my love/hate relationship with sound

I first heard the initialism ASMR about four or five years ago. My husband was listening to a podcast and one of the show’s guests just happened to mention this phenomenon they’d recently discovered on YouTube. Listening to their description of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response was an unexpected moment of validation for me. I knew exactly what it was like to feel sound tingling up your spine, at the base of your skull. Sometimes, it could almost feel like an intimate whisper raising the hairs on my neck–and that’s probably the precise reason I never told anyone about it (because god forbid a girl raised in a tiny southern town should ever speak of feeling a pleasurable sensation).

Finding out that this was a real thing that other people experienced, that it had a name, was a big deal. I could find others who shared my ability to get “tingles,” as some call it. I could look up information to explain it people who didn’t get it, and they would probably not think I was delusional because there were articles to back up my claims. And perhaps best of all, I could find videos by “ASMRtists” designed to help me get my tingle on.

Unfortunately, once I began browsing all the different offerings and featured trigger sounds, it didn’t take long to find one that I knew would elicit the exact opposite of the intended effect. I scrolled on as quickly as I could, because even the thumbnail was enough to turn my stomach and set me on edge.

Videos of people eating. Audibly. On purpose. WHY. I know, it’s probably wrong to trigger-shame someone, or whatever you would call what I’m doing right now, but I simply cannot even begin to fathom how anyone could ever, by any stretch of the imagination, find anything even remotely enjoyable about that sound.

Can you relate? Do you wonder why your friends think you’re weird for plugging your ears when someone is going to town on a piece of gum? Then allow me to introduce you to another, far less pleasant auditory phenomenon: misophonia. That’s right, there’s a name for it and it is real and you’re not crazy for being nervous about going to the theater when there’s a chance you’ll be surrounded by a bunch of people eating popcorn which you should do with your mouth closed and for the love of all that is good in this world please just learn to eat like a civilized human so I can watch my movie without fantasizing about your demise.*

I am leaving this bit of hyperbole in despite its potential to offend, but please hear me out: I am well aware of the fact that some folks have no control over their chomping style. I have a disability or three myself and am so not trying to belittle anyone in that situation. My mini rant was meant to illustrate how little control I tend to have over my reaction to that particular stimulus. On a good day, I’m a fairly rational woman. Mostly. I think. You know, except for the generalized anxiety and stuff. But no matter how many times I tell myself, “This is a normal part of every day life, a function vital to this person’s survival, mastication is perfectly natural,” etc., this part of my brain just goes fully bananas.

And it suuuucks. I’ve been living with this thing since I was a kid and it has had a major impact on my quality of life. I was made fun of by my friends–well, the ones who didn’t unfriend me for being a weirdo and who for whatever reason tolerated my rudeness as I constantly railed at them for eating wrong. It’s embarrassing as hell, trying to discreetly plug one ear while talking to someone who’s smacking their gum, focusing on their eyes as I struggle to follow the conversation and not let my expression betray my distress. I can’t focus on work if someone is sniffling, coughing, or clearing their throat too often. Did I mention that it’s not just eating that puts me in berserker mode?

Now here’s where it gets complicated: Going back to ASMR, you’ll find the majority of videos out there include talking of some kind–“intense whispering,” “softly spoken,” and “unintelligible” are a few I remember off the top of my head. When there’s no description of the verbal situation, it seems to default to conversational volume but is very … wet. The ASMR crowd is all about texture, generally speaking, and I’m no exception. It’s hard to describe, but the deliberate and exaggerated articulation heard in some of these videos just does it for some of us.

The problem for me is that the line between pleasantly wet/articulate voices and rage-inducing gross noises is very, very thin and prone to shifting without notice; what is a good trigger today could be a bad one tomorrow. Perhaps there’s some subtle difference that I’m not even aware of until it makes me cringe, or my misophonia is just as fickle as the rest of my body and mind.

Whatever its quirks may be, it’s still good to know it has a name. Just like with ASMR, I’ve found that I’m not the only one, and I can begin to connect with others who share my unique relationship with sound. I hope that by sharing my experience here, I can provide someone else with that moment of clarity and validation I once had.

Additional Information and Resources:

* Important Note: If you do actually feel the urge to act on any violent impulses your miso brings to mind, please talk to a therapist. This is apparently a thing in some extreme cases and I’m not judging you, but I’m pretty sure you know actually stabbing people isn’t cool or legal.

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dreamless.

In the chronic illness community, there’s a special kind of sleeplessness we call painsomnia. I trust you can figure out its meaning for yourself. Well, I’m having something like that tonight, except it’s more like painsomnia of the heart–and not in the cardiac sense.

