Wednesday, February 22, 2017


It's been a while since I've posted, mostly because it's been a while since I've had anything to say.
Today I have something to say. 
I am going to be self-indulgent for a moment, so forgive me. 
Last night I was finishing up some work at my computer when I thought I smelled something very irritating. Now I know I can't smell, but sometimes very strong scents can trigger a sinus reaction for me, which this did, but sometimes with that happens, there is a distinct fragrance to it. I can't identify it, but something is there.
Because of that, I have had a secret: lately I've been wondering if I was starting to smell even a little bit again, but without anything to go off of, I can't ever be sure. 
So "smelling" whatever this was was the same sort of confusing. 
I checked my oven -- off. 
Stove -- off. 
Candles -- out. 
I looked outside, and nothing explained it. 
Nothing was burning, no alarms, nothing at all. 
But it would not go away. 
Those with a proper sense of smell can use another object to weaken or get rid of whatever horrible smell bothers them. Even just plugging their nose helps. 
I tried that. 
I went to bed, smelled my sheet, pillowcase, hands... I couldn't get rid of it. It was overwhelming and confusing and aggravating, but I started to wonder, and hope, that maybe I could smell again even a little... And I started to wonder if I even wanted to smell again if it was going to feel like this. 
Today at work one of the rooms next to us apparently smelled horrible so I offered to go in with our odor spray to work on that. And what had made other people gag and hold their breath had absolutely no effect on me. 
Not even a sinus trigger. 
So I'm right back to where I started. And that's somehow still painful after all this time.
I don't want to be looking for my sense of smell to come back. I don't want to always wonder if it will, hope it does, wait for it to...
I don't want to deal with the overwhelming almost smells that make me feel like I'm going crazy all over again.
I don't want to be surprised by this anymore.
I just want to adjust and be set in my adjustment.

And I thought I was.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Looking Back: 2 Years

Today it's been two years of living with anosmia. That doesn't seem possible, but at the same time, I feel as though I've always had it. In a way. Not all the time, granted, but enough that today is far and away easier than two years ago, or even one year ago.
When I realized we were getting close to this mark, I looked back at my notes and journal that my therapist had advised me to keep. I poured over the pages and pages, remembering the frustration of trying to figure out what happened to me, of piecing together who had done what and why they didn't do other things, of trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I recalled perfectly the pain of getting through every day, of having extreme surges of emotions that I could not control, of feeling completely isolated and misunderstood. It all came back to me, the loss of appetite, the secret fuming, the longing for answers... It might as well have been yesterday for all I felt.
But I also saw the miracles. The tender mercies that got me through particularly rough hours, days, weeks... Surprise phone calls from across the ocean that sent me to my knees in gratitude, dinners brought to my house that I couldn't taste but warmed my heart, moments in the day when I could escape to let my emotions loose instead of bottling them up, and the beautiful opportunities to observe other aspects of the world that didn't need smell to be appreciated.
I learned and grew myself. I found strength I didn't know I possessed, and it had nothing to do with my own abilities. I learned what faith truly means. I found my Heavenly Father, and I hadn't even known there was more to find.
I have no real recollection of the day I hurt my head. It seems weird, not having memory. It’s like those old VHS tapes where you recorded over something, and right at the beginning of the new recording there were those streaky lines with a bit of snow… That’s sort of what I have at the edge of the memories. Then it just skips around.
January 13th, 2014. The shortest day in the history of my life. I remember going to class in the morning, then having my regular meeting with my supervisors about the status of my teams and the injured athletes. I remember going into the athletic training room I worked in and getting things ready for that day’s practices. I even remember seeing an athlete. I know the athlete’s name and what the injury was.
And then…nothing.
Facebook history says that I watched and posted an inspirational video called Wrong Roads on my wall, and I said this: Really needed this message this morning. The best way to start your morning is with light and truth.
It’s nice to know that day started with that bright spot. I hope that was in my subconscious. I would need it in the coming weeks and months.
It would be impossible to comprehend this journey without the Lord. It would not have been possible. I could not have done it.
Thankfully, I didn't have to.

