improvement.
I am a 50 year old woman (very youthful!) and I began suffering from this when I began working as a dog groomer at Petco which has a repeating digital song stream (esp around the holidays) that put a worm in my brain with those awful songs I heard all day every day for a year. Now its one year since I worked there and it hasn't gone away. I've tried box breathing (in thru nose for 5/out thru mouth for 5 etc) and switching to other songs and taking herbal sleep aids to help at night. actually it flips on the minute I wake up and I rarely have a break. I also have Misophonia ("hatred of sounds") where I can't tolerate sounds like open mouth chewing/crinkling plastic/car alarms beeping things like that-- I wonder if any of you also have both these conditions? I love music but it is something that is really driving me mental because its often songs that i hate that get stuck. they can be stuck repeating in 5 second repeating loops for 24-48 hours sometimes. help.
I'm so sorry to hear you are experiencing that. It sounds very hard. Unfortunately, there is little to no research in this area. The only thing I can suggest is listening to classical music (without lyrics) as that seems to help some.
- Natasha Tracy
yes you're right - there is little research in this specific area of OCD (I'm assuming it's OCD as nothing else seems to fit the problem). I've suffered with this for 50 years and tried everything I can think of; I'm currently having acupuncture but it's not looking very promising).
Have tried hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, spiritual healing, meditation and medication - just about everything and all to no avail. Listening to classical music is just one of many ways that relieves the symptoms but the problem is still there - like a deep rooted cancer in your brain.
I'm currently toying with the idea of CBT but, in all honesty, I don't really believe it will help. Over the decades so many people have told me that they can help me (especially when paying £40-50 per session), but it always ends the same way.
I'm 68 now and each day is an ordeal - some people want to live forever but, without being morbid, I have absolutely no issues with death and the peace I hope it will bring....
I'm just 20 years old, Alan and i seem to be suffering from the same problem. It does interfere with the calm and concentration i seek for, whenever i'm trying to focus on something. But acknowledging its presence, and thinking of it as a gift, has really helped me in coping with it.
I know it's hard, and might be infuriating at times. But just know that that there just might be a reason you're having this problem. Have you ever tried writing music? Your approach to it might just be outrageously different than others'.
It saddens me to read how this has troubled you over the years. Just know that there are people who exist with worse situations than ours, and still make the most of them. I urge you to take this positively, and stop thinking about committing suicide.
I'm in my 50s and as far back as I can remember, I've had songs constantly playing in my head. I always attributed it to the fact that I'm a pianist and love music. It's not any one song all the time, but I've noticed that if I'm hanging up clothes or getting ready for work in my bedroom, one very annoying Christmas song is the one to get stuck in my head. I read a lot (books) and sometimes even when I'm reading a song will be playing away in my head. I listen to music at work just to keep the other songs out of my head. Fortunately it doesn't happen while I'm sleeping though. I've always thought I was the only one like this; glad there are others out there...now I don't feel so abnormal.
I'm almost 70 and I've had this problem since I was around 19 or 20 so I know exactly what you're going through. I've tried pretty much everything I can think of during those years but nothing really works - at least not for long. I had hypnotherapy; I've seen psychologists and psychiatrists; I've tried spiritual healing (several times); I've tried many different types of medication; at the moment I'm trying acupuncture (not looking promising); you name it and I've probably tried it at some point in my life. And, very sadly, all to no avail. I'm an optimist so I always think tomorrow might bring something better - but I'm not holding my breath. This problem is far more common than you think but no-one has a clue how it can be treated. Hope you have some peace eventually....
I think you mean "pop chart" not "pop tart". Although pop tarts are good, or at least i really like them when I was a kid, especially the cinnamon ones.
Aloha all, I have this too. Since I was a kid. Quickest way to get rid of it for me was to sing another song in my head. Queen, "We will we will Rock you!" Maybe because that was the very first song to ever get stuck in my head. Singing it out loud worked the best. Your own voice is your best remedy for healing.
Anyway other stuff that works is:
-Being barefoot in the forest. Walking slow through the forest barefoot. It is soo quiet!
-Grounding sheets, I am typing on them now. 1 on feet other on wrists. Its the only way to concentrate.
Vitamin C powder, like 2-5K/ day
Iodine: either from salt or seaweed
oh and I am a guy/male :)
I also have a song playing in my head morning, noon, and night. It is very annoying and sometimes I have anxiety thinking that something has to be wrong with my brain. I am not bipolar, or maybe I am and I am only on the fringe. I do have Hashimotos Disease so I have an autoimmune thing going on. I meditate and do yoga regularly which does not help. When I read (daily) or listen to music I have a break from it. If i run (long distance) or swim, the song stays in rhythm with my steps or stroke. It is awful. I do have an intrusive thought in my head of piercing my brain with an ice pick when I have an especially bad day. If I ever do find a remedy, (and I will keep searching), I will let everybody know about it!! I wish peace and quiet to you all . . . . treat her better. Gotta let go of all my . . . . .
