I already covered smells in regard to food in Picky and Here Be Dragons, so let’s move on to smell for its own sake rather than how it relates to/affects other senses. To do that, I have to go kind of negative, so I’m starting with a list of smells I do like to counteract some of the negativity.

Smells I enjoy:

Blooming purple lilacs

Can’t you just smell these?
Photo: Lilacs by Hunda
CC License

  • Rain
  • Lilacs
  • Jasmine
  • Books
  • Popcorn (unless it’s burnt)
  • Acetic acid
  • Mint
  • Dog paws
  • Almond with coconut
  • Freshly mown grass
  • Onions cooking in butter
  • Pretty much anything baking in the oven

And now, on to the smells that make me want to run away. Some of the big offenders for me are:

Spray from an aerosol can of air freshener.

Taking this picture caused a coughing fit of epic proportion. It’s a little blurry, but I couldn’t bear to retake it.

  • Seafood – especially shrimp, as detailed in this post.
  • Flowers
  • Smoke
  • Perfume/cologne
  • Bleach
  • Soap
  • Metal
  • Air fresheners
  • Lysol

That (in-exhaustive) list only gives you the what, though, and what I really want to cover is the how.

Flowers: I’ve never really been a flower kind of girl, though I do find it utterly cool that the ability to smell freesia is genetic. Because science girl. I do love the smell of lilacs and jasmine, but I make an effort not to over do it. I used to love the smell of gardenias until one of my students (I was a student teacher) brought us gardenia corsages. I wore mine proudly until I noticed difficulty breathing and took it off, but it was too late. I was out for three days with laryngitis. That was more than 20 years ago and I still can’t stand the smell of gardenias.

I’ve since noticed that I only have to be in the room with a lily for about 15 minutes for a similar effect. Those are both more allergy than smell, but smell requires breathing and that’s the main import mechanism of the allergen.

Other people smells: Smoking, excessive perfume or cologne, and cleaning fluids don’t have a physical effect on me as far as I know. But when I’m around those smells, I feel like I can’t breathe and my body goes in to a kind of flight mode. I need to get away. I used to be quite obnoxious about coughing fits around smokers, but now I just usually do my best to move outside the reach of the smoke. If I don’t notice the smoker two or three cars ahead of me at a stoplight early enough to close my windows and turn on recycled air, I’m stuck breathing smoke for several blocks after that light turns green. Last time this happened, it was cigar smoke. I almost hurked.

Heavy smokers don’t have to be actively smoking to bother me, either. At one of the offices we go to for therapy, there’s an elevator that must frequently be ridden by a heavy smoker because the smoker body odor lingers in the elevator in an apparent attempt to suffocate me. It’s a struggle to make it the one floor up we need to go. If I didn’t have a squirmy pre-schooler who clings to routine with me, I would look around more for the stairs. Okay, it’s not insignificant that I usually get coffee on the way, cutting it close enough to need to make up the time by using the elevator. 🙂

As Zoo Keeper and I walked up to his school this morning, another parent passed us and I was almost knocked down by the force of the a wave of cologne. After I dropped ZK off and was almost to my car, I smelled the cologne and assumed the man was right behind me. He was behind me alright, but he hadn’t even crossed the street to get to the parking lot yet. There was no wind, either.

Smoke, excessive perfume/cologne, and body odor are also among the reasons I stopped riding the metro busses. There’s nowhere to go to get away from the smell if someone fitting the description sits down next to you.

Soap and Lotion: I’ve heard of people who are sensitive to smells not being able to walk down the laundry aisle at the grocery store. I don’t have a problem with that unless one of the boxes is open, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a problem with soap. There are laundry detergents I can’t use because the smell they leave on my clothes nauseates me after a few minutes. Oddly, supposedly unscented ones are often the worst culprits. Unscented my ass. I find this with hand lotion as well. The really strong ones and the unscented ones bother me, so I generally try to find one with a light smell I think I can tolerate. I’ve found it’s best to stick to a name brand, otherwise the ones I like tend to get discontinued.

A soapy handHand soap is a particular problem when I’m out anywhere, especially restaurants. Many places have the orange Dial soap or something that smells exactly like it. I hate that smell. It doesn’t really nauseate me, it’s more like ammonia. You know when you take a good whiff of ammonia it feels like it’s burning all the hairs out of your nose and closing your wind pipe off? Well, this soap isn’t quite that strong, but it’s close. And it’s on my hands, which I can only get so far away from my nose. And if it’s a restaurant, it means I am accosted by that smell every time I take a bite, unless I lean down to suck up the food with my face. I carry hand lotion in my purse mostly because my hands are dry, but it also helps mitigate the smell of this soap.

There are some hand lotions that seemed to smell fine in the store, but when I put them on at night I suddenly can’t stand the smell that close to my face and have to make sure they’re down by my hips instead. Or I can’t sleep.

Lysol and Air Fresheners: These are like taking the smell of soap and throwing in the air in a mist that will not only surround you, but cling to your nose hairs so that there is no escape. Zoo Keeper went through a phase where he was extra concerned about germs in the bathroom. He’s always concerned about them, but during this time he incorporated it into his refusal to use the toilet. Sparky gave him a can of Lysol to spray around so he would feel okay sitting on the toilet. He used it. Liberally. Whenever he did that, though, I couldn’t go help him when he called for me because I couldn’t stand to be in the room.

Metal: Another thing that causes trouble with my hands is metal. If I touch coins or my keys, even a metal handrail, I have to wash my hands right away because I can’t stand the smell it leaves on my hands. I’ve stopped wearing most metal jewelry because my body heat makes the metal release the smell, which then wafts up to my nose and I carry it around with me. I have several necklaces I love but just can’t bear to put on anymore.

Reading back through this, it sounds like I’m saying my shit doesn’t stink. I know it does. The rest of me, too, much of the time. I’m usually very quiet about it to anyone but Sparky. By writing this, I’m just trying to offer a sample of what it’s like for one person with a sensitivity to smells to exist in this world.

Oh, I forgot to mention cats. Because litter box. Blech.