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.