I find that I have a strange relationship with music, and I can easily track it back to my OCD. We all have earworms from time to time—you hear Smash Mouth’s “All Star” and can’t get it out of you’re head1.
I also get earworms very often, many times for songs I have not heard in decades. Sometimes I have no idea on the reason, and sometimes I know the reason is my OCD. An example of the hell in my head lately: the theme song to the 1980’s TV show “Facts of Life”. Don’t ask. I’m the one who has to live with it. Here’s the thing with my earworms—I often have songs in my head that I have not heard at all in decades. When was the last time I watched “Facts of Life?” The answer is: despite me being a bit on the odd side, no, I have not seen the show since I was a child.
Relating this to my OCD, most of the times I get earworms because I hear someone speak one single word, and it triggers a complete song in my head. Again, often a song I have not heard in an extremely long time.
It comes from the part of my brain that is hyper-wired for fixation. The word “changes” comes up in conversation (not even being a key word in said conversation), and boom—the song “Roll with the Changes” by REO Speedwagon is now in my head. Yes, I’ve heard the song. I used to listen to primarily classic rock for a period of my youth in the 1980’s and 1990’s. But not recently—until the moment of said conversation, after which I will then be hearing the song for days. Over an over2.
And this being a song I have not heard in a very long time is important—because I am tremendously picky about what music listen to on purpose. I don’t listen to music very often. But it remains a major part of my life. Yes, I am a person of the seemingly contradictory.
If a song is not an earworm, and one I want to hear—it has to relate to real life. It has to be the soundtrack—often on the nose—of what is happening in my life. When I do listen to music, I will play a song maybe fifty to one-hundred times. Over and over. That may trigger a mood for music, and I’ll try to find another song to go along with it, to fit mood. But I usually fail and go back to the same song. Over and over some more.
Songs brings extreme emotions to me. That is not uncommon in people. But as someone with mental illness, I have learned to be extremely careful with my emotions. Thus I rarely listen to music, as triggering emotions in me can have more extreme consequences to my mental state than normal people. Though I love music and have loved it since my sister sat me down and played “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” for me when it first came out 3. I cried. I was four. I was so moved by this door being opened that the emotions overtook me4.
And example of recent fixation and mental wellbeing related to a song. I am currently being haunted by a song of my own choosing: “Farewell Transmission” by Songs: Ohia. It is a song by an artist (Jason Molina) who died an alcohol-related death at way too young of an age, well before his work could blossom and be appreciated for how good he could have made it.
This single song brings about that concept of his life—of which I don’t know too much about5—into how it relates to my own. In a possibly abnormal fashion. Because like I said, I am coming into this based on one song and its lyrics. But I extrapolate and fixate, and build a world around it. I become consumed (the obsessive part.)
And for the compulsive part, here’s where I need to be careful about listening to music that moves me. In this example, I become fixated on death, hitting rock bottom, leaving life. Not just fixated on the story, but rather fixated on actually wanting to take action in my own life. I very literally 6 feel the compulsion to change my entire life around by hearing this one, single song. Quit my career (or at least question it.) Change my life. Figuratively refactor everything to focus on something I now find more meaningful. Because I now have the obsession that my life is not meaningful, but that it can be. Or should be. Compulsion! All because of one song (that I am listening to over and over for real and in my head.)
I very much feel the compulsion for major change. Thus, I do not listen to music that often. Because it triggers said compulsions—and that makes living hard. Though the ideology behind the compulsions is often a beautiful dream.
And here’s where I switch subject matter quite jarringly:
I also cannot listen to music while concentrating. Working. My life with OCD, note, is one of constant concentration. And everything is work. I am always, every second of my waking life, in a state of concentration. And that concentration is work. Because I am obsessing, for a living. As well, I do have many real jobs. “Job jobs” or “work work” I call it to separate paying career labor from that which goes on in my mind otherwise.
I am always concentrating. Sometimes it is productive, sometimes it is an OCD episode. The episodes of a higher magnitude—I have two articles on an OCD episode here, and a similar OCD episode here. Regardless, I absolutely freeze what I am doing with the slightest hint of music playing. I cannot do anything but focus on that music. And that creates friction with that which I need to or have to concentrate on (purposely or not.)
So I ask you, please do not play music while I am working. You will literally make me want to quit my job, move to a quite part of the country, and focus solely on my art and writing for a meager living.
As well, I ask that you not utter the phase “livin’ up to your dreams,” as you will be responsible for putting the fucking “Facts of Life” theme song in my head. You jerk.
1 I am so, so very sorry for you. My condolences. [BACK]
2 And over. [BACK]
3 I still have the 45! How cool is that? [BACK]
4 I cried, note, in the emotional sense. Not the “get these fucking large ear phones off my four-year-old head” sense. [BACK]
5 There is a biography written about him out now, I do not have it. I’m also not shilling for the author here. Just using an example. But do at least listen to this song! [BACK]
6 You already know I insist on using the term “literally” correctly, take issue when it is not used correctly, and in this case I really do mean “literally” or I would not use the word. [BACK]