Since having COVID-19 my senses of smell and taste have not yet returned.
Yes, it’s frustrating not being able to smell dinner cooking, the fruity zing of my shower gel and the wafting aroma of my morning coffee (which currently tastes like something I can only describe as stagnant pond water).
But what I miss most about not being able to smell has been a surprising revelation to me.
What I actually miss most is the smell of my children.
Now, at this point, you might just assume that I am a little strange, so let me reassure you that I am not, nor have I ever been, someone who goes around randomly sniffing people … well … not until recently anyway!
So just the other day I found myself with my nose deeply buried in my 6-year-old daughter’s abundant thick curls, proclaiming with some distress “I can’t smell you anymore!”
My next step of course, which I am sure every therapist and curious person reading this can relate to, was to reflect upon my unexpected moment of distress with intrigue.
Why on earth was not being able to smell my daughter so distressing when I wasn’t even consciously aware, when I did have my sense of smell, that she had a particular scent at all.
I noticed that it was hard to put into words what I was feeling during this unexpected moment of heightened emotion. It was something akin to a sense of loss, or perhaps more specifically, a sense of longing for connection.
As I allowed my thoughts to flow, memories of my daughter as a new-born came flooding back, and these memories were accompanied with a beautiful, powerful feeling of love and protection for one so small and vulnerable.
Then more memories came of holding all of my children so close, kissing their tiny heads and breathing in their new-born aroma, of smelling them deeply as if I just couldn’t get enough.
How interesting I thought….
It is well known that specific smells can rapidly trigger memories and intense emotion in us, and we can all probably think of an aroma that takes us straight back to an earlier time; the smell of a certain food cooking, school dinners, a perfume, or perhaps the hint of a woodland smell or freshly cut grass.
For me, the smell of boot polish takes me straight back to being a little girl, sitting in the warm and brightly lit kitchen with my grandfather wearing his purple vest as he smoked his pipe and polished his boots, evoking powerful feelings of unconditional love and safety.
Fifth Sense, a charity for people who are affected by taste and smell disorders, explain that sufferers often talk of ‘feeling isolated and cut off from the world around them’ and can experience ‘a blunting of emotions’
And research with brain imaging scans has also, unsurprisingly, shown that smell plays a significant part in mother-infant bonding, inhaling the scent of a new-born activates pleasure and reward in the brain.
So, it seems that my inability to smell my children and the emotions this evoked, the sense of loss and longing for connection, is not so surprising after all.
Smell is one of the powerful ways that we connect to our past, our experiences, to the world and to the people within our world and a sense that, until now, I took very much for granted.
I certainly underestimated the importance of this wonderful sense and the potential social and psychological impact it can have upon those who have to live with long term or permanent loss.
So, to my sense of smell, I’d like to say sorry for taking you for granted for so many years and for not acknowledging the important role you play in connecting me to my physical and emotional world.
For now, I look forward to and am hopeful of my senses of smell and taste returning, and when that day does come, the first thing I’m going to do is give my children a great big sniff 😊
Rachel Young, Ollie Coach
Rachel is a fulltime Emotional Wellbeing Coach. She has studied and worked in mental health, social care and educational sectors for 30 years. Rachel currently spends her days working in private practice and within organisations: supporting children, young people and adults with their emotional wellbeing.
To get in contact with Rachel, email Rachel.firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to https://www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com/pages/about-us