When I was much younger, I had insomnia. Realistically, I still have insomnia. I’m working on it, that’s not the point.

My therapist, whom I’m not ashamed to admit I was seeing at the age of 12, recommended that I begin listening to a tape every night when I went to bed, which would lead me through a guided visualization, and, hopefully, to sleep. In hindsight, it must have worked because I kind of wonder what was at the end of that tape.

Jumping ahead to my freshman year of college, my insomnia had once again gotten out of hand, and I began searching for solutions. Remembering the tape, I went looking on YouTube, figuring someone in the billions of video-creators on the Internet had gotten around to creating something similar.
That’s how I found the Whisper Community, or what is now referred to as the ASMR Community – a community of viewers and creators dedicated to Tingles and relaxation.

I don’t know the point at which I realized that most people don’t react to sound the way I do. I do remember my stepmother commenting that when I watched certain TV shows, I would go into something of a trance. She thought it was creepy. It was only a few years ago that I found a name for the way I experience sound.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, is a pleasurable, non-sexual physical response to certain non-tactile stimuli or “triggers.” If you’ve ever experienced chills when listening to a song, you may have some idea what I’m talking about. Most people who experience ASMR describe the feeling as tingles in the head, neck, spine, or extremities, often brought about by certain sounds or behavior patterns. For me, it’s a warm tingling at the very back of my head, especially prominent over hard consonant sounds. I really like the way Ks sound. Other people get tingles from the sounds of chewing gum or unwrapping packages, or find that their tingles are greater when a video portrays close, personal attention, which may be soothing.

The scientific community is out on ASMR – it’s only a recently-noted phenomenon, and not much extensive study has been done on the subject. A lot of people see it as closely related to synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon which results in “crossed” sensory wires, where certain stimuli interact with a different sense, producing colored numbers or flavored words. Even the February 2014 issue of O Magazine had something to say about the issue.

So why have I kept my ASMR a secret for so long? Because from the outside, it seems creepy. Trying to explain to someone that the reason I watch close-up videos of people speaking, and the physical feeling I get as a result, are distinctly non-sexual seems more difficult than it’s worth. The Young Turks broke down ASMR videos on YouTube and pointed out that to people who don’t experience ASMR, these kinds of videos come across as uncomfortable. But it’s made falling asleep easier, and brought me into contact with an entire community which experiences the world in much the same way I do.

So, if you happen to see me, staring at my iPhone, headphones in and eyes glazed over, I’m probably just getting my ASMR fix. If you’ve never tried it, I’d love to share.