On anosmia and other stuff.
By Get Lippie
The sharp-eyed amongst you might have noticed that I’ve been doing fewer perfume reviews than usual, and for that I have to apologise. I’m ill. I’ve been ill for a while now, and whilst it’s nothing life-threatening (or even anything painful for that matter), it has been life-changing.
It began inauspiciously – as these things tend to – with a severe cold back in May, and I had no sense of smell for around six weeks after. If you read my piece for Basenotes around this time: Anosmia – Don’t Take Your Noses For Granted! then you’ll know how heartbroken I was by this turn of events. Since then, I’ve started to recover, and things have got better in that respect, but in a few ways, they’ve also got worse, in ways I wasn’t really prepared for.
My sense of smell has been returning for a while now, and I’m what is termed “hyposmic”, ie I now “merely” have a diminished sense of smell, rather than a complete lack of it, but alongside that return of smell have been some pretty horrendous side-effects: namely “phantosmia” and “parosmia”.
Phantosmia is where you can smell things that aren’t there, either things that don’t exist, or you react to smells that aren’t actually there. In my case I could smell burning meats, specifically that red-lacquered pork belly you get at Chinese restaurants. Imagine smelling burning, slightly sweet from the red-laquered meat, but also deeply charred and smokey from the carbonisation of the rind, 24 hours a day, to the exclusion of all other smells. Even applying neat lavender oil to the inside of the nostrils doesn’t help when this happens. It’s maddening and distracting, and there’s no relief when it occurs
But worse, oh so much more worse, has been my experience with parosmia. Unlike phantosmia – where you are reacting to smells that aren’t there – parosmia is where you are reacting to smells that are happening (and do exist), but they are distorted by the time your olfactory system registers them properly. And, of course, they are not distorted in a nice way, where roses might smell like daisies, or peanuts suddenly taste like chocolate. No, everything, and I do literally mean every single thing you encounter literally smells and.or tastes completely disgusting.
Imagine, for a moment that, you have the worst halitosis ever (you know those hangovers where you wake up wondering if an elephant took a dump in your mouth when you were asleep? That), and now further imagine that every thing you encounter smells like that, and purely of that, with nothing else. That you can’t recognise the scent or flavour of anything you encounter as itself, everyday smells are filtered through this smell, so that you can’t recognise any smell individually, they just smell bad.
Imagine that every single thing you taste, even your own saliva, tastes like that. Constantly. 24 hours a day. Seven days a week. Sometimes it’s only a noticeable hint, but occasionally, like playing Russian Roulette, something you encounter either nasally or orally will be like a nugget of raw, pure sewage, topped with a sauce of slimy rotted onions, mustard gas, and well-rotted swamp. Chocolate, coffee and cigarette smoke make me sick with monotonous regularity. Water, even – which had been a revelation during anosmia, owing to it not having any taste to miss – tasting rotten.
Well. That’s my life right now. And has been for a little while.
Nothing I eat, drink or smell tastes like it should, and there is little joy in my life as a result. I don’t know, when faced with foods I haven’t prepared myself, whether I can eat them. Supermarkets are a form of torture, as I can’t identify which items will set off the “sewage” nausea reaction rather than simply the “elephant halitosis” smell, which I’ve simply had to learn to live with. Kitchens. Well, let’s not even talk about kitchens, okay? I used to love to cook, let’s leave it at that.
It’s heartbreaking. Over the years of writing this blog, perfume and fragrance have been an intense pleasure to me, and something I’d learned a lot about. However, I still have hopes that smell will come back properly, that the parosmia will pass. An ENT surgeon I saw recently confirmed that there is nothing physically wrong, and that the parosmia could be a sign that any nerves which were killed by the infection back in May (which would have caused the initial anosmia) are regenerating, but he also warned that these things are unpredictable, and confirmed that there is no current treatment which will lessen my parosmia symptoms. This wasn’t good news for me, as the parosmia is currently one of the worst things I’ve ever suffered, and I can’t deny that I’m finding it very difficult to deal with.
In the meantime, I’m spending a lot of time talking to Fifth Sense, in the hopes that my troubles may help other people who are affected by any of these symptoms, and I’m hoping to be able to attend their annual conference in November, in order to meet more people who know what this condition is like. In the meantime, however, in the words of my surgeon, I’m just going to have to ride this out.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Getting it down – and out! – has been helpful.