‘Looping’ Sounds and Images in Bipolar Depression
Some people feel like their brains have a recording-and-playback groove that starts up whenever they’re depressed, bringing fresh pain from past sad events.
Photo: Getty Images
By Julie Fast
My brain has a recording-and-playback groove that starts up whenever I’m depressed. It’s like there’s a negative recording studio in my head and I can’t turn it off.
My “looping depression” opens a channel where music and conversations are recorded and then played back over and over and over again. I associate the sounds and images with things that went wrong in my past, and I can’t stop dwelling on the incredibly sad feelings.
This depressed looping is always attached to a bad feeling that something is not right in my life. Soon my obsessive thinking takes me back to times when things weren’t going well. I see images of past relationships that didn’t work out and feel the pain of sad events as if they were happening right now.
It’s especially troublesome when I try to sleep, which people with bipolar recognize as a serious matter. During my latest episode, the movie in my brain played the sad story of my first marriage. Its looping music and images took me back to our meeting and our divorce.
I kept hearing the words, “It doesn’t matter what the morons say …” from the musical Evita. Our relationship could not survive the ups and downs of my then-undiagnosed bipolar, and we parted with a lot of confusion.
Normally when I think of this wonderful man, it’s with a tinge of sadness, but nothing overwhelming. When I’m depressed, though, it’s a fresh wound—even though it was 30 years ago. I physically hear musical notes differently when I’m depressed: the minor keys stick out, and I find myself obsessively thinking of sad movies like Brokeback Mountain and the music that accompanied the most devastating scenes.
Melancholy draws my brain like a magnet.
What is happening when we get this sick, and what can we do about it?
That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. First, I know that the looping and seeing my past like a sad movie are symptoms.
They are not the real me; I do not think this way when I’m stable. Knowing what is due to bipolar and what is not really helps.
Second, I know I have to get it to stop. This isn’t easy, but it’s possible.
Here are the three most important things I do when the sounds and images in my brain are too much to handle:
#1. I fight my brain.
My brain is vicious when I get depressed, and the only way I know to get the noise to stop is to fight back. I say “NO!”out loud to the negative thoughts. I turn off the music. I remind myself constantly that this is bipolar talking and I am not an unhappy and unloved person.
I stand up to the music and movies in my head with my real self, using language that makes sense to me. I consciously counteract what my ill brain is telling me. I decrease the stimulation in my life.
Often if my brain is going wonky like this, it’s because I am overstimulated. Too much Internet, TV, and caffeine can make my brain overactive, as can troublesome relationships and deadlines I know I can’t meet. When my brain is in overdrive, it’s time to treat bipolar first and move everything else to the back burner.
I talk with my health-care provider and focus on getting my medications balanced. Sometimes meds don’t work the way I need them to. I have to be very open to trying new things and making sure my dosage is correct.
Before I was diagnosed, my depressions could last for years. At one point, I stopped listening to music completely because of the looping. Over time, I have learned to become more of an observer of my brain instead of a victim: “Yep, there’s the music looping”; “Oh look, I’m back in 1987 on the beach with that ex.”
Nowadays, the looping sessions are short and I am often able to let the images fade to the past where they belong. I know what they mean, and I take action to treat bipolar first. I still have to deal with the symptoms, but recognizing them as such and having a plan in place to make them go away has made life much more pleasurable. You can do the same!