Monday, September 22, 2014

I have ASMR!

Wow! I have been trying for decades to find out what is going on with this inexplicable but wonderful spontaneous sensation I get every now and then. And finally today, I hit the Google jackpot:
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli. The nature and classification of the ASMR phenomenon is controversial,[1] with a considerable cult following and strong anecdotal evidence to support the phenomenon but little or no scientific explanation or verified data.[2]
 Although there are some differences from the standard experience of The Unnamed Feeling and my own:
  • I experience it as starting in my spine and working its way up to my head. Most other ASMRers have the opposite sensation - brain to spine.
  • I wouldn't call it a "tingling" sensation - it's much too smooth and subtle for that adjective. I would describe it as a slow influx of pleasurable feelings.
  • Apparently many people can identify what triggers the ASMR sensation and most triggers are through sound or sight. I have no idea what triggers it, although if I did I would be triggering it all the time. Seriously - the sensation has been compare to an orgasm ("brain-gasm") but in spite of some similarities it's very different from sex - and in fact it is better than a sexual orgasm. If I could trigger my own ASMR response at will I might not ever need sex again.
I'm so relieved to know this is a real thing, though, and not just unique to me. Although ASMR "sufferers" (should be "enjoyers") typically never tell anybody, as this woman recounts on NPR's This American Life.

Apparently this has been a meme now for a few of years and I didn't even know about it.

After looking around the net it's clear that there are many similarities among those who have experienced ASMR: usually it's first noticed in grammar school, during a droning lecture by the teacher - that's exactly what happened to me; they don't tell anybody else about it; they try to make it last as long as possible because it feels so good; but if they do try to explain it to other people the other people likely have no idea what they're talking about.

I've only told maybe 4 people about my experience of ASMR - my ex-boyfriend John, my daughter, my physical therapist and Oliver Sacks. Or at least whoever answers Oliver Sacks's email. I reached out to Sacks about 12 years ago and described the sensation, and the email response I got back from Sacks (or his flunky) was basically "enjoy it." Which you hardly need to be told - it is the nature of the ASMR experience to be pleasurable. But I wanted to know what it was and figured if anybody might be able to help it would be Mr. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

I've had ASMR experiences since I was about 8, although they are not evenly distributed - I can go months, possibly years without having the sensation or even thinking about it, and then I'll have it several weeks in a row. The closest I have come to identifying a trigger for ASMR is that I have been recently in a state of tension and my body is responding to the release of tension. I feel like it has something to do with good posture - with sitting up straight. And maybe not having a full stomach. These are just guesses though.

Some ASMR events over the course of my life - I've had many more than just these - these just happen to be most memorable.
  • The first time, during math class in third grade.
  • While I was sitting talking to my landlord when I was 18. 
  • While listening to an answering machine message from my manager with whom I was in love. 
  • A year ago while having a neck massage as part of physical therapy. That's when I asked my PT about it - she had no idea what I was talking about.
  • Last night after the reading of my play DARK MARKET while having a glass of wine. But I don't think it was the wine so much as the relaxing after being tense all day getting ready for the reading and then running the reading.
  • Today at work - after a day of a really mindless tedious task I felt pain and tension in my neck - I have arthritis in my neck - and so I did some cervical exercises and that set off the ASMR - which is yet again an indicator that the trigger for me is relaxation after tension. It was this latest ASMR even that led me to discover finally what this thing is. 
So the next step is to find out if I can trigger it at will the way some people can, through sound or other senses.