ASMR and Me: It's Complicated
I discovered autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, the YouTube phenomenon, not the experience, some four years ago, before it had gained attention outside the increasingly large community of content providers and consumers. Thing is, I don’t get the tingles. Well, I do, but it usually requires a soft hand brushing up against mine. Then, my arm hairs will stand at attention and excitedly look about, expectantly, which produces the tingles that run from my arms to my toes, where it rebounds and goes all the way to my head, so that the sensation can feel like a jolt of euphoria-flavored static electricity. (I entreat you, dear reader, to excuse the multiple mixtures of metaphors in the previous sentence, as well as the alliteration in this one.) Some thoughts can come loose and seemingly think thoughts for themselves. (Okay, that alliteration wasn’t purposeful.)
Despite AMSR’s inability to replicate a romantic charge in me, I enjoy ASMR videos immensely, thank you very much, and I'm not afraid to admit it. No need to feel ashamed when the popular artists, or ASMRtists, as some content producers call themselves, have subscribers in the hundreds of thousands.
I do wonder how many of those subscribers share my non-tingle appreciation and enjoyment. Let’s eliminate the sexual thrill seekers. I’m not judging. As ASMR videos have become more popular, the attractiveness of the providers has noticeably risen in relative percentage. What was once an artist who happened to be beautiful (or handsome), has become a semi-professional model wanting to cash in. Both draw upon the same confidence that comes with being attractive in a visually oriented culture, and YouTube is principally a visual medium, after all. I’m eliminating the sexual titillation seekers simply because their reasons and goals are rather self-evident.
For me, ASMR vids have a calming effect, and if already calm, then a relaxing effect, because the meanings of calm and relax are not identical. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with racing thoughts that make falling asleep difficult unless I’m simply exhausted. Fortunately and unfortunately, I used to be exhausted all the freggin time. I’m the person who has pulled an all-nighter for every major test since he was sixteen—with nothing more than caffeine and jumping jacks toforestall sleep and maintain alertness. In grad school at Louisville, I taught a class, worked a full time job, and took two courses a semester, in addition to preparing for my comprehensive exams, writing a dissertation, and drinking a whole lotta alcohol. Sweet Cthulhu, how’d I ever do it?
Those days ended with graduation, and similar to noticing an insect on the wall and wondering how long it’s been there, I witnessed the slow creeping back of the racing thoughts. I’ve always thought it was normal, this inability when quiet to prevent the brain from thinking, at least among those who like to contemplate, consider, or (re)solve.
Now I hear whispers suggesting it’s a symptom of mania. I’d always thought mania was the polar North to depression’s Antarctica. But my thoughts, lying awake in bed, are seldom euphoric or even pleasant. Apparently, mania can be mean-spirited, even depressive. I could have that part wrong, as I’ve not formally conducted any research on the subject, but ‘twould explain my history of getting good grades by way of anxiety-produced motivation. Once, I would have wondered how cold the southern pole must surely be if its twin to the north was itself a tundra. Recent years have left me with no need to wonder: it’s a difference of racing versus dwelling.
Among the god terms of YouTube ASMR, relaxation surpasses all others, tingles included. I imagine pleasant tingles are highly relaxing, so that explains much of their relative popularity as descriptors. But. I guess I wonder how often it’s not about the physical sensation of triggers (another god term) producing tingles but something else. I watched Bob Ross paint even as a teen with no interest whatsoever in painting because that voice of his, along with those happy accidents, were just so darn soothing. I became more relaxed with each passing second. Keep talkin’, ol’ bearded bard! I would plead. Please keep a-whispering. Too soon, however, the show was over. Back to life, and not in the good way.
I’ve only heard a few ASMRtists mention anxiety or panic attacks by name, but, once again, I suspect we are a sizable portion of the viewership. The whispering voice, the personal attention, the care-giving in the guise of role-plays — all work on me pretty, pretty effectively, unless I’m really in a state, when all I want is a hammer and nail to end my pain. Straight through the skull above the eyes, baby. But not really. Anyway, reflecting now, I vividly recall my fondness for having my hair cut, many years ago now, in a time before I decided to do it myself. Daily. With a razor. My skull is shaped funny but there was no backing off of bald once that leap had been made. I’ve avoided professional massages — save during this one trip to Vegas <cough> — for fear of addiction.
All of this is well and good, and no big matter in the universe. Recently, however, in an unexpected turn of events, I…. Well, I sank to a new low, truth be told. Oh, not with respect to ASMR per se, but in general, in life. I had laughed at them, scoffed at them, and even as my life unraveled and the dark maw of loneliness opened wide, I vowed never to succumb to the temptation. I’m talking about girlfriend role-play videos. Not the erotic ones. The sweet ones.
I succumbed, and now we both know I can’t claim I did it for the tingles.