I wish it would stop! I noticed it gets worse with anxiety or if I'm having an inflammatory flare up. Also seems the lyrics are related to how I'm feeling or what I'm thinking about. If I'm deeply engrossed and focused on something, it temporarily goes away.
Wowowowowow!! I was diabiaed biploae type 2 when I was a teen but later dljbd out I have hashimotos thyroiditis so in went on hormone supplements and it's been 10 years since then and I just chalked up my symptoms or bipolar to thyroid problems. But. When I have a thyroid immune flare up I get symptoms for a couple weeks to a month of a radio playing in my head, anxiety and panic attacks. Mania. What is the link between an autoimmune flare up and these bipolar symptoms. I thought I was the only one. Im blown away.
Ugh new phone that doesn't have auto correct. *I was diagnosed bipolar type 2 when I was a teen
I can't tell you for sure what the link is between autoimmune disorders and mental illness. What I can say is that in my experience, if one gets worse, so does the other.
- Natasha Tracy
I'm in the process of being diagnosed with possibly bipolar. I've been on antianxiety and antidepressants and both caused me harm. I constantly have songs playing in the back of my head. It's very overwhelming and hard to focus in school
I have them all the time but I'm convinced the majority of my brain is occupied by lyrics. I can sing, word for word almost any song on the radio. It leaves my husband in awe.
have it too.
question - how many hours per week do you peeps read a book?
Read a book, specifically a book, reading it. not blogs etc.
I have this as soon as I wake up there's a song playing, morning noon & night its driving me insane, I'm going to listen to some classical music I don't mind that so much, it's the music with words that drive me loopy most.
Dee, and Natasha, maybe transcranial magnetic stimulation (or inhibition in your case) can help to stop the music. Also, you can marvel because you have a personal soundtrack :)
I'm not exactly sure when the music started, but I noticed about 10.5 years ago that it was REALLY bothering me!!! My brain is a radio station!!! When I try to shut the music off, it just switches to another song!!! I can't ever just meditate...the music won't stop!!! Even when I try to pray in silence, it's there!!! Sometimes, if I'm preoccupied with something else, it's less noticeable... I've met one other person with this affliction, but she only hears one that gets louder!!! I do have depression and whenever I've mentioned this affliction to my doctors, they are just as puzzled as I am!!! Some days I feel like I'm going to go insane!!! As unfortunate this condition is, I find relief knowing that other people are dealing with this, and that I'm not from another planet!!!
I've been dealing with this longer than I can even remember. Glad to hear I'm not alone. The only relief that I get is when I'm watching TV or concentrating really hard on a book I'm reading. Keeps me up at night ?
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.
I totally sympathize with your situation and I wish I could tell you there's a magic cure for this - but, sadly, there isn't. There are things you can do, and various coping strategies to try but, at least for the moment, medical science is in the dark ages on this one.
I have suffered with this awful condition (on and off anyway) for 50 years and, believe me, I have tried everything I can think of. My life has been tainted with this foul 'condition' and I think I will be taking it to the grave. I have been on the edge of despair so many times; all I can do is get through every day as best I can.
I don't wish to be negative but, after such a long time, it's difficult to be otherwise. For the record I have tried hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, meditation, medication, spiritual healing, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
At the moment I am having a course of acupuncture treatment as I am told it can be useful in treating OCD and similar problems. I don't feel really optimistic but I am still prepared to try anything that offers a glimmer of hope.
I'm sorry I couldn't be more helpful and will keep the blog updated on the acupuncture treatment.
Well, thank you for the reply. I'm still holding on and trying different things but I really do hope something will work. Take care.
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.
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.
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!
I have music and chatter 24-7. It will NOT stop!! Is there a supplement or medicine that would help?
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
I don't think anyone really knows but, as far as I can tell, it's some weird form of OCD/bipolar disorder condition
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
Beethoven was deaf and think of the music in his head. Count it as a blessing.
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...
You should check brokenrecordsyndrome.blogspot.com.
This is pretty much a continuous thing. Even in my dreams I have songs going and wake up with them stuck in my head for hours. Sometimes I don't even have to hear a song for it to get lodged in my brain. Sometimes just a word or two in normal conversation can pop a song and next thing you know, I'm moving about singing the lyrics. I keep telling my family that it's not a normal thing and there should be a name for this.
The constant tune in my head began 2 years ago when I found porn on my husband's devices. Hasn't let up and has been much worse lately. It's exhausting. It starts the second I wake up, even in the middle of the night. I don't have a history of bipolar, but I take Prozac and admit to a moderate amount of OCD and anxiety. I weaned myself off Xanax and Vyvanse earlier this year. I'm 63.