Please, turn it off.
August 20, 2013 1:08 PM   Subscribe

I have an on-and-off relationship with even my favorite music. My occasional loathing and indifference coincide with illness, though they outlast it; they do not occur with other symptoms of depression, which I have enough practice recognizing in myself. Has anyone had similar experiences or read anything on this or a related topic? Writing out of curiosity, not for help.

I had always been an eager listener. Though music never stole my life, it did consume it, as it does with many people, until few occasions did not call for a good song. To this day, I nearly require an mp3 player on a plane: the right, easeful playlist can see me through a trip without an anxiety attack, and more than once I've even marvelled at human flight before landing. So music has been therapeutic as well as wonderful for me. Nothing unusual about that.

But ten years ago, when a chronic ailment first showed itself, this normal relationship turned sporadic. With what I have, a flare-up normally lasts an evening and much of a night, until the pain subsides enough that I can get to sleep. These episodes tend to cluster, often occurring a few times within a week or two. After the spell, I can go up to six months or so with nothing—except for one effect of the flare-up, which typically lingers, often for weeks. When I become sick, I loathe music and cannot stand the thought or sound of it. A favorite song might come to mind, or one that I heard and enjoyed earlier in the day, and I will have soured completely to it. The next day, when I feel better, I still cannot stand to hear more than a song or two, and this often lasts some time. My spite will have softened somewhat, but I catch myself avoiding restaurants and unnecessary shopping trips because I don't want to be bombarded with in-house music. I read more and watch less, to keep the soundtracks away.

Nothing else will have changed. I've long since learned to take care of myself so that I rarely get into a depressive or anxious state following an illness. All the weariness that takes hold of me when I'm sick, and the feeling of futility at having lost control of my body, will be gone the next morning. The radio won't well these things up, at least not on a conscious level: give it a week, and my reaction to having heard ten or fifteen minutes of anything will simply be, "I'm really not interested. Why play something if it doesn't improve on silence?" It's as if an ON/OFF switch, having gone OFF during a flare-up, sticks and doesn't come back ON along with everything else. Eventually it does, often just beneath my notice; and one day I'll find myself enjoying music again. Soon I'll even love it.

I'm not looking for a correction to this "problem." (It may not be nice if this overlaps with a flight, granted, but the beauty of air travel is that it's mostly so brief.) I don't generally see it as a problem: it's hard to miss what you simply have no desire for. Why want to be constantly lacking something? Occasionally I feel like a little weight has been lifted from me when I abandon music. I may even be happy about another spell of time during which I have more attention for other things, except that music is impossible to get away from without spending all your time at home and in public libraries.*

What I wanted to know is if anyone had any similar experiences—or, better, if there is any literature (psychological or otherwise) that deals with a similar kind of relationship. I've read at least part of Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks—I think all of it—but don't remember this kind of phenomemon being discussed. Did I miss something, and should I go back? Are there any novels, stories, or poems that come to mind? Essays? Even if you have something tangentially related, I'd be fascinated to read more about others' negative relationships with music, when so much is written about the positive.

* - Admittedly, this is not a lifestyle I would reject out of hand.
posted by mcoo to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've always thought this was one facet of anhedonia.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:36 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've always had this where I don't/can't listen to music at all for weeks or months, then I want music on all the time, then I'm back to none. When I can't listen to music it feels something like not having the bandwidth or batteries in my head. Like I barely have enough brainpower to do what I have to do and anything non-essential or distracting just feels grating and tiresome. I've never heard anyone else discuss this though.
posted by bleep at 1:54 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I sure hope someone can offer some enlightenment, because I've been puzzled by similar experiences. Back when I was healthy, I used to like music just fine. Since I've been disabled by autoimmune illness, I just can't understand why anyone would make those annoying noises on purpose, or go out of their way to listen to them. My lack of enjoyment of music isn't part of overall anhedonia -- there are plenty of other things I can and do still enjoy.

I had a period of a couple of months when I felt quite a bit better, and my appreciation for music came right back. And disappeared again when I started feeling crappy again.

For me, my current dislike of music seems to be related to fatigue, which is a big part of my illness. Hearing music necessarily uses up some mental energy, and I have none to spare. I resent anything that puts demands on my attention, especially when I can't control the pace. Music creates a pressure to be paying attention, or it distracts from something else that I am trying to pay attention to. All "music" has become noise.
posted by Corvid at 2:57 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have bipolar disorder, and I've noticed that whether or not I listen to music, and what type of music, depends a lot on my mood state. Sometimes I become particularly sensitive to sound, and I can't listen to music because it becomes overwhelming. I will listen to faster music when in a more manic state, and to meaningful music when depressed. If I'm in a mixed mood (both manic and depressed, which makes me agitated and irritable), I can't listen to anything except Oldies, or else my mood will get worse. I have music I listen to while stable.

Certain music can trigger mood states so I have to be careful. For example, if I'm heading up too fast, and not in a good way, I won't listen to faster music. Or if a song is related to a bad memory, I won't listen to it while in a sensitive state.

I'm in a good, stable place now so these mood states aren't as pronounced as they once were, but I still have to be cautious. Sometimes I'm out in public and hear some music that isn't great for my mood state, so I have worked on how to cope with that.
posted by veerat at 3:29 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I listened to music all my life and loved it, but for the last many years since my Parkinson's took over so much of my life, I have no interest in music at all and there are plenty of times when I find it downright annoying. Every once in awhile I'll want to hear an old favorite and I'll play it and enjoy it, but by the third or fourth song, I'm finished.

It's been helpful to me to find that there are others "out there" who think of music as noise more than anything else - good to know.
posted by aryma at 11:56 PM on August 20, 2013

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