I’ve been dealing with anxiety my entire life. Whether in social situations, work situations, or even at home by myself, feelings of panic rise to the surface and consume me. Medications don’t work. Therapy doesn’t work. Each day, I wake up knowing at some point before I go back to bed, I will feel like the world is about to collapse around me.
I heard about ASMR online. For those who don’t know, it’s short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Basically, it’s an induced euphoric response that supposedly causes deep relaxation and a sense of wellbeing. I’ve never been relaxed. I’ve never been well.
Like all “natural” products designed to elicit a positive biological response, the ASMR space on the Internet is full of bullshit. Countless fraudsters and faux-experts tout extraordinary claims, and while scientists have found no direct correlation between ASMR and health, mental or otherwise, those who sell ASMR-related products will tell you it’s the next big thing. The thing “doctors don’t want you to know about.” Needless to say, I was skeptical.
Skepticism, however, in the face of daily panic, can often upshift into something resembling hope. I did my research. I sifted through claims and medical information with my untrained, but nonetheless determined, mind.
Another problem with something like ASMR is that people claim they know what they’re doing, when, in fact, they’re just trying to get hits on their website. YouTube, for example, is full of kids talking seductively into their microphones while dull synthpop plays in the background. Those are the top hits for ASMR. You need to dig deep before you find something you think is legit.
And I did.
Last year, I found an ASMR site run by a university in Ukraine. The cursory listen I gave seemed relaxing enough; a soft voice over gentle electronic pulses and the certain sounds from nature, like running water. The associated imagery was abstract and colorful, reminding me of Easter palates and springtime flowers. The samples were only five minutes long. To access the rest, they needed credit card and shipping information. At least the subscription came with a free Blu-Ray copy 8-10 weeks later.
I plugged in my payment information, name, and address, knowing American Express would cancel any fraudulent charges in the event the Ukrainians wanted to scam me. I wasn’t particularly concerned about that, though. The payment went through, and I was greeted by a “Members Only” page and libraries filled with various ASMR videos. I put on my noise-cancelling headphones, clicked the first video, and set it to fullscreen.
The world melted away. For the first time in my life, I felt relaxation overtake the omnipresent anxiety. Peace washed through my mind and passed in a wave down to my chest and throughout my limbs. My sensation of self vanished. Whatever this university had developed, it was a miracle. Enraptured by the sights and sounds and sensations, I remained in my chair for two straight days.
I awoke to the feeling of my headphones being torn off and a rough hand shaking my shoulder. Panic bloomed within my chest, but agony quickly overtook it. My legs and lower back were searing with hideous pain and I screamed, only to have the same hand clasp over my mouth.
“Shut up,” came a voice with a thick accent. A Ukrainian accent. “Scream again and we’ll take even more. Do you have any money in the house? Any jewelry?”
I tried to shake my head, which was pinned back against the computer chair from the man’s brute strength. “No,” I grumbled behind his hand, tears streaming down my face from the overwhelming pain.
“Good. Now sleep for another hour or so.” He strapped the headphones back on my ears and straightened me up so I was facing the monitor again. Before slipping back beneath the waves of bliss, I realized I’d been strapped in my chair. I didn’t know why.
After an hour, the video ended. The audio cut out. The pain returned. I screamed again, this time alone in my apartment. I was still strapped to the chair. I looked down at my legs, certain they were broken or slashed by the intruders. But my legs were gone. My screaming stopped and everything blurred. I reached for the phone on my desk and managed to dial 911 before passing out, my hand groping at the pain in my back where my left kidney had been.