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 2019, September 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/11/bipolar-brain-radio-cant-turn-off
Author: Natasha Tracy
I thought I was possibly hallucinating music but on discussion with my psychiatrist it's just an exaggerated earworm experience.
Hello from the other side.....
I live alone which may have something to do with why I do it? Ive noted the places I sing or hum more will be the kitchen, I can be laying on my bed using my iPad like I am this minute then I get up n go to the kitchen to get a drink and within seconds of being in the kitchen I'm doing the repetitive hum /sing thing. It's exhausting, gives me an actual headache, stresses my throat too I'm sure. When I realise I'm humming yet again I even say out loud...Lisa ! Shut up! Then a sec later il start but I find I'm interrupting myself abruptly by saying....SHHH!... Lol...funny I guess but it's not really coz I drive myself mad.
If I go shopping with a friend and we wander off to different parts of the store, they say they can always find me coz they hear me humming or singing a tune. Other shoppers have commented also. All I can do is apologise.
I've taken mine a step further also but the fact I not only sing radio songs or usually looping only parts of but I invent my own tunes sometime with lyrics and repeat them over and over. Then taking it even further, I invent my own language in a way, for example I don't know German but I know the sound of the language and I'm VERY good with accents so I make up words or lines that sound German or just another language and use them to make a short song or verse, usually short lines tho.
I've repeated the short lines so much hat I have made a joke of it and said its another language...it's like I'm teaching MYSELF another language...I work in aged care and have even joked around with residents teaching them some words in this made up language.
I'm tired and want to be able to turn off.....
If I'm focussed on doing another activity like typing or talking then I'm often ok...well obviously coz I'm already engaged in talking, but other than that I hum or sing on n off allll day long.
I'm a picker n biter too, pick n bite the skin around my fingers til it's raw or sometimes bleeding plus I bite the inside of my mouth and lips often til it bleeds. It hurts and looks ugly so I don't actually want to do it...but again it's an action I've found hard to stop and is worse when stressed or anxious.
( I'm a massive sleep dreamer and vividly recall every thing I dream and often wake myself by talking in my sleep...I wake tired every morning so wished I could block recall of my dreams too)
I can't afford exp spychs...can someone help me out....I'm annoyed and tired of myself.
OCD "Over this Crap Damit".
Suck, literally ...all I have is a lousy cough drop.
If this or gum works for anyone else please post to save a life.
The non-stop, distracting, frustrating, non-productive songs in my head began at age 35 as well, either part of bipolar disorder or the series of first and/or second generation medications I was prescribed till finally Geodon provided some relief (for my mood, not for the music).
I think there's a difference between earworms and the repetitive music that comes with altered brain chemistry and/or physiology. People will say that they and everyone else, now and then, get a song stuck in their minds, which, of course, is true. It's difficult to express, without seeming grandiose or whiney, that the music in my brain is different. It's maddening and, because I tend to hum along with the music, it annoys my friends and family. The more anxious I am, the more constant the music plays and the louder I hum.
I have a limited repertoire for my "musical psychosis/obsession/compulsion, which makes the music even more horrible. Here are my "greatest hits": "She'll Be Coming around the Mountain," "The Ants Go Marching One by One," "God Bless America," and "Jesus Loves Me." (I'm not religious, I should point out so it's not as if the latter two songs get reinforced by repeated exposure at church.)
When I'm in full-blown mania, I add Christmas carols to the mix, and I bypass humming into singing aloud at the top of my lungs. Instead of singing the actual words, I use only three swear words (bad enough to be banned on network TV). I'm not typically sacrilegious either, and I rarely swear when I'm my "normal" self.
For me, the constant music isn't the result of sensory deprivation. I had a psychologist tell me that because the music is children's songs, my reptilian brain is asserting itself, trying to pacify the rest of my brain with childhood feelings of safety and love. I don't know if that's an evidence-based conclusion or just an assuring sentiment.
I know that a fairly small percentage of people with epilepsy have hypergraphia (obsessive, compulsive writing) and an even smaller percentage sing excessively. And most (all?) of atypical antipsychotics now available to treat bipolar disorder were initially developed, and are prescribed, for epilepsy.
"She'll be comin' around the mountain ... ."
I am bipolar as some of you are. I feed it involuntarily by following it with a very quiet shallow whistle with my inhaling and exhaling.
