“ALL I CAN SMELL IS CIGARETTE SMOKE”
Have you heard of Phantosmia?
I’ve had it for 6 days now, and it’s challenged everything I know about living mindfully.
It has quite literally been doing my head in. I wouldn’t mind if I was smelling imaginary roses, freshly mown grass, or baked bread.
All I can smell 24/7 is either cigarette smoke or burning rubber.
At first I thought the new neighbour was smoking in his garden and the strong scent was drifting in through the rickety French doors. But most of the time he wasn’t even out there.
My partner couldn’t smell anything unusual at all and didn’t quite know how to react to my new preoccupation – the constant search for the source of the stench. It wasn’t just in our house. Wherever I went, the stink went with me. Was it my clothes, hair, make-up?
Every morning I’d wake up with a nose full of an abrasive aroma. And even though I could still taste and smell other things, not even strong minty chewing gum could keep this at bay for longer than a few minutes.
It was not just frustrating, it was driving me crazy. It was bringing me down. And it takes a lot to quell my natural tigger-esque disposition.
Two days into this new experience I had to attend a large event at the NEC and chat to people I’ve never met before. As an extrovert I had been looking forward meeting new people, and in real life too for the first time since early 2020. I was supposed to be enthusiastically discussing potential collaborations about the book, but with the continuous smell of burning rubber it was hard to focus on them and our conversation.
I had to be present, on purpose, in that moment.
Then I googled it.
And of course, the oracle had an answer. Phantosmia. It’s a long covid symptom that is defined as perceiving smells that aren’t there – olfactory hallucinations. That explained everything! Proof that I wasn’t going insane. Okay, worst case, I might have a brain tumour. Let’s hope not, eh. Best case, I could expect this long covid symptom to hang around for a few weeks maybe months and probably return in the future.
But what else can be done about this ongoing freak symptom?
Apart from making an appointment with my doctor for next week and joining a facebook group for moral support, I’m going to try to regain control by adopting a psychological approach – mindset training.
Back in December, I managed to recover my sense of smell and taste that disappeared when I had Covid. I took to smell-training five times a day with Vicks VapoRub and essential oils, alongside smell- and taste-training with lemons and coffee. It worked treat. Within five days I was scoffing mince pies like they were going out of fashion, masticating to make the most of every flavoursome morsel.
Here, now, it’s been just two days since I began mindset training and I’m glad to report that applying my mindfulness approach to this phenomenon, the Phantosmia has reduced from every inhalation to just four or five times an hour. And I’m aiming to reduce it each day.
A small miracle? Maybe. But if something mind-related can induce this, perhaps something mind-related can override it.
Mindfulness is the opposite of fixation.
What I do know, is that I’d much rather spend my waking hours with a sense of hope not doom. Believing that I have some control, or at least influence over my experience in this body. I realised I had a choice: desperately wishing the problem away, or doing something about it.
What would you choose to do if you were in my situation?
How do you currently choose to respond to things you can’t control or influence? Do you become caught up in the frustration, or are you able to check-in with yourself, pause and choose a healthier, proactive response?