Notes on Musical Hallucinations

The chapter on musical hallucinations in Oliver Sack’s Musicophilia fascinated me and here are some of my notes:

  1. Musical hallucinations can happen to anyone of us although it manifests predominantly in people who are old or have suffered peripheral or central injury (e.g. hearing impairment or epilepsy).
  2. Musical hallucinations can be obtrusive, unrelenting and be a great source of annoyance and stress. Most recounts were leaden with negative emotions, as one can expect. In most cases, drugs seem to have little or no effect and most individuals only come to terms with the condition several years later. What used to drive them up the wall has become accepted as part of life. This teaches us that acceptance/non-attachment and reconciliation with our physical discomforts or impairments can bring about sustainable living.
  3. Many patients recount hearing a series of notes or fragments of music, over and over again without pause. Often, these fragments consist of music from childhood or teenage years for which they no longer have taste for. One particularly sad case was a Jewish man who heard Nazi marching songs – those he had heard while growing up in Hamburg in the 1930s. Certainly, that must have conjured painful memories that can only add to the stress and annoyance of having hallucinations. In light of the tendency to recall involuntarily, our youthful musical exposure, in time I may hear fragments of church music or punk music. As an atheist, I doubt I’ll enjoy hearing songs of worship, even fragmentary. Yet, I shall practise non-attachment to what is beyond my control. As for the young ones now, I wish them luck hearing electronic music when they’re 80. (Musical hallucinations are more commonly, loud.)
  4. Many patients refused to relate their sufferings to others as they were afraid of being called mad. The stigma of mental illness is prevalent in most societies as people remain uneducated about the issue. When open discussion is not encouraged, fear and apprehension can only stay.

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