What Happens When You Tell Someone You Can't Smell?

The first time I tell people I can’t smell, I get the same reaction. “What? How is that even possible?” “But, can you taste?” Or the classic response, “So, you can’t smell any of my farts?” (No, I can’t smell your stinky smell and I’m so glad I can’t either). It’s very frustrating!

The first time I told my mom I can’t smell, I was met with a mix of doubt (which was hurtful) and then ultimately after some convincing; concern. I was around 11 years old. I remember I was sitting in the living room and I was feeling a bit frustrated. My mom approached me and asked what was wrong. I told her that I was feeling weird and that I felt weird because I didn’t feel normal. “What do you mean, you don’t feel normal?” she asked. I told her I didn’t feel normal, after sighing slowly, “because I can’t smell.” My mom looked at me and said “Whatttt???” She reacted as if she had just heard me tell her I was an alien or something. “What do you mean you can’t smell?” “Ay, I can’t believe it!” I kept sitting on the sofa trying to process her reaction. She asked if I was sure.

“Of course, I’m sure! Why would I make this up?” I tell her. She then asked me if I had “hit myself on the head.” LOL. I told her I was very aware of my lack of sense of smell, that I couldn’t get a reaction whenever I tried smelling flowers, her cooking, or even my own breath. That whenever I “smelled” it was as if I was just breathing in air, nothing else. She was a bit shocked, and after explaining myself further, her confusion then turned to worry. She decided to book an appointment for me to see a doctor. I really didn’t want to go, but part of me was curious to find out if it was some type of lethal disease or problem I would have to get checked for. So, after feeling like it was my responsibility to get a diagnosis, we went the next week.

I remember feeling heavy with embarrassment knowing deep down that I would be met with disbelief again. We arrived at the doctors’ office and after sitting in the waiting room for what felt like an eternity, my name was called. In the exam room, my hands were shaking, and an overall feeling of anxiety ran through my body. The doctor finally came in and looked at me. He probably thought I was going in for your typical prepuberty issues (ha ha). He asked me what was wrong. I told him I had come in because I had finally realized I couldn’t smell. No surprise, he reacted with a “Come again?” He had a big question mark on his face. He asked, “What makes you believe you can’t smell?” I told him about not being able to smell any of my scratch n sniff stickers/markers/perfumes/foods and he reacted by saying “Hmm.” He checked my nose, and then my ears and confirmed everything looked normal. He recommended additional testing but didn’t think my condition was serious enough. He probably thought my condition didn’t even exist and I was just told to go home and that was that.

After my experience with the doctor, I learned that this condition wasn’t important, and I learned to be extra careful and selective about announcing it to anyone. What’s the use? What’s the use in telling people about this invisible “secret” that holds you back? The majority of people don’t even know anosmia, or the lack of sense of smell, even exists. Why would I expect people to understand?

Anosmia isn’t normal. Being anosmic is like being blind, but still being able to see the world. You know you can experience it, but you can’t experience it 100%. Anosmics can’t sense the world like everyone else does. For us, our nose knows nada.

If you ask me whether my anosmia has been a key influence in my life, I would have to say yes. As a young person, growing up with anosmia caused me all sorts of anxiety and low self-esteem issues. I didn’t know how to seek help from others without feeling embarrassed and I unfortunately learned to live each day questioning and second guessing myself. I was constantly paranoid that my breath smelled bad, or that I didn’t wear enough deodorant and because of this reeked. Many people would say it’s not something to make a big deal out of but saying that to a pre-teen who is learning how to socialize and trying their best to fit in, their presentation is a big part of what usually matters most.

Even after growing older and managing this paranoia (I’ll be explaining how I overcame it on another post), I learned something else about anosmia.  If you have anosmia, you will always live a dependent life. You’ll always be dependent on other people’s guidance for anything regarding smells. Many other anosmics I’ve spoken to have also agreed that if you’re not careful, you can also choose an isolated life. Some may not bother playing the “Asking Other People If I Smell Okay” game.

If anything, what I’ve learned is that anosmia is not for the faint of heart. It is like riding a roller coaster that makes you feel anxious at first, but then later conquer, even letting go of the handle bars that encased you at some point. I am proud to say I have surpassed that paralyzing point. I’ve realized anosmia is not a drawback, it is a blessing. I am not just protected from awful smells, I have also been given a unique trait I can use to bond with others who have grown up just like me.

I am thankful my anosmia has allowed me to learn more about myself. I now know what it is like to be fearless. I am now someone who chooses to express themselves rather than someone who hides behind their feelings. Even if I lack the sense of smell, my sense of spreading awareness about anosmia and helping others with disabilities is what has developed stronger. For me, this is the sense I’ll focus on instead of the one I never recall ever having in the first place.

 If you can’t smell…have you ever gotten checked? How have people reacted whenever you’ve told them you can’t smell?  Let me know. You can always contact me via email: hello@girlwhocantsmell.com or on InstagramFacebookTwitter.

With Love,

The Girl Who Can’t Smell

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