When I say I lost my sense of smell and taste, it would not entirely true. I mean that it is almost entirely lost and whatever little bit is left doesn’t taste or smell like anything I can recall. I can really only taste sour things, but none of the sour things taste like sour used to. Lemons, for example, only has a sour-ish flavour, there is no balance or contrast or variation in flavour and therefore, it doesn’t taste at all like lemon.
I used to love the smell of coffee and grinding the beans before making a cup was one of my favourite things in the morning, but now, when I smell coffee beans it makes me feel nauseous and sick. I still drink coffee, but honestly more out of habit than because of flavour, because I cannot taste anything bitter or sweet.
It happened from one day to the next, without warning and oddly enough, without me really noticing. I didn’t realise it was me that something was wrong with at first, I thought something was wrong with all the food and drinks and stuff around me. Like, perhaps I had just not added enough garlic? It didn’t occur to me at first that I was the one who couldn’t smell it.
When I realised that I couldn’t smell or taste I was pretty distraught by it. My doctor said there was nothing to do but wait and sent me to see a specialist, just in case. And, if you are sitting out there wondering, I don’t have covid-19 and nor did I have it. It’s apparently a loss of taste and smell completely unrelated to current affairs.
The specialist tested my sense of smell and examined me but told me nothing could be done except trying to re-train my sense of smell by smelling things. Five smells every day, he recommended, and hopefully one day my ability to taste and smell will return. I’ll have to re-learn many smells, though. At first, I was a little surprised by this, but by now it makes sense.
I can’t really remember what something is supposed to smell like or taste like.
Before, one of my favourite things was the smell of coffee beans, especially grinding them in the morning was wonderful – as I said above. Buying coffee beans and smelling them in my bags all the way home always felt great and calming, somehow. I’ve been drinking coffee – black, of course – since I was quite young. If you ask me to explain what coffee smelled like before, I would not be able to. I cannot remember what it tasted like or what the smell is like. I can tell you that coffee beans now smell horrible, they almost make me sick, and coffee is basically flavourless. I drink it mainly out of habit.
I eat and drink because I need to, or because of habit, more than anything now. Food and drink is something I always struggled with, so in a way, I can live with this. I am used to struggling. It just makes me sad I don’t remember what flavours were really like and smells. The only flavours I can taste, and smells too, are really bad ones generally.
Also, if I can taste something – no matter how bad – I can only really taste something in the first few bites, then all flavour disappears.
It does make me feel sad because my sense of smell guided me in so many things before and without it I feel like I am living in a bobble. I feel more isolated than I ever have before.
So, I was at a gathering (crazy as it seems during these covid-19 days, but sadly it was a funeral and therefore we went anyway) and we had coffee and cake. It was a chocolate brownie kind of cake and even though it had no flavour, the texture was soft and nice. The black coffee was as flavourless as the cake though. The strangest thing was, a while after I had eaten the cake, my uncle mentioned it was an orange cake. I was really surprised, but apparently it was an orange chocolate cake. I know I can’t taste anything, but somehow, I felt even more sad than usually.
Everything is flavourless and I can only assume what something tastes like by how it looks. I felt like my whole life has always been just like this. People can look at each other and talk and understand all these social cues and nuances that I don’t have a clue about. People say one thing, and everyone knows it means something entirely different, but I never do. I eat a brown chocolate coloured cake thinking it’s chocolate, but the flavour is completely different from what I assume. It’s not like I can taste the chocolate, but I know what it looks like.
It’s silly, isn’t it?
I can’t explain why, but that moment truly felt like my whole life. I’ve told people the same things over and over again, but no one ever understands. They think that when I say I don’t understand social cues that it must mean that I am a bit slow, not that I can’t read people. They seem to forget that I can’t understand the things that seem so simple and obvious to them.
It’s the same with my loss of taste and smell. People don’t seem to get it and always forget.
I don’t mind but losing my sense of taste and smell just felt like yet another way to be disconnected from the world in that moment – as it does in many moments like that.
It makes me feel lonely.
It’s strange, because even though there are many downsides, I can’t help but feel that there are some advantages as well. I can’t smell the disgusting smells in the world either, which is really nice. If I have to take a bus or train, I can’t smell people at all. Not horrible perfumes, nor the stench of sweat or alcohol on people. I can’t smell urine when walking underneath and overpass either. That part is definitely good.
Of course, I cannot smell flowers or freshly cut grass, not the smell of rain or the sea. It’s almost like I have truly become an observer instead of a participant in the world.
Now, there are some things I can smell, oddly enough. I can smell incense and such to a certain degree, but I no longer remember if the smell is anything like it was before.
The specialist I talked to told me I had to re-learn flavours and smells, to practice daily and some day my sense of taste and smell will return, but no one knows how long it will take.
At first, I was really frustrated and bought many different kinds of food and drinks just to find something – anything – that had flavour or smell. I completely broke down one day and cried and cried, but not from sadness – because I was frustrated and confused and didn’t know how to survive without my sense of taste and smell. I was scared, because I relied so much on my sense of smell in my daily life.
Then, somehow, my heart settled and even though I have days where I am sad, I have really gotten used to it. If I smell something or taste anything – even just for a brief moment – I try to pay attention and figure out what it is. Most of the time, I have no idea, but sometimes I can guess. I try to appreciate the things that I can taste and smell, but even that is not always easy. I can always taste the same few things and honestly, it’s starting to be frustrating too. I am so tired of always tasting the same flavours over and over again, no variation, no nuance, simply the same flavours or no flavours at all.
I am tired of it, but I’m getting used to it too. One day it’ll probably return, but no matter when that day comes, I know I’ll be okay. I am no longer scared, because I feel certain that I can live like this, even if it is a bit boring.
I know a lot of people have lost their sense of smell and taste because of covid-19, so I guess I am probably not as alone in this as I feel. That doesn’t make me feel any better though. If you are like me, then I have only this advice: cherish the flavours you can taste and the smells you can smell. Seek it out. Smell all the flowers you come across. Enjoy both the few smells you come across as well as the odd flavours you taste, and if you struggle, then perhaps remember that there are a lot of horrible things that you are at the moment free from experiencing.
Enjoy the textures of your food even if you cannot enjoy the flavours. I feel like I am learning to rely on other senses, especially hearing, and I am learning to enjoy things in different ways. With food I focus on textures a lot and even though I miss flavours and often eating is a chore more than anything these days, I feel like I am starting to find a way to enjoy eating a little more by focussing on textures.
All in all, life is just more enjoyable when we focus on what we have instead of being frustrated with what we have lost – or indeed never had in the first place.
It’s not easy, but it’s a start.