This is the face of a woman who can't believe she graduating after what she'd been through.
It still surprises me that I didn't go crazy like I thought I was. That I can laugh and joke about that time. That it's not even a big deal anymore. For all the pain I endured then, the peace of now is stronger.
Maybe that's the miracle after all.

I still can’t smell. Shocker! Haha, I’ve stopped looking for it to come back. Actually, I forget that things are supposed to smell. In my every day life, I never run into problems with this.
The only times I ever really think about it anymore are when I’m reminded that something is missing.
Like driving in my car and thinking I smell something, freaking out because I can’t figure out if my car is going to explode in three seconds and why aren’t any alarms going off and am I billowing smoke…? And then remembering that I can’t smell, I’m not smelling anything, and the alarms aren’t going off because everything is fine.
Not that that’s ever happened, I’m just saying.
I’ve actually had a few hard experiences lately that embarrass me, moments where I remember what I used to have and for one reason or another, it really hurts now. Tears are shed and I need to take a moment to recover myself, and then I move on, forcing the feelings away because there’s no use crying anymore.
But oh, those moments hurt.
I’m perfectly fine otherwise. I forget what pizza used to taste like. I only know what it tastes like now.
I didn’t try to smell the Christmas tree this year because I forgot that Christmas trees are supposed to smell.
I prefer fresh fruits and veggies to the alternative because they taste better than anything else. Doesn’t mean I’m any better about eating them, but they taste better.
I do sometimes wonder about my head after that wicked concussion, and if I think about it too much, I get really worried, so I try not to. I’d rather not scare myself into a doctor’s appointment only to be told I’m fine.
Still have some fun emotional shifts, but not the surges like I used to, and I can control these pretty well.
Still have some weird things that go on with my sinuses that I don’t understand.
Still prefer dark chocolate to any of the others. Still love whatever I can taste. Still crave meat because it tastes so stinking good. Still don’t love ice cream like I once did.
I have hot chocolate though. Doesn’t taste like it once did, but we’re an old married couple and we choose to love each other as we are now.
I’ve learned a lot from this experience. I can do hard things by myself. I can face scary things by myself. I can do a lot of things by myself. Because you know what? I’m not by myself. The Lord has been by my side through all of this, and when I randomly burst into tears at an outlet mall because I want to go in Yankee Candle but there’s no point, I can cry unto Him and He doesn’t think it’s stupid or silly or that I’m being ridiculous. He gets it because He gets me. He knew how hard this would be for me, and He’s not disappointed when I have hard days.
This trial is a gift because it didn’t take anything from me that I could not bear to lose. It gave me the opportunity to learn and to grow, and because of what I’ve endured with His help, I am no longer afraid of being alone.

And I’m starting to think that it’s worth it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Lessons and Limitations

Funny how my normal isn't normal for anyone else... I can't even tell you how many times people forget that I can't smell, which is AWESOME, cuz I'd hate for it to be a thing, but then they ask me to smell something and I have to remind them or give them a look, and it becomes awkward all over again.
I hate the awkward.
Because this isn't actually that awkward. Just don't ask me to smell your lotion or taste your food, and don't be surprised if I randomly ask you how I smell. I promise, I'm not fishing for compliments, I honestly just don't know.
Know what else is weird? I have no idea if my breath smells. I usually assume it does, especially if my mouth tastes funny, but since EVERYTHING tastes funny, there's just no way to know that. So when someone offers me gum or a breath mint, my first thought is always "Oh, crap, I stink..." You're probably all just being nice and considerate and giving me free stuff, but the fear is there. Don't stop, don't say anything, just laugh at my panicked look, if you see it.

