Your teenage years are one of the most exciting times of your life! There are just so many things you’ll learn about the world and about yourself that will be so new. I mean, you’ll start figuring out what kind of music you like, learning how to express yourself in the way you dress, and even learn how to drive! Sounds great doesn’t it? But, I’m here to remind you, that if you have anosmia, you’ll have to learn about scents and how smells affect so many different aspects of your own and other people’s lives.
“Why do I even care about scents?” you might ask. Well, I used to not know a lot about them until I made a crapload of mistakes and found out that they are a big deal. Spoiler Alert: Who would’ve thought not being able to detect smells would cause problems with making friends, your mental health and staying physically safe?
I’m going to be super honest and tell you that anosmia was my biggest obstacle when I was a teen. It was tough! I really want to help you as a teen who can’t smell enjoy this magical time. So, the following info is what I want you to be on the lookout for (based off my experience, of course!).
First of all, THE most important thing you need to develop is a sense of hygiene. If possible, make it a habit to take a shower every day. Why? Because puberty. Your body is changing and these things called hormones are adjusting and going crazy inside your body and this can make you sweat more than usual. Sweat may lead to excessive body odor and I’ve been told body odor isn’t a good thing. Also, make sure to apply deodorant after showering. Just because you can’t smell doesn’t mean you also don’t “smell.” People don’t want to be around other people who stink (sorry I have to be blunt about this one). You’ll find that making friends and feeling like you belong are some of the best things life has to offer. Smelling appropriate is something everyone appreciates. It’s a sign you know how to take care of yourself. Of course, there are certain times you’ll make a mistake and smell bad. If someone makes a big deal about you smelling bad it’s more a reflection on them and how shallow they are. You don’t want those people as friends anyways. I wish I would’ve cared less. Now, I can happily say I am over it! 🙂
Flossing and brushing your teeth after certain drinks (coffee) and every meal is also a must. If you don’t have access to your toothbrush or (are embarrassed to take one to school), pop a mint or two and you should be all set. I normally recommend chewing gum, but since you’re a teen and school administrators (I’m looking at you Mr. K) usually ban it at school, you’re better off not using any until after classes end for the day.
Looking back, I used to be a skinny, underweight girl. My weight wasn’t intentional, though. I think a lot of it had to do with me “forgetting” to eat. Don’t get me wrong, I loved/love to eat, but since I didn’t have food aromas to entice or remind me to eat, I would simply not think about eating during the day. Don’t do what I did and forget to eat. Your body is growing and needs all the nutrition it can get. If you unknowingly make a habit of starving yourself, you can create a long list of health problems in the long run. I have issues with low blood pressure now and constantly keep a protein bar in my purse so I can raise my blood sugar. Fun fact: I used to carry a banana in my purse all the time but stopped doing it because it would often get squished and ooze all over and was really gross LOL. Pay attention to your body’s other clues it’s sending you when it’s time to refuel. Your stomach may growl, and you will also feel lightheaded if it’s past your food time.
As a new driver, you might think all you need to worry about is following the rules and making an epic music playlist to impress your friends when they ride along with you. Eh, that’s great but that’s not all it takes to be a great driver who also happens to have anosmia. Because you can’t smell (and will mostly be driving alone at times) you’ll have to learn to be more observant about the way your car is working.
For example, you may never think about your car experiencing mechanical problems, but these things do happen! You wont be able to smell if your car overheats and the engine catches on fire, so you’ll have to make sure you pay attention to other signs such as smoke, the signals on your dashboard temperature gauge or your car stalling. I would recommend you practice how not to panic if this ever happens. Trust me, your car abruptly stopping while you’re on the road is one of the scariest things in the world! I just want you to have a heads up so you can stay safe. Another thing to be aware of is gasoline leaks.
Let’s face it, as a teen there’s a pretty big chance you’ll be exposed to alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs. This is usually the time when young adults like to experiment with these things. You’ll find out some of your friends are even using them. Some may be open about their use while others may not be. Unfortunately, you can’t smell any of these things which may put you at risk.
What if you’re at a get together and someone hands you over a drink. How do you know what’s in it if you can’t smell it? Are you going to take a chance and just drink it because your “friend” handed it over to you and you are blindly trusting them? Look, not everyone is honest, and some people may even try to “trick” you into drinking alcohol. Not all people are like this of course, but if you’ve made it clear you don’t want to drink and there’s someone who doesn’t respect your decision, you’ll need to watch out for them. Peer pressure is real. I’ve been in this situation myself. I was at a house party once, hanging out outside and was handed over a drink. This person kept insisting I drink it and what I ended up doing was “pulling a party foul” and spilling it on the ground before I had a chance to drink it (LOL). You don’t have to do anything anyone asks you to do. If someone thinks you’re going to drink something just because they’re telling you to, they’re dumb. If you find yourself in that situation, just excuse yourself and if you are given a drink, just dump it in the sink.
The other thing you’re going to have to watch out for are the signs when someone is intoxicated. You can be at a get together and someone may offer you a ride. How can you tell if that person is under the influence? Watch for slurred speech, unbalanced walking and high pitched voice signals. Be smart! If your gut tells you you are in danger, stay away from that person and make sure you call for help.
Anosmia can be frustrating. “Why do stupid smells even exist?” I would ask myself every time I suffered an embarrassing odor situation. I’ve mistakenly worn stinky clothes, smelled like feet, had bad breath. These events scarred me and I legitimately learned to be afraid of something that was invisible (bad scents were like a ghost that haunted me 24/7). If I smelled bad it was always my fault I would think. Was this thing always going to be out of my control? I would constantly feel sad and scared of smelling bad. I also never told others I couldn’t smell at that age, for fear of being ridiculed and being labeled as a “freak.” So I learned to keep these feelings to myself. If anyone asked what was wrong with me I would just blame it on exam worries or other stuff. Going through all of this alone, made me feel misunderstood and I was very prone to isolating myself.
I made a lot of mistakes because I was up against scents I didn’t even know existed. Scents are also such a touchy topic and people don’t want to be the ones to tell you if you smell bad. If you focus too much on how different you are from others, you’ll start coming up with all sorts of bad thoughts. You may lack self-confidence and feel helpless. I developed anxiety which lead to me social isolation and depression. I felt left out. Especially when others would point out how great something smelled. I couldn’t relate at all. Now that I’m older I realized I shouldn’t have let these negative thoughts and feelings consume me.
If you have anosmia, you are not alone! Don’t be afraid to talk about it. I like to see it as a unique and interesting trait now. Just like Derek Sivers says, “What’s obvious to you is amazing to others.” Not many people are aware this condition exists so you’ll be teaching others something new. You’ll be surprised at how many people are genuinely interested in your condition and open to learning about it. Bonus, if you are open about your anosmia, you may find others at school with this same condition. You don’t know how awesome it would’ve been for me if I would’ve had someone to relate to.
Finally, my best piece of advice is this one. If your nose doesn’t work, you can always resort to finding someone whose nose does. Find a friend who you can trust to ask whenever you’re unsure about how you smell. Communicate whether you prefer they be discreet or not. If you feel awkward asking them to smell you if you’re around others, you can always excuse yourselves and go to the restroom. Another good idea is to let a teacher or other school worker know you have this disability. This is very important especially since it involves your safety in case there’s ever a fire or other emergency at school.
Having no sense of smell is a very interesting way of living. I still can’t believe all of the things I’ve gone through because I can’t smell. I’ve learned to embrace my anosmia and hopefully you do too.
The Girl Who Can’t Smell