A sense of loss…

Today I have for you a special story, coming from a friend of mine. An undesired fantasy that happened in real life and about inconveniences, sadness and inner suffering that it caused.

Guest post by Jilliecat

The day before it happened, the early autumn sun glimmered softly through the yellowing leaves and I was wearing Goutal’s Heure Exquise, wrapped cosily and happily in that fragrance’s powdery iris embrace. Wafts of the perfume floated up and the soft sandalwood echoed the season’s mellowness. Little did I know then that the following morning my world would be turned upside down by the loss of a loved one and that my ability to smell would be snatched away as a consequence.

Anosmia. Funny old word… It’s almost pretty in a way, sounding like a flower. “Oh that purple bloom over there, that’s anosmia”. It means the lack of the sense of smell. I prefer the alternative term “olfactory anaesthesia” which sums it up perfectly to me as I felt as though my nose had suddenly been clobbered into unconsciousness. We’ve probably all experienced it temporarily when suffering from a bad cold that blocks up our noses so much that we can’t smell a thing. But there are many other conditions that have the same outcome, ranging from brain tumours, Alzheimer’s, side effects of medication, the ageing process and sadly these don’t last for just a few days, but forever.

Much has been written about the devastating results that anosmia can have on sufferers’ lives – weight loss through lack of appetite (after all, if you can’t smell, you can’t taste either so you can’t be bothered to eat), the dangers of not being able to detect gas leaks, smoke or food that’s gone off, and the lack of sheer joy in being able to smell. Researchers highlight the fact that severe depression can occur as olfaction is supported by the brain’s limbic system which also serves emotion, behaviour and memory; without the ability to perceive odours, the link between the nose and the brain is severed – no longer will that vivid remembrance of your granny leap into your mind as you carelessly brush against a lavender bush, the scent of newly cut grass won’t take you back in a flash to your childhood, watching your dad mowing the lawn in the summer’s heat and the pungent aroma of a Gauloise cigarette won’t transport you to that elevator in the Rif Hotel in Tangier. One’s identity begins to fade away, along with the sensual pleasures of tasting and smelling. Life almost becomes not worth living.

For me, though, my experience has been the reverse of this – it was the grief of a sudden bereavement and the depression that followed that took my sense of smell away. At first my nose was inflamed through crying, so I couldn’t smell and I certainly couldn’t eat. Then I felt that, in my sadness, enjoyment of fragrance in any form was frivolous – how could I possibly pamper myself? So baths were plain, bottles of fragrances were left untouched and my favourite perfume blogs went unread. As the weeks passed, I began to realise that not only did I not want to wear perfume, but that I couldn’t, as I found I was actually unable to smell it. This added to the depression – my hobby, my obsession of a lifetime was suddenly gone in a puff of (unscented) smoke. It was almost like living in a glass bubble; I was able to see and hear, but I could not detect or savour any pleasurable scent through that impenetrable barrier. Mind over matter. How strong the mind can be, how complex, how unfathomable. Without doubt I was suffering from a psychological anosmia.

There is a happy ending to this story, though. As the months came and went, I began to crave a little perfume – so I took baby steps at first, starting with clean, fresh colognes which I felt were not “luxurious” but therapeutic; gradually I could sense the zinginess of their citruses, and this lifted my senses. From these I graduated to rose fragrances, which have a soft, comforting feel. I still have days where I can’t really detect perfume, and others on which I don’t want to wear any, but I am beginning to recover. The fragrance I have had the most success with has been Balenciaga’s L’Essence – it fulfils my need for a clean, unfussy vibe and the melancholy note of violet suits my mood. It is very slightly reminiscent of Heure Exquise, the perfume which I thought at one time I would never wear again, but now – perhaps, some time in the future, who knows?

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I’m deeply thankful to Jillie for sharing her experience with all of us. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to put all that into words and I bet everyone will draw some sort of lesson from this post. And I hope writing this made you feel better. There are people who care about you, don’t forget it. As you’re all reading this post there is a package going to Jillie’s home with some perfume samples I believe will help to get back to life fully. Lots of love.

[note] photo of Annick Goutal Heure Exquise and Balenciaga L’Essence by Jilliecat

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20 thoughts on “A sense of loss…

  1. hajusuuri says:

    Jilliecat, thanks for sharing your story and experience. I’m glad that healing is progressing and you are finding joy once again with our shared hobby (passion).

  2. shellyw says:

    You have written beautifully in words about a subject, scent, which is very difficult to put into words. Best wishes.

  3. Holly says:

    Thank you for sharing this story, jilliecat. It must have been devastating to also suffer the loss of your sense of smell. I can sense the isolation you must have felt in your glass bubble.

    I lost both of my parents last year. My dad died November 1st, and my mom on December 16th. I didn’t lose my sense of smell, but I found the thought of perfume overwhelming. I read a comment on NST that referred to her perfumes being set aside in a resting box, and I found that helpful. So I created The Sample Sea for myself and put all my samples, decants and bottles away where they gently float and go under the waves and them emerge.

    I am glad that your anosmia is resolving and happy to see you here again.

    • lucasai says:

      Really sorry about your parents Holly… I hope you’re feeling better now, though not much time has passed since you lost your mum and dad. Perfume can feel overwhelming at times like that, but maybe it could also be a painkiller to sudden desolation.

    • jillie says:

      Holly, I am so sad to read of your loss. Words really can’t express the emotion that overcomes you at a time like that. Take care.

  4. see & smell says:

    Thank you for sharing the story. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a full recovery!

    My mom’s friend lost her sense of smell during pregnancy. Her anosmia lasted for a few years and I remember hearing it was especially hard when the baby was an infant. But thankfully, it’s all good now. 🙂

    • lucasai says:

      It’s interesting. When my co-worker became pregnant she became over sensitive to the fragrances and she couldn’t stand the smell in the lab

    • jillie says:

      That’s so kind, see&smell. I definitely believe that hormones can play a big role in affecting one sense of smell – I’m glad your mom’s friend got hers back again.

  5. Thank you for sharing, Jillie. Actually, I also had a similar experience. When I lost my hubby, for probably 6 weeks, I couldn’t smell or taste anything that well. Emotions do strange things to our body, don’t they? I hope you are doing OK now. Please take care.

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