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My Right Ear

I'm Bipolar Journal - March 11, 2008

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Updated November 12, 2012

My psychiatrist says I have to start yelling at the chorus in my right ear to shut the hell up.

My mother died on December 19th. It was a mercy for her and for our family -- while some of her memory remained, her health was gone and so, mostly, was her personality. In the end, she just slept herself away. I hope that, as she had been saying she would, she woke up in my father's arms.

The memorial was at the end of January. We had hassle after hassle trying to get the thing organized, but it came together well on the day. As she had been a member of the choir at her church for 50 years, the service was mostly music, including a glorious recording of Mom singing Mozart's "Alleluia" (links to the recording).

I hadn't expected to cry, but I did, when the choir sang one of the hymns she had picked out for her funeral. The hymn begins, "Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways. Reclothe us in our rightful mind ..." The choir was into the second verse when suddenly it hit me why Mom loved that hymn ... she wanted so much to be "reclothed in her rightful mind." She knew what was happening to her and wanted her full, healthy mind back.

I burst into tears and cried till the end of the hymn.

After the memorial came meetings and an exchange of emails that is still ongoing with bank officials and our lawyer about the estate. With the help of a good friend, I began the strenuous task of going through everything in the house my parents lived in for more than 47 years to see what family members would want to keep and what should be trashed, sold in a garage sale or given to charity. I also have to get the house ready to be shown to potential buyers and think about buying myself a new, less-expensive house with lower property taxes. Sometimes I was filling and emptying the dishwasher three times in a day as I discovered glassware that had been hidden away for years.

And somewhere in there, I think a few weeks after Mom died, I became aware that every time there was silence, a mixed choir began humming in unison in my right ear.

They started out by humming either Perry Como's "Wild Horses" or "Non piu andrai" from The Marriage of Figaro. As time passed, they added much more to their repertoire. If I cracked all the knuckles on one hand in a certain rhythm, they'd start humming "B-I-N-G-O and Bingo was his name-O," the entire song, over and over. After awhile they started in on the "Mexican Hat Dance." Never any words. Just humming. Always in my right ear. All in unison, from soprano to bass. I remember once turning off the radio in the car to enjoy the silence and immediately the damn chorus started in again. They are loudest when I get into bed at night, but at least my meds can put me to sleep anyway.

It's nothing like having a song go through my head. For one thing, that's in my head, which is nothing like hearing something that seems to come from right outside my ear. And songs in my head always have the words, and generally the voice of the person I've heard perform the song, or my own voice if it's something I sing. And there's accompaniment. This is just humming.

I don't hear them when I'm talking to someone. If I play music, they shut up. I've been playing music much more since this started.

When I told my psychiatrist about this last month, he said hallucinations are not uncommon with grief. He pointed out that my mother was a choir singer for all those years. He said they would go away in time. I thought wow, hallucinations. I've never had hallucinations before. I don't like it.

Well, four weeks later, they haven't gone away, and because I just wrote about it, they are now humming "Bingo" as I type.

In addition to the lack of silence - and silence is something I have really valued ever since Mom left the house for good last June - it bothered the heck out of me that they don't always hum the right notes or in the right tempo. Some notes were consistently flatted a half step. "Wild Horses" was often hummed v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. And I got very tired of hearing the same few pieces over and over.

It got to the point where at night I would deliberately start singing a new song in my head, and they would pick it up. I got them to sing "Some Enchanted Evening" until I was sick of that. (And they just started humming it, too slowly.) After awhile the problem with wrong notes got to me so much that I worked at teaching this invisible chorus to sing half-steps by making them sing phrases from "Bali H'ai" over and over until they got it right. Last night I gave them songs from Oklahoma! for a change. I worried, though, that working with them was only going to strengthen them.

And today I discussed this whole thing with my psychiatrist again. He confirmed my suspicion that interacting with them musically was not a good idea. He told me to start shouting at them to SHUT UP. Out loud. Get angry, he said. Also I could try playing some soft music at bedtime. Not much help, as I have no audio equipment in my bedroom. If nothing else works, we can try a small dose of a second antipsychotic like Navane. No way we are going to increase my Seroquel dose, now that I'm losing weight consistently.

That's the good news. Even though the turmoil after Mom's death shot a lot of my new good habits to hell, even though my diet is no longer so healthy, I am still staying within or close to my daily calorie limit, and in six months I have lost 12 pounds.

While I've been typing, the humming became unbearable, so I've finally started my playlist, listening to bands like Disturbed, Genesis, Metallica and Tool. I also have songs by artists from Gordon Lightfoot to Godsmack, and Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", so I can keep a variety of my favorite music playing for a long time. I may even play the vinyl soundtrack of South Pacific on my stereo and hear "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Bali H'ai" sung properly.

But I sure would like to enjoy some silence instead.

Mozart "Alleluia" courtesy of the Purse Family
All other music courtesy of YouTube

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