Monday, October 25, 2021

Making 'Scents' Of Autumn

Can you smell the delicious and comforting smell of fresh baked cookies?

I can't. 
And it's not because we don't yet have smell-o-vision.

I am anosmic, a person who has anosmia, which means I can't smell anything. 

I wasn't always without the ability to smell anything. Twelve years ago I had a double lung collapse cause by a case of walking pneumonia which came very close to killing me. And while I came out of that experience very thankfully with my life, it cost me my sense of smell when two months later, while still recuperating from the lung thing, I caught a minor cold which caused my already overwrought system to shut something down.

And nothing has been the same since.

People always choose smell when asked what sense they would be choose to give up if they had to give up one. I probably would have made the same choice before I lost my ability to smell and that's because I wouldn't have known what a profound loss it is to no longer be able to smell.

You see, my world is kind of black and white now. Oh, I can still extract pleasure from things but the depth is no longer there.  Autumn - always my favorite season - is of course very scent-oriented: pumpkin spice everything, apple pie, dried leaves, woodfire...freshly baked cookies in Halloween shapes.   
All of it is lost to me. 

I forgot to mention that with smell loss comes taste loss. I no longer can taste flavors (although I still can tell a good cup of coffee from an awful one, thank God, but that has more to do with strength than flavor). My palette is reduced to sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami. 

I've always been someone who cooks and thankfully my cooking - which is revered by many - has not suffered. Somehow I can still discern good food, properly seasoned food, "needs just a little something" impulses. No one can explain why this is. I like to think it's my guardian angels helping to insure that I still have a semblance of quality of life.

Telling anyone you can no longer smell makes them think about the food scents that I'm missing out on but they don't think about all the other scents that I no longer have access to. The short list? Clean laundry, how my house smells, how I smell, is there a gas leak?, perfumes, freshly washed hair, how the people I love smell, puppy breath, fresh flowers, spring rain, first snow, cut grass. 

But wait, there's more!
Speaking of profound, not being able to smell means I've lost connection to my memories. Everyone (who can smell) associates certain scents with a myriad of their personal memories. Walk into a bakery and the scent of freshly baked bread reminds you of Grandma's house or rush through a department store on your way to the mall and the scent you pick up on as you pass the perfume or cologne counter takes you way back as you're reminded of someone special. Our brains are wired for this. I've lost that connection. So, yes, my world is very black and white. It's very similar to living in a bubble. And I've only just touched the surface in this brief post.

Needless to say, this has changed my life dramatically and my mental health has taken a significant hit*. But I didn't write this just to vent or to seek sympathy. I wrote this because we are in the most glorious season of Autumn and I do not want you to take one single bit of it for granted.
If you have the ability to smell, smell everything! I mean to say, savor it. Linger in the scents (even the bad ones).
You might not realize it or take the time to appreciate it, but your sense of smell is such a magnificent and precious gift. On behalf of me, I want you to not take it for granted. Thank your nose and your brain and your taste buds for the connections they make so that your life can be rich and deep and satisfying, so your memories can be remembered and made.

If you can't smell and maybe, like me, you're struggling as a result, hone in on what you can appreciate. There is a tree in my neighborhood whose leaves are such a magnificent shade of red right now, it takes my breath away every time I pass it. Take a car ride in the evening to admire the Halloween decorations in your area. Bake stuff in pretty cookware and eat it and share it and take a picture of it for Instagram and be thankful for all the gifts that brings: good food for the soul, togetherness, comradery.

I can't think about not being able to smell too much or I slide quickly down into a place that can be rather dark. When that happens, I usually start talking out loud - Nope Nope Nope! - and I get busy with some other thoughts or activity to shift away from ruminating.

Sometimes, to get through something, it just takes a little shift in perspective.
It might not work every time but that's okay. If it doesn't work today, it might tomorrow or the next day or next week.  You do the best you can do when you can, right?  

You try.  

*Like with any and every other ailment, every anosmic's experience is different and personal. What I experience may very well differ from what another anosmic experiences.

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