Something I love about my job is when I am in clinic and I work with people dealing with head injuries. I've had two now, and that last one was quite a doozy. I can tell them from experience how things feel, I can relate to them in a way that no one else can, and find a way to answer the questions they don't know how to ask. Happens every single time. Maybe I don't have to do that, but I do. I like for them to know that someone gets it. Someone knows exactly how concussion headaches feel. Someone knows the strangeness of struggling to think. Someone knows that sense of fuzziness, how you don't feel like yourself, how you wonder if you're going crazy, and that you can't find the words to explain what you're experiencing.
I love the relieved look on their face when I tell them "Everything you have just described is perfectly normal for this. I promise." Because it is. But nobody knows that.
Sometimes they, or their parents, ask me more questions about my concussions, and that leads to a discussion of this, which I am very firm on explaining is from the head injury, not the concussion, because nobody else needs to worry about not being able to smell when they are trying to deal with the scary concussion part.
What is the difference, you ask?
Don't worry, you're not being dumb. It's complicated. Ready for education?
A head injury is an injury to the head. [Was that too simple? Sorry...] A concussion is the bruising of the brain due to a head injury. I had a concussion BECAUSE of the head injury. My brain, floating in its lovely bed of fluid, sloshed back as I [insert choice of fell, slipped, tripped, whatever you want to imagine happened to me] and when my head hit the ground, shot forward because of impact and slammed against the front of my skull. As the soft squishiness of my brain came into contact with my ridiculously hard head, it bruised and blood began to pool up there. [Don't freak about that -- that's what bruising is! Sounds scary, but get your Quentin Tarantino imaginations under control.] The headaches, dizziness, nausea, balance difficulties [HA. More like impossibility, I distinctly remember holding onto walls and feeling like I was on a carnival ride. And when I went to Ireland this year, that feeling was revisited on the ferry on the rough sea. Drunken sailor, everybody, and I am as sober as they come.], emotional instability, sleep difficulties, etc, were all from the concussion, which was caused by the head injury.
My lovely anosmia was also caused by the head injury. The pooling blood had nothing to do with that. We know this because all of that blood and bruising and stuff has reabsorbed, and I still can't smell. The best we can assume is that when my squishy brain shot forward, the little tiny tendrils of olfactory [aka smell] nerve endings that hang down through the cribriform plate [part of the skull that looks like a grate, sort of, and is right above your nose, ish] got sheared off.
Mostly speculation, since no test or imaging is specific enough for that detail, but it's a dang good guess, so say all of the specialists I've seen.
So. Concussion. Anosmia. Both caused by the head injury. Not related to each other.
Why does this matter?
Because sometimes--most of the time, if the conversations from today are any indications--smell isn't tested in the battery of cranial nerve exams. Why? Because it's not as important as hearing and vision and all the rest. This is true, and I won't deny that. Also because it almost never tests negatively.
Apparently there is talk of bringing it back into the lineup.
I am very much in favor of this.
I have absolutely no proof that anything would have changed if my anosmia had been identified earlier. It might have taken some stress away, but ultimately, it probably wouldn't have changed anything. But people should be paying more attention to smell. People should be studying smell. And they aren't. They don't. And they really really should.

Funny story: I watched my nephew this weekend. He's 8 months old and the most adorable child on this planet, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. He's also super easy, since he's so happy and laid-back and just does his own thing. But there was one teeny tiny little problem: I had no idea if he had a dirty diaper. I've been around kids and parents long enough to know that you can just pick them up and smell for it, and there's your answer. Well, Aunty Can't-Smell over here doesn't get that luxury, so I was having to regularly check in the diaper to see what the heck was going on, and I swear by the end, my nephew was looking at me in exasperation and going, "Dude, what gives?" Sorry, nephew! But thanks for only having the one dirty diaper our whole day and for keeping it tame. I'll love you forever for it.

To answer the questions: Yes, I am limited in my smell and taste, but I don't need anyone to worry about that. I'm just fine, I promise.
No, smell is not back, and I'm not looking for it. I am starting to react to some irritants, but very VERY rarely and there's no identification, just the sense that it's there.
Yes, things still taste weird. But weird is normal and I forget what normal is.
No, I am not eating healthier because of this. You would think that, but you wouldn't do it. Unless you have way more dedication and self control than I do. I still choose cheesecake over carrots. Every time.

