Monday, February 01, 2016

Raising Awareness: The 29-Day Playlist!

Last year, I decided to raise awareness for a rather rare condition I have that affects people with significant hearing loss: musical hallucinatons.

I used my Twitter account (@ZenAngelSinger) to share, in real time, exactly what I was hearing, and in some cases, why. I called it The 28-Day Playlist (#28DayPlaylist).

I decided to do it again this year, with one small change...

There are 29 days in February this year! That is generally known as...

While researching Leap Year for this post, I found out that in days of yore, it was also called...

...bissextile year. Cue the Beavis and Butt-Head laugh: 

So this, my second year of the Playlist Project, has one extra day of music, commercial jingles, show tunes, theme songs and bad hair bands to share with all of you. 

This year, it's the 29-Day Playlist (#29DayPlaylist). 

I apologize that I am late to start today (I am having some unfortunate health issues right now. Sometimes, you need to share...and sometimes you need your get your mind off of it all. I am in the latter camp today.). 

So in the spirit of getting this show on the road, I am simply copying and pasting last year's intro to the Project and what musical hallucinatons really are...with two big changes: 1) I will address the vaccination debate this Project inexplicably sparked last year, and 2)...

I'll also edit for length or just from shits and giggles. It's my blog, after all.

So without further ado:

Rave Til Dawn: What It's Like to Have Musical Hallucinations

My health idiosyncrasies didn't begin with my first definitive MS symptom, at 21. Instead, it happened when I unexpectedly came down with the mumps. 

I had the large, painful lumps on the right side of my face/jaw, and I was miserable.

The mumps apparently enjoyed its sojourn in Casa Angel, so it left me with something to remember it by: I was now functionally deaf in my right ear. And that deafness itself gifted me with something even more rare than going deaf in one ear from the mumps: musical hallucinations

Despite its unfortunate name, musical hallucinations are not a mental illness. It's instead a type of tinnitus. It's almost always present in a person with some degree of hearing loss. Women are somewhat more likely to experience it than men.

So, what are musical hallucinations? In short: it's hearing music in your head, when no music is being played.

Everyone, from time to time, is plagued by the song they just can't get dislodged from their brain. 

In my case, every song is a song that gets "stuck" in my head. Musical hallucinations are basically just non-stop clips of music, not unlike an 70's-era K-Tel infomercial.

For me, the music is omnipresent, and the worst part? MH has no taste. It sees all music as equal...and it has no problem bombarding me with songs I love AND songs I hate. An all-time favorite tune (.       ) could be supplanted in the blink of an eye by a cereal jingle from the 80's (Smurfberry Crunch is fun to eat! A very berry breakfast treat!), Songs that are nothing less than an assault to the ears can be followed by a Mozart concerto. Bad, good or boring as makes no difference. 

There is never a time when I do not hear music. The only exception is when I am actually hearing music along with everybody else, via recordings or live performances, such as...

...this Rasputina concert Jonathan and I attended. It was a wonderful show which thankfully introduced me to one of my extra-strength Tune Stoppers: "1816 The Year Without a Summer" (more on that later).

Even when I am asleep, the music prevails.

If that sounds somewhat familiar, well, you're not alone. When I talk about the endless concert in my head, people will often remark, "Oh! Like the music box on "Star Trek," right?" 

Well, not exactly.

The concept of musical hallucinations made an appearance on the popular television program, "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Specifically the season three episode, "The Survivors."

In that episode, a human couple are the only survivors of an alien invasion that obliterated everything and everyone else on their planet...except their house, their lawn, and themselves.

Right away, Counselor Troi finds them suspicious, but as usual can't quite work out why.

Her efforts are thwarted when she begins to hear persistent music in her head. It's the same song, over and over again. The song itself was totally foreign to her; she'd never heard it prior to this mission. 

Unbeknownst to Troi, it's the tune that plays from the female survivor's antique music box. 

She confides in Picard, who consoles her by pointing out that everyone has had the experience of being assaulted by a song with a thousand encores. Deanna responds, "No. It's real." 

Dr. Crusher decides to put her in a medical coma, and an increasingly panicked Troi insists that it won't work. "The music will only follow me!" she cries. Later, when in the coma, Crusher notes that Troi "continues to act as if she hears the music." 

Eventually, (spoil alert) Picard discovers that there is really only one immortal being called a Dowd. He is responsible not only for the genocide of the alien attackers' entire species, but also for the music torturing the comatose counselor, for the crime of being close to finding out who and what he really was (he obviously didn't know Troi very well). 

That episode, and the musical/film "Amadeus," are the main examples of musical hallucinations seen in popular culture (please see the Update below). Mozart is tormented by music that he cannot stop and worse...he's the composer. He writes it down more to purge it from his system rather than to do his job. 

