earworms and psychosis

A non-fiction short story by Tea Jay

It’s been two years since the music stopped playing. Of course, occasionally, if I tune in on the dials in my mind I can hear the faint tunes and whispers. The melodies are played at pianissimo at best.

I used to describe my mind as a jar of bees that had just been shaken up violently. There was always buzzing; sometimes the noise manifested as more of a feeling, sometimes they appeared as nods from the darkness ruminating in my skull. This dialogue can vary from You’re better off dead to This world is fucking yours. No matter what I heard in my head there was always background music playing. In my teenage years I would tune into this background noise and write songs, flowing to the piano naturally. Sometimes the music turned into screeching and more often than not the quiet musings morphed into shrieks and screams. I excused them as thoughts; eventually it would be more clinically viewed as psychosis, one of the symptoms of my personality disorder.

The music became louder when I started smoking pot while being unmedicated with pharmaceuticals. When I would get high I would dissociate into the walls of my first apartment, the paint chips morphing into characters dancing across the room. Sometimes shadows from the closet would spook me and the darkness from my window felt more like a rabbit hole with creatures of the night beckoning to devour me.

But those things were just subsequent to the orchestra that flooded my ears with symphonies.

I wrote these hallucinations off as being stoned. I had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the time (eventually being re-diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder). I knew the baseline to my mental health; I had really, really bad mood swings and was a bitch because of it. It sucked the life out of me because I couldn’t properly express the person who I felt like I was at heart without snapping and biting at everyone close to me. Eventually, when I became close to my ex (you know, after those first few nights of not sleeping and detailing every trauma we’ve ever endured to each other as if we were children at a sleepover) I told him about the music. I left out the voices and the shadows playing tricks on me, except for a few times when I was too high and would ask questions like, “Do you hear that meowing too?”

Some people can live fully functional lives without being medicated. I am not so fortunate, at least, not in this stage of my recovery. If I knew the delusions and visions were mental illness and not related to some dank weed I still probably would have protested medication back then. It took destroying my entire reputation and life to even try medication. Even then, it was months of ingesting different pills, claiming they didn’t work, and cutting them out cold turkey. It took being partially inpatient with a baby at home to take medication management seriously. I didn’t realize how often I was experiencing psychosis until my medications were strengthened to 80mg. It was subtle; eventually my beautiful jingles decrescendo into utter silence. My earworms are now songs from my Spotify playlists instead of well-detailed philharmonic rattling my skull.

I have surrendered my songs for stability. But oh, do I miss my siren’s song.

About the author: Tea Jay is a millennial, mother, and advocate. She has published two books about mental health. The first, In The Gray Area Of Being Suicidal, an essay collection chronicling life with BPD and being a suicide attempt survivor. The second, a children’s book explaining a caregiver’s mental illness to young children.

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