Fun fact: Simply Jif tastes as good as regular Jif. And I would NEVER have thought that before. Ew. But oddly, not ew. Not ew at all.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


One year ago I lost my sense of smell. I didn’t even realize it until I was in bed falling asleep on the exact date. It wasn’t marked on my calendar, I didn’t get any messages or cards or flowers—and if I get any after this, I’m going to be upset with whoever does, that’s not the point. It was just any other day. Just like the day it happened. Any other day. The world didn’t stop spinning, I didn’t take any time off—though I REALLY should have—and for the most part, no one had any idea.
A lot of people still don’t.
And that’s just fine.
I forgot all about it until that moment lying in my bed. And for about half a second, it took my breath away. One year. So much can happen in that space. So much can change.
And so much has.
Who would have thought that I, arguably the number one chocolate fan in the world, would no longer have the stomach for milk chocolate and could only tolerate a limited amount of dark chocolate? Or that the amount of candles and lotion in my house could be limited to one hand each? I’m a little shocked that Bath and Bodyworks manages to stay in business without me. Or Yankee Candle for that matter. Who would ever have thought that my most frequently used line about food would become “It doesn’t matter to me”?
Surprises all around. And they’re not bad surprises. Just surprises.
I reflected for a while in my bed on the difference this year has made. The recent months have melted into a series of sameness. Nothing is better, nothing is worse. Honestly, I forget about it. If you can’t smell anything, you really stop noticing that you can’t smell anything. There have been a few rough moments. Trying to enjoy fall-flavored foods. Mom’s cinnamon rolls not tasting like anything. Forgetting what it smells like when the first snow falls…
Food is completely different to me. I don’t get hungry like I used to. Oh, I still feel hunger pains and get the “I’m going to die if I don’t eat right now” feeling, but it doesn’t feel the same. Food doesn’t satisfy the same. Nothing tastes like it used to. If I don’t know what I’m eating, I will not be able to tell you what I’m eating. I can tell you if I can taste something, but I can’t tell you what I’m tasting.
I can’t eat sandwiches anymore. Not as they were. The texture of a sandwich is just gross. Now, you heat that thing up or you make a Panini out of it, and it’s suddenly and quite brilliantly the most delicious thing ever. I still crave things sometimes, but in a different way. I crave something as opposed to pizza or Chinese or Mexican. I crave anything I can taste, and it doesn’t really matter what it is.
I have no idea what my apartment smells like. I have candles and an air freshener, and I have read the labels and know what they SHOULD smell like, but you never really know until you can smell it. When I have visitors, I wonder. And I ask if it smells okay. I wasn’t normally that concerned with it before, but now that I don’t know? It’s a concern.
Does my trash smell? Does my bathroom? Do I?
I decided to be brave around Thanksgiving and went into a Yankee Candle store. One of my all-time favorite places. I looked around, saw the sheer volume of new scents, and left. Less than 5 minutes in the store and I couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t ready for that, and I couldn’t do it by myself. Telling the store manager that I needed help because I couldn’t smell? But I wanted my house to smell good for visitors? I was mortified by the thought. So I left, got in my car, and cried.
I visited Bath and Bodyworks with my sister and cousin over Christmas break. I followed them around, trying to pretend that I wasn’t jealous. I read the back of every bottle I could find, grateful that someone had thought it a good idea to describe the fragrances by listing the layers of scent within each lotion. I knew what cherry smelled like, and magnolia, and gardenia, and lemon, and amber… I could get a fair idea of how it smelled, the only thing I didn’t know was if it worked and how strong it was. That was where my family came in. I don’t think they enjoyed sniffing things for me when they had their own shopping to do, and I can’t blame them. No one wants to burn the inside of their nose by sniffing many things repeatedly. So I left them to their work, let my mom buy me something I knew I liked, and started playing a game with my dad in the candles section. “Can Becky smell this?” I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to, but I thought I would try. He would find the strangest name or strongest scent and test me. I won. But it didn’t hurt as much as I thought, mostly because half of the candles I didn’t want to smell anyway. Some candle ideas are just terrible.
