Emma developed parosmia after she lost her smell and taste through Covid-19 in January 2021. This period, which she calls “the long-haul recovery phase”, has impacted both on Emma's physical AND mental health. However, she is recognising small changes in what she can taste and smell, and is focusing on ‘when’ she will recover rather than ‘if’.
The early days of living with no smell were daunting at first; the sense of emptiness was quite scary and difficult to overcome. I was fearful that my smell would never come back, that there was permanent damage to my olfactory nerves. This uncertainty was damaging, not only to myself but also to the people around me -my family, my friends. It’s so hard to explain this ‘hidden condition’ to others.
Two months after contracting Covid-19, I started to smell cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes everywhere I went. This dissipated after a couple of weeks and turned into a very difficult experience where a smell similar to vomit was omnipresent. I just called it the ‘Covid smell’. The main triggers for me were my beloved coffee and chocolate. Garlic, onion, and most flavoured items of food and drinks have a distorted and unpleasant smell.
It’s hard being unable to smell fresh laundry and my favourite perfumes. Daily hygiene rituals are challenging - showering and brushing my teeth both involve the “smell”. At one point, I thought I continually smelt - but it was only MY perception of body odour. Worryingly,.if there was a fire or a gas leak, I would not be able to smell it.
There have been really dark times particularly when I felt like I was never going to get my real sense of smell back, so I made the decision to undertake therapy. At this point, I was feeling disconnected from reality and my mental health was compromised. Looking back, I know it was a good thing to go to therapy, even if a part of me originally thought it was a weakness to have to admit that I needed help. When you lose one of your senses, you lose far more than that, the consequences are life changing.
I have been mostly upset by how my children have been affected. Their mummy is here with them, but they can perceive my sense of feeling disconnected from reality. They know that I am facing the world slightly differently to them at present. This has been particularly hard for my older boy who could sense my sadness and who could occasionally see the tears in my eyes, even if I tried to hide it.
Parosmia affects what I eat, but I have learnt to target ‘safe foods’ and I try to focus on the texture of food. Every time I find something that is quite nice or edible, it feels like a small victory to me. Every snippet of lemon or any other scent or taste I can perceive; I see it as a step towards recovery.
I believe that I am recovering from this because what I can smell today is apparently considered to be a part of the recovery process, even if most of the things are still rancid and putrid. I know that I am not out of the woods yet, but I have progressed compared to where I was a year ago, which I am grateful for. But I want to stress to fellow parosmics “it’s okay not to feel okay” too.
This ‘post covid’ experience has made me think about the important things in life, and has led me to change my career. It’s a big decision but I know I need to be happy. My focus is now on when I WILL recover. Each time we see a dandelion, my son runs to this ‘wishing flower’ and shouts that he wants “Mummy to have her taste and smell back” - we are all truly aware of how precious regaining this sense is for all of us.
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