It’s time for another edition of Thank God It’s Penis Friday!
As many as 99 percent of us get a song stuck in our heads at some point. This may happen because the song sparks a cognitive itch or because it contains a repetitive motif that the brain latches onto and starts echoing. Researchers have a name for songs that implant themselves in our brains — earworms.
But not all earworms are song. Some people find non-musical words or phrases stuck in their heads too. This happened to Doctor Popular, and he wrote a comic about it.
LWON: This must have been a mortifying experience, especially for a 16-year old. What happened after the clerk showed you the receipt?
Doctor Popular: Once the cashier handed me the receipt, I quickly crossed out the word and signed my name, all while apologizing for “not knowing where my mind is today.” Although this gas station was literally right in front of our house, I totally avoided it for almost a year.
LWON: Did having the clerk show you the signature cure you of the penis on the brain?
Doctor Pop: The second I made it out the door, “Penis” entirely disappeared from my head. I was able to think clearly and, briefly, take pride that I managed to avoid saying the word out loud.
LWON: Has this kind of experience ever happened to you again?
Doctor Pop: This was the only time I’ve ever had the word “penis” stuck in my head, but I feel like there have been other times when my brain got stuck thinking about a thing (feeling, emotion, word, image, etc). Looking at it in retrospect, this is probably my oldest memory of a panic attack. It wasn’t until my thirties that I started to see a pattern to these types of circumstances and be able to identify them as panic attacks.
LWON: Do you have any sense of what was going on in your brain as this happened? Did having the word repeating in your head feel like a compulsive thing? Or more like one of those musical earworms that just gets turned on and won’t stop?
Doctor Pop: Earworm sounds about right, at least at first. It was just a fun word that made my mind giggle, like “porcupine” or “kerfuffle”. Soon it turned into a feeling of anxiety, and then logic went out the window and was replaced by fear.