Wake up and Smell the Roses… Except I Literally Can’t

It was the second day of April when I felt like I was on the receiving end of a belated April Fools’ prank. Dressing up for work, I put on my favourite cologne. It was part of a daily routine that I have done countless times without much thought in days past, but this time, there was a moment of pause. Instead of the familiar scent I was used to for the past couple of years, I was greeted with a smell of… absolutely nothing.

That’s strange, I thought to myself, as I went for a second spritz. Still nothing, and I instinctively thought my cologne had gone bad.

“Can cologne even go bad?” I wondered quizzically, frowning in bemusement.

Any doubt I had was quickly answered when I discovered I couldn’t smell anything else–not the normally pungent smell of my cat’s kibbles nor the strong fragrance of the lemongrass essential oil I use for my diffuser. My sense of smell had disappeared overnight, and in its place was a mild but palpable sense of disconnect from the world around me. As time went by, my frown would gradually change from an expression of puzzlement to one of worry and a creeping sense of unsettledness.

Having just recovered from a flu at that point, I initially assumed my condition would soon go away in time. Days turned into weeks, however, and the weeks are becoming months. Within this time, I consulted two otolaryngologists, desperate to regain my sense of smell. I also visited an acupuncturist to hedge my bets between modern medicine and Chinese practices. Once foreign terms like “olfactory” and “anosmia” became common vocabulary, while scopes went down my nostrils and needles were jabbed into my face.

It didn’t take long for me to realise how much I had taken my sense of smell for granted. Every trivial experience that involves smells now feels distinctively muted. My favourite foods no longer come with their usual aroma and the comforting scent of freshly washed laundry is no more. I never cared for things like bath salts and soaps, yet each time I pass by a mall shop selling those things I indignantly wish to know what avocado body wash smells like.

This strange condition has nudged me into appreciating other things in life. Food tastes the same, thankfully, and my other senses continue to work normally. Even as I slowly forget the earthy smell of rain, I’m grateful to still be able to hear the splattering of raindrops against my window as I observe the droplets streak across the glass pane. On sunny days, I am able to feel the warmth of the afternoon sun beating against my skin, and it is a simple task for my legs to take me somewhere else when the heat gets unbearable. As I start to count the blessings in my life, I even begin to appreciate the fact that I am no longer bothered by the stink of my cat’s poop when he does his business.

Through this ordeal, I’ve come to be more sensitive towards the challenges others face. I recognise that although the loss of my sense of smell is insignificant compared to the hardships endured by many, it remains an issue I must grapple with. This recognition has made me more aware that even seemingly tiny problems could have a significant impact on someone. As I navigate my own journey of recovery, I’m reminded of the importance of being compassionate to others on their own difficult paths, regardless of the size of their struggles.

In life, loss is often what reminds us to take stock of what matters. Some losses in life are big, seismic events that can upend lives, relationships, and things we hold dear. Others are subtler, almost imperceptible even, yet still profoundly felt in their own ways as we go about our days. Loss is part of our journey, shaping our experiences while highlighting the importance of what remains.

Like it or not, loss is what forces us to wake up and smell the roses, teaching us to cherish what we have while we still can. Knowing that loss is an inevitable part of life, it is worthwhile to gain clarity over what is precious to us. These may be simple, mundane things that we have assumed would always be there, or important but non-urgent affairs we have left on the backburner for far too long.

I would have smelled more flowers if I had known my loss of smell was coming, but for now, I’ll try my best to sniff out the roses in my life. At this point, I’d even settle for the stench of cat poop.

This is an original article written by Seth Wee, Client Adviser at Providend, the first fee-only wealth advisory firm in Southeast Asia and a leading wealth advisory firm in Asia.

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