What Made Me Realize I Was Different?
Picture Me, an 8-year-old sitting in class, eager to answer my teacher’s lesson question. I’m raising my hand and she calls my name. I give out my answer and it’s correct. Yay! A thrilling feeling overtakes me and I’m smiling. But, get this, besides feeling good I get to pick a prize! What do I get for being smart? A pack of scratch n sniff stickers!
I go up to Mrs. Elsky’s desk and she hands them over to me. She tells me to put them away until we break. I can see the entire class from her desk. I wave at my classmates and they smile and laugh. Some point at me and signal they ‘ll stop by my desk to get a whiff of my stickers later.
Ringgggg! The bell rings. It’s time for recess. My classmates quickly surround my desk. I take the pack out in front of them and they all get excited. Visually, they are so appealing! They are colorful and fruit shaped (each with their corresponding fruity scent). As I’m unwrapping the clear plastic that protects them, our eyes widen. “Whoah, these are so cool!” I hear someone say in the background.
I grab the first sticker, a strawberry, and immediately start scratching it. My friends are desperate at this point asking if they can take turns sniffing it. I hand it over to my friend Alberto. He takes a whiff and smiles. Subsequently, each friend takes a whiff then passes it to the next. They all react the same way. All I can hear is them going “mmmmmm” and “ahhhhhh!” I start scratching the rest of the pack and everyone quickly starts picking favorites. Someone passes the original strawberry back to me and I immediately mimic the reactions everyone else had expressed and that I had observed moments earlier. I mimic their reactions because I don’t have any of my own. This slowly starts to sink in.
As it goes with all things that catch a child’s short attention span, the sensory experience eventually comes to an end and my peeps then head outside to go play. I’m left alone sitting at my desk, trying to wrap my head around what just happened. I’m looking at the stickers. Now is my chance to figure these out! I grab the grape one and hold it up to my nose. Before I inhale to smell it this time, I tell myself I need to concentrate. If I try harder, it has to work! Maybe I’m just not breathing in correctly.
I close my eyes and inhale with all my strength, but… I feel nothing.
I inhale again, but again there is nothing. How can I describe this? I feel what I usually just feel through my nose; sterile air. Confusion sets in. The stickers do work, I saw them working! What is wrong with me? What then clicked in my little head was that it was probably my nose that didn’t work. Is there even such a thing? I let out a loud, frustrating sigh and kept scratching the pack until each sticker was practically destroyed.
That’s the day I learned I was different. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it or how it made me feel. Why couldn’t I react the same way to these stickers? Did I break my nose? Will I get in trouble for it? What if I did something bad to deserve this? Will people think I’m strange and not want to be my friend because I can’t smell? As a child, you start coming up with all types of weird conclusions.
Honestly, I would have loved to have had a friend who also couldn’t smell. But guess what? Now I can be that friend for those who also find out they have anosmia and can’t smell. I can share my experience and provide that support and understanding. No one needs to ever grow up feeling out of place and alone. Are you an anosmic? Well, let’s be friends! If you aren’t an anosmic, let’s still be friends! Let’s learn about this condition together and spread awareness.