What I have discovered is this happens when I am doing simple things on automatic: raking, walking the dog, cleaning, wood work around the house. Everything that does not need a fully engaged brain . But the ear worn "never" appears when I am writing, composing, speaking with someone, on the phone, trying to figure out a problem. In other words, activities that engage my brain's full attention. This never changes.
You may think this is strange but I wrote ear worm into one of my shows. The main character goes to a psychiatrist about a melody that never ceases and he is going insane. The psychiatrist says " You have an ear worm. " Character says: "What the hell is that?"
Shrink replies ( I made this up totally) " Well think of a submarine. If there is a raging fire, the captain orders certain compartments to be flooded to save the the men and the ship. What is happening to you is your brain has become so Hyperactive that it is raging on fire
in some of your cognitive departments threatening you. A ear worm is ordered by the decision making yet the subconscious part of your brain to flood some of the compartments to stop the fire from getting out of control....And you really do not realize this is a safety precaution, even though it is a total nuisance." Character: "I'd rather detonate the torpedoes than listen to this melody over and over."
Well this is just a sign that I am so happy that I am not alone with this sickening malfunction . thanks Peter
Get earworms all the time. Currently Black Magic *cringe* by Little Mix. Yikes, I don't even like them.
I often get bits of pop songs, round and round they go. Looping endlessly. Used to get songs from TV adverts. Or jingles. How annoying.
I'll agree somewhat with the sensory deprivation idea. But that wouldn't be the case today, I've been around lots of people since 9am. So don't know what set it off today.
My earworms got ssttrroonngg and dark themed as I headed into a mixed episode with high anxiety and agitation/restlessness. So maybe this could tie in the the original question of hypomania. I was powerless to stop them , also I concluded that maybe the lyrics were chosen subconsciously by my brain to match vocabulary in my own conscious thoughts.
But I'll go a step further.
Mine actually has a "station identification Jingle.....
No it's not cute. It's annoying.
My husband takes several different medications. He takes Risperdal, Zoloft & Seroquel. That medicine must be taken, or he starts to get mentally sick. His psychologist is a pill pusher, but even he thinks he's taking too much medication. And even so, the ear worms are still coming mercilessly. He had been taking Olanzapine, but it kills his sex drive & makes his penis hurt. But it seemed to help. They still came occasionally, but it would be days of peace. He stopped taking it. I don't know what to do to help him. There is nothing new I can say or try. This is a nightmare that we can't seem to wake up from.
My hypothesis is that this manifested in me due to sensory deprivation. I think your brain has to focus on something in reality, else it looses contact with reality. Read about sensory deprivation, how it negatively affects people (including causing auditory hallucinations), and how it is considered torture by the U.N. The theory goes along the lines of the brain is wired to the senses, and has to have stimuli otherwise it malfunctions. Read this, for example:
Here is an excerpt: "Why does the perceptually deprived brain play such tricks? Cognitive psychologists believe that the part of the brain that deals with ongoing tasks, such as sensory perception, is accustomed to dealing with a large quantity of information, such as visual, auditory and other environmental cues. But when there is a dearth of information, says Robbins, 'the various nerve systems feeding in to the brain’s central processor are still firing off, but in a way that doesn’t make sense. So after a while the brain starts to make sense of them, to make them into a pattern.' It creates whole images out of partial ones. In other words, it tries to construct a reality from the scant signals available to it, yet it ends up building a fantasy world."
Often times the song I'd heard most recently is stuck there, such as from fast food lobbies, and I can change it. Things like coffee don't help. Like others here said, I can change the song, slow it down, make it louder, mix it with other songs, etc. If it's too loud and plays for too long, it gives me a painful headache and ibuprofen makes it go away (interestingly I think it makes the music go away too). Also loud noises such as the dinger on the bus can do the same thing, it repeats in my brain without me wanting it, and it causes a painful headache.
I feel like something has to be there on your consciousness, I can't make it go away without either ibuprofin, or the following procedure:
(i) Synthesize a hum or constant noise similar to what you hear in the environment (e.g. a fan nearby), and focusing on that for a minute. If you don't have a constant noise, find a source to eliminate the sensory deprivation. It mustn't vary much in tone. The music may try to blurp back every now and then but focus on the hum.
(ii) Eventually just listen to the hum in reality, and the mental audio (music and synthesized hum) goes away.
I can read much better when this synthesized music goes away. Otherwise I'd read the same paragraph dozens of times and nothing sinks in.