In both instances, it's portrayed as a bad thing: both Troi and Mozart nearly go crazy. 

In reality, the condition isn't related to any other mental illness and the sufferers almost never have any psychiatric conditions. 

Ironically, Mozart's music (particularly "Don Giovanni") is frequently a guest performer in the 24-hour concert venue in my head.

For better or for worse, I tend to remember songs I have been subjected to, even just once. This was very unfortunate when attending what I now affectionately refer to as "Cowboy High" in the early 90's.

However, it was a boon when I played in orchestras and sang in choirs. It certainly made memorizing the music a great deal easier!

It isn't so pleasant when I passionately hate a song and at any moment, I'll hear it over and over again, note-for-note, with no end in sight (damn you, "Life is a Highway"! You have tormented me far too many times, you awful bastard). 

There are a few songs that work well to dislodge melodies I cannot stand. I call them Tune Stoppers. Currently, I'm using one of the more effective Tune Stoppers ("Your Love" by the Outfield), in an attempt to drown out the song I unfortunately began hearing instantly after writing about it.

          You bastard.

Even when dreaming, the music is there. I often describe it as being a bit like Mozart as depicted in the movie "Amadeus," only with less genius songwriting...

...and more endless hours of Nickleback.

And there really isn't a damn thing you can do about it, except add to your Tune Stoppers list and avoid music you know you're likely to despise...and remember. 

There is no medication. Music therapy can help some sufferers; I understand that they also often suggest various versions of my Tune Stoppers method as a way to at least not be at the mercy of some terrible song that will ride you all night long...damn it! Not again! 

Many people with musical hallucinations hate it. Most of the time, I don't. Sure, it can be annoying sometimes, but in the end, it's just a part of who I am and I choose to see it positively. After all, I do love music.

In an effort to show people what it's like to have musical hallucinations, I will be using Twitter to document just what it is I am hearing for the month of February in a little experiment I call The 29-Day Playlist.

It will hopefully give some insight into what living with a constant dance hall in your head is like. So please follow my musical adventure at: @ZenAngelSinger!

UPDATE! A reader pointed out to me that there is another example of a television show using the "I can't get this song out of my head!" to comedic affect: the "Seinfeld" episode, "The Jacket." In this episode, George is unable to get the song "Master of the House" from "Les Miserables" out of his head. His constant humming/singing of the tune proves contagious to those around him, including Elaine's gruff & grumpy father! 

Wa do & thank you to Eddie Speghetti for the "Seinfeld" tip! You are truly a fountain of TV information. 

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

More Information:

This great article explains musical hallucinations perfectly:

I started this blog a decade ago, with the goal of sharing with others what it's like to live with multiple sclerosis chronic pain caused by MS- rel

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Time to Remember: International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, January 27th in the year of our Lord 2016, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Holocaust forced us all--every man, woman and child--to confront just how inhumane we humans are capable of being. 

The most important thing we need to reflect upon today is this: the Holocaust showed us just what horrors we humans are capable of afflicting upon our fellow man...and it also showed us what heroism can be achieved in the face of it. 

The heroes who, against all odds, survived. And the heroes who gave their very lives fighting to rid the world of the slap down the Axis like a whole posse of Captain Americas.

It's the many people who risked their lives helping others to hide and escape. Heroes--and heroines--who stood up and did what they could to save the lives the Nazis had declared to be worthless. People like...

...Irene Sendler, who smuggled some 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. When she was caught, she was tortured by the Nazis, who wanted to force her to give up the names of her co-conspirators. She never did.

And it's in the warriors who stood up against it and fought--far too often to their deaths--to put an end to the evil and bring back justice, hope and love. No evil can stand against that...not even the greatest evil human in history. 

Both of my grandfathers served in WWII (one in the Blitz, one in Okinawa).

Both were proud of their contributions in defending our way of life against the Third Reich. They are both gone now, but the pride lives on, in their descendants.  

       My Papaw in his Navy uniform.

It's a feeling I share with untold numbers of people all over the world: the man whose father was a Freedom Fighter in France; the granddaughter of a British soldier who died in the North African campaigns; the Roma family in Chicago who gently and proudly display the few possessions their family was able to save when they fled Europe; the widow who proudly stands with her children and grandchildren during the Veteran's Day parades; the young man getting an exact copy of his great-grandfather's naval tattoo of the ship he went down in; the mother taking her small babies to put down flowers on the grave of the father she never knew. 

It is up to us, all of us, to keep their heroism and sacrifices alive, through memorials, movies, books, art, blog posts. It stays alive with every telling of the stories to each new generation. 

They will forever be the real superheroes, who went up against a villain of monstrous proportions...and triumphed.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

RIP, David Bowie