Brain Worms

OK, I know the title is gross.  Horrifying, even.   How do you think I feel?  I have brain worms.

I don’t know, maybe you do too.  My friend Shmuel, who knows a lot of things, says he has them too.  In fact, he maintains that everybody has them.  I beg to differ, but I’d love to hear from you, dear readers, whether you do or do not have brain worms.

” Brain worm” is a term that refers to phrases of music that play themselves over and over and over and over and over, in your head.  The sounds are specifically from inside your head as opposed to true auditory hallucinations, which sound like they’re coming from outside your head, for example through the wall sockets or the sink faucet or just anywhere.

Brain worms can either be phrases of music that you know (the one that is playing in my head right now is part of an old-time fiddle tune, which has been rather pleasant but now it’s getting mucked up with some other not-so-nice cacauphonous mess), or in my case, often hard rock guitar riffs that I have never heard before.  I don’t even like hard rock.

The phrases are so clear that I can sing them.  They are often intrusive to the point that I lose my train of thought.

I asked my psychiatrist about them.  He didn’t know anything.  He told me I’m a doctor, go look it up.  That infuriated me, and if he hadn’t been so good to me over the years when I was really struggling I would have fired him on the spot.  But then, there are no psychiatrists in my area that are accepting new patients, so I’m stuck.  He called in some clonazepam, which has done squat.  To his credit, he did say that he thought it might be seizure related, and I do have cingulate gyrus seizures which cause me olfactory hallucinations if I don’t take my antiseizure medication.  Fortunately the smell hallucinations tend to be of something nice baking.  I shudder to think what they
could be, Heaven forfend.  So adding another seizure med does make sense.  It just hasn’t worked.

I Googled “brain worm” and found a “crazy forum” that had a lot to say about it.  Some found it related to OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).  I do score fairly high on the OCD tests, so maybe that’s it.   Other people said that increasing their doses of AAPDs (Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs) helped.  I do take Seroquel, and it helps with my PTSD symptoms, but it’s so sedating and mind-numbing that for now I’m just putting up with the intrusive tunes in my head.  Talk about I-tunes!  Aargh.

Thankfully the inner guitarist tends to shut up when I’m listening to “real” music.  I might have to turn into one of those nutters who walks around with stereo headphones on 24 hours a day.

Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved

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  1. I hear music in my head but mostly it’s stuff I like and usually songs I’ve been listening to that just get stuck. It’s often one that stays for quite a while, rather than different songs. At the moment it’s a song I used for my book trailer. I’ve watched it far too many times now. I do have OCD so maybe it’s that. Or it could be the PTSD or bipolar. It doesn’t bother me and sometimes it’s quite nice – like when I have a romantic type song repeating and I’m with my boyfriend. It adds to the atmosphere. Although I don’t tell him or anyone else that I have music playing in the background. You’re the first person I’ve told. I didn’t think other people had it.

    • That’s great that you have pleasant brain worms! See, isn’t it cool to find out that you’re not the only one with a music box in your head?? I wonder if Shmuel is right. He would be so pleased if he was.

      I hope we hear from more of you, dear readers, so that we can find out whether some of us do NOT have brain worms, or if Shmuel is right and we all do.

  2. I have it right now – (Soulja Boytell ’em by SouljaBoy). Had this since I was 5, I love it! If you concentrate on a song you wanmt to hear, you can play it in your head which is great if your mp3 has run out of battery.

  3. I’ve heard this mentioned in fiction, so maybe a lot of people have it? Some of my friends and my mother have it too.

  4. Johnny Oxydol

     /  August 9, 2015

    Sorry to be late to this party, however I have struggled with ‘brain worms’ (Scientific American uses the term ‘INMI’ but who cares) all my life, and what makes it exceptionally difficult in my case is that I am blessed (or cursed depending upon your perspective) with a very accurate and long reaching memory, i.e., I can remember things from my childhood (I am now 60 yrs old) as if they were last week. Not EVERYthing mind you, but many events, including music, which means that musical brain worms stay with me for interminable periods of time. The only thing I have found which helps to alleviate the affliction of a tune going round n’ round in my head, is ANOTHER tune (of my own choosing) and I have discovered that there is a particular piece of music which not only drives out whatever maddening rhythm is causing me grief, but it actually relaxes me and helps me to get re-focused on whatever the task before me might be. The music?

    Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto # 3, which is a highly ordered, very tightly composed arrangement which in my humble opinion, demonstrates the genius of Bach. Genius because in my case (and I hope in some other lives) it is able to sooth and alleviate this malady of melodies (pardon my pun) we suffer from. My best wishes to all.

    • Oh no. Thanks a lot for implanting the Brandenberg #3 in my head. Have some Beethoven #5, please. You’re welcome!

      • Johnny Oxydol

         /  August 9, 2015

        LOL … Beethoven # 5 is quite nice … although I have a preference for # 9, which was back in the early days of broadcasting, the closing theme for NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” which I remember as a child, as the two anchors would close each broadcast with “Good night Chet … Good night David” and Beethoven # 9 would commence (for about 2 minutes worth). Here is a very nice rendition of it performed by Arturo Toscanini *with* the NBC Orchestra in 1952:

        And as they say, “in for a dime, in for a dollar”, being a former broadcaster myself (with NBC Radio News), one of my favorite all time themes is “The Mission” by John Williams, back in the day when ‘Williams’ only stood for superb music and not prevarication of news stories (sorry Brian), this version (with wonderful video) is one of the nicest compilations I’ve ever seen, if it is possible to be lifted up and moved to tears all at once, this arrangement certainly does it for me and I hope you enjoy it, G’nite!! 🙂


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