Odious Odors And My Too-Knowing Nose

I have an above average sense of smell. I can pick out individual parts of recipes and adjust dishes I’m cooking on the fly just by sniffing things. It definitely isn’t super-power level by any means, or even as good as the sense of smell of most animals, but it is definitely a talent I enjoy applying in my day-to-day life. It makes cooking easy to do, since I can adjusting the spices based on smell alone, it makes it ABUNDANTLY clear when something has gone bad or is teetering right on the edge, and it helps me remember what leftovers I have in my fridge. That said, there are a lot of downsides that impact the way I live my life compared to most people.

For instance, I’ve long had an association between going to department stores (and malls in general) and developing migraines. When I was a child and forced to follow my mother and siblings around the store for whatever errands my mother had, we would frequently pass through the perfume sections of department stores when we went to the mall and the overwhelming power of all those scents on my poor, overly-sensitive nose once made me so sick I threw up. Most of the time, I got a terrible headache that made me even more miserable than your average child dragged along on a clothes-shopping mission meant to supply four children with new clothes for the upcoming season.

Even though I enjoy eating brownies, I can’t stand being someplace brownies are being baked. The smell is so powerful that even thinking about it right now is giving me a headache. It took me until college, when I could easily gain access to brownies that were made when I wasn’t around to smell them, to realize I actually enjoyed brownies. Before that, the sight of them always made me feel queasy from the instant migraine the overpowering scent gave me. Most other baking activity doesn’t effect me the same way, but some cooking smells can have a similar effect if they hang around the air for more than a couple hours (like bacon, for example).

Most of the time, the result isn’t so dramatic. Most other smells need almost an entire day to result in me feeling overstimulated and exhausted. For instance, I am almost paranoid about making sure I have enough deodorant stockpiled because having to use different deodorant will have me sick and exhausted after a few hours of being stuck around this new smell. Going without isn’t any better, because then I can smell my own natural musk. Generally, neither of these smells is “bad” (though that can change if I’ve been very active or the day has been very warm), but being constantly exposed to them is enough to slowly drive me to the ragged edge of my sanity.

All of this means I have incredible brand loyalty. All of my laundry products, my personal hygiene products, the things that scent my apartment or car, and even my cleaning products smell the same. I had to start trying new toilet cleaning agents because the one I used to buy has disappeared from even the internet (aside from sketchy ebay listings and craigslist posts) and I can still smell the new toilet cleaning agent three days later, even though all the other bathroom smells, including the unscented candle I use to clear up the other unpleasant odors. I do my best to stockpile when I can, to avoid situations exactly like this one, but eventually things run out and I have to go back to searching for something that doesn’t offend my nose.

There are still a lot of benefits besides this. I can smell a burning circuit at work even from inside my office, meaning I’m usually amongst the first to respond when an electrical test fails on some new product my coworker and I are testing. It also means that I don’t need to have any flowers particularly near me to enjoy the way they freshen up the area around my apartment. Picking out ripe fruit is incredibly easy most of the time (masking for the pandemic has complicated this, but I’ve learned enough of the visual marks that accompany ripeness to still pick them out without too much trouble). I always know which friends need to be reminded to put on sunscreen.

It’s a pretty mixed bag, most of the time. Ups and downs. Since I’ve learned what I need to avoid if I want to not get overwhelmed by scents, it doesn’t come up very much. Occasionally, though, I can’t avoid needing to find a way to cope. Like today. I had to clean out the hard water buildup in my coffeemaker and the best way to do that is to run a mix of vinegar and water through the coffeemaker. It is incredibly effective, but now my apartment stinks of vinegar and it is going to smell like this for hours to come. At least the prevalence of masks makes it incredibly easy to work on filtering out as much of the scent as I can without needing to actually spend an entire day outside.

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