I have huge sensory issues. These are the worst ones:
The biggest one is odor sensitivity. This isn’t always negative. I can smell when someone bites into an apple in another room. I can usually tell when something is done baking from the way it smells. I can detect the slightest odor when no one else can, leading people to think I’m imagining things, but the source of the odor is almost always eventually located and I am proven right. My husband jokes that I should get a job as a sniffer dog at the airport.
Unfortunately, as I’m sure you can imagine, this leads to problems as well. I have been known to vomit if I smell excrement, sweat, or food that’s gone even slightly off. I am intensely uncomfortable if I smell cigarette or marijuana smoke. And I am nauseated by the smell of some cooking, especially curry, but also ground beef. Funnily enough, my mom says she was nauseated by the smell of ground beef cooking when she was pregnant with me.
My odor sensitivity is one reason I’m actually glad I’ve never been able to have children. I cannot change diapers or even be near a baby with a full diaper. People say, “It’s different when it’s your own,” but I don’t believe it would be for me, because (and I apologize if this is a rather crude thing to say) sometimes it’s not even different when it actually is my own, if you get my drift. You can imagine how difficult this can make everyday life for me.
I know at least one woman who loathes me and unfriended me on Facebook because I ran outside and threw up when I could smell dirty diapers in the church nursery. She’s one of those people whose life revolves around babies and children, so to encounter someone who is sickened by the smell of their natural functions is a great offense to her. In a way, I can understand. But I can’t help it.
Another problem my odor sensitivity has caused is with my in-laws. I am married to a Brit, and his friends and family always want to go out for “a lovely curry.” Unlike for most Caucasians here in Canada, it seems to be their go-to dining out or take-out choice. But I can’t do it. They say, “You can eat western food while the rest of us have curry,” but I can’t even be present where it’s being cooked or eaten. I will vomit. I have heard my mother-in-law on the phone with her friends talking to them about how weird it is that I don’t like curry, and how it negatively affects their plans.
I have food taste and texture sensitivities, as well as gastrointestinal issues. For texture, the worst is any kind of fat or gristle in meat, and I am grossed out by anything with bones. (I’m this close to becoming a vegetarian, but that’s a topic for another post.) When I go out, I stick to boneless skinless chicken breasts, shrimp, or white fish. I don’t like fish such as salmon, as it’s too strongly flavoured. At home I will eat roast beef, only if it’s boneless and I’ve cooked it in the slow cooker until it’s very well done and removed all obvious fat.
I don’t like most strongly-flavoured cheeses, and I don’t like spicy food unless it’s Mexican and as long as it’s not overloaded with cumin. In fact, Mexican is one of my favourite cuisines, taste-wise, even though it sometimes gives me a stomach ache. Speaking of stomach aches, I get horrible ones from bananas. I get mild ones from cucumbers and avocados. I like leafy greens, especially spinach, but it goes right through me. I also abhor the taste of coffee and won’t even eat mocha-flavoured desserts.
It is very difficult for me to eat at other people’s homes and I have had very bad experiences as a result. To compound this issue, I am prone to hypoglycemia, so I do need to eat regularly. If I find myself somewhere that has nothing I can tolerate, I can end up in a bad state. I have to try to remember to carry a fast sugar plus a protein bar at all times.
I am sensitive to the feel of some fabrics and fits of clothing. I have hated corduroy my entire life. Touching it creeps me out as badly as nails on a blackboard. I also don’t like velvet or suede. There are others I have an aversion to that I don’t know the name of.
My sensitivity in this area has increased as I’ve gotten older. I used to be able to wear uncomfortable things for the sake of so-called beauty (like pantyhose back when they were still in fashion, or high-heeled shoes), but I can’t do it, or perhaps I’m not willing to do it, anymore.
Now I will only wear soft fabrics, preferably with some stretch in them, and nothing too form-fitting in my abdomen or arms unless it’s very soft and stretchy. In recent years I have shopped almost exclusively at Old Navy because I can always find affordable, comfortable clothing that fits me the way I want it to. I’m sorry if that sounds like a commercial. They’re not paying me to say that. They can if they want to.
I also don’t like physical touch. I remember my parents arguing about this when I was a child. My mom thought I should hug the relatives, and if I didn’t like it, I should get over it, because it’s the kind and loving thing to do. My dad thought I shouldn’t be forced to hug anybody. He doesn’t like hugging either, so that is one thing he’s always understood about me.
My aversion to touch got worse when I was about 7. I remember being cuddled up to my mom and smelling a certain odor coming from her body, and it just grossed me out to the point where I couldn’t touch her after that. I never explained that to her, and I don’t think I should have, but I think she’s since felt hurt by my rejection of her physical touch. Also, around the same age, I somehow came up with the weird idea that if people touched me, they would be able to read my mind, and I didn’t want that. It’s not that my thoughts were bad, it’s just that they were mine.
I no longer believe people can read my mind. Maybe my life would be easier if they could, as my motives would no longer be misunderstood like they often are.
There are exceptions to my aversion to touch. I like touching and being touched by my husband (although there are things I can’t tolerate even with him, like being tickled), and I can hug my closest friends. And I love cuddling with cats, although I can’t always stay in one position for a long time like they want me to.
I have become pretty good at putting on an act, like when I used to attend church, where people hug all the time. I act like it’s okay and like I even enjoy it, but my skin is crawling with revulsion the entire time. And there was this one woman I couldn’t handle hugging because she had really bad body odor, so not only was I repulsed by the touch itself, but I nearly vomited every time she came near me. Then I was terrified of hurting her feelings if she realized I was vomiting because I thought she smelled bad. But then I actually did hurt her feelings because I started avoiding her. She became very aggressive, actually chasing me down and saying, “I’m not going to let you get away without giving me my hug!” (For what it’s worth, I heard her saying that to other people too, so I wasn’t her only target.) It was so horrible, I actually finally had to confess to her that I was uncomfortable with hugs. To my utter horror, she started to cry and she told me about how when she was a child, she desperately wanted someone to hug her and no one did, and that’s the reason it was so important to her to have hugs as an adult.
Immediately after the encounter, I went out to my car and had one of my meltdowns, crying and shaking and gasping for air. I was certain that I was a horrible person who had disappointed God with my lack of love and my callous treatment of one of His people. I felt that I’d be better off staying away from people entirely, instead of being around them and hurting their feelings so badly.
More of my sensitivities are mentioned in my next post.