For no apparent reason (aside from being “profoundly depressed,” according to my psychotherapy profile), I’m lying here wide awake and suddenly fighting back tears, despite having gone to bed early because I couldn’t keep my eyes open two hours ago. I didn’t have the best day, but it ended well enough. I’ve got plenty to be upset about, but … I don’t know. This is something different from the usual depression.

The best way I can describe it is like I’m mourning something that never happened, feeling a longing and restlessness so intense that it hurts. Again, this is a common element of the sick life: We grieve lost opportunities, what never was, what could have been, our plans changed or put on indefinite hold while we chase diagnoses and cures that may never be. We withdraw from school, get passed over for promotions, and lose jobs for lack of accommodations.

Chronic illness doesn’t give a damn about your dreams. And I wonder why I can’t sleep.

memento mori

(CW: physical trauma, PTSD)

I hate Spring. Where most people see the promise of life, hope, and sunny days, I see spiders, tornado warnings, and pollen making my life hell. Okay, so maybe that’s a little dramatic, even if I do literally lose sleep over the arachnophobia sometimes. Eight years ago, I got a new reason to dread this season.

The surgeons said I was lucky to have not been fully awake when it happened; if I’d been alert enough to brace for the impact, the damage would have been even worse. They screwed my spine back together, reinforced my shoulder, set my leg in a cast, monitored my lung and spleen until they’d healed.

When I was discharged a month later, there were no care instructions for my mind.

The first time I drove after the crash, I got nervous after accelerating past 30 mph. When I was on an overpass and couldn’t see beyond a rise in the road, I screamed. I began having nightmares as I was falling asleep. I still don’t know which is worse, those or the actual dreams in which a normal car ride turns into a fatal sequel.

I still don’t understand how I managed to become more scared over time. At the moment, when I was trapped in the car, my entire body a burning blur of pain, I was oddly calm. I thought, Well, this is it. But now, I find myself too often preoccupied by the idea of my mortality.

I can take at least one good thing away from all this, as constantly pondering one’s inevitable death is a great way to end up on the (secular) Buddhist path. The dharma can’t cure PTSD, but it has helped me understand my mind a bit better. Although I was frustrated when I realized I’d still need professional help, it was nice to hear my therapist compliment my objective self-analysis.

This is my third attempt at writing this post, and I can’t think of a way to end it but I need to wrap it up now. For now, let’s just say this is part one of two and see what happens tomorrow.

it’s a start

I’m no good at talking about myself–at least, not in any productive way. I can do the negative self-talk thing all day long, of course. Want to know what I’ve done wrong, what I should be doing, why this idea is stupid, why that one won’t work, what that one person I spoke to fifteen years ago really thinks of me? How much time have you got?

But things that actually matter, any sort of meaningful analysis or useful insight? I’m not so sure about all that. In my youth, I rarely missed a day in my journal. I could write for pages at a time, and even when I was recapping the most depressing events I felt purpose flowing through my pen. Now, what feels like several lifetimes later, I feel the pull but I have trouble bringing myself to answer it.

Over the years, what I now know as depression has been smothering that fire I once had and now all that remains is a handful of little embers buried under the ashes of so many abandoned dreams. Every once in a while, I gather the strength to give them a little stir and see how brightly they might glow–but all too often, I give up before anything catches. I’ve got to build up my endurance again, especially now that I know one of the culprits behind its disappearance.

I fell in love with my journals even before I knew they were vital to my mental health. I just loved writing, and they gave me one more reason to do that. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the act of writing down a lot of the abuse I endured during those days probably helped me end up slightly less broken than I did. Knowing what I do now, I want to resume the practice, but it’s going to be a little different this time around.

It breaks my heart to admit it, but I just can’t keep an analog journal if I’m to have any hope of making this a consistent habit. Because of the limitations and complications of my disabilities, I’ve had to accept that digital is the best option for me now. To help me make my peace with that decision, I considered that if I was going to start blogging, I might as well make this thing public and use it as nonfiction practice.

I highly doubt that this blog is going to turn into a portfolio worthy of notice or consideration, but … well, why the hell not. If it can convince me to start journaling on a more regular basis, I’m willing to believe that little lie for as long as it takes to get this lying brain of mine under better control. But now that I’m doing it, there’s that added layer of pressure that comes with the knowledge that I am writing for a hypothetical audience. I’m not sure right now whether that’s good or bad, but it does make getting started considerably harder. Here’s hoping that I’ll be up to the challenge in the coming days. If nothing else, this turned out to be the longest and fastest post of all my attempts so far.