From my experience, I think avoiding sensory deprivation is the solution. Make sure to talk to people more, and make them part of your daily routine. Insufficiency of human connection and touch is the cause IMO.
This is part of the reason I think the U.S. has a lot of mental health issues compared to Europe for example. The U.S. is all non-touchy and anti-humane culturally, that and other issues are why I think the U.S. doesn't have good culture.
Also, this reminds me of Scott Adams's experience (the author of the Dilbert comic strip). He developed a condition called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Focal_dystonia" title="focal dystonia" rel="nofollow"> where his hand twitched uncontrollably, causing him to be unable to write/work. Consensus about the disease was that there was no treatment, and he'd have to change his lifestyle (no more comics). He said he treated himself through will, dedication, and repetition to the point where he no longer was affected; he somehow trained his brain to not twitch his writing hand anymore. He talks about this in his great self-help book "How To Fail at Almost Everything And Still Win Big"; he has great life advice and is very funny :) I highly recommend it http://time.com/34081/how-to-fail-at-almost-everything-and-still-win-big/
Good luck everyone, and try the humming procedure I mentioned.
I had been diagnosed with OCD 3 months back and I am absolutely sick of the earworms!. The song - usually a recent hit and melodious, continuously plays on my head for almost a week!.. There are phases of such episodes.!. The songs are which I love a lot, but I just cant stop them from playing on my head.
My therapist helps me out to sort out and understand my own thoughts and assumptions. I have been adviced to try to focus my senses on the work at hand and figure my reasons properly!. :)
I remember only one day out of my 30 odd years of earworms, or being happy with what I was playing. At least for the first few hours. To combat the crap they play in stores (which I rarely know, so only a measure/bar or two will repeat), I find that if I listen to something I like a lot, I can sometimes redirect; if only briefly.
Thanks, from a BPD I, OCD, PTSD, ADHD (and many mooooore, she trills) diagnosed person.
OMG that one by Lorde gets stuck in my head a lot too as well as
"Because you know I'm all about that bass 'bout that bass, no treble...
By Meghan Trainor
It doesn't help that the radio stations keep playing the same songs over and over again
Or how about
"I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my system blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive
Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive... By Imagine Dragon. I think that one's even in a TV commercial as well
Although I don't quite see how this relates specifically to bipolar disorder since it affects most of the general public, I do get how it can become a problem for someone with OCD
However, unlike many people on this discussion forum, I do not suffer from bipolar disorder or any other mental illness (I know, I am fortunate...). Just helps to confirm that this issue can strike anyone. I am a musician and songwriter though, and I believe this is a major factor in why I get earworms -- my brain is highly trained in analyzing / dissecting music. It still drives me crazy though because usually the earworms are NOT wanted.
The times when the ear worms seem to go away is when I'm heavily focused on a mental task -- my brain is too busy for earworms. Meditation may also help -- focus on your breathing and possibly a repeated mantra to help clear your mind, including getting rid of pesky earworms. Good luck and best of health to everyone.
Sleigh Bells ring, are you listnin' ? Thank you for this post and for listening to my story. ♥
He says it helps to listen to the song all the way through, so he can hear the ending of the song. Thank God for itunes.
The stress from this affects my diet. I barely eat because of the stress.
Even when I should be totally relaxed, I'm still anxious. Difficulty sleeping, difficulty breathing (constricted nasal passages), grinding my teeth.
Tried Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, Paxil, Abilify, Viibryd. Nothing. I've all but given up.
There is no family history of anxiety and clinical depression.
From what I'm reading, you people have NORMAL earworm. Comes and goes, just like everyone else. Not me. Everyday. Non stop. Becoming suicidal.
If anyone is experiencing anything like this or might have suggestions, please. Save a life.
I have earworms quite a bit particularly they are triggered when there is a stressful experience with someone, such as someone is pressing my boundaries and I cave in then very subtly a power ballad will go round in my head, almost trying to help me cope with the situation and not to forget myself and my needs. I do have to offer some words of self compassion to myself and see what the thoughts are that are supporting the song being played in my head- such as you are not worthy or you are weird. When you isolate the thoughts and let go into the moment with compassion the song fades. If I tap into the problem again though it resurfaces pretty quickly. But the more you exercise the letting go, cognitive restructuring and compassion muscles it happens less and less.
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.
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