In 2004, strange things started happening to IUP professor Dr. Annah Hill — specifically, strange things with her hearing.

Musical hallucinations

“I felt like I was hearing things, but I knew I was missing things,” Hill said. “At first whenever it started happening, it did freak me out. Because I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going crazy and I’m hearing things that people aren’t hearing.'”

For example, she would hear a doorbell that didn’t ring, or a microwave beeping when that wasn’t the case. And for someone who at the time was earning a master’s degree in deaf education from the University of Pittsburgh, this was serendipitous.

“I thank God every day,” she said about the coincidence. (She’s now a professor of Disability Services and certified educator of the deaf).

Music was one of the sounds that crept into Hill’s hearing — “sensations” and “hallucinations” are two words she used for these occurrences.

The following year, in 2005, she was officially diagnosed with unilateral hearing loss. By 2008, she had hearing loss in both ears, and the sensation of hearing music was even more prominent.

The songs that come and go through her mind are regulars, like folks at a local bar. The most common songs are The Cranberries’ “Zombies,” which she said is one of the more annoying songs, and U2’s “Sweetest Thing,” about which she says, “That’s one that I can handle.”

“If it’s a tune which is more like Metallica…it just drives me crazy and I get very stressed out,” she explained. “But if it’s a tune more like a kid’s song that I’m hearing…then it’s different. I don’t mind it.”

This phantom music usually comes with stress or the migraines she often gets; that head pain, when it’s very bad, sometimes is accompanied by flashing lights.

“It’s almost like the flashing is connected to the beat of the tune,” Hill said. “It’s almost like strobe lights that are connected to the music.”

But her phantom music can be a good distraction from the pain, she said.

Musical hallucinations

“Sometimes it does get me off the idea of trying to get rid of the headache and the migraine…I’ve tried medicine, I’ve tried sleeping, I’ve tried teas, I’ve tried everything. And just nothing seemed to work.”

She also said the music tends to visit her when she’s driving in the car alone.

“It usually is when I’m not with people,” she said. “It’s usually when I’m by myself. I have three girls and my husband at home, and it usually doesn’t occur whenever they are there.”

Despite all of her experiences, some professionals don’t believe Hill actually hears music.

“Some of the audiologists I’ve been to chalk it up to just my tinnitus making me think about the songs and not really hearing the song,” she said.

Nowadays, though, the music isn’t as prominent as it once was, and her migraines are less frequent. Hill said she’s not certain if those two things are connected.

Whether or not the tinnitus or the migraines have something to do with the sensations, she’s not faking it.

“I know I’m hearing music somehow,” she said.

Originally published in Musicateur

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