I could smell the Cheetos residue on her fingers. She tugged them along the skin behind my ears and raked my hair down my back. I momentarily thought about the Cheetos getting into my hair but the thought melted. The teacher opened the book and looked up at the 15 lunch-heavy 3rd graders waiting to hear the story. She began in a quiet voice as Jessica began braiding my waist length hair. The back of my head began to prickle. My eyes became glassy as the sensation spread throughout my scalp. My thoughts slowed. I hoped the moment would last forever.
I have Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response or ASMR. Recently I was working on a blog post where I wanted to mention the strange sensation I have lived with my entire life. I had tried to google it in the past with no luck, but the other day I googled "head tingles" and finally found an answer. It turns out there is an entire community now, including preliminary researchers trying to explain it. I have finally found other people who can understand something that is difficult to explain. Here's what I can tell you from my experience with ASMR.
1. How it feels
When ASMR triggers it begins in the back of my head, right above my neck. A tingling sensation starts. It continues to tingle with occasional bursts of the sensation. It is not goosebumps. My eyes generally go blurry, my thoughts slow, and I feel relaxed. It is a very very good feeling. I have read it described as a trance and I suppose it could be described that way. However if a person in real life is triggering my ASMR there is a sense of control as I am acutely aware of not letting the person know they are triggering something in me.
2. Why don't we talk about it?
Most people don't talk about this strange sensation until they are well into adulthood, even though they can trace their first triggers to childhood. My oldest memory is my friend Jessica playing with my hair. I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that everyone's first question when you tell them about ASMR is that it is in some way sexual. This is NOT the case AT ALL. There is no sexual arousal whatsoever and I've never met a person with ASMR who says they experience sexual feelings with ASMR.
The other reason people don't tell you about ASMR is because it can be slightly embarrassing. For example, when someone is triggering my ASMR I want to tell them, and somehow convince them to be my friend forever. However because most people's first impression is that it is sexual, I would imagine some very strange or even hostile looks. When I told my boyfriend about the tingles, or when a man triggers me, his only response is "I don't like it". Honestly I don't blame him. It's a strange thing, that many people just don't understand. It's interesting to me that even as children people with ASMR were aware that most other people were not experiencing it, and therefore they feel different or strange. A woman on This American Life explains this point very well in their episode called Tribes. The ASMR part is in Act 2: A Tribe Called Rest.
3. My triggers
Even before I discovered the world of ASMR videos I knew what my triggers were. While people with ASMR are triggered by different voices and different scenarios, many triggers are very common. Common triggers include; explaining something in detail, soft or whispering voices, accents, haircuts, survey type questioning, physical exams, and facials/makeovers. For me I knew when someone was going to explain something to me in detail, or do a survey, I would have the possibility of a trigger. I am triggered at makeup counters where the saleswomen explains the makeup to me and applies it to my face. I was triggered once at the physical therapists office when they did a carpel tunnel exam and then instructed me on how to use my wrist braces. I can even be triggered by non audio or visual stimuli, such as an email from someone explaining something in detail.
4. The future
I actually hesitated to write this post because I still feel slightly embarrassed. Now that I found ASMR videos on Youtube I do find myself watching them every couple of days. To the average person I imagine they are strange, silly and boring. I don't want people to think I'm weird I suppose. But if you are interested, here is a link to my favorite ASMR video artist and one of her videos that is my favorite.
I recently joined a Facebook group for people with ASMR who are interested in the research that is starting to take place. I think it's exciting. My interest is in how ASMR can be used in therapies that might reduce stress, frustration and anxiety. We will have to wait and see, but for now I just wanted to share with you something about myself that you might never have known existed in the world.