More Tips For Supporting Someone Who Can't Smell
In the first part of my series, “7 Tips For Supporting Someone With Anosmia,” I gave the first four tips for offering support to someone who can’t smell. I covered some of the most useful and important tips almost all anosmics can agree on. If you haven’t read it, make sure you click through the link. I’ve gotten amazing feedback from everyone in both comments and messages, (which I really appreciate, btw!) so make certain you don’t miss it. If you’ve read through the first part then, let’s dive right into the second. In this final part, I’ll continue to share what you can do to support your coworker, friend or loved one with anosmia. (Video Version Available Scroll Down)
Anosmia Tip # 5. Be Ready To Listen
“I can’t figure everything out!” There’s no doubt about it, having one less sense than everyone makes us feel different. We feel different because technically, we ARE different. Each type of anosmic has their own struggles, but in general, we often feel frustrated and misunderstood. For us, the world seems unpredictable. This is especially true for congenital anosmics. We’ve had to learn through a lot of mistakes, what are appropriate smells and what are not. There’s been a lot of trial and error. We feel a lot of pressure keeping our hygiene in check and maintaining an appropriate presence out in public.
You may find your anosmic friend, coworker or loved one sad, frustrated, or anxious at times. This is normal. Every day is a new set of challenges for us. Basically, we’re are always questioning whether we have successfully passed all of these. Has our deodorant failed? Am I wearing TOO much perfume? Why does the lady sitting next to me on the train have that disapproving look on her face? Help! If we are comfortable with you, we will need your support in shaking off the pressure. If I made a mistake by wearing what I thought were clean clothes and embarrassed myself with other company or at work, I’m going to need to vent. I would like someone to listen to me and reassure me everything is going to be fine. I’ve learned to laugh off most of these situations, but it doesn’t mean they don’t cause me any issues and/or sting.
Acquired anosmics on the other hand, will need a lot of support while they are adjusting to their new life experience without smells. On top of the regular concerns congenital anosmics face, they will also be mourning a loss. Be careful: they will be going through stages of real grief. Research states, they are more susceptible to undergoing depression and even anger. They may or may not express their sadness or frustration in front of you. Remember, some have lost their sense of smell due to a viral/bacterial respiratory infection or a physical injury/accident. They may be feeling guilty and/or feel shame or even blame themselves for their loss. If they don’t express their true feelings, it wouldn’t hurt to ask how they are managing. If they don’t feel like talking to you though, I highly recommend you refer them to a counselor or therapist.
Sometimes, all they need is a little TLC. Put yourself in their shoes, they have lost something that used to enhance their quality of life and gave them pleasure. You will definitely need to be compassionate and understanding of them. They are going through a big change and will more than likely be riding an emotional rollercoaster.
Anosmia Tip #6. Don’t Force Your Anosmic To Talk About Their Condition
“You wouldn’t understand.” Okay, so I know I just went off and discussed how you should be ready to lend a helping ear and listen in the previous point, BUT this is only if your anosmic coworker, friend or loved one feels comfortable with you. There are multiple points I will break down, but the general consensus is this: there is a reason why anosmia is so unheard of. Even if there are roughly 6 million of us, many anosmics simply do not feel they should be discussing their condition at all! Now this can mean one of two things: either it doesn’t affect these anosmics consciously (they go on with their lives thinking their anosmia is not a big deal) or we’ve learned to keep it a secret.
I fall under the latter category. I’m a congenital anosmic who learned to keep this unique trait to myself. Why? You might ask. Well, there are varying reasons why some anosmics choose not to divulge this info about themselves. The following are some reasons why:
- We’ve been misunderstood.
- We’ve been mocked.
- We feel embarrassed.
- People have doubted us/don’t believe.
As you can understand, if you were to experience any of these reactions for anything, you too would be completely quiet about yourself. Our anosmia can feel like something that is very personal and private and unless we feel like sharing more information with you, please do not bother us by asking more questions than we feel comfortable answering. This is a very complicated point, and just so you know I will create an extended article on these reasons alone (so stay tuned and subscribe to my blog for a notification).
Anosmia Tip # 7. Be Open to Describing Smells
“So what do flowers smell like?” Depending on what type of anosmic you have in your life, we may also ask you to describe smells. I’ve seen this more with congenital anosmics than with acquired ones though. Acquired anosmics are aware of what scents were like for them, so they already know. I’m congenital and I don’t know what scents are at all and can only imagine these. I tend to ask for descriptions more than I’m aware of to my “designated nose.” Now, I know some congenital anosmics may not ask for people’s scent descriptions, and that’s okay. I do, and I’d like to include the small group of anosmics who share my curiosity.
For me, listening to scent descriptions is like story time. I get to use my imagination and picture the experience. I know I won’t ever be able to pinpoint the exact sensation of smelling, but its good to ask for reference.
My husband describes smells to me the most. He’ll normally use colorful descriptions and takes the time to make sure I understand what he’s saying. As an example, for pleasant smells: he’ll pair a “good” scent with how it tastes and associate it with a positive feeling. One time he was describing soda (first of all, I didn’t even know soda has a scent, I was so shocked I even made a meme about it here) He said it smelled just like how it tastes, sweet and syrupy. Kinda like how you can perceive the sensation of a sweet candy (or a spoonful of sugar, ha! Like Mary Poppins says) on your taste buds, but instead it’s felt inside your nose. He will also describe unpleasant smells and goes on to associate them with an icky taste and disagreeable feeling.
Interestingly, his descriptions help us bond more. I cherish his help and it makes me feel like he is giving me a wonderful gift. I always feel comfortable asking him because he doesn’t get annoyed (I probably ask him almost every couple of days). He does a really good job at describing scents for me.
As you can see, anosmia creates a unique set of struggles for those with the condition but following these tips can help you greatly support your anosmic coworker, friend or loved one. The following 7 tips are not at all comprehensive, and I will probably be adding even more tips in the future. For now, I want to thank you for reading my two posts and for helping me highlight anosmia and The Girl Who Can’t Smells’ awareness movement. I hope you give yourself a pat on the back for doing your part and being a truly helpful human being.
Bonus Tip: Unique Anosmia Themed Merchandise Available Now!
Looking for THE best gift for your anosmic coworker, friend or loved one? My official merch will brighten their day and make them feel sooooo special! Click on each product to go to my Etsy shop and check out.
Kohli P, Soler ZM, Nguyen SA, Muus JS, Schlosser RJ. The Association Between Olfaction and Depression: A Systematic Review. Chem Senses. 2016;41(6):479-86. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4918728/
Finding A Therapist: https://www.networktherapy.com/directory/
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The information contained in my blog posts, stories, memes, webcomics, science articles, drawings and future content, is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only.
By accessing this site, you assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. My website, www.girlwhocantsmell.com’s purpose is to share my OWN personal experience growing up with congenital anosmia. Not as a guide as to how anosmics in general, live their own lives.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.
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