I have never been so grateful to smell cat shit in my life.
But let’s add some context for that sentence.
A few weeks ago, I went out for a friend’s birthday dinner in a small, busy restaurant. Indoors, noisy. There was a lot of leaning in and speaking loudly to hear and be heard. Within a couple of hours, tongue bitten from sitting across from someone who told me they didn’t believe Covid vaccinations had been sufficiently tested for safety, I was ready for home.
Three days later tiny terrorists held me hostage in my room. I was tethered to my bed by sticky tissues and vicious spike proteins digging in to my respiratory tract. Sick, but not my usual sort of sick. I cancelled plans for the week ahead as Covid leapt through the family. And I marvelled at how easy it felt compared to cancelling things for a Bipolar hospital admission. In 2023 everyone can relate to Covid cancellations.
Prior to contracting Covid, the things I was most concerned about, should I be infected, were likely to be things of no concern to most people. I am grateful I don’t live with any type of immunocompromise or chronic respiratory condition. Neither does anyone in my family. And yet I have continued to wear a mask to the shops without caring what people think.
Because I am vulnerable to collateral Covid damage.
Anything that potentially interferes with my sleep or ability to exercise increases my risk of a Bipolar episode. Covid does both. Then there is long Covid. The stress of living with this nasty reality would skyrocket my risk of multiple Bipolar episodes. And then there is losing my senses of taste and smell. As someone who begins to feel depressed if these senses diminish with a cold, the prospect of potentially losing them long term or permanently was horrifying.
I imagine everyone values their senses differently. When it comes to reasons to breathe, I am someone for whom smelling is as important as oxygenation. I don’t mean I am someone who just appreciates nice perfume and the smell of freshly ground coffee – although I do.
I am also someone who knows the smell of my husband’s sternal notch, the dip between his collar bones at the base of his throat. It is an olfactory hug, a smell I could pick out of a line-up of other sternal notches.
I know the softest fur behind my kittens’ ears smells of butter and air. The smell of garlic sizzling in olive oil or a chocolate cake just ready to be taken out of the oven are pure dopamine hits for me.
So, when Covid blindfolded my sense of smell on day five, and in doing so kidnapped one of my greatest sources of joy and information, I panicked…enough to google how long this was likely to last. It can be as little as five days…but sometimes this black out lasts for 6-12 months or is permanent.
This loss of smell was not like the kind I’ve experienced with a head cold. It wasn’t associated with nasal congestion. My nose was clear and breathing air in a world apparently devoid of all scents and odours. I realised quickly that aside from the discombobulation and depression of living with no nose, there were practical difficulties. Sniffing potentially spoilt milk – nothing. Toast burning to charcoal – nothing. A rotting potato decomposing in a black pool of noxious liquid at the back of the potato storage drawer – totally undetected.
Without smell to accompany it, my sense of taste was reduced to only being able to differentiate sweet from salty foods.
I began to bargain in my head. Which of my other senses would I give up in exchange for my sense of smell? Impossible. I don’t want to lose any of my senses.
Thankfully, for me, the blindfold loosened within ten days. I began to smell around the edges of the world again. Strong smells returned intermittently and then faded away again. The fading times lessened. I discovered the foul stench of the decomposing potato that had been reverse air freshening the kitchen for at least a week. Cat shit re-entered my nasal vocabulary. And with time so have the subtleties of air and butter on kitten fur,
As for the Bipolar risk factors that accompany my visit from Covid, I’ll have to wait and see. The last couple of months have carried other stressors with them too. From experience, my Bipolar episodes tend to sit back patiently while the risk factors peak and the stress unfolds, and then set in as a special treat once things settle down.
So I am moving carefully through the world with my fingers crossed, while I enjoy being back in the world of the smelling.
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