Another test that trip came when someone asked me to smell horseradish. I did a light sniff, got nothing. I got a little closer and tried again, sniffing harder, and my entire family was wide-eyed. Who works that hard to smell something as awful as horseradish? Me, that’s who. And wouldn’t you know, but suddenly my eyes watered and my face twitched and my nasal passages burned. “She got something!” my dad cheered.
Something, yeah. Did I smell it? No, not really. But that irritating aspect of horseradish that makes people cringe… I got that. And that was really something.
I went to a store in the mall with my mom after Christmas. They had perfume rollerball sticks, which I used to absolutely love. But I’d never smelled these fragrances before. I had no idea what they smelled like or what people would think of if they smelled it. There were no descriptions on them, so I was clueless. Have you ever asked someone to describe a smell? Have you ever tried to describe a smell? It is one of the most brain-teasing, frustrating, complicated things ever. My poor mom couldn’t figure out how to describe each scent to me. So we waved over a saleswoman and asked her to try. “This one smells like candy. Like a teenager who wears a lot of pink.” “This smells like a professional business woman. A strong woman in her 40’s.” “This smells fun and flirty, a girl out on the town having a good time.”
I don’t remember which I picked, but I asked a few more questions about how strong the smells were and then I got one. No idea what it smells like. But it was a big step. Mortifying to confess my problem to a stranger from whom I required a strange sort of help. But as we checked out, she said, “That must be really frustrating for you. How’s your taste?” I told her a little bit, and she nodded sympathetically. “I can’t even imagine. But keep your chin up, sweetie. You seem to be doing really well. You’ll be just fine. You’ll make it.” I’m not sure I have ever appreciated words more. I wasn’t a freak to her. She didn’t even blink when I asked for help. I was in need, and she gave something to me. More than she thought, I’m sure, but I hope God blesses her for that. I had to fight my emotions as we walked away.
I started work at a new school after Christmas. My first day I was warned by my colleague there that the boys always smelled. High school athletes always smell. They don’t always wash their practice jerseys. I grinned and said, “Makes no difference to me!” and he laughed too. A girl in the room said, “It should! That stuff reeks!” I turned to her, still grinning and said, “Yeah, but I can’t smell it.” “Oh, you’re used to it?” “No, I lost my sense of smell. I really can’t smell it.” She gasped and said, “When did that happen?” “A year ago.” “Why are you laughing? That isn’t a good thing!” “No,” I said, “but it has its advantages!”
And oddly enough, I meant it.
I forget all the time that I can’t smell. I’ve never forgotten the frustration of dealing with something that no one understands. Of trying to pretend everything is okay. Of feeling like the world will never be the same. I hope I never forget that. Because I notice different things now. I understand different things now. I hope I can put that to use. I hope that the Lord can use me in a different way now. I have no idea why I’ve been given this challenge, this opportunity, but I hope and I feel that there is a bigger purpose than for just my own growth. I would like to believe that the mystery headaches and the inability to eat cold sandwiches and the disappointment of old favorites and the embarrassing dependency on others for anything fragrance related and the increased emotional awareness… That all of that, with everything else, is not just for me. But even if it is, that’s okay. Because it would not have happened if it did not need to.
Maybe that’s what I’ve learned most this year. As hard as it has been, I needed this. And I have faith and trust in the Lord. I didn’t know what that meant until this. I had no idea.
But He knew I could do this, wherever it leads and however long it lasts. I am grateful for what I’ve learned. I am grateful that I haven’t gone through this alone. I am grateful for His trust.

Happy anniversary, anosmia.