Doo-dah, doo-dah
March 24, 2018 4:14 PM   Subscribe

I have a question about an unusual problem with thinking about things someone doesn't want to think about.

Someone I know told me about an issue they're having where if they see or say any phrase with 7 syllables, their internal voice will repeat it to the tune of "Camptown ladies sing this song" (doo-dah, doo-dah). To me it sounds like it belongs in the "intrusive thoughts" category of problems because it happens automatically and they want it to stop but they don't know how. But it doesn't seem to fit precisely in that category either based on what google says about it. Google doesn't turn anything up on this particular problem though (lots of stuff about earworms, but this isn't that). Has anyone experienced something like this? Is this something a doctor would be interested in trying to resolve?
posted by bleep to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It might help to think of this a an ear worm variation focused on Camptown Races with any remotely similar phrase triggering the worm. I assume the problem is that once triggered, it won't go away? (if it is just a quick musical blip, it is probably much easier to accept and ignore than try to do anything about it.) Anyway, assuming that once triggered it gets stuck, the best advice seems to be to fully concentrate on singing a counter song. Apparently British researchers found the most popular counter-song is God save the Queen. My personal favorite though is the Quaker song, Simple Gifts. It could also help to sing Camptown Races once through out loud to get the thought fully completed before moving on to the new song-of-choice.
posted by metahawk at 4:40 PM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

This can be a symptom of many things including epilepsy, autism, adhd, ocd and schizo-related disorders.
It's heavily annoying yes, but the longest I've had a phrase stuck on repeat inside my head is 7 years, so it should eventally pass or be replaced by another hopefully less comical one.
posted by OnefortheLast at 4:54 PM on March 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: It’s a quick blip, not the whole song, but it’s many, many times per day. It’s like a sick pattern-matching game that they can’t stop.
posted by bleep at 4:55 PM on March 24, 2018

Personally, I'd use this earworm to my advantage, by creating a mantra to the same rhythm that supports something the person is working towards, and every time the thought pops in, sing the mantra instead.

Twenty eighteen is my year, doo-dah, doo-dah,
I am rocking my career, ah doo-dah day

I eat healthy every day, doo-dah, doo-dah,
My will-pow-er's here to stay, ah doo-dah day

I know that I'm going far, doo-dah, doo-dah,
'Cuz I'm a fuc-king super-star, ah doo-dah day


Just make sure the mantra is positively phrased (so I would avoid a mantra like "I'm quitting smoking") because ideally you'd reinforce good habits, rather than creating a reminder of bad habits, which could cause temptation. Look not at the bad habit, but at the positive goal.

(This same kind of idea also works as a motivational hack for login passwords.)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:57 PM on March 24, 2018 [22 favorites]

I’ve had the Gaston song in my head for a week, so everything that follows the same meter is mentally followed up with “like Gaston” at the end. Annoying. I think sometimes you just have to wait these things out, or replace it with something equally catchy but which has less staying power.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:35 PM on March 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

It’s like a sick pattern-matching game that they can’t stop
That sounds like it is a lot more distressing that the usual experience. I think it is worth talking to a doctor, particularly if it is something that (i) he hasn't had for his whole life and (ii) has been doing on for a while, maybe weeks so that your friend doesn't want to just keep waiting to see if it would go away.
posted by metahawk at 6:53 PM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is it negatively impacting their quality of life? Are there other symptoms? Those are probably going to be the first things a psychologist will ask.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:59 PM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

This can be a symptom of many things including epilepsy, autism, adhd, ocd and schizo-related disorders.

Or being a musician...

Being a musician, and having dabbled in poetry, phrases in language that AT ALL match some pattern to a lyric or song just jump right into that. In my case it's an inordinate number of things that kick off "Down by the Riverside." I thought it was fading and then my son's marching band put it in the show...

For me it does not intrude on concentrating on more important topics; it's apt to rise to a conscious level when watching TV or driving down the road. My brain can play it for me in a variety of orchestrations: bluegrass band, Russian men's choir, you name it.

If I play a gig, the music I played during the gig is more likely to keep me awake on auto-repeat. Not a "mental recording" of the music as you would hear it from the audience, mind you, it's more like an open mic stuck on the part I played, which is often a harmony instrument like tenor or bari sax. So yeah, that can be annoying.

If this is a sudden departure in thought pattern for your friend, and it's extremely prominent, he may need to see a doctor. But for the most part, it just sounds like an earworm.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:54 PM on March 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have a bunch of mental health/sensory processing stuff, probably some synaesthesia and a very pattern-matching-based learning style and I get this too (sometimes it feels very intense and neurological, causing the same weird brain discomfort I get when my toes are wiggling compulsively and I don't want them to). Unfortunately I don't have any advice beyond waiting it out, forcing something else to capture my attention, listening to an unignorably loud competing sound etc.

Case in point - the first two items on my shopping list for today are granola, bananas and I have had Kokomo by the Beach Boys stuck ever since I became consciously aware of this last night.

I've also had issues with unusual names or names that scan a certain way getting stuck in my head for whole years at a time (there was a tennis coach at the gym I used to go to 10+ years ago called Linden Hardisty and I still sometimes get his name or other names of the same syllable pattern stuck even now).
posted by terretu at 12:11 AM on March 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have Tourette Syndrome. My brain automatically makes spoonerisms and really terrible punny jokes based on words and phrases I see, something that increases markedly when I'm manic. It's annoying and distracting, but at this point I've kind of accepted it.

I'm not saying your friend has Tourette's (which includes motor & vocal tics), I'm just saying, I relate to having a kind of silly intrusive thought problem. Some advice.

- Sometimes, having your compulsive thought AND stressing yourself out over the fact you're having to deal with it again, pitying yourself, being angry at yourself etc is worse than just allowing the thought to happen and moving on without judgement.

- Look up the "Distress Tolerance" module from DBT, there should be lots of good information about learning to cope with unpleasant feelings or experiences.

- There is no doctor for this sort of thing.

- There ARE therapists who can help you with mindfulness, anxiety, stress, etc. We don't really know enough about your friend to know whether this is something they need help with, but it's always an option.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:19 AM on March 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, this and other similar things are constantly running in my head. I had no idea this was unusual?

For instance, any series of seven digits, like a US telephone number minus the area code, is to the tune of the last line of "This Old Man." (Sol-re-re-fa-mi-re-do.) Also, the same issue as your friend, but with Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" instead of " Camptown Races."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:31 AM on March 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

This sounds very upsetting for your friend!

If it's getting to a point where it is impacting their ability to get through every day life, it might be helpful to reach out to a mental health professional or a neurologist.

I know persistent earworms can sometimes be a symptom of OCD, but there are lots of reasons this might happen.

FWIW I am classically trained as a singer and while I commonly get songs stuck in my head, this particular issue is not something I have experienced personally. It sounds like it would be awfully distressing so I wish your friend luck in getting this diagnosed and treated.
posted by donut_princess at 1:05 PM on March 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for this good and helpful advice everyone. Trying the “accept and then don’t dwell” tactic seems like the simplest method to start with.
posted by bleep at 10:40 AM on March 26, 2018

Maybe it'll be helpful to know they're not alone in this condition? I experience the doo-dah one a lot, as well as The William Tell overture ("someone burned a hole in the arborite"). It's really just a specialized form of pattern recognition, and can be downright amusing sometimes, imho.
posted by fish tick at 5:09 PM on March 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

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